We all love our rats, and we hate it when they are unwell.
When treated swiftly most illnesses and diseases in rats can be cured, but rats are well-known for not showing any signs of illness in their behavior so it’s important as a responsible owner to know precisely what to look for when giving your rat a health check.
Common Rat Illnesses and Diseases:
There are a number of illnesses and diseases that can affect rats, however there are 8 very common ones that you should look out for.
1. Mycoplasma Pulmonis:
All rats are born with and carry Mycoplasma Pulmonis. This is a respiratory disease that may affect your rat at some point in its life, however some rats may go their entire life without showing symptoms.
Flares of Mycoplasma Pulmonis (Myco) may be caused by several factors such as a weakened immune system, poor living conditions (especially during winter with heating on), stress and other diseases that have a knock on effect to the rats overall health.
Symptoms include; Sneezing, Wheezing, Porphyrin, Sniffling, Difficulty Breathing and even Lethargy.
If your rat is displaying all or any of these symptoms it’s important to take them to the vet, who will prescribe them with Baytril an antibiotic. If left untreated and allowed to spread to the lungs Myco is fatal in rats.
2. Ear Infection:
Ear infections in rats are not very common, but can be treated with a steroid injection and antibiotics. Common symptoms include your rat displaying a lack in balance, lethargy and head-tilting.
Beware diagnosing your rat too quickly, because it’s always best to get a vets opinion as the symptoms above can also be indicators of other illnesses.
Bumblefoot is a fairly common issue that rat owners will face at some point while keeping rats. If you keep a lot of rats this is more likely, because while rats don’t generally fight terribly, they do fight to establish a pecking order…
One of the main ways bumblefoot begins is from an injury, such as a small cut or scrape that becomes infected, and this can happen during their regular play time.
The main symptom is a red bump around the foot, that looks hard like a callus, these callus like bumps become larger and scab and even bleed at times… Bumblefoot can lead to chronic inflammation and abcesses.
Treatment is a small round of antibiotics, as well as advice to disinfect the wound by cleaning it properly regularly. If your rat gets a small cut on their foot, it’s best to disinfect it straight away and keep their cage as clean as possible to lower the chance of infection.
4. Benign Growths:
Growths on rats are extremely common, finding a lump does not always mean cancer… In the case of benign growths, these are totally harmless in that regard.
If your vet informs you that the growth is benign, then don’t agree to surgery right away if that’s what they’re suggesting… Surgery should only be considered, especially in older rats, when the growth is causing significant issues to your rat’s quality of life e.g. mobility.
Older rats are more likely to not wake up from the anaesthetic and will often face worse effects from the anaesthetic and combined stress of the surgery than they would if the benign growth was left (assuming it wasn’t causing life quality issues).
Benign growths rarely come back once removed, so this should factor into your decisions about surgery as well, but this doesn’t mean that they won’t get growths elsewhere.
Abscesses are particularly horrible for everyone involved, your rat will get an abscess due to an infection, and these lumps can grow fairly large.
Once they burst you can expect some puss, and you should also clean the area with warm salt water to prevent the abscess from returning, coupled with a course of antibiotics until the wound is completely healed and the rat is back to normal.
If you have more than one rat it’s advisable to separate them during this period so your poorly rat can heal without interference from the other rat/s.
Malignant tumors on rats are just as common as their benign counterparts, and unfortunately they do tend to recur even after surgery.
The best option when your rat has a malignant tumor is to talk to your vet about the prognosis, as they spread rather quickly…
As sad as it is, we all want our rats to not be suffering or begin to suffer more, so it’s a decision that’s better made in the same week as the tumor is diagnosed as to what you want to do.
Reducing the risk of cancers in rats can be done by ensuring they have a good diet and that you know what not to feed your rats.
Scabbing can be a symptom of your rats fighting, of lice and of mites.
Depending on the kind of bedding you use this can be more or less likely to be mites/lice, and if you only have 1 rat then it’s almost certain (unless there is an allergy).
You should have your rats treated quickly, and vets will usually prescribe Ivermectin, however be sure to talk to your vet to make sure they are aware that dosage has to be correct as an overdose of Ivermectin is fatal to rats.
Stroke in rats isn’t very common unless they are extremely old, overweight or have a history of illness from a young age. If you are a breeder, you may also know there is a genetic component.
Stroke symptoms are virtually identical to ear infection in rats, so this is why we suggest that rats with suspected ear infections to be checked out as soon as possible.
Strokes can cause varying damage, so it’s important to assess how bad it is when making a decision as to how you will proceed.
It’s common for rats to get unwell at some point in their lifetime, and as they get older the chances increase dramatically.
It’s important as an owner to understand the symptoms of each of the common illnesses and diseases to look out for in our rats, if we do this we can help them as quickly as possible.
If you want to learn more about rat healthcare it might be worth checking out 10 Signs Of Illnesses In Rats.
If you have any stories or questions about rat illness or disease, please let us know in the comments as we’d love to hear from you.