Signs Your Pet Rat Is Sick Or Dying

Signs your rat is sick or dying

Today, we’re going to look at the sadder side of pet rat ownership – figuring out when they are sick. Unfortunately, one of the downsides to keeping pet rats is that they are prone to illness. Another is that their lifespans are quite short – generally only two to three years. That means knowing the signs of illness is an essential skill for all ratty owners.

Disclaimer – this article should not be used to replace veterinary advice. It’s simply a discussion of the signs I have found useful across 20 years of owning rats. If you suspect your rat to be ill, you should always seek advice from a qualified vet.

It is important to emphasise that all rats are individuals, and they have individual quirks in the signs they show – so this can never be an exhaustive list. Some are also extremely good at hiding illness or pain.

Signs of Pain in Rats


Side-sucking, where the rat breathes from their abdomen, and look like they are wearing a corset, is a clear sign that something is seriously and urgently wrong.

There are two main reasons for side-sucking – severe pain or respiratory distress.

I mean serious pain here – bear in mind we are talking about animals who will climb a cage with a broken leg. Examples I’ve seen are Dibble, where sudden side-sucking was the first sign of an abscessed kidney; Wilbur, who had a pre-existing back injury and would side-suck when it flared up; and Cutangle, where it was the first sign of lymphatic cancer. As you can see, side-sucking indicates pain, but not the cause, which is why an urgent diagnosis, as well as pain relief, is important.

The second reason for side-sucking is because a rat is in respiratory distress and can’t get enough oxygen. In these cases, the side-sucking is accompanied by laboured breathing and often mouth gasping. Respiratory distress is an emergency – the rat needs oxygen to survive, as well as treatment for the underlying problem.

Other Signs of Pain in Rats

Side-sucking isn’t the only sign of pain in rats, it is just the most obvious. Other signs can include:

  • A hunched up posture 
  • A fluffed / staring coat
  • Lethargy / not wanting to move from their bed
  • Discomfort being handled
  • Biting in a non-bitey rat
  • A creeping gait
  • Whiskers pulled back to lie along the side of the head
  • Jaw tight / mouth pulled back
  • Eyes narrowed
  • Ears pulled down  

The facial features above are important indicators of pain, but can be hard for a new owner to spot. There is a good guide to them here. Note: the “grimace scale” was invented for use in animal research, so the site does include some reference to animal experimentation.

A rat in pain won’t necessarily show all these features, and mild pain may not result in any of them as they hide it very well. So, one of the most important things to look out for is changes to a rat’s normal personality or behaviour.

Signs of pain in rats

Signs of Respiratory Disease / Chest Infections in Rats

I mentioned above that laboured breathing with side-sucking can be a sign of respiratory distress. However, it is a late stage sign that we only see once the rat is struggling for oxygen. Obviously, we want to catch respiratory problems before they get to that point. Here are some other signs that I look out for:

  • Snotty or grunty noises, sometimes described as being like a pigeon noise. These can be wet and bubbly or dry and clicky. Many people mistake these noises for communication, but they are actually a result of the rat having mucus or inflammation in their airways. Although grunty noises are the most common sign of respiratory problems, some conditions can present without audible noise.
  • Sneezing. All rats sneeze a bit, especially if there is a change in the weather, housing or bedding. However, if a rat starts sneezing much more than normal, or the sneezes are loud and squeaky, this is often a first sign of an upper respiratory infection.
  • A change in breathing rate. A rat with respiratory problems will often breath more quickly, more shallowly, more slowly, or in a more laboured way, depending on exactly what is wrong. What I’m looking for is a change from their normal breathing.
  • Lethargy. I find respiratory infections often manifest as a rat being a bit subdued and “off” a few days before the noises start.
  • Panic running / climbing. When a rat feels short of oxygen, they may become agitated, run about in panic, or climb to the highest point they can find. This looks different to normal playing, because the rat is usually restless, tense, and may show many of the facial features of pain listed above.
  • Hanging their head down, or propping the head up. Rats frequently sleep in weird positions, but when short of breath they will often sit with either their head hanging down off the edge of shelf or hammock, or with their head propped upwards against something. Both serve to help open the airways. I’ve even seen a rat in respiratory distress hook their upper teeth on the cage bars to pull their throat open (the rat was euthanised shortly afterwards).

