Rat Traps

There are 3 main ways to remove unwanted “wild” rodents from your home.

1. Poison

2. Glue Traps

3. Live Capture

Currently none of the extermination companies such as Rentokil, use Live Capture as an option but use Poison and Glue Traps.
Some Facts about Rat Poison

Most rat and mouse poisons sold over-the-counter in shops contain the anticoagulant poison, brodifacoum, as the active ingredient. Brodifacoum is highly dangerous and causes extreme suffering prior to death in people and other animals.

Anticoagulants such as brodifacoum act by interfering with Vitamin K-1 metabolism, leading to interruption of blood clotting and blood vessel repair. In other words, the blood vessels eventually explode, causing victims to bleed internally until they succumb to the painful effects of blood loss, followed by cardiac, respiratory, or kidney failure.

Anticoagulants are notoriously non-selective and have the potential to kill domestic dogs and cats, wildlife, children, and even grown adults.

According to records kept by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, between 2001 and 2003 there were nearly 51,300 human rodenticide poisoning cases nationwide — more than for any other pesticide. At least 103 of those exposures resulted in serious outcomes, including death. Many of these incidents involved children.
Some Facts about Glue Traps

Recently the Australian state of Victoria proposed a ban the use of glue traps on the grounds that the devices are inherently inhumane. If passed, people who violate the new law will face fines of up to AU$1,000.

Glue boards will immobilize any small animal, including songbirds, bats, and amphibians, that comes in contact with the sticky substance.

Glue boards could pose a danger to children or companion animals, who may be injured when encountering a live, agitated, wild animal caught on a glue board (or come into contact with the actual glue boards).

A recent scientific review article, “Humaneness of Rodent Pest Control,” in the journal Animal Welfare (Vol. 12, No. 1) revealed that “sticky boards,” also known as “glue boards” or “glue traps,” have “major welfare costs” when used for capturing and killing rats and mice. The article stated that use of glue traps results in “instant and prolonged distress and trauma, followed by dehydration, hunger and sometimes self-mutilation when animals are held trapped for long periods.” Studies cited in the review revealed that even when animals fall face down into the glue, the shortest recorded death time is 3 hours, and some animals were still alive 24 hours after being trapped. Pest control operators interviewed for the research paper reported that when boards are collected, stuck animals are often “squealing” or as one operator described, “screaming their heads off.”

If you want to do more or read more about glue traps then check out Rat Planets campaign to ban Glue Traps : Glue Trap Petition

If you have a wild rodent in your home please read this article first:

How to deal with Rats and Mice humanely

Rat Cages

Making a home for your rat is a relatively simple task. His toys and bedding are inexpensive and easy to replace. You can find them along with the water bottles and heavy ceramic food dishes you will need for your rat cage at a local pet shop.

Rat Cage

A 15-gallon aquarium makes an adequate cage for a pair of rats, but it’s better to buy a 20-gallon tank if you have the space in your house.

You can also choose to keep two rats in a wire cage that’s at least two feet square, but find one with a solid bottom and sides made out of small-mesh wire netting. Rats can get their feet caught in gaps anything larger than a half inch square.

Terenziani produce the best at the moment. Anything smaller than a Michaelangelo cage (69 X 69 X 44 cms) is just not good enough. The Michaelangelo is pictured on the right. There is also another cage which is three storeys high called the “Moore”

The one drawback of the Terenziani cages is that they have wire floors, and you should never keep your rats on wire floors. However, the base floor is simple to remove and you can cover the upper floors with lino, vinyl or floor tiles, wood or cardboard. You could cover any cardboard or wood with sticky back plastic for an easier clean.


In recent years many rat owners have campaigned against pine and cedar shavings — formerly popular rat beddings – because these beddings contain phenols that can irritate the sensitive upper respiratory tracts of small rodents. We recommend using a paper based product such as Ideal Pet Bed which has been double dust extracted and is thick, absorbent and goves the ratties something else to play with.

As long as you give your rat some extra material for his nest you will only need to line the cage with 1/2 to one-inch of your bedding of choice. Torn paper or clean rags make good nesting materials.

You will need to clean your rat’s cage once or twice a week, depending on how large the cage is and how many occupants it has. Ammonia from urine can build up quickly in an aquarium so many breeders recommend a daily spot cleaning to remove urine-saturated bedding and faeces.


Rats are very active and intelligent. They can turn almost any object into a toy and will make good use of all of the extra climbing materials you give them. You can put cardboard boxes, wooden ladders, large PVC pipe fittings, clay flowerpots, empty cereal packets and any number of other semi-indestructible entertainment items in your rat’s cage. Remember that your rat will try to taste all of these cage additions so stay away from anything coated in plastic or paint.

But before you surrender all of the floor space in the cage to these cage extras, remember that you need a heavy ceramic dish for your rat’s food. Most owners feed their rats dry lab blocks, but no matter how clean pellet food seems you must still wash this dish with soap and hot water when you change the bedding in the cage. Supply your rat’s cage with a hanging water bottle, too.

Rat Cage Location

Rats have very sensitive ears and it may be stressful for them to live in a room that’s always chaotic and noisy. At the same time, you don’t want to banish your rat to an unused spare bedroom that no one visits. Pick a family room that gets a decent amount of foot traffic but doesn’t have a television blaring in it 24/7. Keep your rat’s cage on top of a sideboard, away from drafts and direct sunlight.

Rat FAQs

Please check here for any answers to questions before emailing Cavyrescue. You may find we have answered it already!

Rat FAQs

Are rats sensitive to spray polish (to clean the furniture in the room the rats will be housed) because they have susceptible respiratory systems?

Yes, rats are susceptible to all sorts of smells and scents, including smoke, cooking smells, perfume, polish etc. Their lungs can be irritated which can excarebate or cause respiratory problems.

Can rats be infected with salmonella that can be passed on to humans?

I really have no idea about this, but a) I’d imagine that if a rat got salmonella, it would probably die and I’d be hard pressed to think what you’d feed them for them to get

b) the only time you may catch something from a rat (and they don’t carry lots of diseases despite their bad press) is if you ingest their poo, get bitten, or let them lick inside your mouth

Is a Buck or Doe best for me (I am a 19 year old student) as I have been told that Bucks can be aggressive and may need to be castrated and they leave scent trials, Does are quicker and more curious, so I cannot decide for the best.

The only aggressive rats I’ve ever had have been aggressive due to being abused in the past; not handled; or being the odd head case (a bit like humans!). Their sex doesn’t make a difference. Does are smaller and more lively and not always up for a good cuddle. Bucks are bigger and as they get older, start to be less lively and a bit lazy and cuddly.

Sure the boys are a tad smellier and do like to scent you as a sign of ownership, but not all of them. I have 10 boys here and only two are regular scenters. I get them out, they sit on my shoudlers, They pee. No problem!

Please get a same sex pair as otherwise a singular rat does get lonely no matter how much attention you give them.

Is a cage at least 60x30x30cm large enough for a pair of rats and what is the best floor covering/bedding?

The cage is too small. Pets At Home do a good rat starter cage – it’s called Ferplast Mary and is about £70. It is the minimum size of cage you should consider for a pair of rats ( 80cm x 50cm x 37.5cm ) . We tend to use the Mary size cages for elderly single rats or sick rats. You should never house more than two rats in a cage this size, and, again, this is the bare minimum size.

The bigger the cage, the better for rats – an ideal cage will have more height so that rats can climb and so that ou can put ropes, hammocks etc in.it.A ferplast Jenny cage (size: 80cm x 50cm x 79.5cm ) fits the bill and will house up to six rats comfortably and is great for young rats. (Though you will need to put hammocks across the cage to add extra ‘shelving’ as they can get excitable and fall off the shelves provided and this will add a safety net for them!).

