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.
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.
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
Perianal pruritus and tail-base mutilation are seen with pinworm infection.
Can cause liver enlargement by forming cysts in the liver.
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)
Other Skin Infections
Bacterial Skin Infections
Fungal disease (ringworm)
Dermatophytoses is rare in rats and usually asymptomatic. Trichophyton mentagrophytes is most commonly cultured.
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.
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.