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In this section we will be discussing euthanasia and various things that lower a rats quality of life and to what extent. Click here to jump to the quality of life test.


As pet owners, it is our responsibility to make sure our animals aren’t suffering. This section will talk about euthanasia and other end of life subjects.

Many people may think that doing your all to keep a pet alive is the best thing you can do, but this isn’t always the case. In some situations it is more merciful to allow the animal to pass safely without unnecessary suffering. When deciding if it's time to let go, it's critical to put feelings aside and consider your animal's welfare first. It’s upsetting to euthanize an animal, and letting emotions take priority over animal welfare can lead to a lot of unnecessary prolonged suffering

Tumours & Growths

When should one consider euthanasia when it comes to tumours and such? To make an educated decision it is important to understand how a tumour affects the body. Depending on where on the body a growth is and what kind of growth it is affects how it should be treated. Some growths are a lot more treatable than others via surgery or sometimes even just medications.

So what does a growth actually do? Regardless of location, there are a few things all tumours have in common.

  • They steal a part of the body's blood flow

  • They steal nutrients the body needs to function properly

  • Push against organs

  • They will keep growing

On top of this many tumours will stretch out the skin, form sores and bruises. This is very painful. Mammary tumours are the most common tumour and can be quite passive or very aggressive. Mammary tumours are seen way more in females due to them having 12 nipples. These types of tumours will form on the underside of the rat, near the armpits is one of the most common spots.

Most tumours can be operated on, BUT this doesn’t mean that's always the best option. Rats have a very high death rate under anaesthesia (1 in 50) and due to this reason it's very important to consider a few things before deciding to operate.

  1. Medical history.

    • If the animal has a history with a lot of respiratory issues, this greatly lowers the chances of making it through surgery

  2. Age.

    • As rats get older , their bodies get weaker and they will have a lower chance of making it through surgery. Many experienced rat vets will not want to operate on rats over the age of two even if completely healthy. If the animal is over a year and a half in age, it is important to discuss the surgery with the vet as this is often the age when many vets will not recommend surgery, but will do it if the animal is otherwise healthy and the odds are relatively okay.

  3. Prior tumours

    • It is not uncommon for tumours to grow back after they have been removed, or new ones to pop up in different places. If the tumours keep returning, it's important to stop for a moment and consider if it's worth putting the animal under constant anaesthesia and medications to manage pain.

Another nasty tumour seen in rats is pituitary tumour. These are one of the biggest causes of death in females under 2 years old. It is seen in both sexes but seen a ton more in females. PT is an abnormal growth in the pituitary gland, aka the part of the brain that regulates balance and many of the hormones. Unfortunately the success rate for treating PT is very low and costly. The treatments do NOT cure PT. At best it can improve the symptoms and improve quality of life, but eventually it will progress.

Click here for more info on pituitary tumours.

Chronic illnesses

Not all chronic illnesses are the end of the world, many of them are very manageable, but some are painful and affect the rats life quality a lot. Many rats develop some kinda chronic issue as they age, hind leg degeneration being one of the more common and relatively harmless ones. When dealing with chronic issues it is important to consider the following.

  1. Vet visits

    • If the rat is constantly at the vet's office for tooth trims, painkillers and other sorts of stuff, the long term quality of life the animal has is significantly lower.

  2. Medication

    • If a rat needs constant long term pain management or other daily medications like anti seizure medications, this is a sign that the animal cant maintain a high quality of life without constant medical intervention. Especially constant use of painkillers, as it's bad for the body. If a eat is always in so much discomfort it needs constant painkillers to do day to day things, it has a poor quality of life

  3. Hygiene

    • Maintaining hygiene is important for a rat's health. Not being able to keep themselves clean can cause infections and other medical issues due to poor hygiene. Older rats might need some assistance with keeping clean. This itself is not the end of the world, but it is important to assess why the animal can't keep up with hygiene and if that underlying issue is hindering quality of life.

  4. Eating

    • If a rat cannot eat unassisted due to chronic issues and this cannot be fixed, it should be euthanized.


Long term lone housing should never be practised with rats. Rats are highly social and intelligent animals who need social interaction with other rats, and for this reason, long term lone housing is cruel and unethical. A human CANNOT offer a lone rat companionship that replaces other rats. Unfortunately permanent lone housing is still very often seen online and because of this, many people think its okay. There are only a few instances where lone housing TEMPORARILY is absolutely fine, and even necessary.

