One of the most common health problems in rats is respiratory illness. Treatment should be started as soon as symptoms appear, or irreversible damage may be done to the nasal passages and lungs. Infections such as pneumonia should be taken very seriously as they can kill a rat in only a few days.

Mycoplasma pulmonis (myco) is a bacteria that is found in almost every rat. When rats are young and healthy, their immune systems are able to keep the bacteria in check, but if their immune systems are weakened the bacteria can multiply and cause more damage. Symptoms of a myco flare-up or respiratory infection usually include porphyrin (red mucus) around the nose and eyes, sneezing, noisy breathing, and “coughing” (appears similar to the hiccups).

There are quite a few factors that can greatly increase the chance of a myco flare-up or infection: the use of pine or cedar shavings, ammonia from a dirty cage, smoke, chemicals or harmful fumes, vitamin A or E deficiency, stress, old age, or illness. If the myco is able to multiply enough, it will start to irritate the lining of the nasal passages and lungs, causing them to produce mucus and scar tissue. The myco can also spread to the inner ear (seen as head-tilt) or uterus/genitals.

There is no cure for myco, but respiratory infections such as pneumonia can be treated. Antibiotics, a healthy diet, a clean cage, and an environment free from stress will help keep your rat’s immune system strong and able to fight the myco. If a myco flare-up or infection occurs, you need to get antibiotics from your vet. Baytril (usually used in combination with doxycycline) is one of the more effective antibiotics against myco, but tetracycline, tylosin, and erythromycin are also capable of fighting myco and any secondary infections. Humidifiers, Bisolvon (decongestant), nebulizers, or having them in the bathroom while the shower is running can also help ease congested lungs. In most cases, eventually the myco will become resistant to treatment and the rat will not be able to breathe freely. In the late stages the rat may gasp through his/her mouth, become restless, the feet and tail tip may turn blue from lack of oxygen, and if the infection reaches the inner-ear head-tilt will also develop. When your rat’s quality of life becomes poor, euthanasia (with anesthesia given before the injection) should be considered.

Respiratory Problems
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3 thoughts on “Respiratory Problems

  • April 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Hi. I am mommy to two beautiful rats. My first girl, Tara, I got in Feb this year. Not sure what kind she is but is completely black on top & white on her tummy. She has grown drastically since I got her; she eats very well. Reggie rat, other grains, fresh fruit and veg, a lil meat once a week (I’m a veggie) and yoghurt. They have a very clean cage which gets cleaned from top weekly with warm water & a tiny bit of vinegar. Clean plain white paper at the bottom then a nice thick layer of fresh corncob. Getting to the point she does this sneezy squeaky sniff thing…to me it’s like a way of her sniffing and commenting. She’s done it since I got her and only does it when she is wondering around. Not when eating or sleeping. No mucus at all, no coughing or difficulty breathing or head tilt. She has a shiny coat, growing very fast and super healthy. Should I be worried?? Surely she would’ve gotten sick by now? She spends most of her time with me; not very interested in Ava who I got to keep her company because rats are happier in pairs. All Tara wants is me and good food lol! She sleeps with me at night and is not mean to very cute little Ava, but not BF’s. I think Tara thinks she’s a human. I have other pets but Tara is my best friend. Advice please?

  • October 24, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Hi Michelby… My rat’s are just like that too(Squiggle and Hoppsie)! My Siamese ratty, Zooty, who unfortunately passed away on Sat. the 20… when she was a few months she also had just a white belly and black on top! When she got older the rest of her coat got darker too, leaving just her face that dark browny/black. Depending on how old Tara is a Siamese? Not sure about her sneezy squeaky thing but I wouldn’t worry to much (though I’m not much of an expert lol) because all my rats have these (almost sneezy squeaky) happy sounds and they all sound different. So maybe it’s her happy sound?
    Hope I could help.

  • February 24, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    Good evening fellow rat loving peeps.
    One(Coco) of my 3 girls(Nancy, Coco and Lily) have been diagnosed with myco. I have been giving her medication religiously every evening for the last 3 and a half weeks. She doesn’t seem to get better. The vet refused to give me the baytril/doxy combination. So she has just been on Baytril. I have now odered Doxy over the internet. Does anyone know if it will be harmfull to give her the combination now, after she has been on meds for so long? How do I help her? I have yet tried the shower tip. I really want her to be better. Any advice?


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