Treating Rats with a Nebulizer
By Debbie “The Rat Lady” Ducommun
In most cases, oral medications are best for treating respiratory disease in rats, but in some rare cases, treatment with a nebulizer might help. A nebulizer is a special medical air compressor which vaporizes medications into droplets small enough to be inhaled into the lungs, delivering the medications directly to the site of respiratory problems. They are commonly prescribed for people with asthma. A nebulizer is a prescription item; you can’t buy one from a store without a prescription, but you can buy used ones on eBay.
Depending on how a rat reacts to being in the chamber, treatments should last 10-30 minutes. You can give the rat treats and also put a healthy rat in the box for company. Respiratory disease can make a rat feel claustrophobic, so some rats are extremely stressed in the treatment chamber. For these rats, the benefits of treatment must be carefully weighed against the risk of stress, which could kill some rats. I find that many rats become tired of being in the box after 10-15 minutes and try to chew their way out. Giving your rats treats while in the box can help.
Drugs that can be nebulized include gentamicin, enrofloxacin, tylosin, aminophylline, albuterol, and acetylcysteine. When putting medication in the nebuliser, it should be diluted with saline. As for dosages, my vet found some info on using a nebulizer on birds which suggests putting 10 mg of enrofloxacin or 5 mg of gentamicin in 1 ml of saline, and as a general rule of thumb for other medications, a 1 to 10 solution.
The nebulizer comes in two parts, the air compressor, and a set of disposable plastic pieces that together are the actual nebulizer. The medication is placed inside the disposable nebulizer which is then attached to the air compressor by a narrow hose. The compressor forces air through the nebulizer. The nebulizer pieces are designed so humans can place part in their mouth and inhale. When I purchased my nebulizer, they gave me two plastic sets, and I found one was better suited for use with rats, so if you buy one, be sure to ask to see the nebulizer beforehand. One end must be blocked with plastic wrap.
Member Susan Nelsen told me she used a medication in her nebulizer called acetylcysteine (brand name Mycomist) which helps loosen mucus. She said she mixed 1 ml of the 10% solution, or .5 ml of the 20% solution with 10 ml of sterile water, and then did a 30 minute treatment. I have not used acetylcysteine but did consult a pharmacist about it. He said if you wanted to use it in combination with other medications, he would recommend doing a treatment with the acetylcysteine about an hour before a treatment with the other medications. This is so the mucus could have a chance to clear out of the lungs first.
Building a Nebulizer Box
The plastic container I bought is 12" X 15" X 5 ½" and I suggest getting one about this size. Choose one that is clear, so you can observe your rats during the treatment, and one with a lid that fits securely, as they will try to push it off.
plastic storage container
½" or ¼" wire mesh
24 gauge wire
drill (optional) or large nail
scissors with a sharp point or sharp nail
Step 1: With a large drill bit, drill 3 holes along the bottom of one end of the box as shown. If you don’t have a drill, you can use a large nail and heat it over a flame source. Be sure to hold the nail with pliers held in a hot pad to avoid getting burnt.
Step 2: Press the end of your nebulizer tube against the end of the box opposite the drilled holes and draw around it with a felt tip pen. Cut this marked hole out. The plastic was too hard for me to cut the hole with a knife, so I held the blade of a utility knife over the flame of my gas stove to heat it. Then I used the hot blade to melt through the plastic. You have to heat the blade after each small cut. Please use extreme caution when using this method and be sure the room is well ventilated as the plastic vapor is poisonous.
Step 3: Cut a piece of the wire mesh to cover the hole on the inside of the box. Extend it at least ½" on either side of the hole. Make a bulge in the mesh centered over the hole to make room for the end of the nebulizer tube. Carefully file the edges of the mesh so there are no sharp points. This is to keep rats from chewing on the nebulizer nozzle.
Step 4: Hold the mesh in place while marking with felt pen the location of holes for the wire. You can make the holes 3 ways. Poke holes in the plastic with the scissors, hold a sharp nail with pliers over a flame and melt the holes, or drill them with a tiny drill bit.
Step 5: Wire the mesh in place so the ends of the wire emerge on the outside of the box. Twist the wire to hold the mesh securely.
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