When to see a veterinarian

pet rat teeth examI am a firm believer in the importance of establishing a strong relationship with a veterinarian for your rats. Pet rats can have many types of illnesses and medical problems. Even if you are an experienced rat owner, I recommend taking any rat that is new to you in for an initial exam even if no health problems are observed. This helps in several ways: Your veterinarian can establish a relationship with your rat, observe a baseline for your new pet’s health and assess any current medical problems or predispositions. If problems are found, it’s helpful to know about them before they become severe. I also recommend having your rats checked by a veterinarian at least once every six months. I once had my rat examined for a problem I’d noticed and the vet found something additional (and much more serious) that I hadn’t even noticed!

Besides doing initial and regular wellness exams, here are some symptoms which warrant a visit to the vet:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Increase or decrease in urination
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Lethargy – Is your rat sleeping more than normal? Not wanting to play?Nora Drawing
  • Puffed up fur
  • Sneezing
  • Any breathing problems – Does your rat make funny sounds while breathing? (A healthy rat’s breathing is silent.) Does your rat’s breathing seem labored, i.e. does his/her body heave in and out while breathing?
  • Porphyrin – Porphyrin is a red secretion around the eyes and nostrils that looks like blood but it’s not. It’s produced by the Harderian gland, which is located behind the eye. Porphyrin is a sign that the rat could have an infection or be experiencing stress
  • Any eye problem – Squinting, cloudiness, scratching, redness around eye
  • Any wounds – many rat lovers insist that rat lacerations heal quickly and on their own. However, I worry about infection and would never neglect taking one of my rats to the vet if they have a laceration. Veterinarians will often prescribe an antibiotic for a wounded rat to ward off or get rid of infection. The last time one of my rats was wounded, the emergency room veterinarian found the gashes were far more significant than what I’d initially observed.
  • Abscesses, lumps or bumps – Small lumps can be abscesses filled with pus or a tumor (cancerous or benign). In my opinion any lump found on your rat should be examined by a veterinarian within 24 hours if possible.
  • Excessive scratching/itching
  • Scabs

In short, if you see anything out of the ordinary, any significant changes in your rat’s behavior and/or health, take him or her to a qualified veterinarian. I would much rather have the vet say “everything’s fine” than not take my rat in and find out I could’ve caught a problem early and prevented worse conditions from developing.

Mass removed from Dwayne (shown next to a pen for reference to size)

Mass removed from Dwayne (shown next to a pen for reference to size)


Case in point:  When bringing in one of my rats because I’d noticed a very small bump or abscess on his chest, his veterinarian noticed swelling beneath his penis. I had not even noticed the swelling and was so thankful I’d brought him in. This is what was removed from Dwayne during surgery. It turned out to be spindle cell carcinoma.




Follow About Pet Rats: