My rat is behaving oddly, opening her mouth and pulling back her ears. There is a thick, mucus-like liquid coming from her mouth.
What could this be, and how can I help her?
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In most cases, these symptoms mean choking. Rats are known for stuffing their mouths and eating as fast as they can, and occasionally food gets stuck, or a sticky food such as peanut butter or doughy bread causes a blockage. You should avoid feeding your rat sticky foods. Sometimes, rarely, these symptoms happen because of poisoning - you should make sure the rat hasn't eaten anything toxic such as household chemicals or any medicines they might have found.
In the case of poisoning, call a vet immediately.
In the more likely case of choking, it is important to remain calm, and do not disturb the rat. True choking is rare because of the way their mouths function - they will often work it out quite quickly, though it can take up to 4 hours. Ears being drawn back with the mouth open are a sign of gagging, and mucus/drooling are symptoms of the rat producing bile in order to push the obstruction back up. They do not have a natural gag/vomit reflex so while it looks serious, they are usually perfectly fine. Leave the rat to get on with it, but keep monitoring.
If, after several minutes, this is still ongoing and your rat appears to be growing lethargic, you may need to intervene. Give the rat a small piece of food (i.e. a cracker) to see if this will help push the obstruction down. If your rat refuses the food, or this doesn't work, check his/her lips, hands and feet. If they are blue, the rat is suffering oxygen deprivation. Check its breathing - are its ribs still moving like normal? Or is the breathing labored and slow? If the latter, there are several things you can do to help your rat.
Firstly, there is the Heimlich - pressing up underneath your rat's ribcage. Secondly, there is a method known as the Rat Fling, which uses centrifugal force to dislodge the object. This is only to be used if your rat is severely struggling to breathe.
"Hold your rat firmly around the neck with one hand, and by the base of the tail with the other to hold her securely. Make sure there are no objects within an arm's length. Lift the rat overhead and bring her down in a rapid arc, so that at the end of the path she's tail up and head down. This can be repeated three to four times, then give the rat a rest, check her breathing, and see if anything is visible in the mouth. This is extremely effective in dislodging objects in the throat. However, do NOT use this procedure if your rat can breathe, or you might make it worse."
If your rat is breathing fine on its own, then you can leave it to get on with it. If, after several hours, your rat is still struggling, then a vet visit may be in order, where they can anaesthetise and remove the blockage.
I know this answer is late, but for people who may see this in the future, this is the rat version of "choking"- rats cannot choke because they have no gag reflex. (they are unable to vomit source) They like to stuff as much food as they can in their mouths at once! It can look scary for sure- mouth opening, laying still, stuff coming out of their mouth, sort of "squishing" their head black. It's happened to my boys a few times! Usually they are totally able to clear it on their own. It looks scarier than it is I promise :)
However if there are obvious signs your baby cannot breathe or is severely in distress then you would want to try and help by giving them water or a piece of crunchy food to help clear the block :)