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Pet Rats/Is my rat depressed, or sick?


This is a long one, so I apologize in advance.
I have a two year old rat named Bonnie who lost her only cagemate three weeks ago to inoperable tumors.  They were sisters and very close, and when Sway passed, I gave her a few minutes with her body to help her understand why she would be missing.  Soon after, she started hiding from me in her house and didn't want me to hold her.  I spoke with a breeder and set up an adoption as soon as possible so she wouldn't be lonely.  I purchased a new cage that is much larger than her old cage and already moved her in to get her used to it before the new rats came.  I picked up four new baby girls last Saturday to slowly introduce them to her.  They are currently quarantined in a separate part of the house and so far sem perfectly healthy.

Yesterday I noticed Bonnie was acting a bit more lathargic than usual and was not coming out of her igloo at all.  I picked it up to check on her and she seemed fine, except she appeared to be breathing heavily and squeaked when I tried to pick her up.  She was never the most social rat, so I'm not sure if this is something to he concerned with or if she's simply depressed from being in a new cage and alone.  I plan to take her to the vet this weekend.  Should I take her sooner than that?

It sounds as though you know quite a bit about rats already.  You have done the right thing by bringing in new cagemates for Bonnie, but it is not guaranteed that she will accept them.  The only thing I wouldn't have done is put Bonnie in a new cage.  The old cage was her home for 2 years and the loss of her beloved companion AND her home at the same time is likely very traumatic for her.  Her not wanting leaving her igloo is a very strong sign of depression.  As well, her igloo is the only "home" from her original cage she still has for comfort.  The first thing I recommend you do right away is bring her back into her old cage with all of her comfort items.  You may see a difference in her behavior right away.  The new babies can live in the new cage until the quarantine period is completed.  I assume you are familiar with proper ways to do intros so I won't address that here, but write me again if you need help with that.

The heavy breathing could be the beginning of a myco flareup.  You may know that stress of any kind can cause such flare-ups, which can later lead to sneezing, wheezing and labored breathing which are signs of a respiratory infection, which if not treated can turn into pneumonia.

Every rat, like humans, deals with the loss of a loved one in her own way.  My first rat years ago became severely depressed when she lost her lifelong companion.  She wouldn't leave her hammock at all except to eat and drink.  She still let me pick her up and pet her but then again, she was a social girl.  A month later I was able to adopt a younger girl for her, and the changes in her attitude were almost immediate.  She took to the new girl so well, that she was like a young rat again...running, jumping, playing with her new friend.  She was completely rejuvenated.

Currently, I have a girl who lost her companion several months ago.  She didn't show any signs of depression.  However, she did begin sneezing, but that went away within a week on its own.  I attribute the sneezing to stress of her loss, but after that she is doing perfectly fine.  She is not a social rat at all, like your Bonnie, but I also went and adopted 2 young girls for her.  However, she did not take to them well at all.  Numerous intros were a complete failure ending in violent attacks, which luckily I broke up quickly and avoided injuries.  This older girl now lives alone and she seems content with it.  I bring this up because your Bonnie isn't very social, so be prepared if she doesn't take to the babies and that she may end up living out her life alone.

To address the issue of the labored breathing, monitor that carefully and often during the day and night.  If you hear sneezing and the breathing becoming worse, I would say take her to the vet at that point and request a combination of Baytril and Doxycycline for a minimum of 21 days -- no less than that.  14 days is not enough to completely kill the infection and may result in relapse.  Meanwhile to help her breathing, you can try two things:  bring her into a warm and very steamy bathroom for about 15 minutes several times a day, or just bring her cage in there for a good while and see if that helps her breathing.  The steam will help open her passageways.  The second thing is feeding small amounts of very dark chocolate, which also helps respiratory problems.

Finally, you didn't mention Bonnie's appetite.  I hope that although she is not leaving her igloo, she is eating and drinking normally.

Hopefully, Bonnie will be alright.  If she doesn't like to be held, try making her happy by giving her the things she does like.  A few extra treats or food she loves?  Extra free-play time?  Lots of nesting material (paper towels and such)?  

Please let me know if there is anything else I can answer.  I would love to get an update on how Bonnie is doing in a little while if you don't mind.  

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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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