Pet rats fascinating, deserve to be on list of pet possibilities

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jul 24, 2015 in Rat News | Subscribe

They are curious, intelligent and playful. They come in many different colour patterns, are easy to care for, feed and maintain. Admirers describe them as being loyal, good-natured and loveable and a great pet for kids. Though their public image, for some, may be a bit tarnished, a rat should by no means be ruled out when considering choices for a pet.

Pet rats or fancy rats are domesticated brown rats. Pet rats are commonly sold by pet stores and breeders. They are quite hardy little creatures, though they are susceptible to some health conditions that a pet rat’s owner should know about.

Especially when young or first acquired, a pet rat should be carefully observed for any skin or haircoat irritation. Dermatitis or skin infections may result from excessive scratching or other self-trauma. This itchiness is often caused by infection with ectoparasites — parasites that live on or in the superficial layers of the skin. All animals are susceptible to such parasites. The two that most commonly are a problem for rats are mites and lice. A veterinarian should be consulted if skin problems are noticed. With proper identification, treatment should be able to successfully eliminate any parasites, allowing the irritated skin to heal.

Respiratory problems can occur in rats of any age. Owners may notice a discharge from the eyes, a nasal discharge and sneezing or chattering. Laboured breathing is also commonly seen. Infectious agents are the most common cause of respiratory disease. It is often a mix of bacterial and viral organisms that combine to cause the most serious infections in the respiratory system. Chronic respiratory disease and bacterial pneumonia are two of the better understood ailments that affect rats.

Concurrent with these problems, owners often believe their pet rat is bleeding from the eyes or the nose. In fact, this is not blood that is being noticed rather the tears are red coloured as a result of porphyrins being secreted from the Harderian gland located in the orbit of the eye. This phenomenon, called “red tears,” is often associated with respiratory conditions, but also may be seen with other stress or other illnesses in rats. Any rat showing these signs should receive a thorough examination by a veterinarian. Respiratory infections are most commonly treated with antibiotics. Doxycycline and enrofloxacin are antibiotics, given by mouth, that are most effective in treating serious respiratory disorders. Occasionally antibiotics are administered via a nebulizer. Unfortunately, antibiotics will be of little benefit with respiratory disease that is caused primarily by viruses. In such situations an owner will need to ensure their pet enjoys good husbandry conditions, in a healthy environment and is receiving a high quality, nutritious diet.

Tumours, in particular mammary tumours, frequently occur in rats. They can be very fast growing tumours and often quickly reach very large sizes. The good news is that in most cases they are benign and therefore surgical excision provides a good option for treatment. The same anesthetics that are used for cats and dogs are used for rats. Rats are usually good surgical patients and with appropriate pre- and post-surgical support, will recover from surgery without complications. Experts differ in their opinions as to whether there is sufficient scientific evidence that neutering or spaying will prevent the development of mammary tumours in rats.

There are a few steps that someone with a pet rat should consider. Rats are prey animals and like other animals in this category, they usually mask any symptoms of illness quite well. Caregivers need to be very alert for signs of poor health. As for anyone, early detection of problems and a prompt response is best. In this respect, it’s recommended that rat-owning clients purchase an accurate gram scale. Weight changes can be an important indicator of health. Losses of even 10 grams of body weight may indicate developing health issues well in advance of clinical signs becoming obvious. Regular weigh-ins will also help an owner recognize and react if excessive weight gains are noticed. Also, since some veterinarians do not treat rats in their practice, anyone with a pet rat should locate an animal hospital that does treat exotic or non-traditional pets in advance of their pet developing any health problems. It should also reassure pet rat owners that if complicated health problems that require help from a specialist occur, referrals for such services are available in most areas.

Pet rats are fascinating little creatures and definitely deserve to be on the list of pet possibilities.

Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian.

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