If you’re a new rat owner worried that you have a sick rat, this guide provides an overview of common rat ailments so you can assess the symptoms and take appropriate action.
While rats are generally healthy animals, they can develop a number of illnesses and diseases. In this post, we’ll cover common sick rat symptoms, available treatments, and ways to prevent rat illness to ensure your pet rat lives a long and healthy life.
Noticing sickness in your rat can be challenging due to their small size, which is why knowing what to look for is crucial to early detection.
Murine Respiratory Mycoplasmosis in Rats
One of the most common rat illnesses is murine respiratory mycoplasmosis (MRM). This chronic and progressive respiratory disease is caused by Mycoplasma pulmonis, a bacteria that virtually all rats carry.
MRM symptoms include sneezing, sniffling, squinting, wheezing, difficulty breathing, red-colored tears, and a thick discharge from the nose. If the infection spreads to the middle or inner ear, it can cause the rat’s head to tilt to the side. Older rats are more prone to severe symptoms as the disease progresses.
Treating and Preventing MRM
Antibiotics are the most common treatment to control mycoplasmosis, so take your rat to the veterinarian if you suspect MRM symptoms. To prevent MRM, avoid overcrowding and keep their cage clean, dry, and away from drafts. Mycoplasma infections like MRM are contagious to other rodents, so it’s important to isolate the sick rat.
Bumblefoot in Rats
Bumblefoot, or pododermatitis, is the inflammation and bacterial infection of the feet that’s common in rats, birds, rabbits, and other rodents. Lesions appear as red lumps or bumps that look like calluses on the bottom of the feet.
Bumblefoot is usually caused by an injury or wound that becomes infected. If it doesn’t heal, surgery or laser therapy may be recommended to avoid future complications. Keeping your rat’s cage clean helps to prevent this condition.
Kidney Diseases in Rats
Symptoms of nephropathy, which is any disease of the kidneys that could result in kidney failure, include weight loss, increased drinking and urination, and hind leg weakness. A diet that’s high in protein is believed to be the primary cause of severe nephropathy in rats, so consider changing their protein source to soy or decreasing protein consumption to reduce severity. Balanced nutrients improve the health of sick rats diagnosed with diet-related kidney diseases.
Growths and Tumors
Growths are common in rats, but a lump doesn’t always indicate cancer. Benign growths only require surgery if they are affecting your pet’s quality of life. It’s best not to operate on older rats, especially females, due to the risks of anesthesia and stress involved. If your rat has a cancerous tumor, discuss the options with your veterinarian. Malignancy will spread quickly, and a timely decision must be made to avoid suffering.
Abscesses in Rats
Abscesses in rats are caused by infections, wounds, or trauma, and can grow to be quite large if left untreated. If you notice a sudden lump on your pet rat, it might be an abscess, particularly if there is a wound on the bump. Attempting to squeeze the abscess can cause more significant harm to your sick rat. Instead, take it to the veterinarian for lancing and antibiotics if needed. Keep the sick rat isolated if you have more than one rodent until the wound is entirely healed.
Skin Issues and Scabbing in Rats
Frequent scratching can indicate that your rat has parasites such as lice or mites. Poor care, overcrowding, rough bedding, or exposure to infested rodents can cause the problem. Consult your veterinarian, who might prescribe Ivermectin, a pesticide. Topical products are available too. Artificial ingredients, coloring, and nuts should be eliminated from their diet to rule out food allergies, which can cause excessive scratching and scabbing.
Caring for a Sick Rat
Having a sick rat can be stressful, but recognizing the symptoms of common rat illnesses allows you to act quickly and give your pet rat the best chance of a speedy recovery. When in doubt, consult your veterinarian, who can advise on rat care and rat illness prevention.
Do you have experience dealing with rat illnesses not listed here? Let us know in the comments below.
References and Further Reading
Graham JE, et al., “Mycoplasma pulmonis in Rats,” Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, 2011
Blair, J., “Bumblefoot A Comparison of Clinical Presentation and Treatment of Pododermatitis in Rabbits, Rodents, and Birds,” Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, 2013
Rao, GN, “Diet and kidney diseases in rats,” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 2002
Hoek, AC, et al., “Influence of Dietary Calcium:Phosphorus Ratio on Mineral Excretion and Nephrocalcinosis in Female Rats,” The American Institute of Nutrition, 1988
Ramesh, R., “Types of Cancer and Surgery in Rats (Rattus norvegicus),” Journal of Veterinary Sciences, 2016