Medical Corner: Be Prepared For Medical Situations
Mary Ann Isaksen
From the March/April 2001 Rat & Mouse Gazette
So often I receive panicked emails and letters (yes, letters sent through the U.S. mail!) stating that someone has a sick rat and they need medication immediately. Due to the nature of volunteer work, most of us working for magazines and clubs don't get to our email every day, but even if we did, there's not a lot we could do to help in a true emergency.
Rats and mice will oftentimes mask their symptoms until the illness has progressed to the point that emergency care is absolutely necessary to save the animal's life. Being prey animals, rats and mice can't show their weakness or they will likely be the next victim taken by a predator in the wild (survival of the fittest). These instincts have stayed with domestic rats and mice. Because of this, it is imperative that you be prepared for anything.
DO NOT RELY ON MAIL ORDER
In no case of pet illness should you rely on a mail order company (club or otherwise) to get you the medications you need to treat your pet at the time you order it - unless the company provides overnight service (and even that can be too late in some cases!). Be prepared for anything to happen when you have rats or mice in your care. Anticipate any problem that may arise and have what you need ahead of time!
LEARN ALL YOU CAN
It is your responsibility to learn all you can about your chosen pet. If you have access to the Internet, you can read mass quantities of information. However, be sure the information is from a reliable source (reputable vet, club, publication), as there is a lot of misinformation out there as well as good information (use good judgment and common sense - when in doubt, ask an expert). Be careful when reading many of the books on the market as well - some still recommend pine or cedar bedding in addition to giving other bad advice.
Establish relationships with knowledgeable pet rat/mouse owners. It is very helpful to have others you can discuss care issues with.
ESTABLISH A RELATIONSHIP WITH A VET
It is imperative that you establish a good relationship with a rat/mouse friendly veterinarian. An emergency is not the time to begin looking for a vet to treat your pet rat or mouse, as many vets are not knowledgeable in the care of small rodents. Begin the search immediately so you have a vet that you trust and have confidence in when the need arises.
Begin looking for a vet by checking the club veterinarian referrals. You could be lucky enough to find a rodent-friendly vet listed in your area. If not, start calling animal clinics in the vicinity of your home or an area you are willing to travel to. First, ask the receptionist if there is a vet in the clinic who treats rats/mice. If the answer is yes, ask approximately how many rats/mice are seen by that vet annually. If it is determined that a good number are seen per year, ask to speak with the vet directly (you may have to wait for a return call as most vets are very busy).
During your interview, let the vet know how important it is that you find a vet who has experience treating rats/mice, and is open to learning about new treatments, etc. This is very important, as many vets are set in their ways about the treatments of rats/mice and take offense if you question them. (Many vets set in their ways or inexperienced won't give anything other than Amoxicillin or Tetracycline for respiratory disease in pet rats, which could end with the death of your pet!) With the knowledge available today via the Internet, clubs, and publications such as this one, we, as pet owners, frequently know more about treating our chosen pets than many vets. A vet not willing to listen to you, learn new treatments, or experiment is not one you want to have to deal with at any time - particularly not in an emergency!
After establishing that the vet is competent, discuss pricing. Some common procedures to gather prices for are neutering, spaying, and tumor removals. Be sure to ask how much the office visit fee is, and if you can bring in multiple animals for one fee. Some vets will charge you an office visit fee for each rat/mouse brought in during the same visit. This can result in extraordinarily high vet visit costs if you have an outbreak in your colony, even before paying for any treatment! Also, be sure to find out if the vet will require you to bring in each rat/mouse in the event of an outbreak, or if he is willing to see one or two representing the colony and prescribe treatment for the entire colony or the number affected. If you feel the prices are reasonable, schedule an appointment with the vet and bring your rat/mouse in for a checkup.
Office Visit $33 to $42
Tumor Removal $35 to $150
Neuter $50 to $100
Spay $50 to $125
(Surgical prices include anesthesia and are for simple procedures only - involved tumor removal prices may be quite a bit higher.)
This checkup isn't just for the rat, it is to check out the vet. Watch how the vet handles your pet - you should be able to tell if he feels comfortable caring for your pet. Be aware of how the vet communicates with you. You want a vet who explains everything to you and will help further your education regarding your pet.
Bring copies of pertinent articles to give to the vet. Briefly discuss their contents with him (don't expect to stay forever - his time is very valuable). You can learn much about the vet's rat/mouse knowledge in this manner. Be sure to bring a copy of the Drug chart (available on the RMCA web site or in the July/August 2000 issue of Rat & Mouse Gazette). The information contained in this chart was gathered through many years experience of a highly skilled vet, myself, and many club members.
