Why is my rat sneezing?

03/09/2018WHY IS MY RAT SNEEZING? IntroductionRespiratory disease is one of the most common ailments seen in rats at The Unusual Pet Vets. Respiratory disease can be caused by a number of different pathogens with the most most prevalent cause being a mixed bacterial infection.Signs of respiratory disease in rats include:Sneezing Porphyri...rats and mice vet



Respiratory disease is one of the most common ailments seen in rats at The Unusual Pet Vets. Respiratory disease can be caused by a number of different pathogens with the most most prevalent cause being a mixed bacterial infection.

Signs of respiratory disease in rats include:

  1. Sneezing
  2. Porphyria (red discharge from the eyes and nose)
  3. Increased respiratory rate or effort
  4. Weight loss
  5. Lethargy
What can I do at home?

Most rats appear to develop respiratory disease after a recent stressor in their environment. This can be moving to a new house, the introduction of a new pet or occasionally secondary to other diseases.  Rats are also sensitive to new smells in their surroundings, and some of these can be harmful over time. This includes smoking, perfumes, scented or treated woods or even build ups of their own waste (urine and faeces). For this reason, rats should be housed in open-wire cages, in rooms with plenty of ventilation. Their wastes should also be removed daily, to prevent ammonia and nitrogen fumes irritating their lungs.

How does the respiratory infection occur?

The primary pathogen involved in rat respiratory disease is Mycoplasma pulmonis. This is a commensal bacterium that populates the respiratory tract and can be present without causing disease. It is the overgrowth of Mycoplasma that is associated with pathology. As it overpopulates the trachea and nasal sinuses, the bacterium causes inflammation, which leads to a build up of respiratory secretions (mucous). This causes the affected rats to sneeze and, in some cases, start to breath faster than normal.

So my rat just has a cold?

Not exactly. Whilst Mycoplasma alone is often limited to upper respiratory tract infections, it can cause pneumonia if other bacteria or viruses are present. Pneumonia is the term used to describe inflammation (and often infection) of the lungs, and a variety of other bacteria and viruses in rats can work in conjunction with Mycoplasma, to cause this.

The main pathogens are:

  1. Corynebacterium – a gram- positive bacteria that can cause lung abscesses.
  2. Streptococcus – another gram-positive bacterium. Humans can transmit this to rats, and it can cause pneumonia, fluid accumulation in the lungs and around the heart, as well as middle ear infections in rats. 
  3. Sialdodacryoadenitis virus (SADV) – a coronavirus that can cause conjunctivitis and sneezing.
  4. Klebsiella – a gram negative bacteria that can be found in healthy rats. It can cause abscesses in a number of organs.
  5. Pasteurella – a gram negative bacteria that works synergistically with Sendai virus and mycoplasma to cause pneumonia.
  6. Sendai Virus – a paramyxovirus that slows down healing within the lungs of already sick rats.
Can you treat it?

Yes: rats with respiratory disease caused by infections can often be managed well with medications, however, it is unlikely that these medications will cure your rat. The bacteria and viruses described cause chronic changes to the lungs that are difficult to reverse, and they often promote the effects of each other. Some rats can be treated and not relapse for several months to a year, whilst other relapse in as little as a week off their medication. The severity and chronicity of the infection depends on several factors, so supporting your rat’s immune system is ideal to give them the best chance of a long, happy life.

What treatments are available?

The treatments for rat respiratory disease involve a number of medications. These include antibiotics for the bacteria involved, bronchodilators to reduce the effort needed to pull oxygen into the lungs and anti-inflammatories to reduce the inflammation occuring. Many of these medications will be required on and off throughout the rat’s life, and over time the types of medication recommended change to better suit the infection as it becomes more chronic.

Where can I find more information?

The team at Unusual Pet Vets is always happy to see new rat patients and receive questions every day on exotic animals. There are several books that provide advice on how to look after your rat, but when it comes to an unwell rat, we would always recommend they are seen by an experienced rodent veterinarian.

Common household materials that can be toxic to your bird

02/01/2018COMMON TOXINS IN BIRDSHeavy metals – Lead and Zinc   People are often unaware of just how many household objects still contain lead, until their curious parrot starts chewing items around the house and becomes unwell. Lead toxicity in birds usually requires the bird to ingest the lead, as lead can be readily absorbed in acidic environments like ...