The base of the cage should be plastic – not wire or mesh otherwise they can get ulcerated feet which never really heal up – and with wire bars about 15mm apart, to prevent a rat from squeezing through. .

As to litter to cover the base of the cage – please never use sawdust. Dusty products can cause respiratory problems and – before we got into rescuing and were simply pet owners one of our pets died as a result of being on dusty shavings.We recommend you use EcoPetBed which you can buy online from www.earthlyenterprises.co.uk . It is around £20 a bale (unless you have storage and buy in bulk, which will make it cheaper) but that should last you 30 – 40 cleaning outs so is stll great value. Or try Carefresh Pet Bedding, from Supreme; Biocatolet wood based cat litter, all from pet shops.

Are rats uncomfortable with noise such as TV, music etc?

They don’t like lots of noise – it can scare them. If you are out, then leaving the radio on low is fine. But lots of people; screeching children and noise can stress them out.
And finally, I live in South Wales and was wondering if there are any good rat breeders in and around this area, I have found nothing on the Internet near me.

I don’t know of any rat breeders in your area – have you contacted the national fancy rat society? They may be able to help. Or, how about a pair of rescue rats – there are sadly literally hundreds of thousands needing homes – try www.ratrehome.co.uk or contact us.

For more ratty advice, look at www.ratplanet.co.uk; use our guides or contact us

What do you feed your rats?

Currently, we feed our rats on a mixture of dried rat food (we use Xtravital by Beaphar which has added Echinacea) , together with an ‘organic’ mix of our own. This consists of porridge oats, dried split peas and beans, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, popcorn (natural, unsalted), dried apricots, a few raisins.

We also ‘chuck in’ pasta (great for their teeth), plain breadsticks, bran flakes, banana chips and the odd digestive.

Brown bread – fresh or toasted, is also part of their diet. They also enjoy tomatoes – simply put a whole cherry tomato in their cage and watch them play with it (like a football), then devour it. It is also has good medicinal properties too.

Boiled eggs, in their shell, slightly cracked so they get the ‘smell’, go down a treat too!

Dog biscuits, in small quantities, are excellent for their health – too many though can cause skin allergies.

Every other day, we also give them a SMALL amount of fresh food – anything goes except the lettuce, onions or citrus fruits (eg limes, oranges). They love cabbage, carrots etc. Cucumber is a big favourite!

We NEVER feed bones in case they splinter, but give them the odd bit of cooked chicken or ham (off the bone).


Arsenic is present in small quantities in all fruit stones and pips – eg apples, plums, peaches. Humans remain unaffected if they do eat the stones. For ratties, however, it can be dangerous. ALWAYS remove the pips or stones before feeding fruit to your rat.

Excessive amounts of chocolate is also toxic to ratties. Stick the ratty and hamster treats you can buy in pet shops such as choc or yoghurt drops.

The golden rule when feeding your rattie is – no excessive salt, sugar or protein.

If you have a sick or scrawny rat, a supplementary product called “Ferretvite” which comes in a tube at a price of around £4 is really good as builds them up.

My rat has an upset stomach – what should I do?

Don’t overfeed the fresh stuff, or they will get the runs. If they do get an upset stomach, empty their food dish and put them on toasted (brown if possible) bread ONLY with lots of fresh water for a few days. If it doesn’t clear up – see your vet!!

What should I use to line my rats’ cage with?

Never use dusty products – ie woodshavings or sawdust. Dusty products can cause severe respiratory problems. And never use scented products, especially pine. Pine wood is poisonous to rats.

Good products are:

  • Carefresh Pet Bedding made by Supreme and available in most pet shops (around £4 a bag)
  • Biocatolet paper based cat litter (around £4 from supermarkets)
  • Ecopetbed carboard bedding
  • Finacard cardboard bedding

You will need a house within the cage for your rat to snuggle up in. Fill this with nestling material such as the white stuff you can buy from pet shops.

My rats has sore, itchy skin. What is wrong?

Itchy, sore skin can be caused by:

  • Mites or lice
  • Allergy (normally too much protein in their food, such as yoghurt drops, dog biscuits, even too much dried rat food). We have rehomed loads of rats recently who have developed skin allergies – due to loving owners understandably spoiling them.
  • Claws too long
  • Other!!!

If your rattie experiences skin problems, no matter what you think the cause may be, please take them to the vet!

My rat nips me when I wake them up – why?

How would you like to be shaken from a deep slumber. Don’t do it!!

Is smoking (cigarettes or otherwise!) in the vicinity of my animal dangerous to them?

Yes! If you must smoke, try to do it in a different room to your pet. Small animals are very susceptible to vapours such as smoke, cooking smells, paint. Their environment should be free from dust, draughts and vapours!

What is respiratory disease?

This could on for pages and pages, but basically, every rat has a bacteria in their system that could turn into the all-too-common respiratory disease due to old age, stress or any other number of reasons.

If your rat experiences any of the following, get them to the vet – in most cases it can be treated and/or controlled:

  • Excessive sneezing
  • Red staining around the eyes/nose
  • A ‘watery’ or ‘rattly’ sound

If your rat has any of these symptoms, the sooner you get it treated, the better. Left untreated it can cause severe problems eventually leading to premature death.

What should I do when a rat dies leaving a single cage mate?

I was hoping you may be able to help me. I had to have one of my female rats put to sleep this morning – the vet suspected a tumour or lesion in the brain. I still have concerns that it could have in fact been an inner ear infection, but as she’s 2 years old, the vet felt it would be best to put her down now and she had lost weight and was struggling to balance. The problem is that I am now left with one female – Mildred.

She’s also two years old and having taken these two rats on as badly handled youngsters, she’s the one who’s never really came round to enjoying handling (the other rat was fabulous and occasionally came out on school visits etc). Mildred will occasionally nip when she’s worried and finds handling quite stressful.

She is currently housed in a large indoor cage next to my dwarf rabbit who has also recently become friendless (got her from the RSPCA a few years ago as a companion for my elderly rescue lop who has now also passed on from cancer). The rat and the rabbit seem to find each other quite interesting but obviously can not share a cage. Am I best to now keep the rat on her own with the rabbit for company or would it be possible to introduce new rats at this stage?

I was thinking of getting some young males in the future that would be socialised and able to accompany me on some school trips to show how great rats are. If I got males, I could potentially have them neutered. Any advice would be greatly appreciated, as I want Mildred to have a contented life, however long that may be.

A. I think it would be best to get two new friends for Mildred. I had a similar girl here – Rosie – who lost her sister at aged four months old (she died of a tumour). Rosie was always a bit of a biter and not that handable. She was introduced to two young female dumbos – who were extremely laid back – and now she is a friendly, really nice natured lady. It has made a real difference to her.

As we run a rescue, we don’t tend to neuter males very often (the cost to neuter each male that came through the doors is too prohibitive!) so have always paired up same sex (whole) rats in cases like this. However, I cannot imagine that introducing two neutered boys will be a lot different to introducing two young girls. That being said, the time delay between neutering and introductions could be four weeks, so I think Mildred would appreciate the company now!

Two youngsters would be best – then if Mildred doesn’t want to play, they have each other to turn to. I’d also say be prepared for the highly unlikely event that they may not get on -and so you’d have two rat cages!

Also, Mildred will need lots of extra love and attention. Try and vary her routine so that she has something else to think about. (eg get her out to play when you normally wouldn’t, get new toys etc so that she doesn’t sink into depression. Gradually remove her cagemate’s smell over a period of a week or so.

If you think of how you would treat a human who had lost his best friend, then you get the idea (eg you’d take them out for the day, change their lifestyle slightly to help them forget for a while)

As she will be upset, Mildred will also be more susceptible to respiratory problems so see if your vet will give you some baytril – give her 0.3ml of 2.5% oral baytril twice a day for 10 days. Syringe it into a small piece of bread, cheese, farleys rusk, jam or similar. (Anything to mask the taste – also keeping the baytril refrigerated helps take the bitter taste away a little).

