Mycoplasma and the Evolution into a Deadly Respiratory Disease
In a healthy rat, the mycoplasma bacteria is not particularly disruptive. A rat with a robust immune system will experience no ill effects from the bacteria, which are kept in check by the healthy rat's immune system.
Sneezing is more common in rats with mycoplasma and in the case of a minor infection, porphyrin staining and sneezing are likely to be the only noticeable symptoms in the rat. If sneezing and porphyrin staining are observed, a visit to a small animal veterinarian is required for a round of antibiotics. The rat can often live with a low-level infection, but the rat will be at very high risk of developing a deadly respiratory infection at any time.
Mycoplasma poses the most serious health risks to a rat when stressors come into play. Emotional or mental stress, such as that which is caused by a move to a new home or the addition of a new cage mate, places stress on the body and this, in turn, stresses the immune system, making it less capable of keeping the mycoplasma in check. A stressed rat is going to be more prone to developing a secondary infection, and once a secondary infection has moved in, this places serious stress on the rat's body, and the mycoplasma bactera will start to multiply and spread. This is when symptoms of respiratory illness begin to become apparent.
Notably, even a healthy, unstressed rat can fall ill when exposed to the right bacteria or virus, and when this occurs, the end result is the same - a rat with a respiratory infection.
Once the mycoplasma bacteria multiplies and spreads, the rat will begin to experience symptoms like sneezing, coughing, labored breathing, nasal discharge, porphyrin staining on the nose and eyes, lethargy, irritability, weight loss and poor appetite.
Treatment for Mycoplasma in Rats
When treated in its early stages (i.e. when only sneezing and porphyrin staining are present), mycoplasma is a very treatable illness. But when other visible signs of respiratory infection are seen in the rat, the chances of recovery plummet.
Mycoplasma does not respond to antibiotic treatment in a reliable manner, and this means that a veterinarian may have to prescribe several different antibiotics until the rat responds favorably to the treatment. Each infection is slightly different and each rat is slightly different, therefore a drug that's successful in treating a rat on one occasion may be unsuccessful in that same rat later in life. Mycoplasma's lack of reliability in response to antibiotics makes trial and error a necessary component of treatment and in a critically ill rat, there is simply not enough time and the rat succumbs to pneumonia before the proper combination of antibiotics is found.
Some of the most successful drugs for treating mycoplasma include Baytril, Doxycycline, Baytril combined with Doxycycline, and Tetracycline.
In sum, it's vital to treat a rat for respiratory illness as soon as symptoms arise - delaying treatment will place the rat at a high risk of mortality from mycoplasma or a secondary infection.
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