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Pet Rats/Rat: infection in just one eye?


Introducing The McSadie -  Do you want fries with that?
Introducing The McSadi  
QUESTION: Hi Natasha!
I was going to write to Sandy but I see she's away, and I love the things you wrote, so I hope you can help.   
We've had pet rats for many years so I'm all too familiar with porphyrin (what it is and why it happens) but I have some new questions specific to 'treatment'.
Our sweet Sadie has an ongoing porphyrin problem in one eye.  It gets very crusty, so I clean it off with warm water several times a day (as needed). She LOVES this procedure, so much so that as soon as I put the towel on my lap, she plunks herself on it and looks up at me until I'm ready with the warm wet cotton ball and I say "Okay, close eye!" and she does! :)  Then we cool it and pat it dry for a while and it looks perfect (no redness, no puffiness) until, of course, she decides it's grooming time and she rubs it into puffy redness again!!  
I try to apply a thin bit of Polysporin/Polysporin Eye or plain Vaseline on the eyelid (another "Close Eye!" moment) to keep it from getting too dried out (preferably before she rubs it!), often when she's falling asleep and can't be bothered to 'groom' it away! :P
These are my questions:
1.   Is there something better to use (ie. to keep the eye 'moisturized' but not goopy)?
2.    Are there any OTC eye drops that are safe for a rat’s eyes?    I think a basic UNmedicated/NONmedicinal drop ie. strictly for the purpose of flushing and soothing, would benefit her,  but the eyes are such a sensitive area that I’m afraid to try anything that’s meant for ME, not her! (eg. the basic Visine that I use for tired eyes)  Would appreciate any suggestions.
3.   Is there any evidence that porphyrin is self-perpetuating?
Here’s why:  She developed this problem in the one eye months ago when she was experiencing the stress of her cage mate (Shadow) becoming ill and passing.  Shadow was always the stronger personality so when she passed, we braced for the worst possible effect on Sadie.  We were completely amazed that Sadie suddenly evolved into a very happily interactive playful rat!  Since Shadow’s passing, we have Sadie out of the cage with us most of the time, playing with us or even sleeping with us.   She seems to have adjusted very well, yet the porphyrin continues, so I’m wondering if her body has just become used to producing it.  Am I crazy?  She’s never had it in the other eye or from the nose etc.  

I should mention that she’ll be turning (the dreaded) 3 yrs old in a couple of months so not exactly a youngster.  Also she’s had a medium sized benign mammary tumor for a long time.  It’s always been more or less the same size, but it does seem to get in her way more lately;  you can tell that it gets her down at times (eg when it’s difficult to climb into or under something).  All that said, she’s remarkably active and happily interactive with us, and her grooming, appetite and hydration are good.
We just want to do whatever we can to keep her healthy and happy as long as possible, so any information you can offer will be very much appreciated.

PS.  I'm attaching a photo I took of her curling up to nap in a white paper bag the other day so that you can see how cute (and young!) she looks!! :) I can never resist a good photo or captioning opportunity!

PPS. I apologize for my long-windedness!  I was born without an ‘edit button’, so feel free to edit/abbreviate this as you wish, and thanks for your patience!

ANSWER: Dear Sandi,


When I saw that there was usually no one to answer rat questions, Sandy and Irene being overwhelmed already, I added myself as a sub until I recruited the other two to give her a much-deserved break. This job gets a little tough sometimes just because so many of the questions are unhappy situations. I have been doing mice for as long as she has been doing rats, but with mice there are so many times when you have saved a mouse's life, in part because in mouse situations a vet visit is so often impossible (at least half of mice have half-pint humans). Thank you for the compliment :) however, with most of the medical issues I go to one of my rat groups on Facebook, ask the people there who know better, and consolidate their answers!

It sounds to me like you are into rats enough that you ought to be in some Facebook rat groups too. There are quite a few. The ones I am most acquainted with are Rat Fan Club- run by Debbie Ducommun, "the Rat Lady" in CA who writes; Pet Rat Lovers; and- oh gosh I almost forgot ;) Rats are Awesome, which is a rat and mouse group (curse Facebook for not letting me change the title) that I run. I am no lay expert, which Debbie is, but I have recruited about 12 people who are, and I tag them as necessary. What is special about RAA is that it is specifically a safe place - NO nastiness, piling on, attacking; NO pictures that are difficult to look at, except those necessary for medical questions; NO talk of live feeding, which by its nature invites both huge arguments and lots of sadness; and my three wonderful mods and I try very, very hard to make sure every question gets a useful and correct answer (though in the past four days we have all been working on some rat rescues and have really not been active in the group. But someone would have let me know if there was a fight).

