Unfortunately our ratty friends are rather prone to respiratory diseases and Mycoplasma Pulmonis (MP) is the most prevalent one.
Symptoms of MP
Laboured breathing, chattering, weight loss, sneezing, sniffling, squinting, rough hair, Porphyrin staining (red staining) around nose and eyes.
In more severe cases your rat may have pneumonia, infertility, miscarriage and death.
MP can also cause an inner ear infection, so watch out for head tilting in your rat.
Prevention of MP
Your rat will be more susceptible to MP if he is stressed. Try to keep his life as stress free as possible by keeping him stimulated (see toys and games page) and keeping his home clean.
Pollutants and exposure to ammonia and fecal material (pooh) will also make your rat more susceptible to MP. Keep you rat in a clean, uncrowded and well-ventilated cage with clean and safe bedding. Do not use shavings, as these will aggravate MP and may cause other diseases too.
If you get a new rat keep them in a separate cage, in a separate room from your other rats for two weeks. This is a quarantine period. As MP can spread to other rats easily.
What is Mycoplasma Pulmonis?
Are you ready for the science bit?
Mycoplasma is a PPLO (pleuropneumonia-like organism). It is different from other forms of bacteria, as it doesn’t have a cell wall (this is important to remember when treating it). There are 95 types of Mycoplasma, but rats get the kind called Mycoplasma pulmonis (MP). Mycoplasma is the organism genus and pulmonis is the organism species.
MP is carried in the upper respiratory system. It causes a blistering effect on the surface of the lungs and can cause secondary infection. However genital mycoplasmosis is common in female rats and although they do not always have an infection they will have reduced fertility.
MP is very fragile outside of the host (your rat) and it is very susceptible to heat, detergents and disinfectants. This means that washing your hands with hot water will kill MP.
People can’t catch MP, but we can carry it on our clothes and skin for short periods of time. Mycoplasmas live in respiratory passages and lungs, so if we sneeze we could transmit it to our rats. MP can infect an entire rat colony as they transmit it by sneezing, grooming and sexual contact.
Although MP is very delicate and has a slow rate of growth, once it takes root in a rats system it can be difficult to get rid of. MP mimics your rats antigens fooling your rat’s system into ignoring the invading organism.
Rats can be more susceptible to other respiratory diseases once they have MP, as it compromises the integrity of the lung wall.
Not all antibiotics work on MP. This is because some antibiotics attack the invading organisms cell wall and remember MP does not have a cell wall, so these antibiotics will be useless.
You must use the correct antibiotics as soon as possible. Remember there are other pathogens that effect rats, so make sure it is MP before you begin treatment.
Good antibiotics to use are:
Doxycycline combined with Baytril. This should be given in an oral form using a syringe, or dropped in your rat’s favourite liquid food (Ginger loves soy milk). Give your rat 2.5mg/pound (make sure you get an accurate weight of your rat using electronic scales). Give this twice a day for 14-30 days.
Aminophylline can be used if your rat has pneumonia to help it breathe more easily. Give 2.5-5mg/pound two times a day.
Prednisone can reduce inflammation, and can be used with other antibiotics. In the advanced stages of MP this will allow your rat to live more comfortably. Give 0.25-1mg/pound once a day. Only ever use this for a few days at a time, unless your rat is dying, in which case keep it up until he passes.
Make sure your rat is getting enough fluids. You may wish to use a syringe, or eyedropper to give water to your rat by hand. If your rat is not eating properly use a vitamin and calorie supplement, such as Nutrigel. This tastes nice, so your rat should take it easily.