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MEDICAL LIBRARY

Warning; graphic imagery and descriptions

When our rats get sick, we try to figure out whats wrong as fast as possible. Often, it can be very difficult to understand whats going on due to information being scattered all across the web. This section will be a living library where new cases and conditions will be added with time. Images will be included as often as possible, and many conditions are graphic. Please use the index below to jump to spesific conditions if you know what you're looking for.

INDEX

Click the name of the condition you wish to look at to jump directly to it. Please be mindful of the warnings.

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BUMBLE FOOT

Ulcerative pododermatiti

Definition

Infection and inflammation of the bottom of the foot


Clinical signs

  • Swelling of the foot

  • redness and unusual hotness of the foot

  • Open sores or ulceration on the bottom of the foot, often on the heel.

  • Pus and foul smell if the area has abscessed

  • Rat is avoiding on putting weight on an infecte foot

  • Signs of pain and discomfort



Etiology

Ulcerative pododermatitis is a chronic granulomatous condition resulting from ulcerative lesions, and necrosis of the tissue on the plantar or heel portion of the feet.

The lesions, often resulting from abraded tissue or pressure, begin as small, reddish, raised areas of keratinized growth that develop crusts/scabs. Intermittent bleeding results when these areas filled with blood break open, drain, and then close. If the area is abscessed, then along with the blood, pus fills the area and drains upon rupture. This cycle is repeated when continuous pressure is placed on these raised, filled areas of tissue.

Secondary bacterial and fungal infections often develop when the abraded or ulcerated areas on the feet are exposed to normal skin flora, soiled bedding, or cages with accumulated urine-soaked faeces. If the wounds are left untreated, or if treatment is not effective, infection can spread to the lymphatic system, to the bone causing osteomyelitis, or travel to the blood causing bacteraemia and sepsis. If there is secondary infection Staphylococcus aureus is the bacteria most often cultured; however, other pathogens can be involved.

Prevention

Bumble foot is without a doubt easier to prevent than treat.


Never house your animal on wire floors: Wire floor are not good for any animals. Wire floors are rough on the feet and gunk will build up on the very easily even when cleaned. Long term housing on wire floor will eventually cause some kinda wounds on the animals feet. Once a wound has occured, all the gunk and nasty bacteria built up on the wires will get an infection going. For this reason it is best to cover up all wire platforms and floowing. Most wire floor slide right out, so removing them all together is the best idea.


Clean the enclosure. Built up fical matter and urine is a gread breeding ground for all sors of bacteria. By keeping the over all hygien of your rats' enclosure good they are less likely to develop bumble foot


Watch your rats' weight: Over weight and obese animals are alot more likely to develop bumble foot. By keeping your rats at a healthy body condition, they are less likely to have problems with their feet.

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Treatment

When caught early, bumble foot is normally treatable at home. If at home treatments are not helping the rat's condition, seek vet assistance. Some nastier bacteria will require antibiotics. Stubborn bumble foot can take weeks to heal even with antbiotics. Bumble foot that is caught in the very early stages, can usually be knocked down in a few days. See image above for examples of severity stages.

When you first notice an issue:


  1. Remove the animal from the enclosure and asses the extent of the infection. If the infection is in its early to moderate stages, disinfect the feet and set up a well cleaned hospital cage for the rat. Do not use lose bedding for the hospital cage if the animal has open sores/ the feet are bleeding.

  2. Inspect all the other rats' feet for any swelling, hotness and/or sores.

  3. Clean the entire main enclosure with actual disinfectants. Vinegar is NOT a disinfectants. You can get disinfectant made for cleaning animal enclosures. Using bleach is not reccomended even if diluted as it lingers and the cage needs to be aired out for a while.

  4. If possible, try to locate what could hve caused a cut in the foot. Broken toys, exposed wire, etc.

At home treatment:


Home treatment is NOT for severe infections. Only use home treatment when the infection is still manageable.


