Archie the Rat

This website is dedicated to our beloved pet Archie. He is loved, he is missed.



Why a rat is a really awesome pet

Respiratory Infections & Warning Signs

Medical Care & Nebulization

Tips for caring for a sick rat

About Chronic and Fatal Illness in Pets

Links for more rat care info

About Us

Nebulization can save a rat's life. Nebulization can improve your rat's quality of life if he is struggling with a respiratory infection. Your vet may not tell you about nebulization, or he may just mention it in passing, because it is time-consuming and many rat owners simply don't care enough to put in the effort.

So here's the scoop on Nebulization. It may seem like a lot of work, but when you have a sick rat there are no easy answers. As I said when I started all this, time and money come and go, but knowing you did all you could for someone you love - that will be with you forever.


To properly explain about Nebulization, I have to start by telling Archie's story. If you want the short answer, feel free to skip ahead to the info under the photo.

Archie had been on antibiotics from mid-September through mid-November. On for two weeks, off and he got sick again in a week. On for another three weeks, off and he seemed to be doing okay for a few days. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, everything changed.

I think Archie got into a skiff with his cagemate Norris. I was down in my office until late evening and when I came up to make dinner I looked in and saw Archie looked distressed. He was fluffy and his fur was mussed. He seemed anxious so I let him out of his cage. He was frantically jumping or hopping around and he jumped up to the back of the sofa and just stood there. Then he started gacking - open mouth breathing where each breath produced a sort of a click/gack sound and he didn't seem to be getting any air. I called down to my fiancee and then I took him to the bathroom for a steam treatment (see TIPS page). Josh came up and said that he'd looked up on the internet and we needed to go to the vet immediately. It was about 9 pm by then so we had to drive out to an all-night clinic that could care for rats.

Our doctor was a sweet young lady who didn't know much about rats, but she tried. They put Archie on Oxygen and we waited a couple of hours until he had calmed down. When we went to take him home, he didn't get 5 minutes before panicing and trying to fit his head through the bars of the carrier. I opened the carrier door and he sort of collapsed, exhausted, and laid there as we hurried back to the ER.

They didn't have much hope for him when we got back. After a couple more hours they pronounced him stable enough that we went home, leaving him there for the night. By then it was after midnight. At about 3 am the ER called to tell me that Archie had eaten a lab block (a very good sign, but the phone ringing in the middle of the night was very frightening and it wasn't easy to get back to sleep.

Archie was in the ER for 3 days. During that time he was on Oxygen constantly, and whenever they tried to take him off Oxygen so we could take him to a small animal specialist, he wouldn't stay stable without it. The ER would not prescribe medications because they just didn't know enough about rats, so I went to my regular vet to get more of the regular medications (Baytril and Vibramycin/Doxycycline, antibiotics often used in conjunction on rats). Finally the antibiotics helped him enough that he was stablized and I could take him home, but I got a prescription for medical Oxygen to give him if he had another attack after getting him home.

The doctors were hesitant to give the Oxygen prescription, and then I had to call around to medical supply stores to find someone who would sell it to me. Finally I found a source although they really didn't want to give me the Oxygen, even with my prescription in hand, for reasons I've never understood. They acted like it was some kind of narcotic and I was some junkie, even though I am a 33 year old woman, clean-cut and responsible-looking.

Anyway, in order to give Oxygen to a rat, you need to put the rat into a container that is mostly enclosed with some ventillation and then run a tube into the container to carry the Oxygen. The Oxygen tanks were portable but heavy and costed $7 to rent. The regulator, which controls the amount of Oxygen that goes out, costed $25/month to rent. The tubes were free. All in all, much cheaper than staying in the ER for $200 per day.


The container (shown above) is a plastic small-animal house or carrier which I got at a pet store for about $15. The lid comes off and has a door in the center that we used for the Oxygen tube. Most of the lid has been covered with clear plastic tape to keep the Oxygen in. Some of the vents in the lid are not covered in tape so as to let exhaled Carbon Dioxide out. If you find yourself in a situation where you need such a container, feel free to print the picture and take it to your vet and ask if this kind of setup would work. My vets gave it a thumbs-up and sent me on my way. I don't think anyone expected Archie to last a week, so I don't suppose they were too concerned about the quality of my homemade Oxygen chamber...



