This article is from the Nov./Dec. 1993 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Karen Robbins
At the last show I picked up a serious respiratory virus in my rats. I sent three in for lab tests to find out what I am dealing with (the results haven’t come in yet). It hit my males the hardest, and more recently the little babies that were just a few days old when it first hit (November 23) are having a hard time and I’m having to put them down. The rats 2–3 months of age and the nursing moms seemed to be the least affected. I ended up losing or having to put down all my older breeding rats except for a couple females that had babies at the time. In the males I now only have two born the beginning of this year (both of these I thought I would lose as they looked like they were on death’s door for 3 days), two breeding males 4 and 5 months old, and the young males less than that. Fortunately, I have young replacement males for those that I lost. However, some rats that were around 6 weeks got very sick and I had to put down many in this age group. In my rats 1 year of age I only have two females left. I ended up losing half of my rat population.
The first symptoms were in three rats (one male, two females); they were hunched up in the cage, fur puffed out, breathing real hard, lethargic, but no wheezing, discharge from the eyes or nose, or any sneezing. I kept a close eye on my rats since I wasn’t sure if this was just a thing in those rats (they were very healthy up until this time). By Thanksgiving I knew it was more serious. More rats were displaying these symptoms, others were getting thin and starting to sneeze and wheeze. Over Thanksgiving weekend three died (all males) and on the 28th I noticed many (males and females) that had swelling in their glands in their throat. The males (mainly) were showing the roughed up fur and lethargic condition; the others were just thin, wheezing, etc. November 30 I was able to see the vet and took an assortment of rats (different ages/sexes), and we sent in three to be tested. She gave me Panmycin to put in the water [100 mg/30 oz water or 400 mg/gal water]. I came home and put down all the very ill rats. By this time everybody was sneezing.
Well, they have been on Panmycin for over 1 week and no improvements. They are maybe sneezing just a tad less. So I’m afraid it is just a virus rather than bacteria as well, which means no amount of medication will help; it will just have to run its course. In my critters it is just affecting the rats; the mice are fine. In the rats that went to the show (21—they were 6 weeks to 4 months of age), I only had to put down two males and one female.
Of our pets in the house (Likkity, Star, Snippet, Little Squirt, Lizzie, and Cindy), even though we were extremely careful, Cindy our oldest rat at 2½ years old caught the bug and had to be put down. Everyone else so far has been okay.
A few days prior to my initial outbreak, I got a call from one of our members saying she thought she had picked up something at the show in the rats she bought. Fortunately, she had quarantined the rats. Her symptoms were bloody eyes, nose, and wheezing. Her vet said it was passed through direct contact rather than airborne. He also said it was a new mutated “bug.” One of the other people who was at the show and bought rats was having problems as well and had lost a mouse. The other member at the show had rats and mice there for sale and one of his cages of rats didn’t pass the health check because of some sneezing in the rats (others were fine though), and he is also having problems. These three people had bought rats from one of our other members prior to the time of the show and that person’s rats are also very ill, so they may have picked this virus up there rather than the show.
One of our other members had just experienced a serious respiratory virus in her rats prior to the November show. She picked it up from bringing in a rat for breeding. She sent in one rat for testing but it came back negative; another she sent blood in for testing of the Sendai virus and that came back negative (that’s good as the Sendai virus is quite serious).
With all this going around everyone’s critters, it is a good reminder to quarantine any new critters you bring in your stud, whether it is for breeding purposes or new stock for yourself or someone else. Also, if you show, it is a good idea to quarantine your show animals when you come back from a show. When you do get an outbreak such as these, send something in for lab testing! I can’t stress this enough. For the good of your entire stud, it is a small price to pay to sacrifice a couple of the ill animals to find out what you are dealing with. When you do send in something for testing, request that your vet also send in whatever’s required to test for viruses as well. With so little done on rat viruses as far as getting a cure, if more people would test their ill animals and get their vet to test for viruses, we may someday see cures for the common viruses.
One person asked me if with all this going around if it meant we couldn’t ever show again, exchange animals, etc., if we had to keep to ourselves so we wouldn’t risk our stock. No, it just means you have to be careful, quarantine, and be aware. Health checking at the shows like we do hopefully eliminates many problems such as this, but with viruses, it can be in the initial stages and the animal is not showing symptoms yet. And when you do quarantine, do so for at least ten days and take care of the quarantined animals after you care for your existing stock. If you do have a problem, it usually shows up 7–10 days after you brought in the new animal, came back from a show, etc.
I will ask Dr. Carmen Booth if she could do an article on the common rat viruses to educate us. Perhaps she knows of some new developments in this area.