Most rat owners will, at some point, own a pet rat with chronic respiratory disease. Rats are prone to infections caused by Mycoplasma pulmonis, a naturally occurring bacterium found in the lungs of nearly all rats. The only domestic rats free of these bacteria are laboratory rats specifically bred for that trait, which could immediately become lethally ill if exposed to other rats which do carry Mycoplasma bacteria. When rats do, as is fairly common, develop chronic respiratory disease, a medical device called a nebulizer can be helpful.
What is a Nebulizer/What is Nebulization?
A nebulizer breaks down saline and sometimes medication into a fine mist inhaled by the patient. Nebulization is used in human medicine as well as veterinary medicine. Sometimes a very sick human or animal with a lung ailment does better when taking drugs by nebulization as opposed to orally, because then the embattled system doesn’t need to go through breaking down the medications in the stomach and then delivering them to the lungs through the blood stream. They go straight to the lungs.
Nebulizing saline alone can also help people or pets by breaking down congestion in the lungs. In fact, many rat owners see the same benefits from nebulizing saline as they do from nebulizing antibiotics.
Should I Nebulize My Rat?
You should use a nebulizer for your rats only under the guidance of a veterinarian. You will need a prescription to purchase the device itself, and you may need to get the saline for it from your vet or a pharmacy. If you will be using medications in the nebulizer, you will need to get those by prescription from your vet as well. Ask your vet if you should try nebulizing your rat if:
- Your rat has chronic upper respiratory infections that come and go, responding to antibiotics for a short time but then returning.
- Your rat has pneumonia.
- Your rat makes loud crackling noises when breathing.
- Your rat sneezes but does not respond to oral antibiotics.
- You are wondering if nebulization would be effective for any respiratory illness. It doesn’t cost extra to ask questions if you’re already at the vet! It’s always worth considering your options.
What to Expect from Nebulization
If you’ve chosen to try nebulizing your rat, expect to pay around $100 USD for a nebulizer, give or take $20. You will also need a setup for nebulizing. Mine is an aquarium with the screen lid taped over with clear tape, so as not to let all the steam out. Do not ever keep rats in aquariums for an extended period of time. You can also hold a calm rat on your lap and hold the nebulizer up to them. Many rats are frightened of the noise a nebulizer makes, which is why I prefer to use a tank and hang the mouthpiece of the nebulizer in the tank.
Nebulization will not usually work miracles. It may give you more time with a chronically ill rat, and in the case of one of my own rats, it helped to clear up solid masses of congestion in the lower lungs shown on x-ray. Antibiotic therapy alone had been ineffective. Rats with pneumonia have a poor prognosis, but it may be somewhat improved by nebulization. You will likely need to keep up the treatment for the life of a chronically ill rat, although you may be able to decrease the frequency.
Disclaimer: This is not veterinary advice. I am not a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, nor do I hold any veterinary certification. I speak from personal experience alone. Always go directly to your vet, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, if you have a sick pet.