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Here you can read all about the most basic health issues. Click any of the titles to jump to a specific subject you wish to read about!

Quick look into the basics of keeping an eye on your animals health and well being

New home sneezes, Porphyrin, Torn nails & Swaying

Basic guide to treating minor issues

Mites, Lice, Fleas, Ticks, Ringworm & Treatment

Mycoplasma/"myco" & URI

Growth & treatment

Mammary tumors & Pituitary tumors.


Giving your rats a look over takes only a few moments and can be done during handling and play time.


Checking for healthy weight is very important. An overweight rat is way more prone to most illnesses. Sudden weight loss is always concerning regardless of age. If you cannot find an issue with the diet or environment, it's good to have a vet check your rat over. At a healthy weight, a rat should be a nice tube-like shape where the sides go straight down. If the sides dip inwards, the rat should gain some weight. If the sides curve outwards, the rat should lose some weight. Click here for a reference image.


Check the body for abnormal lumps. A lump can be multiple things from an abscess to a tumour. Regardless what a lump is, it's good to spot it early on so it can be monitored and dealt with as needed. Feel around the abdominal area, especially with females. They have 12 nipples, which makes mammary tumours a common issue in older rats. Any growth on the face should be seen by a vet as soon as you can book a non emergency appointment. The face is a risky location and can cause serious complications if left untreated.


Check the body for any scabs. Scabs are a common indicator of skin parasites. Checking under the chin is a good way to look for mites. For some reason they like the back of the ear and under the chin very much. Check the tail and ears for scabs. Mange mites leave nasty scabbing on both. Some skin parasites are easily visible to the human eye, so if you see anything moving in the fur. You can even use a phone camera to really zoom in there and take a closer look if you think you saw something suspicious.


Check the body for any injuries. Take a look at all the toes in case there are any injuries from losing a nail or getting the toes caught. If you notice any toe injuries, take a look at your cage in case there are any broken toys that might have caused the injury. Fur can hide even large injuries pretty well. Part the fur here and there to check for any injuries. If you find an injury, try to figure out if it looks like skin parasites, a cut or a bite.


Checking the vagina and penis. This doesn't require anything invasive. Just hold your rat up and take a look. If there is blood, this is always a concern and you should contact a vet. Older rats can have trouble keeping themselves clean, so giving them a wiping with an unscented baby wipe or a damp cloth can really help them stay hygienic and prevent infections. With males, especially with older males you want to check for penis plugs. This is basically a blockage caused by lack of cleaning. If left untreated it can cause more issues. A good way to prevent this in older rats is to give them a little wipe with unscented baby wipes or a damp cloth.


Gently apply pressure with thumb and index finger approximately ½ cm distances on each side of the penis. Carefully massage to project penis outward from the sheath to remove the plug. If this seems tricky, do not get frustrated. You need to take care and be gentle so you don't cause unnecessary extra irritation.
In the event the plug is very firm, applying a small amount of olive oil to the penis may ease removal and prevent irritation to tender tissue.
If there are signs of infection, contact a vet to discuss antibiotics

Common health & parasites: List



New home sneezes

When bringing new rats to your home, you are bringing them to a new environment with new smells, irritants,different humidity, different air quality and so on. This can very often cause what we call “ new home sneezes”. Dry sneezes for the first week or two are perfectly normal. To minimise new environmental irritants make sure you are using appropriate bedding like kiln dried pine or hemp for example, paper is NOT proper bedding. If its a cold time of the year, house heating makes the air very dry which is a big respiratory irritant and contribute to new home sneezing not going away. If the sneezes refuse to go away and/or the animal's overall condition seems off, please see a vet.



This is probably the most common scare for new rat owners. This in fact is not blood, its porphyrin! This is a relatively normal reaction that the rats' bodies have to stress, due to health, mistreatment, dirty living environment or short term stress such as travelling or going to a new home. Occasionally small amounts of porphyrin isn't a cause for concern, but large, regular amounts indicate underlying issues such as illness or dirty living conditions. If your rat has issues with constant porphyrin, look into their environment and try to rule out poor diet, stress from living with an aggressive rat, stress from over crowded cages, dirty enclosure and other environmental causes. Excessive production of porphyrin can also indicate illness, most often an issue with the respiratory system. If your rat is showing signs of respiratory distress or other illness, please consult a vet. Do not burn candles, incense or use chemical scents such as air freshener around the house, these are all respiratory irritants


Torn nails

Rats, just like people, can lose their toenails to minor injuries. This resolves itself, just make sure to keep the animal's environment nice and clean to avoid secondary infection. Saline is a great way to clean small injuries without having to worry about the animal licking alcohol and harsh disinfectant chemicals. If there are signs of infection such as puss and nasty odour, please contact a vet.



