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A rat's lifespan is only 3 to 4 years so aging changes and natural fatal conditions such as tumors are fairly common. Here we cover the more common conditions you should recognize so that you know when to take your rat to a veterinary surgeon. Many people think it is not worth taking a pet rat to their veterinarian but those with rats as pets or show animals can become very attached to them.


The skin fungus ringworm is common in rats. Your veterinary surgeon will diagnose ringworm either by using an ultraviolet light, under which the ringworm lesions on the skin fluoresce or by taking a small amount of hair and examining it under the microscope. This will also show if there are any fur mites causing the skin problem. Ringworm can be treated with medication (griseofulvin) by mouth; mites can be treated with an injection of the drug called ivermectin.

Mammary tumors

Cancer of the mammary glands is very common in rats. It is often malignant and in such cases the prognosis is very poor. Nevertheless rats are less affected by malignant mammary tumors than are mice and many masses will be benign and can be removed surgically. Even if malignant, the prolongation of life by a couple of months is significant in animals with a short lifespan.


This is common in rats and can be caused by a wide range of infectious organisms. These range from bacteria, through single-celled organisms like coccidia to parasites such as tapeworms. Among the bacteria are two of particular importance: Salmonella and Bacillus piliformis. Salmonella can pass from animals to man therefore any diarrheic feces should be cultured to ensure Salmonella is not the cause. An animal with Salmonella may have to be put down but other bacteria can be treated with a drop of antibiotic (such a neomycin) by mouth. Bacillus piliformis causes Tyzzer's disease which often results in generalized illness and death. Antibiotic treatment may be effective but prevention is preferable and a quarantine period for new animals coming into a collection is important.


Pneumonia is a common problem in rats and occurs often in larger colonies rather than animals kept individually or in small groups. Animals with breathing difficulties, a hunched up posture and loss of general condition may have respiratory problems, caused by viruses, the organism mycoplasma or bacteria.

This is only a small survey of the problems you may see in pet rats. Many diseases are related to poor husbandry, showing the importance in keeping your pet in the best possible conditions.

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