Once you have got two new friends for Mildred, read our article here for tips on successful intros:

I do hope this has helped – so sorry again for your loss.

What to do if my rat gets a lump?

While we never profess to be vets, we would say that lumps/tumours are very common, sadly, in ratties. However, they can often be successfully removed and your rat can go on to live a long life.

Like all ratty illnesses, the sooner they are treated, the better.

In males, lumps are less common. However, they can normally be removed sucessfully and will never normally reoccur. Sadly, in females, lumps are sadly common and they can spring up out of nowhere. You have two options that you can discuss with your vet:

  • have the lump removed by a vet who is experienced at lump removals and if you rat is strong enough, get her spayed at the same time. However, this does not mean she will not get more lumps sadly but the spaying should help.
    Or, try a non-surgical option:
  • The first medicine you can try is an eighth to a quarter of tamoxifen 10mg daily. (This is a drug used on woman who have had breast cancer). You have to wear gloves so that you don’t absorb it into the skin and rats hate the taste but it can be masked by honey, jam, swiss roll etc!) I’ve had rats where lumps have disappeared and then where nothing has happened so it is hit and miss. See here for more info on tamoxifen: http://www.ratfanclub.org/tamox.html. This is to be used on female rats only – in males it can cause prostrate cancer
  • Shark cartilage – while this is not as widely used as tamoxifen in treating rats, it has had many positive reports. You can buy 650mg capsules from Holland and Barrett (cost about £16.00) Break one capsule into four doses and administer one dose twice a day for big lumps, once a day for smaller.
  • Anti-lump mix – see here: Anti Lump Mix for Rats

Further Reading


Side Effects

As with all medications, you need to be aware of the any side effects and you should also make you vet aware too:

You should note that with tamoxifen, the rat can be more suspectible to bruising/bleeding easily due to the way the drug works, so any operations should only be carried out at least two weeks after you have stopped using the drug.

If you try this after a lump removal to try to prevent further growth of tumours, wait at least a week after surgery before starting, as it works by preventing growth of new blood vessels.

We have two ratties Franz, a black & white hooded and Ferdie a gray dumbo… Ferdie has always been sneezy, but is managed on and off with Baytril and Carefresh etc. Franz has never really shown any symptons till last week rattling breathing and slowly but surely becoming more apathetic, he is usually a feisty rat and very to the fore…. We got him to the vet he has had a Baytril injection and they are both on Baytril through their water… The vet would not advise if he was near to death or would get better, which does not help us… He is back at home now still quiet, I am keeping a very close eye on him. Is there anything else that you would advise at this point that we can do, and assumably all the different treatments that you have on your site are all given by a vet?

So sorry about your two boys.To be honest, Baytril in the water will not do the job as well – you cannot be sure that the boys are getting the right amount and, also, because it tastes so bitter, they may drink less of their water, making them dehyrated and worsening the problem.

Please see our guide here: http://www.cavyrescue.co.uk/rat-respiratory-guide/

You really do need to get back to your vet – if you print out this and the page I’ve just directed you to and show them to your vet, they should be able to give you the medication. Unfortunately the vet is the only one who has access to these medications.

If your vet has any doubts, then he or she can call either one of my vets to check it over with them (Please do not call the vet yourself – it is best that your vet calls him). Please email cavyrescue@yahoo.co.uk for their details)

I would suggest the marbocyl and ronanxan combination mentioned in the guide as this is a more aggressive form of treatment and we have lots of success with it, helping the disease remain under control. Depending on bad the chaps are I would add Prednisolone (which is part of the steroid family that can be used to treat inflammatory conditions) in 1mg tablet form.

This can help ease the symptoms, using approximately half of one tablet twice a day for 10 days with the aim of reducing the dose gradually over several weeks to half a tablet every other day. NB You must never stop the preds just like that as it can be fatal, a rat must always be weaned off them.

Franz could well pick up on this medication – I took in Blue Boy in June last year and he was at death’s door with respiratory problems. He is still with us using the combination of drugs above – the preds are a very important part.

Also, keep the air in the room moist so their lungs don’t dry out – a bowl of water near a radiator is great.

Re: losing a cage mate, Ferdie will need lots of extra love and attention. Try and vary his routine so that he has something else to think about. (eg get him out to play when you normally wouldn’t, get him new toys etc so that he doesn’t sink into depression. Gradually remove Franz’s smell over a period of a week or so. If you think of how you would treat a human who had lost his best friend, then you get the idea (eg you;d take them out for the day, change their lifestyte slightly to help them forget for a while)

As he will be upset, Ferdie will also be more susceptible to respiratory problems so give him 0.3ml of 2.5% oral baytril twice a day for 10 days. Syringe it into a small piece of bread, cheese, farleys rusk, jam or similar. (Anything to mask the taste – also keeping the baytril refrigerated helps take the bitter taste away a little).
I have 2 male rats named pinky and brownie, they are dumbos. Unfortunately pinky has become very ill with respiratory problems. He has had an injection of steroids from the vet and is on baytril 2.5% The baytril doesn’t seem to be working but worse still he as stopped eating and drinking which as made him very weak, and we can’t even get him to take the baytril.

Both myself and my girlfriend are really concerned and wondered if you had any tips on how to get him eating and drinking. We have tried putting the baytril directly into his mouth with a syringe but I presume due to the bitter taste he quickly learnt that the syringe is something to run from.

Is there a way to hold him still enough to get the syringe up to him and to get him to open his mouth up. We are going to consult our vet as to the use of some of the other treatments suggested on your site which is very helpful.
Many thanks, John

John, I am so so sorry to hear about Pinky.

Food wise, you need to give him something easy and appealing to eat. Baby food is always a winner as is shredded chicken breast etc. Farleys rusk broken up with hot water poured on top and complan or build up powered drinks are great once cooled.

Sick ratties tend to like licking food off your finger so try that.

If baytril has been in his water bottle, get a fresh bottle to encourage him to drink. Bottled water is also great if you can manage it as tap water carries elements which are slightly toxic to rats.

Baytril is bitter but if you refrigerate it, it lessens the taste.

Ask your vet if you can swap to other medications which don’t taste as bad. We use this combination which are tablets (marbocyl is a tablet form of baytril but a bit more aggressive)

  • half a marbocyl 5mg once a day
  • an eighth of ronanxan 20 twice a day
  • •plus prednisolone (1mg tablets), typically half a tablet twice a day

These can be easily mixed in to foods once you can tempt Pinky to eat.

Ideas for tempting food in which you can crush drugs


Try not to stress Pinky out. It will make him feel worse. Keep him warm and away from draughts. If he lives with Brownie, keep them together. Separating them can stress them out.

This is also a very useful site: http://ratguide.com/health/

I do hope this has helped. Please do get back to me if you need any further help.


Rat Respiratory Guide

Respiratory disease is a horrible disease, and one of the most common causes of death in pet rats. While we certainly do not profess to be vets, we have had lots of experience of dealing with this ‘curse’.

Also, many fellow rat lovers we talk to have often lost a pet rat due to respiratory problems, despite having seen their vet and trying various medications. However, with new research and treatments for respiratory disease in rats coming along – a lot of it from the US –this article may help your vet and be a useful resource for your vet.

While we cannot profess that the medications and treatments that we will speak about do cure respiratory problems in rats 100%, we’ve had hundreds of rats with this disease who have lived a full and comfortable long life. Many of these have often been on full time medication or the disease has gone into remission.

Here we highlight how we treat our rats – all treatments and methods are approved and under supervision by our own vet. Under NO circumstances are we suggesting you go out and try these treatments and methods without first consulting your vet, it’s just that these tried and tested treatments may give your vet other avenues to try when treating your pet rat.

