Common Rat Health Problems to Watch Out For

Pet Health


October 15, 2020

Rats are steadily becoming a mainstream pet variety for animal lovers. Unfortunately, they are plagued with numerous diseases and more so as they get older. Almost all rats apart from those bred in a laboratory are carriers of Mycoplasma pulmonis (Myco).

In most cases, this bacteria remains harmless until a rat’s old age. In other cases, the bacteria manifests itself after the rat becomes exposed to different bacteria and viruses.

Caring for Your Pet Rat – the Most Common Diseases 

Human beings can easily get infected by their pet rats. In fact, a selected few of them account for the most deadly diseases in humans, such as Hantavirus. As for stray or wild rats, they are often found in poor living conditions and are thus more susceptible to contracting maladies. 

Like any other animals kept as pets, rats rightfully require attention and love from their owners. It’s best not to underestimate the importance of understanding your rat’s behaviors. The main reason is that it enables you to identify any different new abnormal behavioral patterns quickly.   

Respiratory Infections 

Undoubtedly, respiratory infections are the most common infections in most animals’ lives. Even worse is that they are highly contagious. As if this wasn’t enough, rats prefer to live in large clusters. Thus, when one rat is infected, the disease spreads like wildfire through the whole bunch. 

Myco is a bacteria found in the nasal canal of rats. Of all other respiratory diseases, Myco is the most common one among rats. When a rat gets old or stressed, the mycobacteria multiplies and causes pneumonia.

Unfortunately, pneumonia eventually leads to permanent lung damage if left untreated. Pneumonia symptoms are similar to the common cold symptoms that affect human beings. 

Clicking sounds from sinuses, a congested chest, swollen or red nose, and frequent sneezing are all red flags that your pet rat is sick. This is especially true if your rodent pet suddenly becomes lazy and tires easily. Contacting your vet is the best precaution when these symptoms first present themselves as they could quickly lead to death if left unattended.   

Rat Abscess 

An abscess is a collection of pus found in body tissue, organs, or cells caused by a bacterial infection. In general, an abscess will occur when white blood cells create a wall around the bacteria or any other infection to protect the healthy surrounding tissue and organs from becoming infected.  

Abnormal swelling filled with pus, characterized by a white center, is the external representation of rat abscess. The rat may undergo rapid weight loss and become temporarily immobile if the pus has deeply penetrated the body.

Unlike pneumonia, which requires professional treatment, you can use some homemade saline solutions to treat the abscess. However, it’s crucial to note that this option is only feasible if the pus is not deep-rooted.  

To be precise, the organ most prone to abscess is the groin area at the perpetual glands. The glands at the neck and armpits are also common culprits. Fortunately, most abscesses are relatively harmless and will clear up independently with little to no treatment required.    

Abscess Burst 

In the event of a natural rat abscess burst or if you opt to cut open the rat’s abscess yourself, the use of antibiotics is highly recommended. Applying the antibiotic directly into the infected area is the most effective way of administering the medication. 

Soaking and flushing abscesses using hot-to-touch water, but not too hot that it can burn you, will encourage the formation of a scab, especially when done twice daily. Once the scab has formed, remove it if possible and allow any trapped liquid to come out without squeezing. Squeezing is not recommended as the abscess can burst internally, causing blood infections and, consequently, death.

Although it is impossible to protect your little furry friend from getting abscesses, rat owners are encouraged to keep their pets clean. Doing so enables them to clean themselves hence cleaning any present wounds adequately. Having a pristine habitat for them also goes a long way.

Kidney Degeneration 

We can classify kidney-related diseases in rats into two main groups – kidney degeneration and acute kidney failure also referred to as acute renal injury. Kidney degeneration is a slow yet steady decline of kidney functions that ultimately leads to total failure. It is attributed to old age in rats, more so in males. The leading cause of rat kidney failure is the wearing out of the kidney itself.

