Respiratory Disease in Rats

Respiratory disease is a horrible disease, and one of the most common causes of death in pet rats. While we certainly do not profess to be vets, we have had lots of experience of dealing with this 'curse'.

Also, many fellow rat lovers we talk to have often lost a pet rat due to respiratory problems, despite having seen their vet. However, often the vet has limited experience in dealing with respiratory problems and their treatment may not be aggressive enough to cure or send the problem into remission.

Here we highlight how we treat our rats - all treatments and methods are approved and under supervision by our own vet. Under NO circumstances are we suggesting you go out and try these treatments and methods without first consulting your's just that these tried and tested treatments may give your vet other avenues to try when treating your pet rat.

As a rat rescue, whenever we rehome rats, we make sure the new homers are fully aware of what it is; what to look out for; and what to do next.

There are different strains of the disease, but basically it is something all domestic rats are born with. It can lay dormant until something triggers it off - stress, poor husbandry, or simply nothing. We often see it in rats where their cage mate has died and the survivor is grieving.

It can be fatal, or a rat can live with it, but may experience lung damage or an abscess may develop on the lung which could eventually kill it.

Or, a rat can be 'cured' and go onto to a live and a full and healthy life. Some rats may experience a permanent head tilt from the infection, but adapt easily (such as our very first rat, Baz, who died a very old rat from old age. When he arrived at CavyRescue, he had a head tilt due to respiratory disease).

The symptoms can come out of minute your rat is fine, the next day, the symptoms are there:

(1) noisy breathing - you may first hear it when they sleep
(2) a rattly or watery sound when they breathe/move around
(3) excessive sneezing accompanied with red staining around the eyes and/or nose
(4) lethargy and loss of appetite

If your rat shows any of these symptoms, get them to your vet as soon as possible. The earlier you start treatment, the better prognosis for your rat.

If you use sawdust or wood shavings in their cage, stop using it and switch to a safe product such as biocatolet, ideal bedding or carefresh.

Some vets recommend putting antibiotics in the rat's drinking water. However, you cannot guarantee that the rat will get enough of the antibiotic in their system this way, and as it is watered down, it does lose it's potency.

Also, rats do 'pee' a lot, so the antibiotics will move through their system too fast to do a lot of good.

We administer 0.3ml of 2.5% oral baytril twice a day to the affected adult rat, (for smaller rats, we use 0.2ml) either via syringe or, if they refuse or get stressed, we syringe it into a small piece of bread, cheese, jam or similar. (Anything to mask the taste). We also add a generous pinch of bisolvon - a powder mucus-fighting drug - to their food twice a day.

This we do twice day for a week. We normally see an improvement after 3 days.

If this doesn't work, we nebulise the rat. Depending on the severity of the problem, we start off 3 - 4 times a day for the first three days, dropping down to 2 - 3 times for another four.

By putting them into a nebulising chamber, they are breathing in ONLY the treatment, meaning it can get right into the system and, hopefully, deal with the problem.

We use 4ml of 2.5% injectable baytril with 10ml of water. For a more aggressive treatment, we use .05ml of Tylan (a drug used to treat a similar bacteria in birds) with 10ml of water.

We have also started using a drug called Zithromax Suspension. (Your vet will need to calculate the measurements for you. as to make it up, you mix the powder with water). We have used it two different ways...for a short-term case, you administer 0.3ml of the mixture once a day, orally, for three days, then it stays in the system for up to 10 days, attacking the bacteria.

For long term treatment, we administer 0.2ml once a day for 20 days. One of our rats, George, showed a vast improvement on using this method, his weight increasing by 25% in just over a month and the other symptoms lessening drastically!


Nebulising: Otis, a big, brown 9 month old rat who suddenly developed a severe respiratory infection that antibiotics could not shift. You could hear him 'rattling' from the room next door and we genuinely believed we would lose him.

At the same time our wonderful vet put Otis on his nebuliser 3 times a day for a week. Now, Otis is back home with his brothers and is absolutely perfect. Since then, several other of our rats have been treated successfully by being 'nebulised'.

Oral Baytril administered by mouth or in the food: Kojak, Luther, Stripe...our list of rats who we have successfully treated this way goes on and on. (Remember, we run a rescue so have rats coming out of our ears!)

As soon as a rat shows symptoms of respiratory disease, we start them on a course of oral baytril. In 80% of these cases, after a week on antibiotics, no further treatment is needed. The other 20% go on to be nebulised.

Zithromax We are fairly new to using this treatment, but we have heard many glowing reports about it from other rat lovers.

We hope this has helped. Please feel free to show your vet this as it may give him or her other ideas on treating this nasty disease.

It is no way intended to undermine your vet's recommendations for treatment or expertise..these are just different ideas that they may find helpful. is the award-winning website of the Kent-based small animal shelter. The aim of CavyRescue is not only to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome unwanted and abandoned 'small furries' but to educate people on all aspects of animal health and welfare.

CavyRescue cannot accept liability for any loss or damage caused as a result of using the information or advice given. The Guides have been written based on our experience only. We are not veterinarians and always recommend that you consult a vet if in doubt about any aspect of animal health or well-being.

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