If your rat is sneezing or coughing, that is a sign of respiratory disease.
If possible, you should take your rat to a vet to have him or her properly diagnosed and treated. Even mild respiratory disease can develop into something more serious very quickly if left untreated. A persistent, chronic cough or sneeze is often a sign of Mycoplasma, which can cause permanent loss of lung function. This will make it harder for your rat to breath and also contribute to other health issues, especially in older rats. Chronic respiratory disease is probably the leading contributor to shortened lifespan, especially in male rats.
That said, it is not always practical to take your pet to the vet. So, it is helpful to know some basic remedies that you can try, and have the necessary medicines at hand. You will need to weigh your rat, and mix these medicines with something tasty at the correct dosage. The basics are:
- Amoxicillin will treat many common, acute bacterial infections and is safe to give to pregnant and nursing females as well as babies. Since it is so safe and effective against many infections that might otherwise quickly kill your rat, this should be your first line of defense for a very sick rat. It is not effective against Mycoplasma, however. 10mg/lb 2x/day for 10-15 days.
- Azithromycin is also effective against many common respiratory infections, and it is also safe to give to pregnant and nursing females as well as babies. It treats different bacteria than Amoxicillin, including Mycoplasma, and it is safe to give both in combination. It is also anti-inflammatory, which will help your rat breath a bit better. It’s thought that this is not as effective in treating older rats, where Doxycycline and/or Baytril might be better options. 4-8mg/lb 2x day for at least 14 days.
- Baytril/Enrofloxacin should only be given to adult rats unless your vet says otherwise. Avoid giving to nursing or pregnant females. This can be especially helpful for older rats with chronic Mycoplasma infections. If your rat is wheezing, possibly add Doxycycline for additional coverage of bacterial strains as well as it’s anti-inflammatory properties (although, if your rat is that sick, best to take it to a vet if possible.) 15mg/kg 2x day for at least 14 days.
- Doxycycline should only be given to adult rats unless your vet says otherwise. Avoid giving to nursing or pregnant females. This is generally not given on its own, but in combination with Baytril where is will help against infection, and also act as an anti-inflammatory to help the rat breath better. 5-10mg/kg 2x day for at least 14 days
- Ambroxol will help your rats breath better because it is an anti-inflammatory, and loosens up mucus so it is easier for your rat to keep his airways clear. It also helps antibiotics penetrate to where the bacteria are and improves your rat’s own ability to fight the infection. It is safe for pregnant or nursing rats as well as babies big enough to eat solid food. Read my blog post about Ambroxol. Unfortunately, you will need to order this from Europe where it is OTC, as it is not sold in the USA. 0.5-1mg/kg 2x day as long as your rat is on antibiotics.