Harlan Teklad

By Stephanie Raide

I've avoided and postponed writing this article about quarantine and rat care. The reason is the passing of our beloved Carmel on June 3, 2006. I'm still teary-eyed as I write this and even more painful is the knowledge that his suffering may have been prevented by proper observation of quarantine. This is crucial information if you wish to keep rats as pets.

Observing proper quarantine practices is essential to rat health when another rat is to be introduced into your household. It's not like bringing in a puppy as a companion for old Fido. Your new pet rat may carry diseases particular to rats (but harmless to humans). The immediate introduction of other healthy-looking pet rats is extremely dangerous for your current rats and may ultimately be fatal.

I'm no vet or super rat expert, but I've learned the hard way that pet rats have very tender little lungs that are susceptible to nasty pneumonia-like illnesses that can result in death if not treated immediately upon infection. To prevent any possibility of such infections as much as you can, here are the necessary steps for a safe and effective quarantine:

1. Do not bring your new arrival into the home of your current pet rats. You must first find someone living in a separate building who is willing to house your pet rat during the quarantine period. If a new arrival shares airspace with your pet rats, even if just in the same house on different floors, they will become infected.

2. Do plan on a quarantine period of at least three weeks and no less. Many well experienced rat folk prefer to extend it to a full month. During that time, you'll be watching for any signs of illness in your new rat: sneezing, red discharge in the eyes or nose, refusal to eat and lethargy. Should your new pet rat exhibit such symptoms, immediately contact a veterinarian in your area with experience in rat care. In my own case, Carmel's sneezes were ignored until the disease had progressed to a more stubborn stage.

Signs of illness may include but are not limited to any of the following:

* Red secretions from eyes or nose
* Sneezing
* Wheezing
* Rough coat
* Labored breathing
* Lethargy
* Hunched posture
* Swelling on neck or body
* Abscesses
* Scabs or itching
* Diarrhea
* Constipation
* Lack of appetite
* Eye ulcerations, bleeding, or swelling
* Visual identification of parasites including lice nits
* Abnormal odor from the rat
* Abnormal smelling feces or urine
* Respiratory distress
* Head tilt or abnormal gait
* Thinness

3. Do not handle or touch another rat right after doing so with the quarantineed rat. Disease can be spread by contact as well as through the air just like the human cold virus. The consensus among those in the know is to change clothes and wash all areas of your skin that came in contact with the quarantineed rat. Better yet, handle them on alternating days when you've showered and dressed in clean, fresh clothes. Again, this is a rule we constantly broke due to our ignorance about proper rat care.

4. Do not allow others to touch the quarantineed rat. If one person does all the caretaking for your new pet rats, the chance of transmitting something is a lot less. The kids and the in-laws and the neighbors can all wait.

Seems like a big deal, doesn't it? Your current pet rat is just that susceptible to outside diseases and your new rat is just that likely to spread exactly that. If you can't make this kind of arrangement, don't bother at all with getting another rat until your current ones have passed away.

Some more tips for keeping your pet rats in good health during quarantine:
# Avoid pet stores that sell rats.
# Do not handle rats at pet stores or shelters.
# Inform fellow rat fanciers that your pet rats are under quarantine.
# If you are exposed to outside rats, clean up as soon as you return home or wait awhile before going into your home. SDA and Sendai will only remain contagious when away from the host for approximately 3 hours. Go for dinner and a movie or visit friends.
# Avoid housing rats in areas where wild rats have access.
# Avoid taking your rats to rat inclusive events.
# Avoid constantly adding to your colony. It is safer to get rats less often and quarantine them well.

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