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Common Health Problems in Pet Rats

Common Health Problems in Pet Rats

Rats are normally quite sturdy little creatures but there are a few health problems that are common in pet rats. The top four are:

  1. Respiratory problems
  2. Tumours
  3. Abscesses
  4. Mites

You should do a little investigating now to find a good rat-knowledgeable vet so that when the day comes that you need a vet you will be as prepared as possible. Many vets are used to seeing only traditional pets (cats and dogs) and are unaware of special considerations that need to be taken into account when treating rats. A good example is the common practice of ‘fasting’ (denying animals food) prior to surgery. This is regularly done with cats and dogs to reduce the risk of vomiting. Rats are different from cats and dogs because they are unable to vomit. Therefore there is no reason to have them fast before surgery, and fasting is actually a bad thing to do for rats because they require as much energy as possible to maintain body heat during surgery. A few other considerations with rats and vets are listed on PRC’s Vet Page. When you talk to vets during your search, ask how often they treat rats, if they are familiar with the types and doses of mediction for rats, and if they are comfortable treating rats. A great way to enhance your search is to touch base with other rat owners in your area to find out which vet they go to. PRC has a list of rat-friendly vets that have been submitted over the years by people across Canada. If you find a vet that is excellent with rats be sure to let PRC know so that other owners can benefit.

One of the most common and frustrating health problem is #1 – Respiratory problems. These are almost always difficult to treat. Most pet rats have a bacteria called Mycoplasma pulmonis in their lungs. This is commonly referred to as “Myco” and is highly contagious. It has spread itself throughout the pet rat population so that you can make the assumption that your rats have it. Some rats are more adversely affected by myco than others. This is probably due to many factors including the fact that there are different strains of myco. Some rats are fine whereas others develop respiratory infections early in life and the infections coupled with myco usually means chronic lung problems for the individual rat. I had two rats (Rimsky and Korsakoff) who were brothers. Rimsky struggled with respiratory problems most of his life while his brother never had any lung problems. Both boys lived together for their whole lives, were never seperated and were always in the same environment. My next group of rats, all brothers, lived together and were never seperated. One of them developed lung problems early in his life and had chronic infections but the other two were (and continue to be) fine. Respiratory problems CAN be treated with antibiotics – the sooner the better.