How to Treat a Pet Rat for a Cold

By Tammy Dray

Respiratory infections -- what you might refer to as a cold -- are common in rats and can be dangerous. They can be caused by a number of viruses or bacteria and must be treated as soon as possible to avoid complications. Depending on the type of infection, a vet might recommend antibiotics or other medications to deal with the problem.

Symptoms of a Respiratory Infection

Not all rats show signs of a respiratory infection. Some might carry the virus and infect others without showing signs themselves. If you plan to add new rats to your home and you already have rats, have the newcomers checked by a vet first to ensure they're in good health.

The most common signs of a respiratory infection in rats are:

  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing or crackling, often produced when the rat is trying to breathe
  • Runny eyes or crusts forming over the eyes and lids
  • Nasal discharge

Some rats also develop an inner ear infection, which can cause pain and might lead to head tilting and circling.

Left untreated, respiratory infections can lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory distress, which can be fatal.

Treatment for Respiratory Infections

If the infection is caused by a virus, your vet might recommend a course of antibiotics.

Depending on the severity of the problem and the symptoms present, your vet might prescribe medications to make breathing easier, known as bronchodilators. Some rats might benefit from nebulization, whether this is done at home or in the hospital using nebulization chambers.

Echinacea and goldenseal are natural remedies that can be used to boost the immune system if your rat is suffering from respiratory infections. Always talk to your doctor before using natural remedies in any pet, including rodents.

Home Care During Treatment

If your rat doesn't require hospitalization, your vet will give you the medications to administer at home. In addition, there are things you can do to speed healing and to make sure your pet is comfortable while getting better.

For example:

  • Rats with respiratory infections shouldn't exert themselves.¬†Remove their exercise wheel until they feel better.
  • Move the cage to a draft-free area of the house.
  • Run a humidifier in the room to make breathing easier.