Rats have poor eyesight regardless of eye colour as they do not rely on their eyesight. By swaying their heads back and forth they are increasing their depth perception! This just means the rat is trying to look at something further away. Red eyed rats tend to do this more often. Swaying is absolutely nothing to worry about!

Common health & parasites: List



The best way to disinfect wounds and scrapes is with saline and disinfectant marketed for animals. Saline is safe to ingest unlike many heavily chemical disinfectants and alcohol.


Cover the bleeding area with cornstarch and gently apply pressure. If the bleeding doesn't stop, apply more corn starch without wiping off the first layer. Gently compress the bleeding area with a cloth for a minute or so.


Do not wrap up injuries, its best to let them breathe. Trapping moisture and bacteria against a little scrape increases the risk of an abscess forming.


You can use coconut oil or olive oil to moisturise parts of the skin that seem dry or have a hotspot. Hot spots are small patches of dermatitis and look a lot worse than they are due to debris sticking to them easily.


You can rinse the eye(s) with saline eye drops. Many rats hate eye drops and you will have better luck putting some of the solution on a Qtip and wiping the eye and surrounding are with the soaked Qtip.

Common health & parasites: List


The idea of your animal getting parasites might be overwhelming and scary, but most parasites are very easy to get rid of and often do not require a vet visit.

rat mites.png


Mites are the most common type of parasite you'll come across as a rat owner. Mites under normal conditions are small in numbers and tend to not cause any issues. When a rat is stressed, has a weaker immune system due to illness etc or any other reasons the animal cannot keep the numbers at bay via grooming, the mites jump in number. When there is a larger than normal number of mites, your rat will get very itchy and start getting scabs and irritated skin.

There are various types of mites, but the treatment for all is the same.

Some species of mites may cross to/from other species.


Clinical signs:

  • Scabs, most often seen around the head. Underside of the chin is also common but an easy to miss spot for the early signs of mites causing issues.

  • Sarcoptid or sarcoptid-like species of mites, crusted red or yellowish lesions may be seen on the auricle or pinna of the ear and on the nose, along with small reddish bumps to tail, genitals, and feet.

  • Irritated skin

  • Hair loss

rat lice.png


Lice appear as brown/tan or reddish colour and are “dot” like in appearance on the skin or silvery coloured nits attached to fur. Lice obtain their nutrition by sucking blood from the host, which can cause a rat to become anaemic if left untreated. Lice can in some cases transmit other parasites like Hemobartonella muris, leading to a disease similar to tick fever.

Lice are species specific, they do not jump to different species hosts.

Clinical signs:

  • Brownish / reddish dots on the skin

  • Scabs

  • Itching

  • Hairs loss

  • Anaemia if left untreated

rat fleas.png


You may see actual moving fleas on the rat itself. Sometimes you can also see droppings of digested blood on the animal's skin. These look like flakes of dirt. If you see something moving on your rat, you can crush it between your fingers and see if it leaves a reddish stain on your fingers. The species of flea that most commonly affects animals, and humans, is Ctenocephalides felis. It causes severe irritation and can be responsible for flea allergy dermatitis.

If you have a flea infestation with your rats or ANY other animals in the house hold, you must treat all the animals and the home environment.

Clinical signs

  • Visible fleas

  • Flea excreta seen as digested droppings of blood appearing as black dots. These black dots when dissolved on paper, or placed in water, will appear red.

  • Irritated skin

  • Scabs

rat ticks.png


Can be seen on legs, ventral surface of the body, ears, neck. They may appear red, brown, or black when engorged with blood. While ticks are not commonly seen on pet rats housed indoors, there is the potential for infestation if housed outdoors(such as sheds), taken outdoors, or if in contact with other pets that do go outside. If other household pets have been infested it is recommended to also check and treat pet rats if ticks are detected. Severe infestations can cause blood loss resulting in anaemia.

Zoonotic diseases associated with tick infestation in rabbits (e.g., Tularemia, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever) could potentially be a factor in rats with tick infestation. Also, it is known that in dogs, a tick attached to the right place on a leg can cause that leg to be paralysed, and by removing the tick it resolves the problem. Possibly, though not documented (since ticks are less seen on pet rats in general), it may also do the same to rats.