I hoped Archie would never need Oxygen after he got home, but in fact he needed a lot of it. He didn't like being in the chamber. We started the Oxygen input at a 2 setting on the Regulator which is what the vet had prescribed for a 10gallon-sized chamber and this was a bit smaller, so after Archie settled down and started grooming, we'd turn it down to 1 or 1/2. Too much Oxygen can make you dizzy or faint. If he got ansy we'd turn it back up to 2. If he really wanted to get out after a couple of minuted we'd let him out, but sometimes he would take a nap for an hour or more. Since he didn't have to struggle as much for air he was able to relax, rest and heal. We tried to leave him in the chamber over night but he wanted out after a few hours so I had to move him back and hope for the best. I kept his cage close to the bed and somehow managed to sleep lightly enough to wake up if he was in distress. It's possible I slept through plenty of distresses since I always was a heavy sleeper, but I did my best.

Archie got better for a while, then he started getting worse after about a week. Finally I scheduled an appointment with the new vet who had been recommended by the ER doctor. Their office was 1/2 hour away and I didn't want to transport Archie that far but in the end he was on Oxygen nonstop so I drove him across town in his chamber, Oxygen running the whole time. I thought the situation was hopeless at this point, but the new vet recommended nebulization and that made all the difference.



The veterinarian's name is Dr. Doug Pernikoff at Clarkson-Wilson Veterinary Clinic in Chesterfield, Missouri (636) 530-1808. If you live near St. Louis, this is the place to take your rat. If not, perhaps you could still get their prescription nebulization solution.

They kept Archie on the same prescriptions (Baytril and Vibramycin) but added the nebulization which allowed the antibiotics to go directly into the lungs, as well as a bronchial-dialator which made it easier for him to breathe. The nebulizer basically takes the liquid medication and vaporizes it so it can be inhaled. The same chamber I'd used for Oxygen worked perfectly for nebulization.


Above is a picture of the nebulizer and accessories. The accordian tube went into the opening of the lid, it attached to the connector which attached to the medication container, the to the tube, then to the nebulizer. Here are some IMPORTANT TIPS for nebulization:

- SAFE, COMFORTABLE LOCATION: Nebulize in a place that your rat feels comfortable in. Wrap the chamber in a towel or blanket so your rat will feel safe and hidden instead of trapped and on display. The first few times I nebulized Archie it seemed logical to do it on the kitchen counter. This put Archie in a panic and he ended up gasping for breath. The doctor said he was probably just frightened, so the next time I nebulized Archie on the sofa with the chamber wrapped in a towel.

- NOISE: The nebulizer is noisy, so try to keep it away from the chamber and put it on a soft surface to muffle the sound. It gets warm so don't cover it with a bunch of pillows or anything that could damage it. I kept mine on the floor behind the sofa and the tube was plenty long enough to reach.

- PREPARING THE SOLUTION: I stored the bottle of nebulizing solution in the refrigerator but I would let the dose I was using warm to room temperature. This makes it less uncomfortable for the rat.

- CLEANING THE EQUIPMENT: The instructions said to clean the container after each use in hot soapy water, but you will waste a lot of solution by doing it that way. The vet said to clean it at the end of each day or maybe every 2 days. That way I could re-use the solution that was left over after the previous use, plus it stayed at room temperature that way.

- MORE OFTEN IS BETTER THAN MORE TIME: The vet instructed that I nebulize 4 times per day, 10 minutes at at time. Your vet may prescribe differently, bit the important part is that you nebulize as many times as recommended. Don't combine 2 ten-minute nebulizations into one 20-minute nebulization. The frequecy is the important factor here.

-MONITOR: Archie never liked nebulizations, but they helped him a lot. I didn't leave him alone for too long, and if I couldn't sit with him the whole time, I at least checked on him every minute or so. He tried to get out, he chewed on the tube (as you can tell by the fact that it is taped together in the picture) he tried to squeeze out the opening in the lid. A firm "no" or "sit" worked pretty well. He was just making himself excited which wouldn't help anyone. I hated putting him through it, but it was even worse when I would have to skip one and I'd notice him feeling yucky the next day.



I won't tell you it's easy, but I will tell you there are lots of things you can get done during a 10 minute nebulization. I wrote my Christmas cards and wrapped my Christmas presents all during nebulizations. Sometimes I would do dishes or run laundry downstairs. Before bed I would get food ready for Archie and Norris and feed the fish and move the cages to the bedroom during nebulization time.

If it had cured him, I wouldn't have to tell you that it was all worth while because that would be obvious. The fact that it gave him an extra 2 months that he wouldn't have otherwise had, and that he felt good during these months, makes me feel that it was all worth while. If he could have stayed alive and feeling good, I would have nebulized him forever. In the end, his condition worsened dispite all our efforts. We knew going in that it probably wouldn't cure him, but it was a chance for a quality of life and we made the most of each day.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, read the page "About Chronic and Fatal Illness in Pets" wherein I tell the story of Archie's last days and how we made the most of the time we had together and how I eventually knew his time had come.