Example 1;

Clean ulcerations using an antiseptic soap and water,purple spray( not the one with aloe), hibiscrub or a 1% dilute solution of chlorhexiderm/chlorhexidine flush. Apply antiseptic cream twice a day.


Example 2;

Cleaning the ulceration with a Betadine solution (dilute to colour of weak tea), and then applying a Betadine ointment at least three times a day.



If the animal seems to be in clear discomfort and refusing to walk due to swelling or a sore, you can also give your rat(s) ibuprofein for pain relief, Click here for instuctions.

When to see a vet.


A vet should be seen if:

  1. The feet are not improving with treamtent

  2. The feet are already in a bad condition when you first notice the infection

  3. There are large amounts of puss

  4. The feet are constantly bleeding

  5. The rat cannot walk


Anribiotics a vet may prescribe;

  • Trimethoprim/sulfa

  • Enrofloxacin

  • Clavamox

  • Flagyl (where anaerobic bacterial infections is suspected or confirmed)

  • Ketoconazole (where fungal infection is suspected or confirmed)




Bumble feet must be treated. If left untreated the infection can spread and cause your rat to go septic and die. If treated too late, foot may be amputated due or the rat may be put down due to sever deformation.

ULCERATIVE DERMATITIS

Definition

bacterial growth often initiated by self-trauma, often due to an allergic reaction.


Etiology

Ulcerative dermatitis is a skin disorder in rodents associated with bacterial growth often initiated by self-trauma due to an allergic reaction. Rats, just like us, can be allergic to certain foods, or in rare cases, even bedding. Although other organisms can be involved, bacteria culture frequently shows Staphylococcus aureus. S. aureus can be present in the upper respiratory tract, gut mucosa, and skin as a member of the normal microbiota. However, because S. aureus can cause disease under certain host and environmental conditions Primarily found on the rib cage, neck, and shoulder, lesions are often irregular, circumscribed, and moist. Intense itching may lead to scratching which may aggravate and perpetuate the lesion. Destruction of the epidermis along with underlying pustules or abscesses, and granulomatous inflammation, may be present.

Prevention

The best way to prevent Ulcerative dermatitis is daily check ups. The condition wont get bad over night so it can be interupted easily. Ulcerative dermatitis can develop to a nasty looking situation as fast as in 3 days. If you notice excessive scratching to a point the animal is cuasing fur loss and cuts on the skin, go through any changes that have happened in the past week. Think of any new foods youve give, have you changed you bedding type, etc. If you cannot find a possible culprit from the things listed, check the protein content of the dry food you are feeding. If its above 16%, the protein content may be the culprit, especially if you have been giving the rats protein heavy treats along the side, such as meats and fish. Some rats, more often males than females, react to protein in a poor way which causes severe itchin and this will lead to the animal self mutilating.

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Treatment

If caught in its early stages, Ulcerative dermatitis can usually be treated with over the counter topical treatments at home. You should be seeing significant improvement within a week, even in nastier cases that require a vet visit.

When you first notice an issue:

  1. clean the wound and inspect the extent of the condition.

  2. Inspect all the other rats just in case

  3. Check for any signs of external parasites, click here for examples

  4. write any new foods the rats have gotten in the past week, any new house plants you have bough, any new washing liquids you have used with hammocks, etc.

  5. Check your pets dry food's protein content, this shouldnt be above 16%.


At home treatment:

Examples 1:

Clean the irritated/wounded area with saline or hibiscrub. Inspect the extent of the condition. If the condition is in its early to moderate, you can apply antiseptic cream on the affected area twice a day. Put the animal on a dry food only diet for a week, no fresh foods or new treats.


Example 2: Clean irritated/wounded area with saline or hibiscrub. Inspect the extent of the condition. If the condition is very mild and the damage is very minimal, you can apply antiseptic cream once a day onto the affected area. Remove all meat, egg and fish treats frm th rat's diet for a week.