Symptoms for kidney degeneration include thinning fur, loss of appetite coupled with nausea, weight loss, increased protein content in the urine, and increased thirst, leading to more water consumption. Research shows that most rats that suffer from kidney regeneration got it from their genes as it is hereditary. 

Acute Kidney Failure 

As the name suggests, acute kidney failure refers to the rapid loss of your rat’s kidney functions. What’s even worse is that this failure can occur in a matter of hours and affect newborn rats and old rats alike. Regrettably, by the time you spot any symptoms, the disease’s effects will probably have spread too far along to be treated, and death merely lurks hours away. 

Kidneys failure symptoms include reduction or lack of urine altogether, high urea and creatinine levels in the blood, irregular heartbeats, low blood pressure, and body temperature. You might even notice some black droppings due to developed stomach ulcers and swollen kidneys painful to touch. If you notice any combined symptoms, consult your vet immediately as fatality is high for rats who’ve suffered from kidney issues before. 

That said, regularly visiting a vet is the best precaution for kidney-related diseases in rats.    

Rat Tail Health

Unbeknown to most, rat tail health is very crucial. Rats use their tails for balance when climbing ropes or walking on wires. Although the change is minimal, their tails also help them change their center of gravity. Moreover, rats use their tails for thermoregulation, i.e., the tail act as a heat-loss organ. Having a large surface to volume ratio and no fur makes it the best-suited organ for the job. 

Ringtail syndrome, also called tail necrosis, occurs in rats living in high-temperature areas, low humidity, and regular drafts, leading to the tail’s dehydration.

Although this disease mainly affects their tails, it can also affect their feet and toes. The condition occurs due to insufficient blood supply to the affected body parts resulting from the organ’s constriction. If left untreated, the area may experience some inflammation, swelling, and eventually gangrene. 

Depending on the gangrene state, your vet can determine whether the affected organ requires surgical attention. If you also notice that your rat’s tail leaves red stains on surfaces, it might be a great time to consult your vet. Most vets encourage rat owners to provide a high-quality diet filled with organic fruits and vegetables and other whole natural foods.

Rat Leg Health 

As with most of the other rat diseases, rat hind leg degeneration is associated with old age. This condition essentially means that your pet’s rear body parts are slowly becoming paralyzed, resulting in immobility. The larger your buck’s size, combined with some laziness, makes them more susceptible to this disorder.

Typical symptoms for this condition’s early-onset include a slight shuffling of feet by your pet rat, occasional stumbling, or loss of balance. On the other hand, the symptoms associated with developed cases include loss of control in their rear legs and uncontrollable bowel movement, resulting in frequent pooping and peeing. Causes of hind leg degeneration in rats can range from nerve degeneration to arthritis and kidney failure. 

You should ensure to include a wide range of vitamins like vitamin A, B, C, D, and other multi-vitamins and mineral supplements into your rat’s diet. We should also not forget minerals like calcium and copper, and natural oils such as hemp oil, coconut oil, cod liver oil, and salmon oil.

Baytril for Rats 

Administered through injection, as an edible tablet or solution, Baytril is an antibiotic used to cure a wide range of ailments in rats and other animals such as chicken. Like any other antibiotic, Baytril for rats renders their bodies hostile to microbes. When administered in the right doses, it may even kill the infection altogether. 

Although Baytril does not work for every infection occurring in rats, e.g., viral infections, it works exceptionally for respiratory diseases. By over-administering Baytril to rats, they may eventually suffer from liver malfunctioning and joint issues as side effects.

As a result, rats suffering from liver and kidney issues should not take Baytril. That said, it is critical to consult your vet before administering any medicine to your rat.   


It’s best to take good care of your rat, as you would any other pet, to avoid these health problems. Please keep all your vet’s appointments, and your little furball will thank you for it. After all, prevention is better than cure. Having a proper and dedicated meal plan with the right nutrients and rat vitamins recommended by your vet is the key to increasing your pet rat’s lifespan!