To Sneeze or Not to Sneeze

Determining What it Means When Your Fancy Rat Sneezes

Written by: Kathryn Lovings

Fancy rats have a very good sense of smell. Their sense of smell is the most developed of all of their senses. Fancy rats are born deaf and blind. They use their sense of smell to find their mother and get their first drink of milk.

Because Fancy rats can smell things so well, their noses are very sensitive to fragrances, such as perfumes, food odors, and chemicals. Do not allow any type of tobacco smoke to be near your fancy rat, or any other substance that could enter into their lungs and cause permanent damage to them.

It is important to wash your hands before handling your fancy rat so it doesn't think you are a flower to investigate and nibble on, or a piece of food to munch on. I've actually had fancy rats nibble on my ear lobe because they could smell the perfume I'd put on behind my ear. They will even stick their little noses right inside your ear, your nose, or even your mouth, investigating the smells they find there. The curiosity your little fancy rat demonstrates will bring a smile to your face or make you laugh. They are so much fun.

Be sure when you wash your hands that you always use the same soap or cleanser each time before handling them, they will learn to recognize your scent as you approach, and this will lessen the chance of them nipping or biting, or being fearful. Let me provide you with an example.

The other day I was cleaning my fancy rat room. I use Lysol Kitchen Cleaner and Lysol Disinfecting Wipes to clean or wipe out their cages. I had a litter of baby fancy rats that were now seven weeks old. A little fancy rat that I had named LuSeal was shyer than her brothers and sisters. She didn't like to be picked up, and squeaked a warning of fear to me each time I did.

I had been spending extra time handling her and taking her with me while I went around the house doing my chores. She was getting use to my scent and the hand soap I used at the kitchen sink. But this particular day, I had the smell of the Lysol Disinfecting Wipes on my hands. She smelled me before she heard or saw me. The smell was unfamiliar to her so she let out a squeal of displeasure and tried to run and hide to get away from me. Once I put gloves on that didn't have any particular odor to them, she let me pick her up without hesitation. Once she realized who I was, she was content to just sit on my shoulder like she normally did.

Fancy rats eye sight is not that good. Their second most developed sense after smell, is their hearing. Fancy rats are very good at hearing sounds. Especially low or high pitches and sudden loud noises, like a crashing sound. That is why if you drop something when your fancy rat is nearby you may see them jump or run and hide as a response. Fancy rats, like peace and quiet. Though they may learn to recognize certain pieces of music or even the tune of a favorite TV show.

I have a fancy rat that watches a certain TV show with me each week. I set them on my shoulder and when they hear the theme song of the show come on, they turn and look at the TV and watch the whole show. I think they like the program as much as I do.

Fancy rats are very curious and will investigate, sounds, smells, and motion. Sometimes they will come out of hiding to investigate something and run back into hiding, and come back out again, each time, coming a little closer to what they are investigating and lingering a little longer, before they run and hide again. They are fun to watch when you give them something new to investigate. Sometimes you will hear them sneeze when they are introduced to something new. You may even hear them sneeze in their cages or while they are having free time or you are handling them.

The fact of the matter is, fancy rats noses are so sensitive they sneeze just like we do. A fancy rat can have allergies to things like, pollen, dust, and mold. They may have allergies to foods, like milk or cheese. What is important is, you need to be able to determine if the sneezing your fancy fat is doing is just an allergic reaction to something, like the chemicals you're using to clean their cages, or something more serious.

It has been my experience, that the fancy rats I've raised tend to sneeze more, the colder the room is. So I keep a small space heater with a built in thermostat in their room, to maintain and regulate the warmth of the room. I duct tape the cord of the heater right to the wall and cover the wall plug with duct tape too. This protects my fancy rats from chewing through the electrical cord and getting a shock, when they are out playing.

I also keep the bottoms of the doors to their room sealed and the heat register closed. This helps to keep out drafts, germs and dust that might get into the heating ducts or filter in from under the door, like smoke from a nearby fireplace. Having the bottoms of the doors blocked also keeps my fancy rats safe in their room should they get out of their cage by accident.

Fancy rats also need a certain degree of humidity in their living quarters. Just like people's noses get dried out and chapped from the cold of winter, so does your fancy rats. There have even been cases of baby fancy rats dying, because the air in the room where they were being kept was too dry.

