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Rat Has Trouble Breathing And Is Listless

Why would a rat have trouble breathing and be listless?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, DABVP
Posted: September 27, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT

Q: I have two female dumbo rats (sisters), and I just noticed one puffing herself up, seeming like it was hard for her to breathe. She is also just lying around, which is nothing like her. I’m really scared for her. She hasn’t been herself for a couple of days. Her sister is curled up next to her. Is there anything I can do for her?

A: You do not say how old your rats are, which would be helpful to give you the best answer. Sadly, many pet rats carry respiratory infections that can be with them through life. Most of the time, the infections are not apparent and do not cause a rat any problem.

Occasionally, the infections become active and a rat shows signs of respiratory illness. The signs include lethargy, difficulty breathing, using abdominal muscles to help breathe, discharge around the nose and eyes, and wheezing sounds that can be heard even without a stethoscope.

It’s believed that the primary cause for many of these infections is a viral infection. But then a secondary bacterial infection really causes some damage and action must be taken, with a veterinarian prescribing antibiotics. Usually, this helps tremendously and the rat is back to breathing well within a couple of days.

But other causes of disease can look like a respiratory problem. If there is a mass, such as a tumor or abscess, putting pressure on the lung area, a rat might look like it cannot breathe properly. A veterinarian will be able to tell what the problem is by listening with a stethoscope and probably taking some radiographs (X-rays) of the rat’s chest and abdomen.

See all of Dr. Rosenthal's Critter Q&A articles>>

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