Posted: December 27, 2011, 7 a.m. EST
Q: My rat just had babies about four weeks ago. They were doing great, but the past few days the female rats are looking sick. They have enlarged bellies and are closing their eyes more. I lost one female rat today and am wondering if I am going to lose the others. Is it something genetically wrong or can I do something for them? It looks like they cannot poop correctly. They are also wet near their anus. The baby rat that died had a wet belly. Should I separate the female rats from the rest of the babies? I would take them to a veterinarian if it would help, but I am thinking it is something the mother rat passed on to babies. What do you think?
A: You may be correct in that the mother rat may have passed an infection to her babies. When you have multiple kits in the same litter that get sick, we usually assume either an infection has been passed to the young from the mother or there is a genetic reason for the illness. Because your baby rats are now 4 weeks old, it is more likely this is due to an infectious problem rather than genetic.
The signs you describe are very non-specific, which means that many diseases can cause what you are observing. Nothing in the description is characteristic of one type of disease or infection.
The wet area on the belly and anus can mean the rats have an intestinal infection. An infection in the mammary glands can be spread to the kits as they nurse from the mother. If the mother has an intestinal disease, the kits can become infected by being in proximity to the mother and her feces.
You may need to do more than just remove the baby rats from the mother. You may need to treat the mother and also treat the babies with antibiotics. You may also need to give supportive care to the kits. All of this can be difficult, because the same medications that we use in adult rats can be dangerous and even fatal if given to the young rats. It can be easy to overdose such small kits, and great care must be taken to assure that the correct amount of drugs and supportive care is given.
Your veterinarian will be able to give you much more specific advice once he or she has seen the baby rats and decided on the best treatment for them and the mother.
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