A number of organisms may cause middle ear disease in rats. The problem affects the animal's sense of balance. Middle ear disease in rats may cause them to develop a head tilt, lose their balance and circle around aimlessly, all of which are very distressing for the owner to witness and probably cause suffering in the rat.
It can be very upsetting for people to witness their pet rat circling aimlessly, falling over and holding its head on one side. All these signs are typical of middle ear disease. Middle ear disease affects an animal's sense of balance which is why these distressing signs are seen.
This problem is most often caused by a bacterial or mycoplasmal infection of the middle ear. Organisms which may be involved include Mycoplasma pulmonis, Pasteurella pneumotropica, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Many such organisms are transmitted by aerosol droplets, so they are relatively easily spread between animals. Good hygiene will go some way towards reducing the likelihood of such problems developing in your pet rats, as will reducing environmental stress or overcrowding.
If your pet does suffer from middle ear disease you should consult your vet as treatment with antibiotics will be necessary. Tetracycline and enrofloxacin are often used to treat bacterial and mycoplasmal infections in rats. Initially your vet may want to treat your rat for around a week with an antibiotic and assess how your pet responds. However, to achieve a cure it may be necessary to treat for some considerable length of time. While your rat is suffering from this disease it is important to ensure that it is able to find its way to food and water and balance for long enough to drink or eat. If symptoms are very severe it may be possible to treat your rat with corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and hopefully alleviate the clinical signs. Such treatment with steroids may reduce the immune response of the rat and make the problem worse if not given with antibiotics though.
Good nursing care of the affected rat is very important and it may be a good idea to keep affected rats on their own. In this situation they will not be stressed by the attentions of other rats and will be less likely to infect their companions with the organisms causing the problem.