As a rat rescue, whenever we rehome rats, we make sure the new homers are fully aware of what it is; what to look out for; and what to do next.

There are different strains of the disease, but basically it is something all domestic rats are born with. It can lay dormant until something triggers it off – stress, poor husbandry, or simply nothing. We often see it in rats where their cage mate has died and the survivor is grieving.

It can be fatal if left untreated, or a rat can live with it, but may experience lung damage or abscesses may develop on the lung which will eventually lead to death.

Or, a rat can be ‘cured’ (we use ‘cured’ in quotation marks as a rat can never really be cured of the disease but the symptoms can be controlled) and go onto to a live and a full and healthy life. Some rats may experience a permanent head tilt from the infection, but adapt easily (such as our very first rat, Baz, who died a very old rat from old age.

When he arrived at CavyRescue, he had a head tilt due to respiratory disease).

What to look for

The symptoms can come out of nowhere..one minute your rat is fine, the next day, the symptoms are there:

  • noisy breathing – you may first hear it when they sleep
  • a rattly or watery sound when they breathe/move around
  • excessive sneezing accompanied with red staining around the eyes and/or nose
  • lethargy and loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • a silent ‘hiccupping’
  • breathing not just from their sides (which is normal) but where their head moves too

If your rat shows any of these symptoms, get them to your vet as soon as possible. The earlier you start treatment, the better prognosis for your rat.


The type of bedding that your rat is on could be causing a problem. NEVER use woodshavings or sawdust, nor anything ‘scented’. Dusty products like woodshavings can be breathed in and irritate the lungs and scented products – particularly pine – can do the same. If you use sawdust or wood shavings in their cage, stop using it and switch to a safe product such as paper based cat litter – Biocatolet – or a cardboard bedding such as we use from Ecopetbed or Finacard.


Some vets recommend putting antibiotics in the rat’s drinking water. However, you cannot guarantee that the rat will get enough of the antibiotic in their system this way, and as it is watered down, it does lose it’s potency.

Also, rats do ‘pee’ a lot, so the antibiotics will move through their system too fast to do a lot of good.

First of all, check out your rat’s environment. Rats are susceptible to draughts, direct sunlight, and smells. Their cage should be somewhere airy, but not close to a radiator as the heat can dry out their lungs, causing – or exacerbating – respiratory problems.

While the room should be humid, the cage should not be in a room where washing is dried. The right temperature for a ratty is ideally around 21 degrees (around 70) and we recommend you place a fresh bowl of water next to their cage to increase humidity.

Medication-wise, we administer 0.3ml of 2.5% oral baytril twice a day to the affected adult rat, (for smaller rats, we use 0.2ml. For kittens and juveniles under 12 weeks of age, baytril is not recommended as it can affect bone growth. We have never used it, but Septrin is used by a lot of rat owners with rats under 12 weeks of age). The dose should be dosed either via syringe, being careful not to choke the rat on their own tongue as they have no gag reflex or, if they refuse or get stressed, we syringe it into a small piece of bread, cheese, jam or similar. (Anything to mask the taste).

Refrigerate the baytril – this tones down the bitter taste and will make your rat more likely to take it.

If the rats sound like they are mucus-y, we also add a generous pinch of bisolvon – a powder mucus-fighting drug – to their food twice a day.

We now also use metacam. Used alongside baytril, one or two drops of metacam twice a day can help reduce inflammation and it is has been used successfully in the States on rodents for some while now. However, if your rat is on steroids, you cannot use metacam and steroids together as they can cause gastric bleeding which will lead to death.

This combination of drugs we do twice day for 10 days. We normally see an improvement after 3-5 days. If after ten days there is no obvious improvement, after getting the rat checked over by the vet again, we take one of three avenues:

Treatment 1

We use this combination of drugs for at least three weeks. We have had great success in controlling respiratory problems in rats with this and currently have 20 rats on this permanently:

  • half a marbocyl 5mg once a day
  • an eighth of ronanxan 20 twice a day
  • Plus, either prednisolone* (1mg tablets), typically half a tablet twice a day OR one or two drops of metacam twice a day. (See further on for more information).
  • We have also started using Corvental D capsules, a drug that helps open up the bronchial airways allowing the rat to breathe more easy. The capsule consists of tiny ‘balls’ and an average size rat we give 5 ‘balls’ twice a day.
  • Any rat on steroids needs to be carefully weaned off them, so make sure you never run out of tablets. By stopping them without weaning a rat off them, can be fatal.

Treatment 2

In 2003 we also started using a drug called Zithromax Suspension. (Your vet will need to calculate the measurements for you. as to make it up, you mix the powder with water). We have used it two different ways…for a short-term case, you administer 0.3ml of the mixture once a day, orally, for three days, then it stays in the system for up to 10 days, attacking the bacteria.

For long term treatment, we administer 0.2ml once a day for 20 days. One of our rats, George, showed a vast improvement on using this method, his weight increasing by 25% in just over a month and the other symptoms lessening drastically!

Treatment 3

We get the rat’s chest x-rayed. This will confirm what is actually going on inside the rat and in most cases, it will be respiratory disease. However, we have had instances where the symptoms – normally lethargy and a rattly or unusual sound when breathing – have actually been something else.

Doris came to with her sister and was a year old rat whose breathing was very noisy. When baytril didn’t work, we had her x-rayed which showed a lung tumour. While we couldn’t actually treat the tumour, we knew then what we were dealing with so made her as comfortable and happy as possible. She lived another 6 months.

Kolin was a tiny rat in a pet shop when we saw him. He was hunched over, breathing heavily and when you got him out, he just sat there (definitely not normal for a 6 week old rat). An x-ray showed a tumour in his thymus (which is situated in the neck area and plays an important role in the development of the immune system).

Our vet’s prognosis wasn’t good, but we started Kolin on a course of prednisolone as well as keeping a close eye on him for infections as his immune system wasn’t obviously working well. Kolin is now 22 months old and while another tumour has now developed under his back leg that cannot be removed, he is still thriving.

Lisa and Sabe also had this condition which is not so uncommon in rats. Sadly, Lisa only lived to 4 months old, but Sabe went on to aged 3?, being put to sleep after suffering a severe stroke.

We are firm advocates of having rats x-rayed as it gives us a good basis on which treatments and medications to use.

Treatment 4

If the vet agrees – as each rat is different and nebulising may have an adverse affect on them – we nebulise the rat. Depending on the severity of the problem, we start off 3 – 4 times a day for the first three days, dropping down to 2 – 3 times for another four if there are signs of improvement.

By putting them into a nebulising chamber, they are breathing in ONLY the treatment, meaning it can get right into the system and, hopefully, deal with the problem.
We use 4ml of 2.5% injectable baytril with 10ml of water. For a more aggressive treatment, we use .05ml of Tylan (a drug used to treat a similar bacteria in birds) with 10ml of water.

However, it should be noted that while we have used this treatment for the last three years, recent studies in the States show that while nebulising does get the drugs deep into the system, it only goes so far internally. These studies suggest that even using saline on its own is just as good as it moistens the lungs.

Could it be a heart problem?

Many rats show signs of respiratory disease which are in fact heart disease/fluid around the lungs. With such similar symptoms, it is very difficult to diagnose which it is. However, if a rat sounds ‘watery’ or has fluid coming out of his nose – it could be fluid around the lungs causing the heart not to work properly. Your vet can prescribe some Furosemide (40mg/5ml solution) – a liquid drug that we give to some of our rats. We give 15 units twice a day using a 0.5ml syringe.

If your rat picks up after a week or so, you know that the Furosemide is working. It is a diuretic and so your rat will need lots of fresh water. It is okay to use long term, though it is better to get your rat down to a 10 unit dose twice a day if you can.