Clinical signs:

  • Brown/red/black bumps attached to the animals skin

  • Visible tick(s) crawling on the animal

ring worm.png


Despite its name, ringworm isn't actually a worm! It is a fungal organism that infects the skin and feeds off of keratin. Ringworm is highly contagious and will transfer between pets and people, it does not care about species one bit. Usually rats that are infected by the ringworm fungus never show symptoms apart from the skin lesions, which will vary from mild spots of hair loss to sevear hair loss with thick scaly skin. Ringworm infection often spreads through direct contact with infected animals or humans, but it may also be spread via contaminated bedding, litter, and cage supplies.

Clinical signs:

  • Skin lesions

  • Hair loss

  • Flaky skin

  • Irritated and red skin

Treating external parasites

In most cases, dealing with external parasites is straightforward. Lice and mites are treated with the same thing, active ingredients known as ivermectin and selamectin. Selamectin is also effective against fleas unlike ivermectin. Do NOT use “natural remedies”, these are useless. Online, you will see a lot of people saying that rubbing olive oil on the rat will suffocate the parasites. This does not kill eggs, so it does NOT solve the issues. For most rats ivermectin is absolutely fine when correctly dosed. When treating lice, mites and fleas, it is advised to treat all of your rats even if only one or two are showing symptoms.

One dose is enough to cover them for a 3 week period so, normally it isn't required to dose more than once, some people advise to treat weekly for a 3 week period, but if properly dosed this generally isn’t needed!

Beaphar Spot on – sold in many pet shops. There are 2 types, the first is sold for hamsters / mice / rats and is sold as suitable for rats under 300g, the other is for guinea pigs / rabbits / rats and sold as suitable for rats over 300g. Both come with dosage guidelines for the different species, listing the number of pipettes to use. This is a very inexpensive option if you have only a few rats. If you need to treat more than 5 rats, view the next option. If you take your rat to a vet for mites and the infestation hasn't caused secondary infections, they will just tell you to go buy this.


Harka-mectin – my preferred option, this is a pigeon spot on type treatment, it is 0.1mg per drop or 3.5mg/ml (0.35% solution) and typical recommended doses are 0.2 mg / kg of rat. You can either use a syringe to measure this out accurately to the size of the rat or use the correct amount of drops (e.g. 1 drop for a 500g rat). The correct measured dose for a 500g rat would be;

  • 500 (rat weight) / 1000 (1kg in grams) = 0.5 (the rat needs 0.5 of a full 1 kg rat does)

  • 0.5 (the ratio of dose the rat needs from the above calc) x 0.2 (the recommended dose) = 0.1 mg/kg (the amount of medication a rat that weight needs)

  • 0.1 (the dose the rat needs to get / 3.5 (the amount of active ingredient in a ml of ivermectin) = 0.03 ml (the amount of ivermectin the rat needs by syringe)

Harkametcin should be applied directly to the skin, by parting the fur, and is best behind the ears / shoulder area, where a rat finds it difficult to groom.

You may also see Bob martins spot on in stores such as wilko, do NOT buy this product, it is dangerous.

For fleas,you can use an over the counter puppy & kitten flea shampoo. Make sure the active ingredient is pyrethrins as it is safe even for little newborns! Make sure it is shampoo and not concentrate. Apply a small amount on a tooth brush and proceed to brush gently. Ideally this should sit for 5minutes if possible. Use a fairly damp cloth to wipe off once 5 minutes has passed. Use a normal flea/lice comb to brush through the animal's fur once it has dried a little. Usually one treatment does the trick, but if it still persists, you can repeat the treatment a week later If the issue doesn't go away, you may need selamectin which is prescribed by a vet.

For tick removal, grab with either forceps, tweezers, or tick extractors between head and body pulling straight out being careful not to squeeze the body of the tick releasing blood. In the event extraction is not easily obtained by pulling straight a slight twist motion can be tried (some brands of tick extractors are designed to do such). Immerse (place tick) in an acaricide solution or alcohol in a small container with lid. Be sure to search and remove all ticks.

Following extraction: Wipe the area where the tick was removed from with saline or an alcohol wipe. If you use an alcohol wipe, keep the rat from licking the area until dry.

For ringworm, most of the time it can be treated with over the counter antifungal cream, but in severe cases the animal will need a more aggressive treatment which requires a vet prescription.

When to see a vet?

If the infestation is severe or the animal is not responding to the common treatment methods, you should see a vet as they will be able to prescribe you the more aggressive treatments.

