Many people do not realize the importance of vet care in small animals. In fact many people do not even realize it is available. In actuality it is illegal not to take any pet to the vet if it is ill or suffering. More and more vets who specialize in small animal or exotic medicine are popping up and these vets are your best bet for your small furries. Your rats deserve proper vet care just as much as a dog or a cat!
Tip: It is a good idea to save up some money in an emergency vet fund in the event that an animal becomes ill during difficult times.
It is a very good idea to quarantine new rats when you bring them into your home if you already have rats at home. This is to avoid your new rats passing any illnesses onto your other ones. It prevents you from having to take all of your rats to the vet if the new rats were indeed ill and passed something on to your others. Quarantine means keeping the new additions in a separate cage and preferably in a separate building. You must take care to wash your hands and change clothing after interacting with the new rats so you don't pass the germs to your current rats. The new rats should never meet or even be in the same room as your current ones until quarantine is over.
Quarantine should last three or four weeks to make sure that the new rats do not have any illnesses which could surface. The absolute minimum that quarantine should last is two weeks, though this isn't nearly as good as three or four weeks. If you cannot keep the new rats in a separate building and must keep them in the same building as your current rats, they should be kept as far from your current rats as possible, in another room of the house. Still remember to wash hands and change clothes between visits. When quarantine is over you will be ready to introduce your new rats to your current ones providing they have a clean bill of health. Introductions should be made gradually as to avoid any fighting.
As more experienced small animal vets become more common, so does spaying or neutering smaller animals such as rats. Spaying and neutering can have many benefits including population control, behavioral benefits, and health benefits. A spayed female rat has zero risk of uterine infections (pyometra) and a much lower risk of benign mammary and pituitary tumors. A neutered male rat has zero risk of testicular cancer and is less susceptible to becoming aggressive towards cagemates or human handlers. Altering rats decreases urine odor in both sexes and decreases marking behaviors in males. Males and females can also be kept together if one or both sexes are fixed. Both sexes are believed to live slightly longer life-spans when fixed.
Spaying in females is most often done to decrease the chances of benign mammary and pituitary tumors cropping up later in life (most effective if the spay is performed while the female is young). Spaying in females also eliminates the risk of pyometra (uterine infection) and cancers of the uterus and ovaries. In males neutering is often done when a male is particularly aggressive and hormonal and cannot be kept with other males. Neutering often enables the male rat to be kept safely with cagemates afterwards. It is important to remember when neutering a male to be kept with intact females that the male should be kept separate for at least four weeks after the surgery as they can retain sperm.
The biggest arguement against spaying and neutering rats is the "risk" involved. However many believe the benefits outweigh the risks and providing you are using a knowledgeable rat vet the risks are usually minimal. Huron Valley Rat Rescue spays and neuters every rat, age and health permitting, that comes through their doors. Out of well over a hundred rats spayed and neutered they have lost only a couple to the surgery. If nothing else, this should be evidence that if done by a proper, knowledgeable vet the risks are very minimal.
A course of antibiotics (usually about a weeks worth) after surgery is often recommended as well as two to four days worth of pain medication. Care must be kept to keep the rat and it's surroundings clean after surgery to prevent infection.
Rat Bite Fever (VERY rare disease, especially in domestic rats.)