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Rat health and welfare

Health logo © RSPCA publications and brand 2010

Ensure your rats are protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease
 

 

Infant rat on hand © Fotolia

Rats need: 

  • Checking regularly/carefully to ensure they’re happy/healthy. Common problems include tumours (especially females)/breathing problems/obesity/overgrown teeth. Checking your rats (pdf 198kb).
     
  • You to be familiar with them/their normal behaviour, helping you bond and notice if they’re unwell. 
     
  • Observing closely for signs of stress/pain/illness/injury. Consult a vet immediately. Rats feel pain but don’t show outward signs so may suffer greatly before you realise. Small behavioural changes can indicate something is wrong. Chromodacryorrhoea, red staining around eyes/nose, indicates stress, possibly from illness, social/environmental problems. Stressed rats are more likely to become ill. Signs of concern in rats (pdf 199kb).
     
  • Keeping safe from things that can harm them Keeping your rats safe (pdf 190 KB); Poisonous Materials
     
  • You to consult a vet if they:
    - develop stereotypical behaviour (e.g. repeatedly chewing metal cage bars). Rats suffer if environments don’t suit them/if they’re prevented from behaving naturally. 
    - develop bald patches, to check they don’t have skin problems, e.g. mites/an allergy. Provide more space/enrichment/hiding places so they can avoid one another. Rats spend lots of time grooming. Bald patches (‘barbering’) caused by rats over-grooming themselves or by others, may indicate animals don’t get on/are bored. 
    - are/become obese. Provide opportunities for activity/space with suitable enrichments to encourage exercise.
     
  • Suitable gnawing material, preventing teeth growing continuously, causing health problems/pain. Rats’ teeth grow continuously throughout life; gnawing/chewing wears them down. Gnawing behaviour (pdf 175kb).
     
  • Regular veterinary checkups. Ask the vet to check teeth are growing correctly and about protecting health, e.g. vaccination/worming/neutering.
     
  • Transporting carefully, reducing stress wherever possible. Don’t transport them unless absolutely necessary. Transporting your rats (pdf 180kb).  
     
  • Caring for by a responsible person when you’re away to meet all their welfare needs within your home. Provide all necessary information to look after your rats. 
     
  • Constant supervision when with another animal/person who may deliberately/accidentally harm/frighten them.
     
  • Neutering if males and females are kept together - avoiding unwanted pups. Seek veterinary advice.
     
  • Consideration. Before getting rats, investigate breed-specific needs and what health/behaviour problems are most common. Some breeds have specific physical features and may have health/welfare problems.