Heavy metals – Lead and Zinc
People are often unaware of just how many household objects still contain lead, until their curious parrot starts chewing items around the house and becomes unwell.
Lead toxicity in birds usually requires the bird to ingest the lead, as lead can be readily absorbed in acidic environments like their proventriculus (first stomach). From here the lead is distributed by the blood into the bones and into nervous tissue like the brain. This leads to the clinical signs we see in pet birds, namely depression, ataxia, seizures and other neurological signs, anaemia, vomiting and diarrhea.
An affected bird may have one or all of these symptoms, depending on how much lead was ingested and where the lead is distributed to in the body.

As lead toxicity can cause serious health issues and even death in birds, it is important to contact your nearest avian veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms at home.


Zinc is also commonly found in the environment, particularly to treat iron cages and wire in the process known as galvanization. Zinc is most toxic in newly galvanized materials, and thus has been nicknamed “New-wire disease” in birds.
The symptoms of zinc toxicity vary considerably with some affected birds showing gastrointestinal signs like regurgitation and vomiting, others will drink more often than they used to. These are only a few of the signs to watch out for as the symptoms can vary a lot. Zinc can also cause significant inflammation to the pancreas (causing pancreatitis), which leads to very painful, lethargic-looking birds.

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) – Non-stick cooking pans

PTFE is a common compound used to coat the surface of cookware to make them ‘non-stick’ and is also sometimes used in modern self-cleaning ovens. It is very common in households, and unfortunately, is an acute and fatal toxin to birds when overheated. It causes rapid changes to the respiratory system and can lead to death. The best way to avoid PTFE toxicity in birds is to use PTFE alternatives, such as silicone or ceramics, as often affected birds die in minutes, well before they reach their closest veterinarian.

It is not yet known which component of avocadoes is toxic to birds, but it can cause acute toxicity and even death in affected birds. Avocadoes can cause changes to the heart that can lead to lethargy, excess fluid in the skin (oedema) coughing and difficulty breathing.

Onion and Garlic
It is often not widely known amongst bird owners that onion and garlic can be toxic to birds. Very small amounts of these foods are not generally toxic, but there are reports that a ¼ of a garlic clove can be fatal to parrots. Onion and garlic cause oxidative damage to tissues, which leases to destruction of red blood cells and secondary injury to the kidneys. Some birds will also develop changes to their heart. Overall, birds that develop toxicity from ingestion garlic and onions will present as weak and lethargic, and will need supportive care by your local veterinarian to try to prevent long-term damage.

Do you have an amphibian? Lots of information here :)

01/14/2018So you have an amphibian...What is an amphibian?Amphibians are classed into three orders:The Anura, which includes frogs and toads The Caudata, which includes salamanders and newts And the Gymnophiona, which includes caecilians (limbless, worm-like creatures)All three of these groups are characterised by being reliant on water and ectot...

So you have an amphibian…

What is an amphibian?

Amphibians are classed into three orders:

All three of these groups are characterised by being reliant on water and ectothermic (‘cold-blooded’), and unfortunately, approximately 40% of all amphibians are in direct danger of extinction.

What makes amphibians different to mammals?

Mammals are fairly recent additions
to the evolutionary chain
Amphibians are an ancient group of animals on the evolutionary chain
Endothermic (warm blooded)Ectothermic (cold blooded)
Have haired skinHave bare and moist skin
Can adapt to every continent/ environmentAre restricted to moist environments
Have four-chambered heartsHave three-chambered hearts as well as additional ‘lymph’ hearts
Rely largely on their lungs for respirationSome can breathe through their skin, gills, lungs and via a ‘buccopharyngeal’ route
Have kidneys that can conserve water when they are dehydratedHave a limited ability to conserve water and rely on a constant water supply

What type of amphibians do we see at The Unusual Pet Vets?

At the Unusual Pet Vets we see two types of amphibians: frogs and axolotls. The most common frog species we see are the Australian green tree frog and occasionally motorbike frogs. Both can make good pets, but are not great as ‘starter’ or first time pets, as they have very specific husbandry requirements.

The species of frogs seen at The Unusual Pet Vets are primarily nocturnal,
which allows them to avoid the hottest, driest times of day. Some of the frogs,
such as the green tree frog are long lived, reaching up to 20 years of
age and up to 14cm in length.

