COMMON PROBLEMS IN RATS
A rat's lifespan is only 3 to 4 years so aging changes and natural fatal conditions
such as tumors are fairly common. Here we cover the more common conditions you
should recognize so that you know when to take your rat to a veterinary surgeon.
Many people think it is not worth taking a pet rat to their veterinarian but
those with rats as pets or show animals can become very attached to them.
The skin fungus ringworm is common in rats. Your veterinary surgeon will diagnose
ringworm either by using an ultraviolet light, under which the ringworm lesions
on the skin fluoresce or by taking a small amount of hair and examining it under
the microscope. This will also show if there are any fur mites causing the skin
problem. Ringworm can be treated with medication (griseofulvin) by mouth; mites
can be treated with an injection of the drug called ivermectin.
Cancer of the mammary glands is very common in rats. It is often malignant
and in such cases the prognosis is very poor. Nevertheless rats are less affected
by malignant mammary tumors than are mice and many masses will be benign and
can be removed surgically. Even if malignant, the prolongation of life by a
couple of months is significant in animals with a short lifespan.
This is common in rats and can be caused by a wide range of infectious organisms.
These range from bacteria, through single-celled organisms like coccidia to
parasites such as tapeworms. Among the bacteria are two of particular importance:
Salmonella and Bacillus piliformis. Salmonella can pass from animals
to man therefore any diarrheic feces should be cultured to ensure Salmonella
is not the cause. An animal with Salmonella may have to be put down but other
bacteria can be treated with a drop of antibiotic (such a neomycin) by mouth.
Bacillus piliformis causes Tyzzer's disease which often results in generalized
illness and death. Antibiotic treatment may be effective but prevention is preferable
and a quarantine period for new animals coming into a collection is important.
Pneumonia is a common problem in rats and occurs often in larger colonies
rather than animals kept individually or in small groups. Animals with breathing
difficulties, a hunched up posture and loss of general condition may have respiratory
problems, caused by viruses, the organism mycoplasma or bacteria.
This is only a small survey of the problems you may see in pet rats. Many
diseases are related to poor husbandry, showing the importance in keeping your
pet in the best possible conditions.
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