The Importance of Proper Quarantine
©1997-2004 S.Easter of Lone Star Rats of Central Texas. All rights reserved.
Why your rats are more than worth the precaution!
Please note that the guidelines included in this article apply to NORTH AMERICA ONLY
Breeders and pet owners in other countries, especially the UK, do not need to be as strict about quarantine because they do not have viruses as severe as we have in North America.
Rats are susceptable to a number of illessnes and parasites, from some very mild ones like lice and mites, to the very severe, such as the often deadly viruses SDA and Sendai. Unfortunately rats are often infected and contagious for several weeks before they might begin to show any symptoms of being ill. Proper quarantine helps to reduce the risk of transmitting diseases and parasites, whether you are bringing new rats home, preparing to go to a show, or returning from a show. Ideally in each circumstance, the rats in question should be quarantined for a minimum of 3 weeks. If no symtoms are seen after that time, then it is generally safe to consider your rats free from most diseases.
Prior to and following each rat show you attend, you should quarantine for a minimum of 3 weeks, or longer if the club specifies. Often they do require longer quarantines, and that is nothing to be alarmed about, it is just the club trying to do what they can to ensure the safety of all rats who attend.
Pre-Show Quarantine :
- Requires that starting the day quarantine is supposed to begin (for example September 21st for an October 19th show to provide a 4 week quarantine) you should not bring any new rats into your home at all on that date or after. This includes all rats, those which are bought, and those that might be born in your home. New babies are still considered to be "new" rats. If you have ANY contagious illness occur in any of your rats, even if it is in a rat your were not planning on bringing, you should consider all of your rats to be contagious, and thus none of them may be brought to the show. They may not show symptoms, but they can still be contagious. Rat shows were designed to be fun for everyone, and while it is definitely not fun to leave your rats at home, it's even less fun to know that you brought a disease to a show and causes other people's rats to become ill. Certain things which occure such as ulcerated (open) tumors and abcesses, which will render the rat suffering from them ineligable to compete, are not contagious, and will not effect the rest of the rats you own. If you are unsure about anything, either play it safe and leave them all home, or ask the advice of a knowledgable veterinarian or club officer prior to the event.
You must NOT breed any litters yourself or lend bucks out for stud service during quarantine, even if those rats are not going to the show! No litters should be born during quarantine, as mentioned above, they are considered to be "new blood" and can be as dangerous as introducing a new rat.
Post-Show Quarantine :
- Requires that following any show or event where you brought your rats, they are to be quarantined separately from the rest of your rats and you should follow the same guidelines for a new rat quarantine (see below) for a minimum of 2 weeks, with 3 weeks or even longer being ideal. If no symptoms of infectious diseases or parasites are present, then at the end of the quarantine period, things may return to normal and they may be moved back in with, or near your other rats. If any of the rats get sick, they should be seen by a veterinarian and treated, then not until three weeks after the ceasation of both the treatment and symptoms, are they clear of quarantine.
Again, do NOT breed any litters during this time! You must wait until you are 100% sure that no diseases or parasites were brought back to your home, and that takes AT LEAST 2 weeks, wtih three or longer being much safer to ensure you won't have a small epidemic in your own rattery. Breeding rats before the end of a post-show quarantine is HIGHLY IRRESPONSIBLE. You have no way of knowing when you return home if you have brought back something such as SDA, which can take a couple weeks to develop symptoms. What happens if your rat is pregnant, gets sick, delivers her litter, and dies?
New Rat Quarantine
Whenever a new rat is brought into your home they should be quarantined seperately, ideally in a seperate air space (i.e. next door or at someone else's home, such as a relative or friend who doesn't have rats), but if that is not realistic, then as far away as possible from your present rats as possible. Absolutely NEVER just intruduce them in with your current rats!! If needed, plan on moving the current rats to some other location in your home to ensure a great enough amount of seperation between your present rats and the new rats. They MUST NOT be housed in the same room or airspace.... having some in the dining room and some in the living room does not count if the two are directly connected. Ideallly if you can't manage a seperate airspace, there should be at least several rooms of seperation, but if that is not possible, then they should be as far away as they can be.
Normal Quarantine Procedures:
Following a few simple guidelines with hellp assure the safety of your rats:
- Keep new/returning rats somewhere other than your home. A neighbor or friend's house works great if they are willing to rat-sit.
- If your rats are not being cared for at someone else's house or in a detatched garage, try to keep as much seperation from each the old rats and new/returning rats as possible. Always care for your current rats first, and then the new rats, washing hands and exposed skin and changing clothes. This helps to limit the trasnmission from the new rats to the old. There is less risk of the new rats picking something from your current rats than the other way around! The real danger is a disease being brought in from outside.
- Treat any all and all symtoms of any kind of parasite or infection promptly! DO NOT assume they have picked up anything from your current rats, or that what you are seeing could be caused by stress!! Quickly treating parasites stops them from developing into severe infestations, and treating signs of any respiratory problems can help save your rats' lives in the event of something such as SDA.
- When you are clear of quarantine, proceed with introductions carefully!
If the rats who were quarantined have previously lived with the rats they are being introduced to, don't assume that there won't be problems reintroducing them if they lived together peacefully before. Both males and females may beed some time to readjust to old cagemates.
- If you are introducing new rats, go slowly and be patient! Some introductions go very well, especially with young rats, but others may be tricky.
- Above all else, better safe than sorry! We all know the saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and no where is that more true than with quarantining rats!
What to do when there are problems:
- In the case of parasites, such as mites or lice, treat the infestation thouroughly (usually a 3 week course of weekly ivermectin), and then re-quarantine for another 2-3 weeks to make sure the infestation is really gone. It's much easier to keep a few rats in quarantine for a couple extra weeks than to have to treat an entire colony of rats with mites or lice.
- In the case of respiratory infections, always assume that it could be something as serious as SDA or Sendai, and treat any and all symptoms of the diseases. Once the rats are free from symptoms, they MUST be kept in quarantine for at least two more months to be sure either virus is dead. You may also opt for ELISA testing to determine the presence of viruses in your rats.
Do your part!
Always quarantine consistantly and correctly! Quarantine isn't something to be taken lightly, and it's not something to be done only when convenient. Don't support breeders who don't or won't quarantine properly, it puts your own rats at risk, as well as sends the breeder the message that it's ok to cut corners. If it starts with inadequate quarantine, what comes next?
Quarantining is highly effective in keeping your rats healthy when done correctly, and it is worth the effort EACH an EVERY time! I have personally dealt with the worst of what can happen, SDA, back when knowledge about proper quarantining simply did not exist. Now that the information is out there, there is absolutely no reason not to do everything possible to prevent the spead of disease. Your rats are more than worth the inconvenience! As Gabriel Edson of the Blue Velver Rattery says: QUARANTINE IS THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS!
©1997-2004 S.Easter of Lone Star Rats of Central Texas. All rights reserved.