When to see a vet


a vet should be seen if

  • Topical ointments and cleaning are not improving the animals condition.

  • The wounded area has large amounts of pus

  • The animal was already in a bad condition when you noticed an issue

  • The animal seems lethargic and their body temperature is worryingly cold


What your vet may prescribe

  • Enrofloxacin

  • Amoxicillin

  • ivermectin / selamectin ( if external parasites are present)

  • Anti-fungal cream ( if a fungal is present or suspected)

PITUITARY TUMOUR

Definition

An abnormal growth or swelling in the pituitary gland. Pituitary glad is the part of the brain that regulates the body's hormonal balance.


Clinical signs

Severity and type of symptom can vary largely from case to case. Some rats progress very slowly over the course of several months, meanwhile some will go to a severe state and pass within just a few days. Here are some of the most common symptoms.


  • Ataxia, aka lack in coordination in the limbs. This often manifests as difficulties holding on to food

  • Gradual weakening of back legs; abnoraml wide stance, constant curling of the toes, stumbling and dragging of the feet.

  • Stiffness of the limbs or difficulties flexing front limbs. This often gets gradually worse as the ondition progresses.

  • Blindness as a resut of optic nerve compression

  • Circling, head tilt, seizures, hydrocephalus

  • Abnormal behavioural changes related to hormones, such as aggression.

  • Inability to hold on to weight and rapid weight loss follows

  • Lactation outside of pregnancy/nursing

Etiology

Pituitary gland aka hypophysis ( formely known a the master gland ) is a small endocrine gland that is in charge of controlling the production of hormones in the endocrine glands. Endocrine glands regulate various procedures in the body such as grown, metabolism and reproduction. Endocrine glands expel their secretions directly into the blood, as opposed to exocrine glands such as sweat glands.

n rats the pituitary gland is divided into the adenohypophysis (anterior lobe or pars distalis), the intermediate lobe (pars intermedia), and the neurohypophysis (posterior lobe or pars nervosa). It is situated in a bony cavity at the base of, and below the brain, and is connected to the hypothalamus by the pituitary stalk, also referred to as the hypophyseal stalk. The hypothalamus is that region of the brain that, in large part, controls or modulates the activity of the pituitary gland.

Studies show that the pituitary gland growth in female rats and male rats differs at around 6-7 weeks of age, at which time the pituitary gland in the female becomes heavier and increases in size. The difference increases even more as the female ages.
In addition, normal hyperplastic (overgrowth of normal cells) changes that occur to the pituitary gland in aged rats often show no evidence of compression of surrounding tissue, unlike that which can occur with adenomas or carcinomas.

Adenomas are tumours of glandular tissue. Pituitary tumours, often benign adenomas, are slow-growing tumours. Many of these tumours arise in the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland.

Pituitary adenomas can vary in size and are often differentiated as micro adenomas (small nodules) or macro adenomas (sometimes ranging greater than 10mm in diameter). Both micro adenomas and macro adenomas can be further differentiated as space-occupying non-hormone secreting adenomas, or hormone-secreting adenomas.

It has been shown that of the pituitary adenomas, prolactin-producing tumours called prolactinomas primarily composed of Lactotrophs (type of cell that stains well in acidic media) are among the more common pituitary tumours found in geriatric rats, often female rats between 13 and 24 months of age. This may be as a result of the normally increased prolactin secretion in geriatric rats as seen by higher concentration levels of prolactin in the blood. The reason for this change in prolactin levels, in geriatric rats of both sexes, is due to a reduction of hypothalamic dopamine activity.

Prolactinomas can be Chromophobic (type of cell that does not readily stain in media) which is a sparsely granulated, slightly acidophilic and often haemorrhagic adenoma, or eosinophilic which is more densely granulated and acidophilic. The latter is not commonly seen in rats. Other types of pituitary adenomas rarely seen are gonadotrophin cell adenomas, Immunonegative adenomas, mixed prolactin and growth hormone–producing adenomas.

