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Pet Info Packets :: Rats :: Health


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.



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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.

Spaying & Neutering

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.

Random Health Tips And Facts

  • If your rat is sick or just loosing weight due to age, there is something out there to help! Nutri-Cal is a nutrition supplement for dogs and cats who are ill and not eating. It is a high calorie dietary supplement and is in the form of a paste. There is a type for dogs and cats and a type for ferrets, either will work for a rat. Best yet this stuff tastes good to our little ratties so they are more inclined to eat it! The other supplement that works the same and is for ferrets is called Ferretvite. Both of these supplements are found in most pet stores.

  • Your vet should never ask you to withold food before a surgery unless perhaps the surgery is related to the digestive tract. Rats cannot vomit (the reason food is witheld in most animals) and have a very high metabolism so witholding food could do more harm than good.

  • Female rats are more prone to tumors than males, often developing benign mammary tumors at some point. However tumors in general, though usually benign, are common in rats. It is not recommended to put the rat down unless it no longer has any quality of life (if the rat is older or not healthy enough to endure surgery you might wait until this point to consider euthanasia.) Surgery is an option depending on the rat's age and state of health though tumors may come back and the surgery required can be expensive. Some people spay their females at a young age in order to reduce the chances of mammary tumors later in life.

  • WARNING: Do not let your vet euthanize your pet rat with just a heart or abdominal injection! A rat's veins are too small to gently inject the solution into as is done with dogs and cats, for rats vets use a heart or abdominal jab. If the rat is awake this is VERY, VERY PAINFUL as I'm sure you can imagine. It may cost a bit more but if you want your rat to pass on in peace have them anesthetized with gas so they are unconscious during the injection. I recommend you find a vet who will let you be with your rat during the procedure.

  • NEVER pick a rat up by it's tail unless it's a dire emergency, in this case always pick the rat up by the BASE of the tail (nearest the butt) and put your hand under it to support it as soon as possible. A badly damaged rat's tail must be partially or fully amputated by a vet and will not grow back. Rats use their tail for balance and it is their only means of releasing heat from their body aside from the soles of their feet. A rat without a tail will overheat easier and find it harder to balance itself.

  • Most human illnesses cannot be passed to rats and most rat illnesses cannot be passed to humans. Certain strains of strep are said to be passable from humans to rats and are usually very deadly to them.
  • Rat Bite Fever (VERY rare disease, especially in domestic rats.)