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Rat Prone To Respiratory Infections Gets Head Tilt

What is the treatment for a rat prone to respiratory infections?

Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: November 30, 2014, 10 p.m. EST

rat eating treat
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
Respiratory infections are a common ailment in rats, so it helps to know the signs and to have a veterinarian who knows how to treat rats.

Q: I'm so desperate for help right now. My 20-month-old, female rat, my baby girl, is going through a hard time, and I'm at a loss. Her normal vet has been out since Thursday and not in until tomorrow. There are no other knowledgeable rat vets here. I am so frustrated! My girl, Dexie is prone to upper respiratory infections. She recently got off sulfa a week ago. On Friday she developed classic symptoms of inner ear infection. She is unbalanced, tilting her head, red staining on one eye and the other eye is bulgy. She was in horrible shape. I took her to another vet to get immediate help and they put her on doxy, Baytril and meloxicam. She has shown no improvement. Is this typical? Are these the best drugs for inner ear infection? Should she have improved by now? I am keeping her hydrated and she is eating fine. She is just exhausted and not herself. It's breaking my heart and I don't know what to do or if she is on the right track here. Any advice is helpful. Another thing to mention is that she was already on a maintenance dose of Baytril every three days for many months, as she has had two tumor removal surgeries.

A: It sure sounds like you have gone the extra mile to do everything possible to help your pet rat. It also sounds like you have gotten very sound veterinary advice and help. All of the medications you mentioned are the first line of treatment for bacterial infections that can cause respiratory disease and ear infections. Unfortunately, sometimes, the best first line treatment does not work. Why would that happen? 

Sometimes, the bacteria become resistant to the medications we use. You mention that your rat has been on long-term Baytril, an antibiotic. It may be that, at first, this was a very effective treatment. Over time, the bacteria have become resistant to this antibiotic and another class of antibiotic is needed to fight this same group of bacteria. Or another species of bacteria has infected your rat’s lungs and inner ear and either a higher dose of Baytril is needed or a new class of antibiotic is best tried. 

Another reason that your rat may be getting worse is that another problem has begun. Although a rat at 20 months of age is not yet geriatric, she is old enough to start becoming prone to older age diseases. 

So, where do you go from here? When the first line of treatment does not work or stops working, you have two choices. Either you use a second line of treatment, which may mean stronger antibiotics, or a different dose of what you are now using. Or you and your veterinarian start doing some diagnostic testing to find out the cause of the problem. In your rat, your veterinarian may suggest blood work to see if your rat is responding to an infection and to make sure the liver and kidneys are functioning properly. Your veterinarian may also suggest radiographs to look at the bones around the ear to see if an infection is present and also to look at the chest to see if the heart appears normal. 

Like this article? Please share it, and check out:
One Rat Health Issue You Can't Ignore
15 Rat Facts That Prove They Are Amazing Pets
Life With Your First Pet Rat 

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See all rat behavior Q&A
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Posted: November 30, 2014, 10 p.m. EST


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