Complementary medication

There are other drugs that we have used along side the various treatments such as:

  • Metacam – one to two drops twice a day can help ease inflammation in the lungs. WARNING: It must never be used in conjunction with prednisolone as it can cause gastric bleeding
  • Prednisolone (which is part of the steroid family that can be used to treat inflammatory conditions) in 1mg tablet form. This can help ease the symptoms, using approximately half of one tablet twice a day for 10 days with the aim of reducing the dose gradually over several weeks to half a tablet every other day. WARNING: Any rat on steroids needs to be carefully weaned off them, so make sure you never run out of tablets. By stopping them without weaning a rat off them, can be fatal.
  • Bricaynl – syrup form – (a bronchodilator). On an average 400g rat, you start with 0.1ml twice a day gradually increasing over to a week to 0.3ml twice a day). We have used this long term with success
  • Bisolvon – powder form – this helps thin the mucus in air passages. We use a pinch once or twice a day for a week
  • Aminophylline – 225mg tablet form – another bronchodilator where we crush up a tablet and use just a pinch once a day to ease symptoms

Case Studies


Otis, a big, brown 9 month old rat who suddenly developed a severe respiratory infection that antibiotics could not shift. You could hear him ‘rattling’ from the room next door and we genuinely believed we would lose him.

At the same time our wonderful vet put Otis on his nebuliser 3 times a day for a week. Otis went on to live to the ripe old age of 2? years, having sporadic reoccurrences of slight respiratory problems. This we treated with oral medication.

Oral Baytril administered by mouth or in the food

Kojak, Luther, Stripe…our list of rats who we have successfully treated this way goes on and on. (Remember, we run a rescue so have rats coming out of our ears!)
As soon as a rat shows symptoms of respiratory disease, we start them on a course of oral baytril. In 80% of these cases, after a week on antibiotics, no further treatment is needed. The other 20% go on to have alternative treatments and medicines.

Marbocyl and Ronaxan combination

Hutch came to us aged 9 weeks old and severely ill with respiratory problems. X-rays showed cloudy, unhealthy lungs. After 3 months of the above combination, his symptoms disappeared! Like Otis, he had reoccurrences of the disease throughout his life and he went straight back onto the medication when this happened. We recently lost Hutch aged 28 months due to fluid around his lungs but he really could not have had a fuller, happier life if it wasn’t for the drugs.

Roland came to us in January 2005 aged 4 months, underweight and hardly moving as he was so breathless. An x-ray showed just one lung was working – the other was so severely scarred due to respiratory problems that it was useless. He reached the grand old age of 28 months and was a confident, chunky little rat who could keep up with his brother Baldrick racing around the place. He was on the marbocyl/ronanxan combination with a low dose of prednisolone.


We hope this has helped. While we have given doses for medications and names of drugs, these are for you to discuss with your vet and never to be tried out without consulting your vet first. It may also give him or her other ideas on treating this nasty disease.

As with humans drugs, even if your rat shows signs great signs of improvement, make sure that you finish the course!

This guide is no way intended to undermine your vet’s recommendations for treatment or expertise..these are just different ideas that they may find helpful.

For a version of this guide written specifially for Vets please visit Vet Rat Respiratory Guide

Guide to Rats

The typical image of a rat is nasty, big, brown thing scuttling furtively down dark alleys, a creature that bites necks and has a horrible, yucky tail. RUBBISH!

A rat is dirty, caused the bubonic plague and is stupid. FICTION

Rats make excellent pets, they are loving and extremely intelligent (one of ours learned to recognize his name after having been with us for just 3 days – and he was in the same room as 30 others, so it’s not coincidence!)

Rats spend 40% of the their time cleaning and it was the fleas on the rats and the living conditions in England that caused the plague, not the ratties!

Many people say if you want a dog, but haven’t got the space, get a rat. Give me a rat over a dog any day, they are wonderful creatures!

Down to the facts anyway…


A cage for rats should have sufficient room to allow the rat free movement around the floor, when all their toys are in the cage, and sufficient height to let them climb – any cage that doesn’t allow this sort of exercise is unsuitable.

The ideal cage has a base of hard plastic or metal base with wire bars about 15mm apart, this will prevent a rat from squeezing through. The minimum size of cage for a pair of rats is 80cm x 50cm x 37.5cm (the size of a Ferplast Mary cage). We tend to use the Mary size cages for elderly single rats or sick rats. You should never house more than two rats in a cage this size, and, again, this is the bare minimum size. The bigger the cage, the better for rats – a ferplast Jenny cage (size: 80cm x 50cm x 79.5cm ) will house up to six rats comfortably and is great for young rats. (Though you will need to put hammocks across the cage to add extra ‘shelving’ as they can get excitable and fall off the shelves provided and this will add a safety net for them!).

For lining the base of the cage, never use dusty products – ie woodshavings or sawdust. Dusty products can cause respiratory problems. And never use scented products, especially pine. Softwood shavings give off phenols and acids that can cause respiratory problems. They can also cause skin irritations and even liver disease. See here for more information: http://www.fancy-rats.co.uk/information/ (this also contains a suggested diet that a lot of ratty people believe to be the best going http://www.shunamiterats.co.uk/articles.html)

Good products that we use are:

  • Biocatolet paper based cat litter (around £4 from supermarkets and Pets At Home)
  • EcoPetBed – Cardboard bedding available from www.earthlyenterprises.co.uk (cost around £20 a bale if sent to you but this will last you 40-odd clean outs so is great value)
  • Finacard – cardboard bedding – prices vary as to whether you have a local supplier, but visit http://www.finacard.co.uk/
  • Another bedding we have been asked to trial is called Back To Nature. It is paper based bedding and is fantastic stuff! You can find a supplier near to you by clicking on the “find stockist near you” button here and completing the form: http://www.pettex.co.uk/animal.html

For people in the Medway area, a 24 litre bag costs £8.99 (smaller bags are available too) from Petaholics, 42 High Street, Snodland, ME6 5DA. Call 01634 240632 to order. Or, buy a small bag online at: www.thehayexperts.co.uk

Using cardboard bedding is probably the cheapest – and safest – way to line the base of the cage and is very absorbent, and light too.

Your will need a house within the cage for your rat to snuggle up in. Fill this with nestling material such as the white stuff (safebed) you can buy from pet shops. Never use the cut up bits of J-cloth as these can cause respiratory problems.

The cage should also be protected from draughts, direct sunlight and any sudden changes in temperature

Rats enjoy being active and will usually be drawn to any new toy placed in their cage; these can take many forms and include wooden shelves and perches, wooden or metal ladders, ropes and swings, cardboard tubes and even lengths of drainage pipes can be suspended from the top of the cage.

Don’t forget to clean these items as well as the rest of the cage on a regular basis – this not only keeps the rat happy, but stops the build up of ammonia fumes from their urine which can cause respiratory problems.

Tidy the cage daily, removing any perishable food and droppings and replacing any bedding you remove. Most rats will have a special corner which they will use as a toilet, making this job very easy.

At least once a week clean the cage out completely replacing all floorcovering and bedding. And once every month wash and disinfect the whole cage (base and bars) making sure it is completely dry before putting your rat back in side it. Poor husbandry can cause respiratory disease.


From Tracey…when ratties are suffering from the heat freezing fruit like grapes and blueberries helps cool them down and makes a nice, healthy treat – it’s what I always gave my rats in hot weather.


Feeding fancy rats is quite easy, as long as the basic diet consists of, a dry food mix, which is specifically formulated for rats. Always try and feed your rat at the same time each day and if possible at night as this is when they are their most active. Single food diets are not good for rats; they will soon become bored and some will even refuse to eat at all.

