Rats General Health Care

Caring For Your Pet Rat

Rats are intelligent, social animals that can make wonderful pets. Many people are wrongly under the impression that rats carry disease. While modern wild rats can carry Leptospirosis and some other “zoonotic” conditions (those which can be transferred across species, to humans, for example), these conditions are rarely found (not true in neotropical countries). Wild rats living in suitable environments are typically healthy and robust animals. Wild rats living in cities may suffer from poor diets and internal parasites and mites, but do not generally spread diseases to humans. Pet rats do not pose any more of a health risk than pets such as cats and dogs.

Tamed rats are generally friendly and can be taught to perform selected behaviours, like using a litter tray. Rats love interacting with their owners, but you need to gain their trust first. When you get a new rat, first let it get used to its cage and new environment, before offering it some snacks to gain its trust. Once the rat gets more confident with you, try to pick it up gently using both hands. This will be the beginning of a great friendship.

The normal lifespan of rats ranges from two to five years and is typically three years.

Rats Diet

You can feed your rat small amounts of fruits and vegetables, whole grain pasta and bread, brown rice, yogurt, and occasionally low fat cooked meat, mealworms, cheese, seeds and nuts. In addition, treats such as dog biscuits can be given. It is important to keep rats on a high fibre and low fat diet though, so limit higher fat foods such as cheese, seeds, and nuts.

Pelleted or block type diets are available for rats and are formulated to be nutritionally complete. Choose a rat block that is low in fat and calories, and has soy meal high on the ingredient list rather than corn. Rats have a bit of a sweet tooth but resist the temptation to feed sugary foods or junk food, including chocolate.

Avoid feeding any of these items to pet rats: chocolate, raw beans, raw sweet potato, cabbage, brussel sprouts, green potatoes, sweet sugary treats, any other “junk food”, caffeinated beverages or carbonated drinks.

Mites

The rat fur mite Radfordia enrifera causes pruritus leading to self-trauma. Ulcerative and crusting lesion usually affect the head and shoulders. Pruritic warty papules with crusts on ears, nose and tail are usually caused by the burrowing mite Notoedres muris. The tropical rat mite  Ornithonyssus bacoti, causes nonspecific dermatitis in rats as they suck blood. They can also bite humans.

Lice and Fleas

Lice are rare in rats. They may cause clinical signs in young or debilitated animals or those with poor husbandry conditions. Fleas may be seen on pet rats usually from household cats and dogs.

Pinworm

Perianal pruritus and tail-base mutilation are seen with pinworm infection.

Tapeworm

Can cause liver enlargement by forming cysts in the liver.

Roundworm

Can cause weight loss, diarrhoea, changes in appetite, worms in faeces, and in severe infections it can lead to blockage or perforation of the intestines.

Bladder threadworm (nematodiasis)

This is a common urinary disease in rat colonies. This occurs when the nematode parasite Trichosomoides crassicauda infects the rat's urinary bladder, causing painful urination, stunted development, and stones in the bladder (bladder calculi). Kidney diseases and stones in the kidney may also occur if the parasite moves upward toward the kidneys.

Rat Lungworm

Rat lungworm or Angiostrongylus cantonensis is a parasite that mainly lives in rodents such as rats and can infect snails and slugs that come into contact with infected rat faeces. Rat lungworm made headlines after it infected two people in China who ate raw centipedes, but people might catch it by eating snails on vegetables out of home gardens. It causes meningitis in humans.

Other Skin Infections

Bacterial Skin Infections

Ulcerative dermatitis is commonly found in rats associated with Staphylococcus aureus, particularly in young males. Most infections produce superficial scabs and are non-pruritic. Other bacteria may also cause cutaneous abscesses and pyogranulomas. Nail trimming will reduce damage from self-trauma. Systemic antibiotics are often useful in treating bacterial dermatoses.

Fungal disease (ringworm) 

Dermatophytoses is rare in rats and usually asymptomatic. Trichophyton mentagrophytes is most commonly cultured.

Ulcerative pododermatitis.

Predisposing environmental factors include poor cage hygiene or wire mesh floors. Initially, erythema and thickening are seen on the footpad, progressing to ulceration and secondary bacterial infection.

Ringtail

 It occurs in rats kept in low humidity, but it rarely occurs in pet animals. Annular constrictions of the tail lead to edema and necrosis.