Pet Rats/Rat Health

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Millie
Millie  
I'm quite concerned about my little rat, she is about a year and a half old and from about two days ago she's not been acting like herself at all. I understand that you're not a vet but I was hoping you'd be able to shed some light on the situation before we impart any kind of stress on her by taking her to the vet.

We have never had any health issues with her before and she's usually such a lively little thing but since a couple of days ago it seems like she's become quite lethargic. She has a multistory cage and when at the base where her igloo is she really struggles to get up her ramp when normally she'd rush right up when we open the cage door for her to come out and play. It doesn't look like there are any problems with her legs at all and she hasn't stumbled on her ramp as far as we can see. She does seem to be eating and drinking normally but it does look like it can be a bit of an effort for her at times.

Some additional info is that we've recently had a heatwave here and it's been the hottest days we've experienced since we got her. Although we tried to keep the room as cool as possible for her with fans and such we're not sure how much it has helped. We were wondering if perhaps the heat has something to do with her behavior? The weather has calmed down a little bit now though and it's cooling down outside so we're not sure if we should wait a bit longer before taking her to the vet or not.

Thanks for your time.

Answer
Awww your little Millie is just adorable...thanks for the pic.  It is possible for the heat to have affected her but it is positive that she has been eating and drinking.  However, where I live we have frequent heatwaves and I also use fans in my ratroom, yet my rats always do okay through them...they sleep on the ground instead of in their hammocks and drink more water instinctively.

I tend to think something else is going on with Millie.  First, I'd like you to check whether she has any respiratory issues.  Is her breathing labored, is she making any strange noises, does her chest seem congested (put your ear really close to it).  Respiratory infection can cause lethargy.  Are her stools normal?  If they are soft or runny, it could be diarrhea, which can cause lethargy as well.

Next, and I don't want to frighten you, just to inform you.  She is right at the menopausal age of 18 months, and at this point is when female rats can begin to get tumors if they are prone to them.  The most common are mammary tumors but those would show up as lumps and not lethargy.  Then there is the less common pituitary tumor, which affects a part of the brain.  I speak from very recent experience on the latter as I lost my girl of 20 months of age to a PT a few months ago.

Now I am not saying that a PT is what she has, but want to alert you to the symptoms to watch for.  At age 18 months, a female rat should not be slowing down and should still have lots of energy.  The first and most obvious sign of a PT is slowing down, losing balance, and having a hard time climbing up and down things like ramps.  The next thing you need to watch for is difficulty holding solid food with front paws.  Sometimes, they tend to start holding with only one front paw instead of both.  As the condition worsens, they lose use of front paws and start eating food from the ground.  Bulging of one eye is also a common symptom.  Seeing porphyrin (red discharge) around the eyes/nose is also common (of any illness/stress).  In even later stages, the rat can only lick mushy food and water, and eventually will lose the ability to lick altogether.  

Many vets, even those trained in treating rats, will not recognize these symptoms as a PT...including my own vet.  I had to tell him that is what my girl had.  But he was willing to treat her with the medication I told him was needed.

If a PT is not one of the extremely aggressive kind, it can be treated with Prednisone, which reduces the swelling of the tumor pushing on the brain, therefore relieving most of the symptoms.  Prednisone would need to be started as soon as a PT is confirmed.  If you wait to the point of where the rat is not licking food/water, then the medicine won't be ingested.  

I hope and pray that Millie does not have a PT but wanted to give you this info as a precaution just in case, so if this is a PT, you can jump right on getting treatment for her.

Watch her very very closely for the next day or two and pay attention to every detail of her movements.  See if she recovers from the lethargy, or if it stays the same or gets any worse.  Then please write me again and I can help you more from that point.

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Irene Murphy

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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.

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