Don't feel that you're wasting your money visiting the vet when you don't have a sick pet. Not only are you paying to be prepared in an emergency, but you should take advantage of the visit and ask the vet to give you prescriptions for medications to have on hand for the inevitable (especially in rats) - respiratory disease and possible injury.
In addition, any time you get prescription drugs for your pets, be sure to get enough for the full treatment. Factor in that many drugs are difficult to get rats to take, and quite a bit of it may end up on the bottom of the cage or down the drain when the rat spits it out! It's a smart idea to have enough medication on hand to deal with this problem, as well as to have enough on hand to begin treatment for other rats in the colony who may get sick as well. It can sometimes be difficult to schedule the time or an appointment to get back to the vet's office for refills before you run out - be prepared.
IMPORTANT ITEMS TO HAVE ON HAND
I'm a firm believer that you should have everything on hand that you may need in an emergency and in everyday rat care, but what your vet allows to have on hand will depend on your knowledge and experience, his knowledge and experience, and the number of rats/mice you have. However, there are a number of things you can and should have on hand that don't require a prescription, so we'll start with those.
First, let's discuss things to have on hand for treating standard
problems and injuries. Probably the most standard problem, other than
respiratory disease (we'll get into that later) is external parasites. The
most common are lice (tiny, red stick-like bugs that don't move very fast)
and mites (small roundish looking bugs that move quickly). There are also
burrowing skin mites that you cannot see or diagnose without a skin scraping
by a vet, looked at under a microscope. (Sometimes the scraping won't reveal
the pests, either.) There are two items you can have on hand to treat lice
The list of non-prescription items to have on hand for respiratory disease is very limited and includes medications for very mild cases only. My list does not include homeopathic remedies, however. TYLAN and TETRACYCLINE - that's it, and that's an extremely good reason to get to your vet and establish that relationship! Both of these drugs are active against mycoplasma pulmonis, the organism that is most responsible for rat/mouse respiratory disease, but neither of them are very effective - especially against advanced or severe cases.
This section is difficult for me because, having had pet rats for over 20 years, and having a terrific vet who has taught me very well over the years, I am capable of diagnosing and treating my rats during all phases of respiratory disease - mild to extremely severe. However, many people are not, and many vets will not let their clients keep certain drugs on hand. Having said that, here is the list of mild drugs I recommend rat owners keep on hand. AMOXICILLIN, CEFA-DROPS, PANMYCIN AQUADROPS, BAYTRIL, DOXYCYCLINE, and EYE OINTMENT or DROPS. I won't go into specific uses for each of these drugs since that information is located on the drug chart, but I believe these are the basics. Other drugs that are good to have on hand are ZITHROMAX, GENTOCIN, PREDNISONE or DEXAMETHASONE, AMINOPHYLLINE and EAR DROPS. Another item I feel is very important is Lactated Ringer's, injected subcutaneously when a sick rat is dehydrated and won't drink. But, you must be willing to learn how to give injections to be able to use it (which is very, very important in many cases to save the life of a severely ill rat). All of these drugs require a prescription and can be obtained from your vet. Some may be obtained with a written prescription through mail order catalogs at discounted prices. Take the drug chart in to your vet and discuss it with him.
HEALTH CHECK YOUR PETS OFTEN
In any case, it is so very important to keep a close eye on your pets. Make it a point to give them a "health check" once a week. Check them for anything out of the ordinary.
Make sure the rat is breathing normally - rattling, wheezing, sneezing, and the appearance of porphyrins (a brownish substance that can be mistaken for blood) around the nose or eyes can be a sign that your rat has a respiratory infection and needs antibiotics. Also, inspect the rat's eyes for injuries, infection, cataracts, etc. Check for growths such as tumors and abscesses by lightly palpating all areas of the rat's body. Examine the coat and skin for signs of mites, lice, fleas, etc., and check the entire rat's body for injuries. Check the rat's rectal area for possible pinworm infestation. Check the rat's teeth and gums - teeth should be normal length, not overly long or twisted, and should be yellow to orange in color. Gums should be nice and pink, not white or red. Check the rat's overall condition - too fat can be detrimental to heart health - too thin can be a sign that there is something else wrong.
Mail Order Catalogs: KV Vet Supply 800.423.8211, Omaha Vaccine Company 800.367.4444.
Veterinary Clinics/Hospitals used to obtain average pricing information: Arbor Animal Hospital - Irvine, California; Blue Cross Animal Hospital - Los Angeles, California; Long Beach Animal Hospital - Long Beach, California; Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital of Los Angeles County - Hawthorne, California.