Is My Pet Rat Sneezing, Coughing, Rattling, Hiccuping, or Wheezing?

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Pet rats sometimes make weird noises. Knowing the differences in particular noises can help you to figure out just how serious the issue at hand is. Just like humans, rats do sneeze on occasion. However, rattling and wheezing is a very serious issue that could become life threatening quickly.



Is My Pet Rat Sneezing?

A sick rat with porphyrin all over its face can be a scary site for first time rat owners.
A sick rat with porphyrin all over its face can be a scary site for first time rat owners.

Rat sneezing sounds like a slightly high pitched “pchhtt”.  Lots of factors can influence a rat to sneeze. It can be caused by allergies, illness, change of seasons, new scents, new pets, and even just sniffing around. Bloody colored secretions called porphyrin could potentially accompany sneezing; with slight amounts being a sign of irritation, while a buildup could mean a serious infection might be occurring within the lungs.

Does Sneezing Mean My Rat Has Allergies?

In some cases, rats do develop allergies. You might notice that your rat goes into sneezing fits at different times.  If you have changed the rat’s food, bedding, or added new items to their environment, it could be possible they are experiencing allergies. Just like us, rats can become allergic to different things within their environment. Begin by eliminating items from the rat’s diet and environment, replacing them with hypoallergenic items. For example, instead of bedding, you might use 100% cotton towels washed in free and clear detergents; Dreft is a good baby detergent to try out.

I Just Changed Beddings In My Rat Cage. Is My Rat Allergic to the Bedding?

Wooden shavings can be dangerous for pet rats. Cedar shavings are toxic and deadly. Pine and other wood shavings can contain large amounts of dust, and may cause potentially severe respiratory distress depending on the animal's sensitivity.
Wooden shavings can be dangerous for pet rats. Cedar shavings are toxic and deadly. Pine and other wood shavings can contain large amounts of dust, and may cause potentially severe respiratory distress depending on the animal’s sensitivity.

bedding recently, this can cause sneezing. Dust levels are different with different beddings. Carefresh and Kaytee paper bedding are good options, but any bedding switch can cause some minor temporary sneezing. Wood shavings can definitely cause flares, so try to avoid these beddings if possible. If it continues or gets worse, you will need to switch brands.



Is My Rat Sneezing Because It’s Sick?

Continuous sneezing could be a symptom of a bigger illness. Usually, you will see accompanying symptoms such as discharge from the eyes and nose, rattling, a change in appetite, a change in activity, and overall appearance of discomfort or illness.

Rat Sneezing Due to New Pets, Air Fresheners, Candles, and Scented Oils

air freshener, candles, oil diffusers, wax melts, oil warmers, and incense can all irritate a rat's respiratory system and make them somewhat sick. Not all get irritated; just the more sensitive ones and those who are already ill.
air freshener, candles, oil diffusers, wax melts, oil warmers, and incense can all irritate a rat’s respiratory system and make them somewhat sick. Not all get irritated; just the more sensitive ones and those who are already ill.

All of these items, especially air fresheners, candles, and warming oils can cause a sneezing fit in rats. New animals in the home can cause it as well, such as a cat or a dog. The rat will usually become accustomed to a new animal in the house; but it may never get used to those pretty smells that you put into the air.

Essential oil diffusers are currently very popular, especially among young adults. They can be therapeutic for humans, but think twice before diffusing oils; cats have been shown to have adverse reactions. Some have even died due to use. I could not find substantial information regarding the use of essential oil diffusion around pet rats. Personally, I do not recommend it due to the frail nature of the ratty respiratory system.

Is My Pet Rat Developing a Cough?

Courtesy of Emily Grammer, of The Rat Cave
Courtesy of Emily Grammer, of The Rat Cave

Rats do not necessarily cough; usually when you see this coughing behavior, it is more than likely an act of severely labored breathing. Labored breathing is another way of saying “get your rat to the vet as soon as you can for antibiotics“. It is also possible that the rat has a bit of a choke and either jumps forward or backward. Rats get tickles in their throats just like we do; and when they eat to fast, they can choke themselves up. Most of the time, they clear it up before you even have time to mentally process what just happened.

What Is Rattling and Wheezing In Rats?

Bacteria can pose a serious risk for your rats. Whatever the infection may be, you need to sanitize all items within a rat age should an illness break out.
Bacteria can pose a serious risk for your rats. Whatever the infection may be, you need to sanitize all items within a rat age should an illness break out.

Before we move too far ahead in this section, I do want to ensure that no one confuses molar bruxing and eye boggling for rattling; bruxing and eye boggling or vibrating is something rats do when they’re happy or stressed. It’s usually a short episode of grinding noises and head vibration. Rattling, however, is when you hear noises that sound similar to a baby rattle or someone with a severe chest cold coming from the rat’s respiratory system. Rattling is very, very serious. It is usually signs of an advanced respiratory infection that requires immediate antibiotics and a dust & pollutant free cage and environment until the rat is successfully treated.

Wheezing is the whistling noise that you will hear while the rat is breathing. It doesn’t necessarily have rattling with it. They can occur together though. Wheezing is usually the sign of a newly formed respiratory infection or even a minor mycoplasma flare. Myco can be very, very mild or very serious. Almost all rats (other than sterile lab rats) have myco flares at some point in life. If the wheezing continues to get worse or lasts longer than 48 hours, it would be wise to administer antibiotics. Always avoid abusing antibiotics; using them when it’s unnecessary CAN lead to antibiotic resistance. If the rat can fight it off, he or she needs to let the immune system manage it.

Can a Rat Get the Hiccups?

pink eyed white rat laboratory animal
White rats were a rare occurrence in the wild, but then scientific purposes caused their populations to explode.

It is believed that rats CAN get the hiccups. From the research that I’ve done, it appears as if many owners notice this hiccup behavior shortly after waking. Perhaps it is due to waking up, in an effort to prepare the body for activity (potentially the heart and lungs, much like stretching prepares the muscles).  If the rat is also having issues breathing, I would not consider it the hiccups but instead a potential respiratory infection.


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