Virtually all pet rats in the United States are affected by a bacteria known as mycoplasma. This can cause a number of health problems, including breathing difficulties, pneumonia and a red discharge from the eyes, known as porphyrin.
There are a few rats who do not have mycoplasma — they are typically found in scientific laboratories. Mycoplasma is typically transmitted from the mother to the baby rat shortly after birth, as the pup has a weak immune system, plus he is in extremely close contact with his mother. Adult rats can also catch mycoplasma from an infected rat, but in a vast, vast majority of cases, the rat catches mycoplasma shortly after birth.
In a healthy animal, the mycoplasma bacterium remain dormant. The rat’s immune system cannot eradicate the mycoplasma, but it keeps it under control, preventing the manifestation of symptoms such as sneezing, wheezing, nasal discharge, and red eye discharge, called porphyrin (it’s often mistaken for blood!). If left untreated, mycoplasma can turn into a form of potentially-deadly pneumonia.
In its dormant form, mycoplasma does not cause any symptoms, aside from a small amount of porphyrin that may appear around the rat’s eyes on occasion. But when the rat is sick, injured or stressed, the symptoms of mycoplasma will become more evident.
Stress from an event such as a move to a new home or the introduction of a new ratty roommate can tax the rat’s immune system. The immune defenses are lowered slightly, which allows the mycoplasma to gain a foothold. As a result, symptoms of a respiratory infection (caused by the mycoplasma) arise.
Mycoplasma can also arise as a secondary when another illness or injury occurs, thereby serving to tax the immune system.
When a rat begins to exhibit symptoms of a respiratory infection, it’s important to schedule an appointment at the veterinary clinic as soon as possible. Mycoplasma can transform into pneumonia in a matter of hours. Rats are very fragile creatures; they tend to go downhill very, very quickly. So the sooner you seek treatment, the better the prognosis.
If treated with antibiotics in a timely manner, mycoplasma flares are associated with a good prognosis.
For more pet care tips, including information on the benefits of using fabric bedding for rats and other small animals, stop by PetLvr’s archives!
Photo Source: Kai Kuusik-Greenbaum on Sxc.hu