It has been noted in studies that previously bred females, as well as spayed (more specifically Ovariectomy) females tend to show a decreased rate of pituitary tumours sensitive to oestrogen (e.g., prolactinomas).

While pituitary tumours do not seem as prevalent in male rats, they can and do occur.

Even though the majority of pituitary tumours are often benign in rats, and do not metastasize to other areas of the body, some can grow large enough to compress nearby brain tissue. This compression of tissue can produce mechanical disturbances (such as listed above in the Clinical Signs section).

While pituitary carcinomas (cancer) are rare findings in rats, leading to the speculation that death occurs due to compression of the brain before progression of the tumor can occur to other sites, the prognosis for rats suspected of having, or diagnosed as having a benign pituitary adenoma, can be just as grave. Just the location of the tumor and the pituitary gland alone make them inoperable, in rats. However, in recent years, prolactin-inhibiting, dopamine receptor agonists, such as cabergoline or bromocriptine that have the ability to shrink some hormone producing tumors have been offering promising results for the pet rat; when begun early in the disease process. When used in conjunction with corticosteroids (that help reduce tissue swelling) the quality of life may be extended for a few additional months until such time that euthanasia may be required.

It is worth mentioning that, although it is not a common finding in rats, carcinomas of different histological types have been found to metastasize from other areas to the pituitary.

Prevention

There aren't many things be can do to prevent PT. The best we can do is to aim to offer our rats a healthy diet with low fat content. Obesiety effects animals' health a lot, so it is important to make sure your rats are also at a healthy body condition. Another way to aim towards lesser chance of PT, is to get your animals from a healthy source. Pet store animals have poor genetics and are predisposed to being ill a lot more than well bred rats.

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Treatment

Unfortunately, pituitary tumours are not cureable, but in some cases the symptoms can be alleviated and acceptable quality of life restored. The success rate of the treatment is not great and can be very expensive, so it is important to sit down and think if it is worth trying the treatment, or if the animals condition is already in a severe state. Sometimes euthanasia is more merciful than treatment.

Example of treatment

First, a vet will confirms diagnosis of PT. Treatment is started there and then with a strong steroid injection. The steroid injection should start showing effect within the up coming hours if the treatment if going to be effective. Along side steroids, a vet may prescribe a 3 day course of Prednisone pills that are given twice a day. If this combination doesn't show improvement, it is best to euthanise the animal. If the initial treatment does improve things, the next step is Galastop/Cabergoline. Galastop/Cabergoline will be given once a day and Prednisone twice a day. The animal will be on daily medications for the rest of its life. If the animal start going down hill eventually even with the medicaton, It should be humanely euthanized.

When you first notice the issues

  1. Rule out other possibilities

  2. Asses how far gone the animal is

  3. Change your cage lay out. PT causes issues with balance etc. So rats with the condition are in a constant risk of falling and causing possibly fata injuries. If your main cage is very tall, it's best to move the rat to a lower cage to minimize avoidable injuries

  4. If your rats are from a breeder, let your breeder know.

At home treatment


There is NO way to treat PT at home.


When to see a vet


A vet should be seen once you have noticed an issue, regardless if you are going to euthanise or attempt to treat the problem. Death by PT is horrendous, as it effects the bodys way to function.


Prolonged suffering from PT ends up with the rat either dying via starvation, dying via asphyxiation or cardiac arrest. Euthanise your rat if they are suffering of this condition and you decide it's not worth trying the treatment.

DEGLOVING

Definition

Loss of skin around the tail or limbs from minimal to severe degree involving deep tissue loss due to trauma.