An essential part of keeping frogs is understanding their dietary requirements. Both adults and juveniles are insectivores and eat a range of live insects in the wild. Appropriate insects include crickets, cockroaches, earthworms, silkworms, slugs, moths, mealworms and wax worms. Care must be taken with mealworms and wax worm portions however, as these insects are very high in fat and overfeeding can lead to significant health problems.
Most insects should be treated with calcium via gut-loading and/or dusting prior to being fed. This is to prevent against nutritional diseases such as metabolic bone disease which results from chronically low calcium diets. This condition is very common in captive frogs.
Feeding of rodents and mince meats should generally be avoided in tree frogs (or only given occasionally), as these animals cope poorly with high protein diets and can develop kidney disease.
In terms of how much to feed, adults should be fed 10-20% of their body weight each week, in 2-3 separate feedings (i.e. offer insects every 2-3 days). Juvenile frogs should be fed more frequently (every day or so depending on their size), but with smaller amounts.
Water access should be provided at all times, but simply using tap water may cause your frog to become sick. Tap water can contain chlorine and heavy metal additives that can be dangerous to frogs, and the level of these chemicals can be decreased (or removed) with water conditioners (available at good pet stores) or by placing the water in a shallow dish in direct sunlight for a day.

As arboreal animals, tree frogs require different levels in their enclosure,
which can be achieved with fake plants, bamboo, tree branches or PVC pipes.
The walls of the enclosure are best made from glass or Perspex, and where
possible it is good to have the roof of the enclosure made from a safe
breathable mesh (materials that rust or can injure the frogs should be avoided)
as this allows ventilation. UV lights come in a large variety of sizes and shapes, but are essential for captive frogs. Appropriate UV lighting allows frogs to metabolise calcium, and without a good source of UV frogs can develop metabolic bone disease. A frog should be able to bask within 20cms of the UV light for it to be effective, and the UV globe changed every 6 months to ensure your frog is receiving enough light (over time the UV output of the globe decreases).
In terms of what temperature is best for your frog, the water temperature should generally be kept between 20-26oC for most species. The thermal gradient temperature in the cage should generally be  between 180C (at the cooler end) to around 35oC at the hottest end, however every species is different. By having a temperature gradient the frog can then self-regulate its own temperature. Any heat sources – whether you use a heat mat or heat lamp – should be placed on a thermostat to prevent dangerous fluctuations in the temperature from occurring. Water temperature can be maintained with an external water heater and filter system.
Another important aspect of your frog’s environment is the humidity. Humidity can be increased by using air pumps or bubblers for smaller cages, but often sprinklers, waterfalls and living plants are required and recommended for larger enclosures. The humidity for most species should be kept between 50-70%. If there are no living plants or filtration system being used, the water in the cage should be changes weekly. This can be extended to fortnightly if appropriate filtration is present.  Small percentage (e.g. 20%), regular water changes are better than large percentage, infrequent changes.
As for the substrate (what type of flooring to use), there are a range of products available. In general, avoid those substrates that are abrasive and/or ingestible. Some good substrates include sphagnum moss, foam rubber, large rocks or moist paper towels (for smaller enclosures). 

Wild axolotls (ambystoma mexicanum) are only found in one lake system in the world based in Mexico, and therefore are classed as an endangered species. Fortunately, Axolotls have become popular pets worldwide, and the captive population is now larger than those that exist in the wild. They can reach 10-15 years of age (although reports of individuals living over 20 years is not unheard off) and reach lengths of 30cms.
Axolotls are unusual amphibians, as they never develop a terrestrial (land-based) form. Normal amphibians such as frogs lay eggs, which then develop into tadpole and mature into frogs for adult life. Axolotls essentially stay as ‘tadpoles’ for their entire life, but are still able to mate and breed in this ‘larval’ form. This is known as neotony. Interestingly, some axolotls have been known to develop into salamanders when exposed to certain thyroid hormones and iodine compounds, but not all axolotls have this ability.

Axolotls are carnivorous predators whose diet ranges from insects to small fish. As axolotls cannot chew their prey, in captivity they rely on humans to chop their food into small pieces so they can swallow their food whole.
Like other amphibians, axolotls are prone to develop calcium deficiencies on insect-based diets, and therefore any insects fed should be supplemented with calcium and/or a multi-vitamin. The insects can also be gut loaded which helps to increase their nutritional value. Ideally, an adult axolotl should be fed an amount of ‘several mouthfuls’ every second day.
Note: Axolotls are adapted to eat moving prey; many axolotls will require training or ‘wiggling’ of any still prey items before they recognise this as food.