Maintain the basic food and offer wholemeal bread, non-sugared breakfast cereals, a little uncooked pasta and dog biscuits. It is natural for rats to rummage around for food so sprinkling a little around the cage will add some stimulation to feeding time.

Fresh vegetables should only be fed every second or third day and only in moderation to avoid diarrhoea and can include apple (remove the pips as they contain arsenic), carrot, tomato, celery, cabbage and broccoli.

Avoid citrus fruits and onions as these are far too acidic. All foods offered should either be hand fed or placed in an earthenware dish and removed within 24 hours if not eaten. Clean drinking water must be available at all times and changed daily, this is best provided through a gravity water bottle fixed to the outside of the cage.


Wherever possible, keep rats in same sex groups of two of three. One on his own, however much attention you give him, will become lonely and depressed. Any rat will need time to adjust to new surroundings; young rats will be particularly stressed at being parted from its littermates. Leave the rats in their cage with food and water for a couple of hours and then try and tempt it with a food it likes.

Rats have quite poor eyesight, but will soon learn to identify you by smell. Always avoid quick and sudden movements around a new rat and talk to your rat every time you feed it. If you always use its name when you feed it, it will soon learn to come to its name.

When the rat comes to meet you or stands on its back legs when you are around the cage offer a tit bit and while the rat sits and eats it gently ease one hand over its back and around its midriff, carefully lift it out and place it on the palm of your other hand. Always sit down when handling a new rat so that if it jumps from your hand it won’t hurt itself. Talk and offer tit bits all the time and soon it will come back to you, this will depend on how interesting it finds it new surroundings compared to you!

As the rat becomes tamer allow it to have more freedom but always supervise where it can go, not only can it do a lot of damage to cables but it could also hurt itself. If the rat defecates where it shouldn’t, lift the rat, and faeces, back into its cage and tell it gently, but firmly “No”, the rat will soon learn to return to its cage if it needs to relieve itself.

There is no set time limit for exercise some rats will run around nearly all the time, while others will just come and snuggle up on your lap or shoulder. Rats are very intelligent animals and although most can be taught a variety of tricks, they won’t perform unless there is something in it for them. Arm yourself with plenty of patience and treats, don’t expect too much too soon and you won’t be disappointed with the results.

Rats, like all of us, will have off days. And can also suffer from various ailments; most can be avoided through good care, diet and clean living conditions. As with all of the smaller animals any upset must be treated and cared for as soon as possible. The rule is any doubt and consult your Vet.


What age should male kittens be separated from their mum and sisters? This a bit of contentious one this as even most of the Veterinary journals say 6 weeks and most rat breeders say 5 weeks! However, we always remove males from their mums at 4 weeks of age (provided they have stopped suckling mum) – though we do not rehome until them aged 6 weeks or more. The girls stay with their mums until we can find homes.

We do this because we once had a female rat (born here) who got pregnant by her litter mate and brother – aged 3 and half weeks old. It was terrible for such a youngster to have a litter at such a young age and very upsetting. That is why 4 weeks is the age that we remove the boys (earlier – but no earlier than 3 weeks – if their testicles are on the large side and evidently developed as opposed to still developing if that makes sense) and a lot of other rat rescues we know do the same thing.

Also this link to a guide co-written by an organisation called EASE and the BVA also confirms that does can get pregnant as early as 3 and half weeks old:


It does say on the same document that bucks are not fertile until 5-7 weeks but obviously this is not right – as we sadly learnt from experience. We do agree that in an ideal world it is more beneficial for a buck kitten to be with his mum a bit longer, but having had our experience – however unusual it may be – we would rather be cautious rather than run the risk of having a gymslip mum.

If buying a doe is aged between 6 – 8 weeks of age, check at what age that they have been separated from their brothers (ideally no later than 4-5 weeks), as she could well have conceived during this time.

Males or Females?

The average male adult rat weighs between 500 – 600 grams, while most female adults will only reach between 200 – 300 grams (though we have had some larger ladies!). Males are usually more sedate in their behaviour and will sit quite happily on your lap and watch TV or just go to sleep.

Female rats are much more active and playful, and while males are more prone to marking their territory with traces of urine females seldom do this.

The average life expectancy of rats is sadly around 2 years of age, although they can live up to 4 or even 5 years of age.

Unfortunately rats are very susceptible to tumours, more often in their later life, benign tumours are generally soft to touch and usually harmless, even so they can grow quite large and become quite painful to the rat, most can be removed successfully with the rat making a full recovery.

Malignant tumours grow faster than benign tumours, are hard to touch and are firmly attached to underlying body tissues, these are generally cancerous and there is no kindness in having these removed.

Old age comes to us all and an elderly rat needs to be treated gently and with respect, never subject it to stress or excessive noise. Fancy rats will repay your care and kindness with genuine affection, a fancy rat may have a short life but hopefully it will be a happy one.

Pituitary Tumours in Rats

Written by a vet and for vets, the Guide discusses the symptoms and possible causes of Pituitary Tumours in rats as well as treatments.

To date there has been very little information available about Pituitary Tumours in rats, so we felt the need to share our vet’s knowledge in order to help reduce the amount of unnecessary deaths and suffering caused by this sadly very common affliction which can often be hard to diagnose.

Please download your copy here.

The author of the Guide, Mark N Rowland BVSc CertZooMed MRCVS, can be contacted via: www.trinityvetcentre.co.uk

Degenerative Rat Disease

Results of questionnaires concerning degenerative rat disease by Sally Clark

In the past few years three of my rats died from a degenerative disease that appears to affect the brain and neurological system. After writing an article in Pro-Rat-A I realised other people had lost rats with the same symptoms. I developed a questionnaire for owners of affected rats to fill in, in an attempt to find out more about it.

From the start it was clear that the symptoms the rats were showing could apply to more than one disease. So to be included in this survey the rats had to show symptoms in at least two out of three categories covering the rats’ awareness of their environment, their ability to eat and their ability to move and balance. This eliminated rats for example with spinal degeneration. Rats with this condition found it increasingly difficult to move around but didn’t score in the other two categories.

This gave me 54 questionnaires to analyse. There turned out to be an exactly equal number of bucks and does aged between 7 months and 3 years when they died. In the majority (46%) the symptoms increased in severity over a few weeks but for some it only took days or even hours, the average length of the illness was around a month. 4 does survived.
% Of Rats Showing Symptom Symptom
92.5% Lethargy
92.5% Inability to climb
85% Unable to hold food in front paws
83% Balance problems & tendency to fall off objects
81.5% Falling over whilst grooming
79.5% Becoming progressively more unaware/unconcerned about environment
79.5% Unable to eat solid food
74% Good appetite but problems eating
Table 1

Whilst it might be expected that a rat may show many of these symptoms when it is in a collapsed state at the end of a fatal or serious illness, in the diseases I was looking at these symptoms often appeared in the early stages when the rat looked healthy in ever other way.

Problems With Feeding
(74%) of rats kept a good appetite during their illness but had increasing problems feeding. The most obvious symptom was that they struggled and eventually were unable to pick up and hold food in their front paws. Various suggestions have been put forward as to why this happens.

The rat’s back legs and back are too weak for it to sit up and hold it’s food. Although the rats did have problems with their back legs, I’ve seen rats nearly paralysed in their back legs from spinal degeneration still manage to find ways of holding food in their front paws.
The rat’s front legs are rigid so the rat is unable to bend them to get the food to it’s mouth.

This is a symptom which has been connected to pituitary tumours, but in my survey only 18.5% of rats showed it. Even in those that did, it was often towards the end of the illness and they’d had problems feeding with their front paws from the start.
The rat can’t coordinate the paws to hold the food or feels pain, numbness or weakness in the front legs.

