This article is from the Holiday 1997 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Carmen Jane Booth, D.V.M.
Devon Kendra Johnson, Richmond, VA
Q I am in seventh grade at Tuckagoe Middle School in Richmond, Virginia. I have a question about my mouse. What if she becomes ill? Should I take her to a local vet?
A It can be difficult to find a small animal veterinarian who is experienced and comfortable working with pocket pets such as mice and rats. It is usually advised to try calling around to the veterinarians in your area and trying to find one that can help you before any of your animals become ill.
Most states have veterinary medical associations that may be able to help you find a veterinarian experienced with treating rodents. Veterinarians who are specialized in diagnosing problems and treating diseases in rodents are called Laboratory Animal Veterinarians (LAV). Most LAV work in industry, but some also work part-time in regular veterinary clinics. Many local veterinarians have friends or colleagues that they can call if they need advice in treating rodents. Dr. Booth is always willing to provide information to any veterinarian that does not have experience or medical references for treating rodents. She can be reached by contacting Karen at AFRMA or through the American Veterinary Medical Association by the local veterinarian.
Q We have two pet mice, Patches and Mortimer. It seems Mort is not well. He sits huddled in his tank and sometimes he extends his front feet as if to keep them from touching the floor. His coat is brown but has gotten heavy black roots. He looks a bit spaced and doesn’t seem himself. I don’t want him suffering. I am aware that mice, because of inbreeding, do get cancers. We had one that developed testicle cancer—he had to be put to sleep. A vet is going to cost $50 to $100 to check him. Have you ever seen these symptoms? Patches is always, as usual, cleaning him, and I know she senses he is not well. HELP.
Answer From Karen Robbins
A There could be several things wrong with your mouse and by the brief description, it’s hard to take a guess. If you have any additional information you could send such as: age; is he eating or drinking; does he scratch himself a lot; is his fur standing on end so he looks puffed up; what color is his nose, ears, feet, tail—bright pink, or a pale anemic color; how long has he been like this—days, longer?; what do you feed, what kind of bedding do you use and how often is it changed; any other details you could give would be appreciated. I really would suggest taking him to a veterinarian if at all possible, but I understand the financial costs. Perhaps there is a different veterinarian in your area?
Answer From Carmen J. Booth D.V.M.
A Karen is correct in that more information is needed. This question brings up a good point in respect to the cost of veterinary care. As a pet owner since childhood and now a veterinarian, I understand both sides of the issue. Irrespective of the size of the pet involved, when you have a sick animal you want the best care for your pet without incurring a large financial debt. Small animal veterinarians have to charge for their time and what procedures and tests that they perform irrespective of the size of the pet, otherwise they cannot stay in business. Large animal veterinarians better understand the situation of herd health and adjust their charges accordingly. A herd heath approach is what is needed for most people with medium to large colonies of pet rodents rather than the individual approach of people with just one or a few pet rodents. There is a wide range in the fees for veterinary hospital office visits and some can be as low as $20–30; however, with a sick animal that may require diagnostic tests or treatment, the cost would be more. In Massachusetts, the SPCA has a large hospital in Boston and they have programs that help low income people pay for veterinary care for their pets.
Michele Kelly, Midlothian, VA
Q I have had a Hooded Rat for 2 years now. She’s so sweet! I am the only person she completely trusts. She never even tried to bite me when her tail got caught in her cage and the bone was exposed. I took her straight to the vet and he had to amputate the exposed bone part of her tail. That was quite some time ago though. I really love animals, big and small. I was wondering if you could please send me some information about any diseases rats may carry. My youngest daughter was bitten a few weeks ago, and I’m concerned about any illness that a domestic rat bite may cause. I also wonder about anything their feces may carry.
A A bite from any animal can be a serious problem if the wound becomes infected. Most domestic pet rodent bites, if cleaned properly, heal without problems. If you have any specific concerns regarding your child, you should contact your child’s pediatrician. Most human doctors are concerned about Rabies or Tetanus in animal bite incidents. To my knowledge, caged domestic rodents have never been associated with the transmission of Rabies Virus, since they are not likely to become exposed to a rabid animal in the first place. The only diagnostic test for Rabies Virus, requires euthanasia of the animal and specific fluorescent antibody testing of the brain tissue. If your child is not currently vaccinated for Tetanus, than you need to contact your child’s pediatrician. As far as other diseases that can be transmitted from rodents to humans, most are carried by wild rodents and the risk of contracting anything that could cause a problem is substantially lower with domestic pet rodents. Although the risk is low, it is not zero. I have never known anyone personally to have developed any disease from their pet rat (including myself in 20 years of having been exposed to them). There are a number of diseases that they can carry that are zoonotic to humans. Zoonotic is the term used to denote that an animal disease can cause disease in humans. No matter the species, I always recommend that people should wash their hands after handling their pets and before eating.