Posted: January 27, 2010, 5 a.m. EST
Q: I have a pet rat that is 1.5 years old. Four days ago, I noticed he was very weak and not very lively. I took him to the veterinarian, who checked his body for lumps and couldn’t find any. When she felt his tummy, he squeaked a lot. The vet said she didn’t really know what was wrong with him but he had a chest infection because he was wheezing. She gave me antibiotics for him called Baytril.
Since then, I’ve had to mash up my rat’s food, because he won’t eat otherwise. I also have to hold the bowl for him as he won’t get up and go for food or water himself. He seems to have trouble walking for some reason and also has lost a lot of weight on his back rather quickly.
He’s now eating a bit more, but still only when I hold the bowl for him. He hasn’t walked anywhere and hasn’t defecated for a couple days. He just stays in his house and sits there, asleep sometimes. He’s very weak but very hungry. I think the hunger is a good sign. I think he did one dropping last night.
The vet said he could have organ failure, but the dropping he did was solid and healthy. I really don’t know what’s wrong with him. Have you come across this before? Do you think he’ll get better and be able to walk around again? I don’t want to put him to sleep. I still think there hopefully could be a chance he will get better, but I haven’t a clue what’s wrong with him, and the vet doesn’t know. I am looking for more opinions. I really hope you can help.
A: What you are describing is not necessarily a problem with his legs. His reluctance or inability to get up could be due to overall body weakness. Overall body weakness could be caused by organ failure as your vet suggested. It is likely your veterinarian is correct on the diagnosis but, still, organ failure is not very specific and does not help your rat get better.
Your vet did the right thing by trying to treat for an infection as a cause of organ failure. And your vet chose a very powerful antibiotic.
Sometimes, especially in small animals where it may not be possible to do all of the sophisticated testing we can do in rabbits or ferrets, we are left with the choice called “response to treatment.” Your rat did not respond to treatment, so one might assume that the cause of your rat’s problem is not due to an infection.
In this case, the best thing you can do for your rat is to revisit your veterinarian and let her know the treatment did not seem to have an effect. At this point, your vet might suggest some diagnostic tests, such as blood work and radiographs. Organ failure might mean problems with your rat’s liver, heart, kidneys or lungs. It is important to narrow down this list in an effort to help your rat.
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