Clinical signs

  • Loss of skin on the injury

  • Necrotic skin on the injury

  • Exposed bone

  • Exposed muscle and tendons


Etiology

Degloving is a defence mechanism in rats and other small mammals, which causes the upper layer of skin and tissue to be torn away from the bone. Degloving can happen on various levels from very minor to extreme, most often, seen on the tail. Degloving is often the result of trauma to the injured region, such as getting badly trapped between a cage door or being torn of by another animal. Other situations that may cause degloving especially on the tail, are when the animel is grabbed by the tail, especially if grabbed far away from the base of the tail or when an owner accidentally steps on the tail and the rat pulls away in a similar way they would try to rapidly pull away when their tail gets stuck to between a cage door. Such injuries, regardless of severity, are painful and leave the are exposed and vulnurable to infections. Once a deglving injury has happened, the lost skin and tissue will not grow back. Minor injuries such as the very tip of the tail can be managed at home, while more extensive injuries will require amputation.


Prevention

The best way to prevent degloving is to not be careless around rats. Most deglovings are complitely avoidable and happen due to not paying attention. When closing cage doors, make sure that there are no tails or paws getting trapped, looks where youre stepping when youre rats are out for free roam, and if you come across a situation where you must grab a rat by its tail to save its life or prevent major injuries, grab the tail from as close to the base as you possibly can. Click here for more info on emergency tail grabbing.

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Treatment

With degloving the severity of the injury affects how it is treated. Very minor injuries can be treated with home but moderate to severe injuries need to be taken to vet asap as the affected area will have to be amputated.


When you first notice an issue

  1. Remove the rat from its encosure

  2. clean the wound with saline and inspect the severity

  3. If the injury is very minor, set up a hospital cage with no lose bedding and administer painkillers accordinly.

  4. If the injury in moderate or severe, call your vet immidiately to schedule an appoinment. For sever injuries vet should be seen as an emergency walk in.

  5. For moderate injuries that are not actively bleeding, a vet should be seen within the next 24h If the rat has to wait over night to be seen, administer painkillers accordingly.




At home treatment

At home treatment is for minor injuries only. Anything more should be seen by a vet asap.


Example 1;

Clean the wound well and move the animal into a small hospital eclosure that has been freshy disinfected. Do not put any lose bedding in the enclosure as raw tissue will be exposed and bedding will stick to it, instead use fleece. Clean the wound twice a day with hibiscrub or other strong antiseptic wound cleaners. Administer painkillers accordingly untill the wound is no longer raw (click here). A minor injury should turn black withing days. Once you notice this, dont be alarmed, this is the remaining tissue dying. Use a nontoxic marker to make a clear marking on the tail to where the necrotic tissue is. This marking will allow you to monitor and make sure it is not spreading. Once the tissue has gone necrotic it is no longer raw, and the rat can be returned back on to lose bedding and to its friends. Eventually the necrotic area will fall off/ the rat will chew it off. During healing, careful monitor for any signs of infection. If there are signs of infection, contact your vet for antibiotics to stop the infection early on.


When to see a vet

  • The injury is more than very minor

  • The injury is actively bleeding regardless of severity

  • There are signs of infection

  • Necrotic tissue is spreding past the injury


A vet will amputate the injured area, prescribe painkillers and antibiotics.

STROKE

Definition

A stroke is not the same as a seizure. A stroke is a sudden disruption of of circulation in the brain. This disruption in circulation causes a decreased flow of oxygen into the brain. An insufficent oxygen supply to the cells causes them to die, resulting in loss of brain function.

Clinical signs

  • Not all strokes function in the same way. The level of damage to the brain and the type of stroke effect the symptoms, hence why the list can be quite vague and extensive.

  • Loss of control of one side of the body, can be more localized and not the whole body neccesarily.

  • Dysphagia aka difficulty swallowing.

  • Motoric malfunction, such as falling over, often to the same direction each time.

  • Muscle spasm, this can be localized or all over the body.

  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control.

  • Uneven pupil size.

  • Micro-hemorrhages.

  • Loss of vision.

  • Unexplained changes in behaviour, often irritability just like in humans.

  • Coma and death.