So when is lone housing acceptable?


When bringing in new rats, it is important to quarantine them for two weeks to make sure there are no contagious diseases or external parasites. No matter where your rats come from, they should be quarantined! It's always better to be safe than sorry.

Its best to get new rats in pairs or more to avoid lone housing during quarantine, but if you are adding only one to your existing group, it will have to be housed on its own for two weeks. In this situation, lone housing is okay as it is only temporary and it's for health and safety reasons.

Hospital cage

After surgeries and when your animal is in a bad state, it's best to place them into a hospital cage for easy monitoring. In this situation lone housing is okay, in fact it is often necessary for the best chance of recovery.

After cage mate death

Eventually comes a time when you are left with one rat after the others pass. Unfortunately your rat will be on its own until new friends are introduced as soon as possible or the lone rat re-homed to a home with an existing group of rats. In this situation, temporary housing is okay as long as you are taking action to change that as soon as you can.


This document contains a guide on how to properly gauge a rat’s quality of life, or QoL. The lower the number, the worse the QoL for the rat and vice versa. This guide has been adapted from Journey’s QoL scale to better fit rats in particular.

The guide runs on a 10 point scale per category with a total of 80 points possible. 8 points - 35 points is failing and humane euthanasia should be strongly considered. 36 points - 45 points is a caution needed area where euthanasia may be considered. 46 points - 60 points is acceptable and the animal likely has decent QoL. 61 points - 80 points is exemplary and the animal has a high QoL.

  1. Mobility

    1. 1 point: The rat cannot walk, climb, or stand without assistance.

    2. 5 points: The rat can move around to a limited degree and can still perform half of the actions that they could before the illness/age.

    3. 10 points: The rat has full mobility.

  2. Pain (*Note* Rats are prey animals and will desperately try to hide any signs of pain. By the time the rat is showing obvious distress, the pain levels are far higher than we can guess. It is better to err on the side of caution in this category.)

    1. 1 point: Pain is evident due to crying, squealing, or highly aggressive behavior such as lashing out.

    2. 5 points: The rat is on regular pain medication.

    3. 10 points: The animal is pain free.

  3. Chronic Illness

    1. 1 point: The rat has a diagnosis that is neither treatable or preventable and will progress.

    2. 5 points: The rat has a medical condition that will change over time, but it is currently stable and is monitorable/treatable.

    3. 10 points: The rat is happy and healthy with no medical illnesses beyond preventative care (i.e. Acute Upper Respiratory Infection)

  4. Respiration

    1. 1 point: The rat has severe episodes of difficulty breathing including audible gasping and lack of eating/drinking in favor of breathing.

    2. 5 points: The rat has occasional bouts of coughing, wheezing, rasping, and/or gasping and are currently on medication.

    3. 10 points: The rat is free of any respiratory distress.

  5. Hygiene

    1. 1 point: The rat has stopped cleaning themselves entirely and will lay in faeces/urine.

    2. 5 points: The rat may need occasional assistance when it comes to bathing.

    3. 10 points: The rat is able to fully clean itself and urinate/defecate cleanly.

  1. Eating/Drinking/Weight

    1. 1 point: The rat is refusing all food and drink. The rat is unable to retain weight.

    2. 5 points: The rat is eating less and is eating slower, and is no longer interested in special treats. The rat is drinking less than normal. The rat is beginning to lose weight despite eating.

    3. 10 points: The rat is eating and drinking normally, and the weight is healthy.

  2. You

    1. 1 point: You are constantly worried about the health and stability of your animal. You may be worried about the financial burden or the ability to care for the rat.

    2. 5 points: You understand the rat’s condition and are able to mentally and financially meet their healthcare needs.

    3. 10 points: You are easily able to meet the rat’s needs and are not concerned about any aspect of their care.

  3. Socialising (*Note* Lone rats that must be kept as solo rats due to aggression are not mentally stable creatures and should be awarded 1 point in this category. It has been proven in multiple studies that rats kept alone have higher rates of depression, illness, shorter lifespans, heightened aggression, and may self mutilate.)

    1. 1 point: The rat keeps itself isolated away from cage mates and humans. They may be irritable or lash out.

    2. 5 points: The rat spends 50% of its time (within normal bounds) socialising with cagemates and humans.

    3. 10 points: The rat enjoys the company of other rats and humans.

Quality of life: Text
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