Common diseases in rats

Charlotte Howard By Charlotte Howard, 8th Jul 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Pets>Rodents

An overview on the most common diseases found in pet rats.

Rat Diseases

Rats are becoming more and more popular as pets, but we still know very little about the diseases they can catch, their symptoms or how to treat them. There are certain ailments however that vets see fairly regularly in rats.


Bacterial and viral infections of the respiratory tract are very common amongst rats. They can be caused by a lot of factors, the main one being the use of shavings as bedding. Most rats are allergic, or at least sensitive, to pine oil, which is found in most shavings. It irritates the windpipe and lungs causing tiny cysts and mucus to form. Another fairly commonly seen infection is that of mycoplasmosis.

Symptoms of any respiratory infection include:

*Sneezing and wheezing


*Open mouthed breathing

*Discharge from the eyes and nose

*Anorexia and lethargy

A lot of respiratory infections in rats are treatable with antibiotics. Changing the bedding to paper mulch can help too. Most young rats can live with mycoplasmosis, although they tend to sound like they are grunting. Sadly in older or weaker rats infections can lead to pneumonia, which is fatal in rodents.


Tumors, especially along the mammary glands, are frequently seen in rats. They are not always cancerous, and can be removed fairly easily without causing problems. Unfortunately the growths can become cancerous and recur. Although neutering can be performed in rats, spaying is a highly risky and tricky operation and most vets will refuse to do it. By having male rats castrated you can remove the risk of testicular tumors growing. Female rats are more likely to have tumors due to the levels of the female hormones and excessive breast tissue.

Occasionally tumors can grow into the muscle wall. In these cases the operations can become dangerous to the rat's health. Even though they can still be removed, the wounds tend to take longer to heal.

Operating on rats itself is usually quick and easy, the recovery is when the problems start though as rats will gnaw at the wound and stitches. Most deaths occur due to pancreatitis or bleeding after the wound has been re-opened, this is very unusual though and if caught early can be treated.


As with all rodents, rat's teeth grow continuously and need hard feed and objects to keep them trim. If they are left they can cause problems such as abscesses in the jaw, and even grow into the skull. It has been seen in severe cases of neglect where the teeth have actually pierced brain, killing the rat.

You will know if your rat's teeth are too long as the rat will stop eating, begin drooling excessively and will be unable to clean itself. Rats are fastidious cleaners so this will lead to depression.


The rat feeds available are still fairly undeveloped so it is useful to supplement their diets. It is thought that by adding foods high in protein can help with the recovery time, and help to replace the weight generally lost with illness. These foods should be limited though as they can lead to obesity, which increases the risk of illness and tumors. Some foods to consider adding to the diet are:

*Cat and dog meat and biscuits these are higher in protein, fats and minerals so should be limited to once a week as a treat.

*Seeds and nuts sunflower seeds in particular are high in fats and oils so should be restricted to once a month.

*Fruit and vegetables these can be given as often as you want. Carrot, cabbage, apple and banana are usually popular with rats. Limit how much salad vegetables you give though as they are high in water content and can cause diarrhea. Bulb vegetables such as garlic and onions should be avoided however as they can be toxic to rodents. Strong tasting foods like radish are an acquired taste and may not be accepted by one rat but loved by another.

*Eggs and dairy products again they should be limited to once a month as they are high in fat, but scrambled eggs are easy to eat and digest so often suggested for particularly ill rats.

*Cake and biscuits every now and then, perhaps twice a year, these can be thoroughly enjoyed. They are extremely high in sugars and fats though so are classed as unsuitable foods for rats. Rats are usually chocoholics and have a large sweet tooth and will pick these foods over any others on offer.

By avoiding using shavings, saw dust, straw and hay as bedding you can reduce the risk of respiratory infections. Neutering will limit the risk of tumors growing. All rat foods tend to be hard, but by adding certain items such as dog biscuits and fruit wood to the diet can help keep their teeth trim.


Common, Diseases, Pet Rats, Rat Health, Rats

Meet the author

author avatar Charlotte Howard
I write for, and am also a published author. Somehow I also manage to be a busy Mum to 2 young children and housewife as well!

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