Clinical signs before the onset of a stroke maybe such as motor impairment, eyeball protrusion and sudden decrease in body temperature.


Etiology

Strokes are not often seen in perfectly healthy animals, if a rat suffers a stroke there is most of the time an underlying vascular problem. A stroke happens when the oxygen and nutrient(glucose) supply to the brain is interupted due to a blockage or a rupture. This disturbance results in damage and/or deah to the cells and tissue in the area of the brain where the disruption has taken place. As the cells and tissue dies, it directly affects what ever part of the body that region of the brain controls. Death or vegetative state results when the cell damage is to an area of the brain that is in charge of the bodys vital organs suchs as the heart and lungs.


Not all strokes are fatal, and the animal may make a full recovery depending on the situation. When an animal sufers a loss of neurological function lasting from a minute up to an hour and makes a full recovery , this is called TIA. Once an animal has suffered a stroke, even with full recovery, the animals owner should be aware that strokes often arent a one time event an there will be more in the future.


A stroke is usually caused by one of the following events


  • Compression of a blood vessel in the brain due to a tumour or fluid build up

  • Embolism, this is when a clot from another part of the body travels up to the brain and disrupts the circulation by blocking a blood vessel

  • ICH aka inracebral hemmorage. This means a vessel in the brain bursts and causes internal bleeding in the area surrounding the brain cells.

  • Thrombosis, this is when a clot forms in a vessel located in the brain.


Prevention and risk factors

As with most things, age is always a contributing factor and there is nothing we can do about it. With strokes there are contributor sthat we as pet owners can learn about tand work towards reducing the risk of a stroke. The main thing we as owners can control is the animals body condition. Just like in humans, obesity is a massive contributor to vascular problems.


Other known risk factors are

  • Metabolic deseases

  • Genetics

  • Leukemia

  • Cardiac desease

  • Hypertension

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Diagnosis

CT scans can be requested from a vet but they are expensive and very impractical with rats. An xray is more practical and cost efficent, but it can only show certain types of issues such as masses.

The most efficent way to diagnose a stroke is to whitness it. If you suspect your anim is suffering of a stroke, it may be helpful to a vet if you are able to capture atleast some of the event on video.


When you first notice an issue

  1. Make sure the animal is out of dangers way. Tall cages can cause major secondary injuries to rats who are sufering a stroke. Move the animal to a smaller, one level enclosure for their own safety.

  2. Make sure the animal is able to breathe and its air ways are not obstucted by having their head burried under something

  3. Contact your vet and provide them with information of the situation for the best possible help

  4. If possible, video atleast a part of the event to your vet so they can see exactly what has happened for the most accurate treatment


Treatment

The treatment varies depending on what has caused the stroke and what degree of damage has been caused. A vet may prescribe treatment if needed after a body check and assesment.


With strokes it is really important to consider the animals quality of life over your needs and feelings as a pet owner. If the animal is no longer able to look after itslef and do normal rat things without assistance, it is better to let the animal go.


A vet may be able to give you an estimated prognosis, but if the animal is in a poor state the prognosis is often poor if there is no signs of improvement within the first day. There is almost always underlying medical issues going on, which also need to be considered when dealing with the after math of a stroke.


If the animal seem to be recovering and/or the vet has given a hopeful prognosis and maybe even prescribed medication, the following is important in recovery


  • Clean recovery environment in a smaller one level cage with minimal risk of further injury if another stroke happens

  • Keeping the animal well hydrated, an oral syringe is the best way. If the animal is not eating, disolve a little bit of honey in water that is warm enough to fully disove the honey. This will help provide some energy to an animal that is refusing to eat.

  • Keeping the animal fed if possible. Some rats will refuse food when poorly. Soft foods, liquidy foods are ideal as theyre less of a chocking hazard and require less effort for the rat to eat

  • Make sure that the animal stays warm, but doesnt over heat. The room temperature sould be kept