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Pet Rats/Excessive scratching and scabs


I've had 2 pet rats for a year, they're sisters and I bought them together.  Recently one of them got a chest infection (or heart disease, the vet wasn't sure) and she had to be put down.  A week later I've noticed that the rat that's left is scratching the back of her neck and there are scabs there.  She had sharp claws so I have trimmed them and bathed her.  Her food and bedding types haven't been changed, so would it be due to stress of losing her friend or should I take her to the vet? Thanks

I am sorry about the loss of your rat.  Although I (or anyone) can't say for certain whether the loss of her friend is causing the scratching, but the loss of a life-long cagemate does cause great stress and sometimes deep depression in the remaining rat.  As in humans, each rat may react differently in this situation, and it wouldn't be unheard of that the scratching is a way to deal with her stress.  

However, although it would seem coincidental, your rat may actually be itching due to another cause and a trip to the vet would not hurt in order to rule that out.  Just to give you a few causes of itching:  mites/lice, allergies, eczema and allergic dermatitis, infection, and the most common cause is excessive protein in the diet.  

You did say her bedding and diet has not changed, but it could be any one of the above causes.  You did the right thing by clipping her toenails.  Hopefully, that will help prevent her from doing any further damage to her tender skin.  From all the scratching, she has opened the skin which has allowed bacteria to enter, causing infection.  You should treat the sores and scabs with an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin or Polysporin (generic is fine as long as the ingriedients are identical) and another cream I find very helpful is Hydrocortisone crream 1%.  After applying, try to keep her busy for a few minutes while it absorbs. It wont hurt her if she licks it off but it wont work as it should if it's licked off.  Do this until you see the existing sores healing and monitor to see if she continues to scratch.

If you fail to see any progress, than a trip to the vet would be in order to see it perhaps parasites might be the cause.

Finally, I would like to add that I hope you are considering getting a new companion for your lonely girl.  In fact, if stress is indeed causing the scratching and you rule out parasites and some of the other possible causes, then a new friend could be the solution.  No rat should be kept alone as rats thrive in groups and are very social creatures.

Good luck and please let me know if there is anything else I can help you with.

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Irene Murphy


I can answer a variety of questions regarding adoption and care of pet rats throughout their lifetimes, including questions about their health and well being, temperment, diet, bedding, cages, toys, etc. I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability in a timely manner and I have an abundant amount of resources to help me to help you with your pet rats. I love rattie pictures, so include pics with your question if you can. You may ask me medical questions, but please be advised that I am not a vet. I may use my resources to answer some medical questions, however, I will need to refer you to your local vet with medical questions that I feel I am not qualified to address.


I have been a huge rat enthusiast for many years. Since becoming a rat owner, I have educated myself in all areas of pet rats from every resource I could find including the internet, books, conversations with local exotic vets, as well as several local rat breeders.

I have a college degree but not in the area of animals. I have obtained my extensive experience and knowlege of pet rats all on my own because in my eyes, pet rats are the most interesting and fascinating creatures you can ever imagine to have as pets. I also am saddened by how mislabeled and misunderstood these amazing and extremely smart animals are by the majority, and my mission in life has become to educate and change as many people's perceptions of rats as I possibly can.

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