Warm moisture helps a baby's lungs develop easier. But you don't want too much humidity in their living quarters either, or this allows bacteria and viruses to develop and linger in their water, food, and bedding materials. Just ask yourself, "Would I be comfortable living in here day in and day out?" If your answer is yes, you probably have the temperature and humidity levels just right to make your fancy rat happy and healthy.

Because fancy rats are so sensitive to smells you must be careful what kind of bedding you use in their living quarters. The wrong bedding can make them sneeze. And if they have to breathe the wrong kind of bedding they can develop respiratory infections, which if left untreated can even cause death.

The worst bedding you can use for your fancy rat is cedar. Cedar is very aromatic. It has a powerful smell. It has such a powerful smell that your little fancy rat may not be able to live and be comfortable with it. The smell could literally kill them. Avoid it at all costs! The second worse bedding you can use for your fancy rat is pine shavings. Though both of these beddings are great at controlling the ammonia smell that comes from urine, there are other ways of accomplishing this without harming the lungs of your fancy rat.

If you keep your fancy rat in a aquarium or a cage without a wire rack and a removable tray underneath, you must use bedding such as, aspen shavings, recycled newspaper pieces such as Yesterdays New, or corn cob, or recycled paper products, such as Cell-Sorb Plus. For more information on beddings. Check out my section on beddings found in my article entitled: Caring For Your Fancy Rat.

You may use old towels or rugs in the bottom of their cages or aquariums. But just remember, towels and rugs are very absorbent of moisture, so they can harbor parasites such a mites or lice and even develop bacteria, mold, or fungus, so you must change them daily. Also, keep their water bottle and food dish clean of mold or algae. Rinse their bottle weekly with bleach. The bleach will kill any bacteria or algae that has built up inside it. Be sure to wash the bottle out thoroughly after using the bleach. To be sure you have all the bleach out, smell the bottle. Does it still smell like bleach? If so, rinse it out some more, until that smell goes away.

Before you become alarmed when your fancy rat sneezes, check a few things. Is their room warm enough? Are there any unusual smells in the room, such as the use of carpet cleaner or room deodorizers? Did you just clean their cages with Lysol or 409 cleaner? Have you dusted the room recently, or does it need dusting? Have you vacuumed the room recently, or does it need vacuuming? Is the vacuum bag full, or does it need changing?

Do your fancy rat's eyes look clear, or is there red around them? Are their eyes puffy or swollen? Is there a discharge coming from their nose or eyes? Is the area under their neck puffy or swollen? Are they doing more than just sneezing? Is there a rattling sound coming from them as they try to breathe? If you answered yes, to any of the questions from this paragraph, you may have the beginning of a serious health problem. Fancy rats are very susceptible to bacteria and virus infections. If not treated with antibiotics or taken to a veterinarian for a check up, they can get worse and die.

Fancy rats can get colds just like we do. If your fancy rat has been sneezing often for a couple of days, and you can't find a reason that is causing it, they may have a cold. If their eyes and noses are clear and their breathing is not labored, and they are eating and drinking normally, and they are alert, curious and active, then they are probably going to be ok. Just keep a close watch over them. If the sneezing persists for more than three days, or becomes more frequent, even if they seem healthy in every other way, take them to the vet's to be checked out. A cold can quickly turn into a respiratory infection which can be fatal. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" when it comes to caring for your fancy rat.

There isn't any need to panic when your fancy rat sneezes, remember their noses are very sensitive to smells, but do be cautious, follow all the guidelines set forth within this article and your fancy rat should enjoy years of good health.


Terms of Use and Disclaimer: This article is graciously donated to the Michigan Fancy Rat Association to use as educational material for both their members and the general public. Permission is given for an individual to make a copy of this information for their records. The information contained in this document is not to be used for any purpose that generates a profit. This document may not be reproduced for any other reason than for a single copy for an individual's records, unless permission is granted from the author.

Rat Dippity Rattery, owns all rights for information contained within this document. The information within this document is to be used as a general guideline for the care of your fancy rat. Common sense always prevails. The information contained within this document, was based on two years of research conducted at the Rat Dippity Rattery.

Last Revision: 02/02/08
Copyrighted © 2004 - 2009
All Rights Reserved
Report technical difficulties to: Michigan Fancy Rat Association Webmaster.