I love the phrase to have no edit button... I may use that :). That's why you love my answers, right? I write like you think.

Ok, as to adorable, "this is my 12 month Birthday again" Sadie, her eye problem is not due to stress. As you say, she is happy and active (she became sweet and loving because you are her only rat friend now). She has an eye infection. Puffiness does not indicate crying in rats when they are sad, like it does us; puffiness pretty much anywhere on rats and humans means infection. One big clue is it is only one eye. What you should be washing it with is saline solution. However, Sadie needs to go to the vet. Until she can get there, since she is not an emergency, you can soothe her eye with tea, either chamomile or black. I prefer chamomile, because it is so simple and just a little flower :);  but black works too. The chamomile tea bag should first be soaked in almost boiling water, and then cooled off. The black tea bag should be soaked in cold water and used immediately. In both cases, 10 minutes is ideal, and I am sure Sadie will be happy with that. The teas are soothing and slightly antibiotic. But she still needs a vet appointment.

As for the tumor, talk it over with your extremely experienced, either "exotics" or "pocket pets" vet. It is likely that the vet will deem her too old for surgery, but maybe her general youthfulness is enough. As you say, it is bothering her. Unfortunately, surgery is probably the only option to actually deal with it. People do sometimes report some success with other natural remedies-- try Holistirat online for that, or ask in a group (Debbie is the only lay/expert I know who is of course not in my group, but that is enough for me to often bring my questions there)-- but nothing else is going to remove it.

Much luck and good health to Sadie,



UPDATE both you and your cooperative vet may like this link:

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Natasha...
Thanks SO much for answering so thoroughly and so quickly!   I never expected that!  You’re right that I appreciate that you write from your ‘ticker’, not by the ticking of the word-counter!  By all means feel free to use my 'lack of an edit button' expression (excuse).  Having lived a long life of A.D.D.-rambling, it helps me to have a slew of excuses handy at all times!  It's even more crucial out loud, when I can see people's faces as they're wondering if I'm ever going to come to the end of the story! :P
Okay so first, I really don't think Sadie’s porphyrin eye is an infection because by now it would surely have spread to her OTHER eye, as well as to her cage mate (they groomed each other constantly).    I don’t know why I put “Swollen eye” in the Subject of my initial question because the eye isn’t swollen and there’s no pus or excretion of any kind except the porphyrin.  It only gets swollen temporarily when she rubs it over and over during grooming.   When I do the warm compress followed by cool water, there’s no swelling at all and it looks normal until she rubs it.  The porphyrin accumulates over the next 6 or 8 hours until it needs to be washed again.  It might well be that I’m underestimating the stress of the tumour even though it isn’t noticeably in her way or slowing her down.
I did the chamomile tea thing today and it worked quite well.   I just wish she’d leave it alone for a couple of hours!  I’m going to try and do it when she’s sleepy so that maybe she’ll fall asleep right after and give the eye area a chance to rest.    I told her that if she doesn’t stop irritating it, I’m going to get her an Elizabethan collar;  THEN she’ll see what a “royal pain” I can be!!
Thanks again for the advice and for being so kind and so prompt 
~ Sadie’s Mom

Dear Sandi,

Actually an infection in an eye does not necessarily or even usually spread, just like an infection anywhere else. You may be thinking of the condition of having a stye in your eye, which actually is contagious both to your other eye and to other people. Other conditions would no more spread than say, an infected bite on one arm would spread to the other arm :)

I leave it up to you.



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Natasha Millikan


Consider me a sub, when no one else is available. NOTE YOU MUST NOT HAVE ONLY ONE RAT. JOIN MY FACEBOOK GROUP (because there are smarter people than me there!!): ***** ***** Excellent sites: **** **** **** **** **** ****


I have had rats for 3-1/3 years and have researched them extensively. I am a mouse expert with 40 years' experience with mice. The two species are similar and yet also quite different.

My Facebook group is Rats (and Mice) are Awesome.

I have a Bachelor's and two Master's degrees in Linguistics

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I am honored that my rats love me!

Past/Present Clients
My Facebook group, Rats are Awesome, serves at the moment 5300 members, and, considering all the huge rescues, probably averages 5 rats per member. That means my clients are about 25,000 rats!!!

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