Florida Keys Columns
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Rat's 'bloody' eyes and nose may be a sign of stress

Q: My pet rat has been sneezing excessively as of late. I noted a little bloody nose this morning and very red eyes. Is there something that I can do?

- Elise G.

A: There are many things that can cause respiratory infections in rats, including bacteria, viruses and allergies. It sounds like your rat may have developed serious "cold."

The bloody nose and red eyes that you noticed is called "Sialodacryorrhea," more commonly called "red tears." These red tears are not actually blood, but rather porphyrin pigments. These are produced in the rat's tear ducts during times of stress and will come out the eyes and the nose - giving the impression of bleeding from the eyes and nostrils.

A murine, or rat virus, called the SDA virus causes these clinical signs. The SDA virus is highly infectious. The good news, like many viruses, the SDA virus is not lethal to the pet and, will generally self-resolve in about 10-14 days.

Other than this SDA virus, the most common cause of respiratory infections in rats is a bacterium called Mycoplasma. This is found in almost all rats that you buy in pet stores. In most cases this Mycoplasma does not cause a problem. However, in some situations, this bacteria that normally lives in harmony with its host, suddenly becomes a cause of disease, also known as an opportunistic infection.

There are many things that can predispose bacteria to become an opportunist. For instance, stress, which is brought about by many factors, will frequently make a healthy animal show signs of sickness. In the case of your new rat, going from its home where it was born to the pet store and ultimately to your house might have been enough of a stress to make it break with a cold. Of course, going to your house is not a bad thing, but to a little rat, all of this represents a lot of change in its life, and to it, that might be stressful.

Mycoplasma is a type of bacteria that does not respond to common antibiotics. In general it is believed that you cannot totally get rid of the Mycoplasma in rats, but rather the best you can hope for is to control it. What this means is that you can treat your rat with antibiotics which will lower the numbers of Mycoplasma bacteria in your rat's system to a point where it will no longer cause disease. If the rat leads a normal, stress free life, the Mycoplasma infection may never come back. A proper cage, good hygiene, healthy food and lots of loving care should ensure this.

Since the antibiotics used for Mycoplasma are not the type that you can buy over the counter I suggest that you visit your veterinarian for proper treatment. One last important note. Mycoplasma does have the potential to transmit to people, where it can cause similar respiratory signs. So, if you have any questions on Mycoplasmosis in rats, see your veterinarian, and if you have questions on Mycoplasmosis in people, see your family physician.

Dr. Mader is an ABVP Board Certified veterinary specialist practicing in the Keys. Send your questions to Mvh525@aol.com.

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