It’s really upsetting if any of your rats become ill. Luckily, there are lots of simple steps you can take to help your rat stay healthy.
It’s a good idea to give your rats a quick health check each day. Look out for any changes in their normal behaviour, like eating less, sleeping more or showing any signs of pain.
Common health problems in rats
Here are some common health problems to look out for in your rats. If you’re worried about your rats, speak to your vet for advice.
Infections of their lungs and airways
Infections that affect their breathing are common in rats. Symptoms include:
- Runny nose or eyes.
- Difficulty breathing or snuffling and wheezing.
- Losing weight.
Common causes of these infections are:
- Their cage isn’t cleaned often enough: this leads to a build-up of ammonia (found in wee) and makes rats more likely to catch an infection.
- Dusty bedding: woodshavings or sawdust can irritate their lungs.
- Poor ventilation: not getting enough air fresh air can cause infections. This is why rats should be kept in a cage with bars, not a glass tank.
- Overcrowding: keeping too many rats in a cage causes stress and can spread infections from one rat to another.
If you think your rat has an infection, speak to your vet for advice. You can take steps to stop them getting ill, such as cleaning out dirty bedding several times a week and using pet-safe, dust-free bedding.
Putting on weight
It’s quite common for rats to put on weight. This can cause health problems and might mean they don’t live as long.
Rats will put on weight if they eat too much and don’t get enough exercise. The best way to stop your rats from putting on weight is to:
- weight out their food following feeding guidelines on the packet
- avoid giving unhealthy snacks
- make sure they have plenty of space to move around.
Ask your vet for advice if you’re worried about your rat’s weight.
Rats have glands in their eyes which produce a reddish brown liquid. It can make them look like they have red tears or a nose bleed.
Rats produce more of this liquid if they’re stressed. Rats can suffer from stress due to:
- Not enough space in their cage
- Draughty or noisy living environment
- Poor nutrition
- Not being picked up carefully and correctly
- Prowling predators, such as the family cat or dog.
Lumps and bumps
Rats are prone to some types of tumours. Some tumours are more serious than others so it’s always best to get any new lumps or bumps checked out by your vet.
Playing or fighting?
Rats are really playful and often play fight with each other. Play fighting is nothing to worry about and you don’t have to separate rats if they’re playing.
If they’re playing, your rats will take turns at chasing and pinning the each other down and their ‘bites’ won’t do any harm and will be aimed at the back of their opponent’s neck.
If they’re fighting you’ll notice signs like:
- Their fur standing on end during the fight.
- Injuries to one or both rats.
- Bites on their bottom or sides.
- The weaker of the two rats will try to hide from the other and might act nervously.
If you’re rats are fighting often, and not just playing, it’s best to separate them. This will stop them getting injured and stressed.
Stopping your rats from getting bored
Boredom can cause health problems for rats. Bored rats are more likely to overeat to fill their time.
Rats are very active pets. The best way to stop them getting bored is to give them plenty of pet-safe toys and objects to explore.
- Give them lots of things to climb on and explore. An exercise wheel is ideal but make sure there aren’t any gaps or holes your rats legs could get trapped in.
- Give them cardboard tubes and boxes to hide in and chew on.
- Add toys made for small pets to their cage – like ladders, seesaws, plastic tubes, and untreated tree branches. Keep some toys stored away and swap them around regularly. This will keep your rats interested and you’ll be able to give their toys a good clean.
- Turn dinner time into an obstacle course by hiding their food in tubes and around their cage. Watch them sniff it out.
- Give them a gnawing block to help them wear their teeth down naturally.
- You can give your rats’ noses an exciting work out by placing things with a strong smell around their enclosure. Edible herbs like rosemary or a fresh squeeze of orange, lemon or lime Different smells can give noses a new challenge so edible herbs e.g. rosemary or a small sprinkle of fresh citrus juice can be placed around the enclosure.
- Rats love digging and will enjoy a large storage box full of dry rice or soil to root around in.