In rare cases rats can have allergic reactions to medication just like people, if you suspect your animal is having a bad reaction to treatment, contact a vet asap and bring the medicine container to the vet with you.

If there are signs of secondary infection, please see a vet as they will be able to prescribe antibiotics for the skin infection.


Rats are known for their sensitive respiratory systems and for this reason it is very important to know the signs and causes of different levels of respiratory distress. Respiratory issues can be caused by environmental irritants and pathogens. Mycoplasma or “myco” for short is a word you will come across a lot when owning rats. This is something all pet rats carry unless from lab lines bred specifically not to have myco and kept away from rats that do have it. Babies will get this from their mother. Myco is a normal inhabitant of the respiratory tract and can sometimes flare up and cause respiratory distress. Causes for myco to flare up are plenty, but some of the most common ones are; stress, exposure to other respiratory pathogens, high ammonia levels and dirty living conditions.

Ammonia is a big respiratory irritant and the main reason why using the right bedding and having a weekly cleaning schedule is so important. Why is ammonia so harmful? Cilia are small projections extending off of the cells that line the respiratory tract, which is covered with mucous. This mucous traps any dust, dirt or bacteria trying to enter the respiratory tract and the cilia moves it back out of the respiratory tract. Ammonia can destroy these cilia, which then allows bacteria to enter the respiratory tract and cause problems.

Myco flare ups, just like other respiratory conditions need to be seen by a vet to prevent it from progressing into more severe conditions like pneumonia. Pneumonia can strike suddenly and be fatal faster than you'd expect.

Another term you will come across often is “ URI “ aka upper respiratory infection. The first sign is most often continuous sneezing which will progress into a clicking/chirping/wheezing sounds alongside the sneezing. This will also cause porphyrin to build around the eye and/or nose. Other signs to look for are squinting and puffed fur, this indicates discomfort and pain. When rats are having hard time breathing they will become lethargic pretty quickly, and many start to lose weight. By holding your rat close to your ear and listening carefully you can check if the lungs sound clear, this is affectionately called “rat phoning” in the rat community. The lungs should be clear, but with a sick rat you may hear the following sounds; cooing, chirping, clicking, wheezing and so on. Rats can also gasp and breathe with an open mouth, this is a sign of major distress. Side sucking may be present alongside open mouth breathing, or simply by itself. If any combination of these symptoms present, take the animal to a vet.

If the animal is side-sucking and having very laboured breathing, it is best to see an emergency vet and not wait till the next available appointment a few days away. This is a sign of severe respiratory distress and the animal will go downhill very fast and pass.

Rats can and will die from untreated prolonged respiratory issues sooner or later as they are very prone to progressing into worse and worse issues as time passes.

Common health & parasites: Available Pets


An abscess is a collection of pus caused by an infection. If your rat has any injuries like scratches, scabs etc, it's good to keep an eye on the healing process in case an abscess forms. These often look like very fast growing lumps. The feeling of an abscess can vary from quite springy to firm and can appear anywhere on the body.

When you notice an abscess on your rat, do NOT try to pop it by applying pressure on it as if it was a pimple. Doing this can cause it to rupture inwards and allow the puss get into the bloodstream leading to blood poisoning. Abscesses that are around the body sort themselves out or can be dealt with at home most of the time. If your rat has a facial abscess, it's best to go to the vet as this location is more risky than the rest of the body. Facial abscesses have a higher risk of causing sepsis and blood poisoning and can be a possible warning sign of a dental problem, especially in marble rats.

At home treatment

A home treatment is suitable for most abscesses, but if your animal has a facial abscess, please see a vet as these have a higher risk of serious complications and may indicate an underlying dental issue.

Most abscesses will sort themselves out with minimal intervention, but are still worth keeping an eye on when you do spot them. Usually it takes a few weeks for an abscess to come to a head, do not try to push or apply pressure on it even if you see a head appear. Soaking and flushing the abscess is generally the best treatment you can offer at home. Use water warm enough to feel hot, but not hot enough to burn. Soak the abscess area twice a day until a scab forms on it. By soaking the area you are encouraging a scab to form. Once a scab has formed on the abscess, soak it again, this will loosen and lift the scab. Once loose, you can carefully remove it with tweezers allowing the puss come out. Do not squeeze it, even when open, you are still risking causing it to break inwards. Once pressure is relieved, flush the affected area with saline twice a day. Do not put any antiseptic creams or other topical treatments that promote fast healing. You want to keep the abscess clean and let it dry up and heal from inside out to minimise the amount of gunk getting trapped in.

