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Rat health and welfare

To give your pet rats a happy, healthy life, here's what to do to give them the care and attention they need.

domestic top eared rat held in human hands © RSPCA

Buying rats

Before buying a rat, look into breed-specific needs and what health and behaviour problems are most common. Some breeds have specific physical features and may have health and welfare problems associated with them.

Rat health checks

Help keep your rats healthy and happy by:

  • Giving them regular health checks - check them regularly and carefully to ensure they're happy and healthy. Common problems include tumours (especially in females), breathing problems, obesity and overgrown teeth. 
  • Knowing how they behave normally - being familiar with them and their normal behaviour will help you bond and notice if they're unwell.
  • Keeping a close eye on them when they're with another animal or person who may deliberately or accidentally harm or frighten them.
  • Neutering them to avoid unwanted pups if males and females live together.
  • Keeping them out of harm's way - read our guide to keeping your rats safe and poisoning in rodents
  • Giving them plenty to chew - rats need gnawing material, as it stops their teeth growing too long and causing health problems and pain.

When to call the vet for your rat

Watch your rats closely for signs of stress, pain, illness and injury and consult your vet immediately if you notice something wrong. Rats feel pain, but don't show outward signs of it and may suffer greatly before you realise they're hurting. Small changes in their behaviour can show that something's wrong, as can chromodacryorrhea (red staining around eyes and nose), which indicates stress, possibly from illness or social or environmental problems.

Call your vet if your rat:

  • Develops repetitive behaviour - such as repeatedly chewing metal cage bars. Rats suffer if their surroundings don't suit them or if they're prevented from behaving naturally.
  • Develop bald patches - to check they don't have skin problems, such as mites or an allergy. You can also try providing more space, enrichment and hiding places so they can avoid one another. Rats spend lots of time grooming, and bald patches ('barbering') can be caused by rats over-grooming themselves or each other, which may suggest they either don't get on or they're bored.
  • Is obese - give plenty of opportunities for activity and lots of space with interesting objects to encourage exercise.

Even if your rats are well, it's still a good idea to take them for regular check-ups with the vet. Ask the vet to check if their teeth are growing correctly and get advice on protecting their health, such as through vaccination, worming and neutering.

If you go away

If you're off on holiday, make sure you have someone responsible to care for your rats in their cage at your home and give them all the information they need to look after them. Ideally, avoid transporting your rats unless it's absolutely necessary. 

Follow the links below to find out more about caring for your rats.

Find out more