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Pet Rats/off-balance, jerking movements


I have had my fancy rat, Vanessa (we call her Nessy for short), for about 6 months now.  She was perfectly fine when we bought her, and she warmed up to my boyfriend and I fairly quickly.  She has always been a happy rat, and has never given us trouble.  However, we did go through a period of time where she had to be by herself for long periods of time (no longer than a day or two, but we always made sure there was fresh food and water at all times).  She was well taken care of and had adjusted to us already by that point. We would bring friends over and a circle with our arms out and touching fingers so she could then run around all of our shoulders and choose who she wanted to climb on, she was very well coordinated and balanced, never had any troubles.  About halfway into that period of time we had to keep her by herself (about 3months unfortunately, we were in the middle of a move and plans kept falling through on us) she started moving very fast and in jerking movements. She wobbles when she tries to balance, and she throws her head upwards as if she's trying to look just outside her sight or sniffing in the air very dramatically.  She has been out of that situation for about 2 months now, but she continues to demonstrate these symptoms.  She can no longer balance on just one arm, she needs a second one just incase because she will topple over occasionally.  Her climbing skills are suprisingly very good still, she has a cage with shelves that is about 4 feet tall by 3ft wide, and she climbs the outside to the top and back down with no problems at all. Even when she throws her head back, she still holds on perfectly fine.  You can tell she's very happy, she tugs on my fingers when I pet her inside of her cage to tell me she wants to play, then usually I proceed to open her cage and she sits in one specific spot, waits for me to put my hands out, and climbs up my shoulders.  Once I put her on the ground, she runs around the living room freely, never getting into anything or chewing on anything she's not supposed to.  You can tell she's excited by the way she hops from front paws to back paws in rhythm once she gets into a good run.  So I know it's not because we don't play with her, because we do quite often.  But I'm worried shea going to fall off of something or someone who doesn't know how bad her balance is. She never tilts her head sideways or anything, just backwards.  She is the 3rd rat I've owned, but only the 1st since I've been an adult.  I've never seen one act like this before.  Unfortunately I don't have the money to take her to a vet, but her symptoms haven't got worse, a few have actually been better, but none have gone away.  What do you think is wrong with her and do you think she will get better over time?
Thank you so much for taking the time to look over this,

Hi Celina,
So how old was Nessy when she started showing the spastic behavior? I have a male rat who has very similar behavior. He throws his head around violently any time he moves around, and he does often lose his balance and fall, but other than that, he is fine. I don't know how old he was when he first started this as he has been this way since I got him. I assume he has something wrong with his brain or his nerves, and there is nothing that can be done.  So I'm thinking that Nessy has something similar. I doubt a vet could help, and as long as she can eat on her own and get around then there isn't anything to worry about. You just need to warn any of your friends who play with her to be careful about putting her up on furniture, etc.

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Debbie Ducommun


I can answer any questions about pet rats, but you will probably be able find answers to simple questions more quickly on my website at If you have a life-threatening emergency you can try calling me at 530-899-0605. I am not usually on the computer on the weekend.


I have been "The Rat Lady" since 1985 and am recognized as one of the world's experts on pet rats. I have 3 published books and already answer lots of questions about rats daily.

President of Rat Assistance & Teaching Society

I am a monthly columnist for Pet Business magazine, and my writing has appeared in other magazines. I have 3 published books.

BA in Animal Behavior

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