As axolotls have external gills, they have a requirement to be submerged in water at all times. Drying out or desiccation of their gills can cause axolotls to suffocate, and for this reason, handling axolotls outside of their tank environment should be kept to an absolute minimum.
Unlike more tropical amphibians, axolotls are adapted to temperate water conditions and water heating is often not required. The tank water should be maintained between 17-18oC ideally however they will generally tolerate 14-20oC . The pH should be around neutral (6.5-7.5). The water depth should be at least as deep as the length of your axolotl.
Axolotls should generally be housed separately to each other, as they will frequently attack other members of their species.

Life cycle
Axolotls are oviparous or egg laying amphibians. Both males and females will reach sexual maturity at 12 months of age, but will not reach their full adult size until 2-3 years of age. Breeding between the adults is triggered by a sudden drop in water temperatures combined with a good amount of food on offer. The male and female can be observed dancing together before the male releases packets of sperm into the water, which the female will then take in and produce up to 600 fertilised eggs. It is not uncommon for these eggs to be eaten, but if they survive for 2-3 weeks, the eggs will hatch and release larval axolotl young.

Summary of Axolotls and the Green Tree Frogs

CharacteristicGreen tree frogsAxolotls
Ambient temperature – Max 
Ambient temperature – Min
N/A : 100% water borne
Water temperature24-26C15-19C
Ultraviolet light (UV)Require a low UV output 12 hours a dayRequire a low UV output 12 hours a day
Humidity50-70%N/A: 100% water borne
Average lifespan15-20 years12-15 years
Can they be housed with others?YesIn some cases
How often should I change the water?Change 20% of the water every weekChange 25% of the water every week
DietGut-loaded calcium insectsWorms, insects, fish
Feeding – Juveniles
Feeding – Adults
Every 1-2 days
Every 3-7 days
Every 3-5 days
Sexual Maturity8-12 months12-18 months
ReproductionOviparous (egg-laying)Oviparous (egg-laying)
License category in WA2None

How to Ensure That Your Carpet Remains Rabbit-Proof and Rabbit Friendly

09/12/2017How to Ensure That Your Carpet Remains Rabbit-Proof and Rabbit FriendlyThis article has been kindly put together by Chemdry Express.Rabbits are a welcome addition to any home because they make great pets. You should make sure that your house is completely suitable for pets before they are allowed to roam free in the home. One of the first things to do ...

How to Ensure That Your Carpet Remains Rabbit-Proof and Rabbit Friendly

This article has been kindly put together by Chemdry Express.

Rabbits are a welcome addition to any home because they make great pets. You should make sure that your house is completely suitable for pets before they are allowed to roam free in the home. One of the first things to do is to make sure that the carpets in every room of the house are suitable.

How can you ensure that your carpet remains rabbit-proof and rabbit-friendly at the same time? The process is much simpler than you might think.

1) Occasional dry cleaning without chemicals

2) Sweep rabbit food from the floor when it drops from the bowl

3) Make sure that waste is not left on the carpets for people to tread in

4) Make sure that rabbits have limited contact with the carpets in the house (where possible)

5) Make sure that the carpets are securely fastened to the floor

Have the Carpet Cleaned Occasionally

Even if rabbits chew on the carpet (which is important to avoid occurring where possible), you should have some dry carpet cleaning performed by professional carpet cleaners with a proven record. This can get rid of waste stains that the rabbit has made on the carpet. You will not have to worry about people making comments about marks on the carpet because the marks generally completely disappear once the cleaning process has been completed. The dry-cleaning process does not use any harmful chemicals, so this means that the health of your rabbit is protected.

Sweep Rabbit Food Off the Carpets

Some people feed their rabbits with bowls of food placed in the living room. Some of this food can accidentally fall onto the carpet and you might not notice it at all.

You can have the carpet serviced by dry carpet cleaners so that all of the food will be removed even if it has been trodden into the fibres by unsuspecting people.

Make Sure That Waste Is Not Left on The Carpet

Some rabbits take a while to be toilet trained, so they go to the toilet wherever they please. Rabbit urine and faeces should not be left on the carpet for a long time because this can cause the carpet to become marked.

When you want to deal with urine and faeces stains caused by the rabbit, make sure that you call a professional company to complete the cleaning job.

Keep Rabbits in Rooms Without Carpets

You might have many rooms in your house which are not carpeted. Once the carpets have been cleaned by the professionals, you should think about housing rabbits in carpet-less areas of your home. This ensures that the carpets are going to remain in perfect condition.

Check That the Carpet Does Not Have Any Sharp Edges

The carpet can sometimes come loose and start to stick up at the corners. Rabbits can accidentally cut themselves on these corners, so it is important that the carpet is fully-fastened down before you let a rabbit wander.