In some cases an abscess can be stubborn, if it keeps reappearing multiple times, contact your vet for some antibiotics to boost the body's ability to fight the infection and heal. Your vet will most likely prescribe you Coamox or amoxicillin plus metronidazole for facial abscesses and stubborn recurring abscesses. Baytril aka enrofloxacin is a common antibiotic, but isn't very useful in this case. If your vet prescribes you baytril/enrofloxacin it's best to ask for the ones mentioned above instead.


Tumours are abnormal growths of body tissue. Tumours can be both cancerous(malignant) and non-cancerous ( benign). Unfortunately rats, like other rodents are quite prone to various tumours, mammary tumours and pituitary tumours being the two most common types. Female rats do get more tumours due to oestrogen, oestrogen is tied to both mammary and pituitary tumour. This does NOT mean that males are tumour free, they simply get them less.

Common health & parasites: Text
Common health & parasites: Text
Common health & parasites: Text


A mammary tumour is an abnormal growth of cells aka a tumour originating in the mammary gland. As female rats have 12 nipples, each containing mammary glands. For this reason, these are a pretty common issue with female rats, especially older females. Males can also get these tumours, but it's very uncommon. Mammary tumours often(not always!) start off pretty loose and flat, and as they grow, they become more and more firm. These tumours tend to grow quite fast, so it's good to talk with your vet about the possibility of removal when the tumour is noticeable and your animal is otherwise in good health. If your animal is already very sick or very old, you must be open to face the reality of the animal having to be euthanized once the tumour gets to a certain size. Rats have a 1 in 50 death rate under anaesthesia, and this only gets worse with age and underlying health conditions. Fast growing tumours can outgrow their blood supply and become necrotic. A large tumour can also break into a sore from being dragged around the cage. When a tumour is limiting the animals mobility, breaking into sores and/or looking necrotic, it's time to euthanize the animal if you cannot operate on the tumour. A large tumour is stealing the body's blood supply and nutrients, for this reason it's cruel to leave a rat to live with a large tumour. A large tumour that is left untreated can also rupture and leave a hole in the rat causing it extreme pain and suffering, an example of a tumour gone necrotic, and later on ruptured can be seen on the right.



Pituitary tumour is an abnormal growth in the pituitary gland, a part of the brain that is responsible for regulating the body's hormone balance. Just like mammary tumours, pituitary tumours are a lot more common in females than males as they are heavily linked to estrogen. Pituitary tumours are nasty and can take a rat within days after presenting symptoms. The progression can be anywhere from sudden and aggressive to gradual and slow growing .When it comes to these kinds of tumours, There is a medication that can reduce the symptoms and improve quality of life significantly, BUT it does NOT cure the animal. Unfortunately, the success rate of the treatment is not the great, but worth a try if you catch the signs early. You should be seeing improvement within 48h if the treatment is effective. If there are no signs of improvement in the first 48h, it is kindest to euthanize the animal. Death from PT is horrible, the animal will starve to death due to not being able to swallow properly after a while, The animal can also die of suffocation and cardiac arrest before they starve. There is no nice way to die from PT at home. This same advice goes for cases where the owner has decided no to try the treatment due to the low success rate. It is always better to let your animal go before they are miserable and just a husk of themselves. For more in-depth information, you can visit

Clinical signs:

Ataxia (lack of coordinated movement in limbs) with normal muscle strength.

  • Gradual weakness hind limbs, wide-based stance, curling of toes, stumbling.

  • Stiffness or inability to flex forelimbs that may gradually progress to the hind limbs as the tumour continues to grow.

  • Unequal pupil size in one eye compared to the other. This may appear as blown/dilated pupil due to pressure or bleeding behind the eye.

  • Blindness as a result of optic nerve compression.

  • Circling, head tilt, seizures, hydrocephalus.

  • Head pressing/Head bumping. This sign may be present when there is increased intracranial pressure (rat may bump head up when petted, or extend head pressing against a fixed surface).
    *Note: this sign should not be confused with normal attention-getting behaviour. It is more often seen late in the disease process, and by itself should not be the basis for diagnosis of pituitary tumour!

  • Difficulty holding food when eating & difficulties chewing hard food.

  • A behavioural change (e.g., becomes aggressive).

  • Clinical signs and death may seem sudden to the owner even though manifestation is often gradual.

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