Whilst it’s difficult to know exactly what the rat feels this could be possible. Certainly the rats seemed to lose their ability or strength to grip with the front and back paws and this was the reason they couldn’t climb, tending to slide down the bars of their cage or down their owners’ front if they tried to climb onto a shoulder.

In 4 instances where the symptoms came on very quickly the rats’ front paws knuckled over when they moved as they pushed themselves along with their back feet, but often owners commented that even though they couldn’t feed the rats would still use their paws to clean their faces and walk around.

As well as having problems holding their food many rats progressively lost the ability to eat solid food, then lap and finally to swallow.

Problems With Movement & Balance
Many owners commented that the rat’s way of moving changed, they often appeared drunk or uncoordinated. As can be seen from the table, falling over whilst grooming or falling off objects featured for the majority of rats. 50% of rats were unable to get to their feet at all towards the end of the illness.

Problems With Awareness
For many owners the most distressing symptoms their rats had related to the fact that they became increasingly unaware and unconcerned about what was going on around them. It was often changes in behaviour that were the first symptoms to appear. Whilst some rats became withdrawn others appeared bolder because they lost their sense of danger, a few seemed to become claustrophobic in their cages.

61% of rats would move around in a purposeless way. Owners described their rats as moving like clockwork toys, if they bumped into something they would try and keep walking, needing the owner to pick them up and point them in another direction. Some got stuck in objects or tangled in their bedding.

61% of rats also seemed to be blind or deaf or unable to smell at times and 55.5% ceased to recognise or respond to their owners. At the end stages of the disease a couple of owners reported their rats squeaking out when touched as if they were startled, frightened or in pain. What was surprising considering all these neurological signs was that very few rats had seizures.

Possible Diagnosis’s
There are several diseases which could account for these many and varied symptoms.

Pituitary Tumours
This was the most common diagnosis by both vets and owners and could certainly account for many of the rats in this survey. Pituitary tumours most commonly effect older does and indeed 16 does died at over 18 months old. However pituitary tumours are considered to be far rarer in bucks and only likely to account for elderly ones yet 27 bucks had died and 13 of those were 18 months old or younger.

Although many symptoms fitted the diagnosis of a pituitary tumour very well, other symptoms which are expected to be noticed with pituitary tumours were rarely seen. These included rigidity of the legs with the rat unable to flex them, only (18.5%) and walking in circles (31%).

A head tilt was only seen in a few rats and aggressiveness, another sign sometimes seen with these tumours in only one. Some owners reported a staring coat and weight loss, but an equal number noticed the coat stayed in good condition and some rats even increased in weight.

Other Brain Tumours
Of the other tumours of the brain, Astrocytomas of the brain stem are considered the most common brain tumour in younger rats. The symptoms seen could certainly be caused by this kind of tumour, however without post mortem examinations it isn’t possible to tell which, if any tumour is present.

Older rats are most likely to get strokes and some of the symptoms would overlap with those seen in the survey. Strokes are usually sudden in onset and the body shows varying degrees of paralysis, often on one side of the body. There can be improvement although it may be painstakingly slow.

15% of rats showed one sided paralysis so strokes are a possibility. The fact that in this survey usually the symptoms came on gradually and didn’t improve and that a lot of younger rats were effected means strokes couldn’t account for many of the rats.

An infection did look possible for a few of the rats. 4 rats in one household came down with very acute symptoms within 24 hours of each other. They were all treated with antibiotics, first Baytril and then the last surviving rat was switched to a penicillin based antibiotic.

She seemed to recover but succumbed to pneumonia a few days later. These rats were knuckling over on their front paws and close to collapse from the start and it’s possible they had a form of meningitis. A viral or bacterial infection could also account for the 4 does who survived. Mycoplasma which is often responsible for respiratory disease in rats and can cause inner ear disease, although it can be treated the rat is often left with a head tilt which one doe was.

The symptoms of ivermectin toxicity are very similar to the symptoms seen in these rats. 39% of the rats had been given ivermectin to treat mites during their lifetime. However animals that react to ivermectin usually do so within hours of being dosed with it and only a few rats were dosed with it close to the time they were ill. So far ivermectin has not been reported to have a delayed or cumulative effect.

Common Factors
Some of the questions on the survey were to see if rats affected by symptoms had anything in common. The most significant similarities between the rats were the age at which they died and where they originally came from.

Age Of Affected Rats
For does these illnesses were more common in either old age or at least over 18 months old, only 6 died younger. However just under half the bucks died at under 18 months. What illness these young bucks had is far more difficult to explain.

Source Of Affected Rats
As can be seen from Table 2 rats the majority of rats showing these symptoms came from pet shops. In fact in the young rats aged 18 months and under only one came from a breeder. If you consider that many of the rescued rats may have originally come from pet shops and the homebred rats may have had parents who also came from there, pet shops are accounting for most of the rats.

Although I had replies from owners who had bought their rats from breeders. I had very little response from breeders themselves, so these figures may not be completely accurate. However of the breeders I spoke to, the opinion was that they occasionally saw this problem in elderly rats and this was backed up by the survey.

Source of Rats Percentage
Pet Shop 59%
Rescue 16.5%
Breeder 13%
Home Bred* 9%
Laboratory 5%
*Homebred – the rat was bred by the owner who breeds the occasional or accidental litter but doesn’t breed to show.
Table 2

There could be an inherited susceptibility to this disease. There are strains of laboratory rat which have been deliberately bred to be more susceptible to pituitary tumours, and it would be easy to accidentally breed in a weakness in pet rats by breeding for numbers rather than sound health. Rodent farms who stock many of the pet shops have no incentive to breed healthy and long lived rats.

In fact they are unaware of the fate of their rats once they’ve left them. They also may not be careful about how inbred their rats are. Most owners were unable to find out what had happened to other members of their rat’s family but 5 owners did report that siblings or mothers had died of the same disease.

The early environment the rats were in could also have contributed to their susceptibility to this disease. It could well be that it takes a combination of factors to trigger these problems.

No other significant similarities showed up between the rats. They tended to be fed one of the commercial rat or rabbit mixes along with fresh food. Their bedding was usually paper based or shavings.

The rat’s colour and markings doesn’t appear to be significant either, most colours were represented, although some of this data was difficult to interpret because not all owners used the standard names of colours and markings to describe their rats.

Probably one of the most common illnesses rats get is respiratory infections. Within the survey 37% of rats had had respiratory problems at some point in their life. Only 9% of the does had had mammary tumours removed which is a low number, but some of the does in the survey were quite young and the chances of mammary tumours increase as does get older. Of the drugs given prior to the illness, 33% had had Baytril which is the most usual antibiotic to be given to rats and 20% had had an anaesthetic.

Not knowing exactly what is wrong with these rats makes them difficult to help. Just under half the vets consulted thought it could be a brain/ pituitary tumour. Other diagnosis’s were inner ear infections or strokes but one poor rat was put under the cold tap by the vet as she thought he had heatstroke. The most common treatment was Baytril and steroids or just steroids. This sometimes improved the rats symptoms but only for a very short time, usually days.

It is unlikely to do any harm to try these two drugs as early on in the illness as possible if you have an affected rat. They may ease some of the symptoms for a short time. One rat also seemed more comfortable on the painkiller Meloxicam (Metacam). If you suspect a bacterial infection and Baytril isn’t effective it may be worth switching to a different antibiotic.

All the owners had tried hard to find foods their rats could manage to eat. It was also necessary as the rats became more unaware of their environment to monitor them closely as there were reports of rats falling off objects, or getting stuck or tangled in their cages sometimes fatally.

Apart from 4 rats who recovered all the rats were either euthanased or died naturally. Some rats were obviously suffering whilst with others it was more difficult to tell because they became so oblivious to everything they didn’t look distressed. My own bucks came into this category and died in their sleep. However since doing this research I would favour euthanasia as the neurological symptoms are difficult to interpret. Whilst it’s easy to tell if a rat is distressed with the symptoms of something like respiratory disease. It’s very hard to tell if they are suffering with head pain or whether the way they are experiencing the world has become distressing.

