The Science

It was first discovered by researchers Kilham and Oliver in 1959 and it is basically the rat version of Canine Parvovirus and human Parvovirus B19. It is a single-stranded DNA virus of the genus Parvovirus. Many rats normally carry this infection without ever showing any signs or symptoms, but occasionally (usually when associated with a secondary infection) it can lead to death.

It is most commonly known for affecting wild rats and lab rats, it is not unknown to also infect our pet rats. It usually affects multiple organs in the bodies of the unborn or young, growing rats. It can also affect the older population if an old rat has a suppressed (weak) immune system.

Transmission is normally through contact with an infected rat (either by ourselves and not washing our hands/changing clothes after, or by our pet rats). Since most infected rats are wild, it is a good idea to try and prevent wild and pet rats coming into contact with one and other. Infected nursing mothers can also pass the disease to the sucklings (although in general placental infection is not thought to be common, I can't find any evidence as to why). it can also be passed on through rat urine and faeces and sneezing.


As mentioned before, most rats will tend not to show any clinical signs of the disease unless it is in conjunction with another disease. Some symptoms rats have had are re-absorption of the young in the uterus of pregnant females, loss of coordination and balance, jaundice, abdominal swelling, dehydration, stunted growth and even death.


ELISA and IFA tests (sensitive serology tests) may be carried out by your Vet to see if the virus is present.


Like most virus illnesses, there is no actual cure, but symptoms may be controlled. Since researching for this I have found that treatment papers seem to be lacking, but since this is more or less a form of the Canine Parvovirus, the same treatment may work. Although dogs can be vaccinated against CP, it does not always guarantee that the infection will not recur and so the only other advise seems to be to make sure to keep your animal hydrated. Try to get as many fluids as possible into the rat if they show any signs of dehydration. Antibiotics prescribed by your Vet may also help ease some of the symptoms.


If you have an infected rat, do not by any more rats for at least 14 weeks to six months after the infected rat is gone, as this virus is tough to kill and can survive for long periods of time. Make sure and sterilise everything the rat has been in contact with, including any food preparation surfaces, carpets and flooring, as well as yourself and clothes.