Quarantine: Protection for Your Pets
From the January/February 2000 Rat & Mouse Gazette
PROTECT YOUR RATS AND MICE
Try to avoid getting rats from unsafe places. This is really hard to do because you can never be sure what is happening in other ratteries or pet stores. I have no beliefs that private breeders are always a better or worse source than pet stores. Most stores get their rats from some breeder anyway. There are breeders who have a reputation for having healthy rats and that is a good place to consider.
Getting Rats at Shows and Other Gatherings. Sadly, while this is the easiest and most fun way to get new rats, it is the most dangerous. All rats there will have been exposed to all the other rats in attendance. If you are picking up rats that have been reserved for you, you can try to make arrangements to get the rats directly from that person outside the show and put them in your car. This will only work if the weather allows. Other than that, reserved rats can be brought in plastic carriers and kept as far away from other rats as possible. Do not let anyone else handle them. Do not handle them yourself at the show. Of course, you are anxious to play with your new friends, but it is not worth endangering their lives.
Quarantine all new rats for at least two weeks. This applies to all rats, no matter where they came from. Even the most careful breeders can have accidental exposures that they have not yet recognized. It should not insult a breeder that someone quarantines their rats. In fact, I am disturbed by people who "compliment" me by putting my rats directly in with theirs. It means that they may do this on a regular basis and it puts my rats in their homes in danger. I realize that some people live in small apartments and that it is impossible to do a real quarantine. In that case, they have to realize that there is some danger every time they bring in new rats. I would recommend that they try to limit the number of times they do this.
PROTECT OTHER RATS FROM YOURS
Quarantine your whole rattery for at least two weeks every time it is exposed in any way to other rats. This means that not only are you keeping new rats separate from your rats, but that you are keep all of your rats away from everyone else. This is because it is possible that yours were infected by the new ones and are incubating a virus. This applies to any kind of possible exposure that your rats may have had, including having rats visit your house, bringing any of your rats out where there are other rats (like friends' houses or pet stores), or of course, getting new permanent ones.
If you do get infected by a virus, quarantine for at least two months (four is better yet). It is imperative that you begin the two to four month count at the end of all symptoms, not at the beginning. If any babies are born during the quarantine period, the count must be restarted. Of course, you shouldn't be breeding during this time, but sometimes accidents happen. Do not bring in any new rats during the quarantine period, either. Do not give away rats, sell rats, although it is thought that rats that have been sick and recovered may safely go to homes with no other rats. Also, if you go to a show that has a widespread outbreak of disease, you should consider your rats infected even if they show no signs of illness. Some rats show very mild symptoms that could be missed and it is much better to not take the chance of unintentionally causing sickness or death for someone else.
HOW CLUBS CAN HELP
Health check all rats at gatherings. This weeds out obviously sick rats, but most people don't bring sick rats to shows. The ones that are a real problem are those that are coming down with an illness that is not yet noticeable, but is contagious.
Encourage quarantining both before and after shows. All that clubs can really do is provide education, but there is no real way of knowing how people exposed their rats to infection in the recent past. So, the final responsibility is with each owner to protect their rats. Clubs and hosts of shows feel bad when an illness breaks out at "their" show, but they should not be held responsible in any way. They should, however, notify anyone that entered or attended (if possible) that show, that there was an illness there.
Schedule shows or other gatherings for at least two months apart. I believe that this practice gives more time for illnesses to show up, be made known, and have some time to clear up. Some people who might be tempted to bring their babies for adoption or sale, or rats to show, even though they know that there is a possibility of illness in their rats, wouldn't have the opportunity.
Rat and mouse shows and other get-togethers are a lot of fun. I would hate to see them ended by too many outbreaks of disease. At least following these guidelines might help.