Rats can make remarkable pets and are certainly not the pests that people often think. They are calm, intelligent and social creatures, and when handled regularly, are unlikely to bite. For this reason, they make excellent first pets for younger children. With improved husbandry, nutrition and preventive health care, they are now frequently living into old age. With this in mind, we need to be aware of the disease's rats are susceptible to as they age.
Posted: 19 March 2020
In the wild, rats are prey animals and tend not to show signs of pain or disease. This makes it difficult for some owners to spot illness early, and as a result are frequently brought to us in for the first time in advanced stages of disease.
In this article we look at three of the most common senior presentations.
This is probably the most common disease of older rats. The condition may be seen in animals as young as 3 months of age, but it typically found in animals over a 1 year. The incidence and severity of the disease occurs more frequently in the geriatric male rat (as many as 3 out of 4 older males are affected!).
The disease is often subclinical, with signs only being noticed when more than 75% of renal function has been lost. Early signs to look for include;
There are a number of predisposing factors, such as;
Of all these triggers, diet is the one area we can help. The quantity and quality of food plays an important role in the development of the disease. All too often well-meaning owners are keen to feed their pets with an ad lib supply of high energy and high protein food. The consequences are that they suffer greater nephron and glomeruli damage, which then results in protein loss into urine. For these reasons, you can help reduce the incidence and severity of renal disease by recommending;
At Burgess Pet Care we produce some high-quality food suitable for rats, including;
This is a conspicuous condition, sometimes referred to as “red tears” and is the result of porphyrin staining around the eye. The normal lachrymal secretions produced by the harderian gland contains porphyrins. In animals that aren’t grooming and cleaning their faces (e.g. when they are stressed or debilitated), this can dry around the eyes and external nares, leaving a red stain or crust which can be confused with bleeding.
The production of porphyrin increases with age, so you are more likely to see this in the geriatric rat. You need to consider it as a non-specific sign of stress which can indicate an underlying medical complaint. A full clinical examination and assessment is required, where you should look for triggers such as;
With such cases, clean the eyes and nose daily to remove excessive or dried secretions. Ultimately the underlying cause for the over-production of the tears or nasal secretions needs to be resolved.
These seem to be extremely common, especially in older females, and are either fibroadenomas (the most common) or adenocarcinomas. They can develop anywhere from the axilla to the perianal area; rats have extensive mammary tissue!
Signs to look for include;
The most important influence in the development of these tumours is diet. Rats fed an ad libitum diet generally have a higher incidence of tumours and a lower survival time.
Surgical removal of mammary tumours is best performed early to ensure the recovery is rapid. Most rats will respond well, especially if the tumour is benign.