Medical Corner: The Right To Live

Mary Ann Isaksen
From the September/October 1998 Rat & Mouse Gazette

Several months ago, in another rat and mouse publication, I was reading a heartwarming tale about a very special pet rat and became incensed when I reached the conclusion of the story. I knew it was a subject that had to be addressed.


The tale began with a long-time pet rat owner describing how she had found and purchased a baby rat from a pet store, although she said she did not need any more pets, but couldn’t resist him. She described how, over the next four months, she took this special little rat with her just about everywhere, including several rat and mouse shows, where he won Best Pet Rat three times, among other pet awards. She described him as having a sparkling personality and claimed that she had become more and more devoted to this wonderful little rattie guy.

According to the description in her story, her father passed away on Friday, she went to a rat judge training session on Saturday, and on Sunday morning, found this young special rat limp and with a low body temperature. She described how she set him up in a hospital cage, gave him Tylan and Tang in his water, and put a heating pad under half of his cage. She then called another rat fancier to get advice. She was told she should get the little guy to the vet. At this point she added that he looked slightly better when he got warmer, but as the day progressed, his breathing became more shallow and rapid.

She took him to the vet who diagnosed him as having severe pneumonia. By the vet’s description of what he thought was happening, the prognosis was poor, but he gave her the option of treating him with antibiotics. He said they would have to be administered every few hours and said that, if he lived, he would never be the same – he would never have the same energy level and he would be having respiratory infections for the rest of his life. She chose not to treat him, and instead, opted to put this young rat to sleep.


Baby Bo, shortly after his recovery
Photo by Diane Newburg

Baby Bo Jangles

When I read this, I was sickened that this rat, who probably wasn’t even six months old yet, was put to sleep without even trying to give him a chance at life. Over the years, we have learned that many of these severe cases respond very well to antibiotic treatment, especially in young rats who have been otherwise healthy, but even with older, compromised animals. Certainly, the Tylan and Tang mixture she gave him in his water wouldn’t do anything for an animal in his condition since he probably wouldn’t be drinking much anyway (if at all), and also because Tylan is not hard hitting enough to make the necessary quick impact on the invading organisms causing the pneumonia. In cases such as these, we have found many, many times that Gentamicin injectable, along with fluid therapy and sometimes even oxygen therapy, will bring them around in a matter of a couple of days, although treatment must be continued for some time.

A rat, having been damaged from pneumonia, can still live a totally fulfilled life. I have had young rats get severely ill, who required intensive care, go on to live to be over 2-1/2 years of age with the only real damage being scar tissue in the lungs, causing noisy breathing. Yes, they can continue to have respiratory infections throughout their life – their condition may even become chronic, but they still have a great life and (I’m sure) are happy to be living it, despite having to go through periodic antibiotic treatment.


Two of my rats who immediately come to mind when discussing this subject are Batman and Oreo. Batman became severely ill when he was very young and almost died. After antibiotic treatment he was fine, but he always had terribly loud, raspy breathing. He was full of life and gave me tons of love until he was well over two years old. I’m sure many vets would have given him the same prognosis as given to the rat in the story.

Oreo almost died when my rattery was hit with SDA Virus, but with extensive treatment for the severe pneumonia brought on by the virus, we pulled him through. His lungs were damaged from the pneumonia and he had to be treated with antibiotics every few months, but he, like Batman, led a fantastic life until he was over two.


A person who breeds rats on a small scale for show and pet had a baby who became ill at three weeks of age. The baby was wheezy and she treated it with Tylan, but after a few days it wasn’t working. She asked the advice of a group of breeders who told her to put the baby rat to sleep. I was appalled by this recommendation.

Tylan is certainly not the wonder drug these people consider it to be, and these breeders are relying on it way too much, especially if they’re willing to end an animal’s life after trying only one drug. I would never consider putting a rat to sleep after only trying Tylan.


Bo, full grown and with permanent head tilt, does quite well balancing.
Photo by Dawn Kozak

Adult Bo Jangles

The story of Bo came to mind when I heard about this terrible advice. Bo was only three weeks old when Diane Newburg happened upon him as she entered a pet store in Los Angeles. Somebody had purchased him and dropped him on his little head, and he was rolling uncontrollably. A pet shop employee was just about to put him into the freezer to euthanize him. Diane jumped in and stopped this dreadful thing from happening and took him home.

I was already en route to Diane’s for a visit, and when I arrived, Diane told me what had happened and produced this adorable little Black Berkshire baby for me to examine and determine his condition. I didn’t believe that his rolling was caused by falling. In fact, I believed his rolling was what caused the man to lose control of him which made him drop the poor little rat baby. I agreed to take him home and try to treat him.

I set him up in a small cage on the kitchen table, so I could check on him constantly as I walked by. I started him on Doxy-cycline to combat the ear infection I believed was causing his rolling. I also gave him Prednisone, an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid drug which would reduce the swelling caused by the infection and relieve some of the pressure, thereby curtailing the rolling. I added Tresaderm ear drops to the treatment regimen, which contains a topical antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drug as well. I wanted to give this little guy the best fighting chance possible!

It was necessary to hand feed and water him since he was rolling so badly. It was not an easy task, but together, we managed. After three days of treatment and hand feeding, his uncontrollable rolling stopped. He was still very tilted, but he was able to stand on his own, and at that point, he refused to be hand fed. He was a scrappy little guy and insisted on eating and drinking on his own from then on!

Bo is now well over a year old. He has a permanent head tilt due to his ear infection, but he gets around just fine. He runs, jumps, climbs, and plays as well as any normal rat. He has never had to be treated for any respiratory or ear infections since that first one. Moreover, he is one of the healthiest rats I have ever had!


I believe these cases are perfect examples to prove that any rat who is extremely ill should be given every opportunity to recover. How many special rats have to die because somebody doesn’t want to take the time to at least try?