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, we highly recommend speaking to your vet for advice.
Infections of their respiratory system
Infections that affect their breathing are common in rats.
- 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 up to a build up of ammonia (found in wee) and makes rats more likely to catch an infection. We offer a range of sprays, such as Johnsons Small Animal Disinfectant.
- Dusty bedding: wood shavings or sawdust can irritate their lungs. We do provide dust-free options here.
- Poor ventilation: not getting enough 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.
Rats can suffer from stress due to:
- Not enough space
- Draughty or noisy living environment
- Poor nutrition
- Not being picked up carefully and correctly
- Prowling predators, such as the family cat or dog
Please refer to the Animal Welfare Act here.
Lumps and bumps
Rats are prone to some types of tumours. Some tumours are more serious than others – cancerous or fatty – 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 each other down and their ‘bites’ won’t do any harm and will be aimed at their 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 your rats are fighting often, and not just playing, it is best to separate them. This will stop them from 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 from getting bored is to give them plenty of pet-safe toys and objects to explore.
A few suggestions include:
- Give them lots of things to climb on and explore. An exercise wheel is ideal but be sure there aren’t any gaps or holes your rats’ legs could get trapped in. We recommend the Trixie Wooden Wheel.
- 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, we recommend boredom breakers.
- Turn dinner time into an obstacle course by hiding their food in tubes and around their cages. Watch them sniff it out.
- Give them a gnawing block to help them wear their teeth down naturally.
- You can give your rats’ noses and 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.
Your rat’s diet
Rats are omnivores – this means wild rats eat a mix of plants and lean meat. The best diet for your rat will be one that’s as close to a natural diet as possible.
TOP TIP: Suddenly changing your rat’s diet can upset their stomach. Introduce new foods carefully and over several days.
Their ideal diet will include:
- Good quality rat food, we recommend Tiny Friends Farm
- Small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. There is a list of rat-friendly fruit and veg below.
- Occasional treats such as small pieces of lean meat, mealworms, egg, lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas.
Making feeding fun for rats
In the wild, rats would spend a lot of their time searching out food. you can recreate this natural behaviour for your rats. It is a great way to keep them active and stop them from getting bored.
- Scatter their rat nuggets around their cage and exercise area instead of feeding on the bowl. they’ll really enjoy sniffing out their food. It is also a really good thing to try if you have one rat that’s protective of their food bowl and won’t let your other rats get a fair share of the food.
- Hide treats or fresh fruit and veg in paper bags or cardboard tubes and boxes. Your rats will love working out how to get to their food.
Why is my rat putting on weight?
Obesity is a common problem in rats. If your rat is putting on a bit of podge, be careful about how many treats you are giving.
Be especially careful with high-fat and sugary treats like nuts, seeds and ‘honey sticks’.
Safe fruit, veg and herbs for your rats
These fruit, vegetables and herbs are all safe for your rats to eat. You should feed them a small amount each day.
- Apple ( Make sure you remove the seeds first)
- Dried Banana
- Carrot – in moderation. As it is high in sugar.
- Sweet Peppers
NEVER FEED Grapes, raisins, rhubarb, walnuts, lettuce or citrus fruits. These can be toxic for your rats.
Things to chew and gnaw
Rats love to shred, chew and gnaw on things. It is a natural behaviour that helps keep their teeth healthy and stops your rats getting bored.
Rats love to shred and chew things like:
- Coconut shells
- Hay cubes
- Unbleached loofah
- Pumice stone
For any further information or advice please feel free to ask a staff member in-store or contact the store on 01902 494 860.