When the carpet has been fully fastened to the floor, it is going to be much easier to clean. Inspect all of the carpets to make sure that they do not have any sharp edges.


Your carpet needs to be properly cared for when you have a rabbit in the house. When the rabbit is not toilet-trained, they can leave stains which will need to be dry cleaned as soon as possible. Also, urine and faecal stains can be lifted out of the carpet using this method.

At some point, you may want to consider a professional cleaning company that will make sure that they explain every step of the process to you so that you are comfortable with what is going to happen to your carpet. A clean carpet is going to benefit the health of your rabbit. The dry carpet cleaning method, that is used by Chemdry Express, is one of the safest and ecologically-friendly ways of making sure that the carpets are spotless, even when a rabbit has chewed or soiled them.

Reptile Sexing 101 – is my reptile a boy or a girl?

07/18/2017It can be difficult to work out if a reptile is a male or female as often there is very little (if any) external differences between the sexes. This is in contrast to most mammals where gender determination is generally straight forward. Birds are also becoming increasingly easier to sex as we now have access to incredible DNA technology where we can tell the ...

It can be difficult to work out if a reptile is a male or female as often there is very little (if any) external differences between the sexes. This is in contrast to most mammals where gender determination is generally straight forward. Birds are also becoming increasingly easier to sex as we now have access to incredible DNA technology where we can tell the sex of your bird from 1 drop of blood – unfortunately this technology is not yet available for reptiles.

Many reptile owners couldn’t care less if they have a boy or a girl however knowing the sex of your reptile can help you to be aware of what behavioural and reproductive conditions they may be at risk of. A good example is if your reptile is a male it cannot suffer from conditions like dystocia (difficulty giving birth) but may be more aggressive towards other males in the cage. If you have a male python it may be more prone to brumating (similar to hibernating) and not eating for longer than a female during the cooler months of the year.

Today’s article looks at the different methods of reptile sexing commonly offered by most reptile vets in Australia.

Visual sex determination
Some reptiles have obvious sexual dimorphism where the males look quite different to the females. Many geckos are a good example of this as the males develop a much larger bulge just caudal (towards the tail) to their cloaca. Several dragon and monitor species also have external differences with the males often having larger heads, more obvious femoral pores, growing to a larger size and in some cases having larger spurs at their tail base. Some species of turtles also have external differences in shell shape and tail length with the males tail generally being longer.

In many species you can also look for a ‘hemipenal bulge’ which is a tubular bulge that runs towards the tail tip for a short distance on both sides of the bottom of the tail starting at the cloaca. This bulge shows where the hemipenes (the reptile equivalent of a penis) sits and is only present in males.

Some species are able to be sexed by placing a bright light source up against the tail base (while in a dark room) and looking for the blood vessels that run inside a males hemipenes. This works well in species that are lighter in colour with a relatively thin tail however is challenging in other species.

Probing is the most common method of snake sex determination and involves placing a smooth and round-ended metallic needle into the cloaca then directing it towards where the hemipenes would sit in a male. If the probe advances only a short way then the snake is a female as there is no hemipene for the probe to advance into.

There is a lot of potential to cause damage if this technique is done incorrectly and because of this it should only be performed by someone with an appropriate level of experience and training.

Popping involves placing a small amount of pressure at the tail base to evert the hemipenes (if the animal is a male). This technique also has the potential for harm so please do not attempt this unless you have experience.

Radiography (x-ray)
Radiography can help to determine the sex of some lizard species (and any species if they have eggs present). One method that is often used in large monitors involves plain radiography where we are looking for the ossification of the end of a males hemipene. This technique has its limitations as if this is not present it doesn’t guarantee that the animal is a female as many males do not have hemipenal ossification.

A second technique commonly used involves inserting a small amount of specialized dye into the reptile’s cloaca in a caudal (towards the tail tip) direction. The distribution of the dye looks different in males and females which allows us to determine the gender. This technique is particularly handy for bluetongue species.

An ultrasound can easily determine a reptile’s gender and can also help to tell if the reptile is reproductively active. It is non-painful and can be performed in most species that are large enough (some really small species are just too small to get accurate results).

Many reptiles can also have their gender determined by inserting a small (generally 1.9mm or 2.7mm) endoscope into their body cavity to be able to visually identify whether they have ovaries or testicles. This technique requires general anaesthesia so other techniques are often preferred where possible.

As you can see there are lots of different techniques for determining the sex of a reptile. Every reptile is different so if you would like to know any more about what the best way would be for your animal then please get in touch with us.

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