Clearly a lot more needs to be known about these diseases before we will know how to prevent them occurring. However from the research I did three general points emerged.

With such a high proportion of affected rats, particularly the ones who died young coming from pet shops. It would be advisable to buy from a breeder who keeps good health records of their stock and keeps their own rats for their full life span.

If you do have an affected rat from a breeder it is probably worth letting them know, however don’t automatically blame the breeder. Only if a breeder starts to have several rats from one family or strain affected, especially if they die young would they need to be suspicious of an hereditary condition.

In laboratory rats it has been repeatedly shown that overweight animals are more likely to develop tumours and pituitary tumours develop slower on a restricted diet. Whilst comparisons can’t always be made between pet and lab rats and very few of the rats in the questionnaire were reported to be overweight. It seems sensible to try and keep pet rats at their correct weight as there are so many health problems associated with obesity.

It’s worth being cautious in the use of ivermectin as it’s very easy to overdose an animal the size of a rat. There is also a much higher risk of toxicity if the rat is unhealthy or on any other medication.

These diseases are clearly distressing for both the rats and their owners trying to help them. My hope in doing this survey is that the more these conditions are discussed, the more clues can be found as to what they are and how to treat and prevent them. Whilst the most common diagnosis is a pituitary tumour, because post mortems are rarely done there is often little evidence as to whether this is the correct diagnosis.

To give useful information a post mortem needs to be done by a specialist who is familiar with examining rats as opposed to other species like dogs and cats. This can be expensive. The survey brought to light that there are a number of bucks suffering from this problem at 18 months old or younger and it is not known exactly which disease they are suffering from.

The NFRS has a fund for pathology investigations into unidentified diseases, and is willing to arrange and pay the cost of post mortems on bucks showing these symptoms who are 18 months old or younger, if they are owned by NFRS members. If you are unfortunate enough to have a buck affected in this way and are willing for a post mortem to be carried out please contact Ann Storey in advance for consent and advice on how to proceed. Tel: 01322 285788 Email: president@nfrs.org

Many thanks to all the owners who helped me in this research by filling in questionnaires and to Ann Storey for her advice.


Common tumours of the rat Ann Storey Pro-Rat-A supplement 1999
Rat Health Care Debbie Ducummon
Pro-Rat-A 99 pp17-18 Letter from Andrea Withers & advice from Esther Rawlinson MRCVS concerning possible bacterial infections in the CNS.
Rat & Mouse Gazette Jan/Feb 2000 Weakness in older rats: A paralysis primer. Kathy Barrett available at www.rmca.org/articles/paralysis.htm
Modulation of estrogen action in the rat pituitary and mammary glands by dietary energy consumption. Thomas J. Spady et al. The American Society For Nutritional Sciences Journal of Nutrition 1999 available at www.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/129/2/5875
Effect of diet or reproductive status on the histology of spontaneous pituitary tumours in female Wistar rats. P.H. Berry Veterinary Pathology Vol 23 Issue 5 pp610-618 1986 Available at www.vetpathology.org/cgi/content/abstract/23/5/610
Genetic separation of tumor growth & hemorrhagic phenotypes in an estrogen-induced tumor. Douglas L.Wendell, Allison Herman, Jack Gorski 1996
Available on www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/93/15/8112.pdf
www.radil.missouri.edu/RADILinfo/dora/RATPAGE/neo.htm photograph of pituitary adenoma & brief description
www.petrats.org/infoforvetsetc.html#Pituitary Brief info on diagnosis & treatment of pituitary tumours
www.guinealynx.info/ivermectin.html information on ivermectin
www.guinealynx.info/NADAVetMedInteractions.html for reported reactions to ivermectin

Sally Clark can be contacted via email at: Sally.Clark@bigfoot.com

Aggressive Rats

Aggressive rats – Kevin’s story

This is the true story of Kevin, a rat who came to CavyRescue as his owner – who we shall call Mrs X – found him “vicious” and “nasty”. It is an example of how love, attention and patience can make such a difference to a pet.

Kevin is a brown hooded rat and was approximately 5 months old when he was brought to CavyRescue by Mrs X.

She’d apparently been given him by a friend of a friend and when she got him home, he was asleep in his cage. She thrust her hand in to get him out, and the shock of being woken from a deep sleep meant Kevin automatically defended himself by biting his ‘attacker’.

30 minutes later, Mrs X and a still slighty dazed Kevin, were on the CavyRescue doorstep. Mrs X suggested we have him put to sleep as he was so “horrible”, and left.

After just 10 minutes with him, it was obvious that Kevin only bit or tried to attack you because he was so very scared. He didn’t even like being stroked. We’ve had many rats like this in before whom, with a little attention, can quite easily be ‘rehabilitated’.

However, Kevin was a hard nut to crack. While we spent time with him, trying to build his confidence, he obviously needed that extra bit of attention.

One of our rat fosterers, Sam, offered to try and rehabilitate Kevin (she’d willingly rehomed a rather aggressive rat from us previously and in a short time, turned him into a relaxed, happy, loving rat).

So, we packed Kevin off, with instructions to Sam to watch her fingers! Sam kept in regular email contact, telling us of Kevin’s day-to-day progress.

First of all she made him realise that coming out of his cage wasn’t scary, but fun. She didn’t force the issue, just opened his cage, sat on her bed, and let him come to her.

After just a week, Kevin was letting Sam stroke him – albeit, very gently! – without him freezing up.

With lots of love and patience, Sam ‘worked’ on Kevin. She let him feel in control of when he came in or out of his cage, when he went to her etc.

Just three weeks later I got an excited ‘phone call – Kevin was out on Sam’s Mum’s lap – asleep. He’d been with her for two hours, generally nuzzling up to her! “I think he’s got a crush!” laughed Sam.

Kevin remained with Sam for the rest of life, sadly having a stroke which lead to his death. Without Sam’s unfailing dedication to Kevin’s ‘rehabilitation’, the happy, loving life he had with her would never have been possible. A heartfelt thank you to her.

The moral of this story is never to neglect your pets – the more love and attention you give them, the more you will get back from them.
Biting rats – what to do
We get a lot of phone calls and emails from people saying the same thing: My rat tends to bite and now I’m frightened to handle her..what should I do?

We have lots of rats come in to CavyRescue that are no longer wanted due to them being so-called “aggressive” etc and, in nine cases out of ten, with time and patience, they can be turned around into loving little ratties.

You need to build up your rat’s trust. Sit near to the cage and read a book, relax and let her come out of the cage in her own good time. Keep the room quiet, with no loud noises, other animals or distractions.

You may need to do this for a few days or even weeks until your rat feels confident enough to come out. She will then start to investigate, probably including climbing over you.

If she gets a bit nippy, say a firm “No” (do not tap her on the nose or anything, the tone of voice will be enough) and put her back into the cage.

She will learn that ‘good’ behaviour is rewarded, ‘bad’ behaviour means being put back in the cage.

(If you are worried about handling her, get a big, clean coffee jar..she will climb into it and you can lift her back to her cage. Use this method ONLY if she tries to bite you when you pick her up. IT should never be used as a substitute to one-to-one contact).

Don’t show fear of your rat – rats, like most other animals, can pick up on the vibes and will react accordingly – if you are ‘feeling fear’, the rat will think there is something to fear and be on her guard, which usually means, bite first, ask questions later!

Pick her up regularly (you may get a few wounds, but these will lessen, I promise!) so she gets used to you.

You may see progress in as little as 2 weeks and up to 3 months. Please be patient, treat your rat like you would a scared child..she’ll come round eventually and you can both enjoy a wonderful friendship.