In my experience, early treatment of respiratory problems significantly increases the chances of clearing up the illness, or at least turning it into a chronic condition to be managed. In contrast, lack of treatment can lead to severe pneumonia, lung damage and death.

Heart problems also often present in a very similar way to respiratory problems, so a vet diagnosis is important to know what you are dealing with and to access the right treatment.

Rats laying on top of each other

Choking in Rats

Sometimes a rat will choke on their food. This happens more often if the rat is old or ill, or if they are eating squishy sticky food (I don’t feed rats sticky food like mashed potato or peanut butter for this reason). However, some rats can manage to choke on perfectly normal food if they gobble it down or if their airways are malformed. We have regular choking episodes with Carrot because he has a deviated septum, and tends to get things stuck at the back of his soft palate.

A choking rat will have sudden problems breathing. They may panic run or become very still, and they will often pull their heads back as if gagging and make hacking / wheezing sounds. There is often a sticky clear or cream coloured drool, and they may paw at their mouth. Many of the facial symptoms of pain may be present.

It’s a very frightening thing to watch, but it is important to stay calm. Most rats clear the obstruction themselves and I let them do this as long as they are breathing regularly.

If a choking rat genuinely can’t breathe then many people use what is known as the ratty fling to dislodge the obstruction (described here, although I hold the rat round the body, not the base of the tail). However, this is potentially dangerous, so I only use it if they stop breathing.

If you are concerned about a choking rat then it is safest to contact a vet for advice.

Other Sick Rat Symptoms

Fluffed up or staring fur – Standard coat rats in good condition have smooth glossy fur that lies flat to their bodies. They might floof it up to look like a giant bog-brush during a territorial argument, but that is a transient (and very obvious) display. When they are feeling off-colour, rats often fluff their fur up more subtly. It’s partly to keep warm, and partly because they don’t groom so much. I’ve found the most obvious place to spot this is forehead / nose. In healthy rats these look pretty sleek and pointed. In ill rats, the fur fluffs so the forehead looks much more domed.

Red discharge round the nose and eyes – this is porphyrin, not blood, and all rats have some, but healthy rats clean it off. A rat with obvious porphyrin is either discharging more than normal (a sign of ill health or stress) or not washing (a sign the rat is feeling off colour).

Weight loss / lack of appetite – I weigh my rats every week and put the numbers in a spreadsheet, so I can see if anyone is losing weight out of sync with the rest of the group. It is a really good way to keep tabs on rat health. I’ve caught several episodes of respiratory disease, heart disease, kidney disease, tumours, and even a case of diabetes this way.

Behavioural changes – these are another very common sign that a rat is feeling off. They might include becoming more or less clingy than normal, being quieter than normal, being picked on by other rats, not wanting to come out the cage, biting, not wanting to be handled, wanting more cuddles, not showing enthusiasm for food, avoiding other rats, and many other things. What I’m looking for is anything different to how a rat normally acts.

Lethargy – I’ve already said it, but it’s worth saying again… Lethargy is one of the biggest indicators a rat is feeling off colour.

There are other, more specific signs of illness in rats also worth keeping an eye out for:

  • Blood or discharge around the genitals 
  • Consistently holding their head tilted to one side 
  • Discharge or unpleasant smells from the ear, or abnormal scratching of the ear 
  • Soreness of the mouth or reluctance to eat hard foods 
  • A bloated or tight stomach
  • A rat not urinating normally
  • A rat urinating very frequently
  • Diarrhoea or staining around the genitals
  • New lumps on a rat’s head or body
  • One or both eyes bulging
  • Changes to how they walk, especially waddling or dragging of the hind end

A Health Check a Day While You Play

A health check for your rat

Rats are very good at hiding pain and illness. I’ve seen rats happily bounce across the floor while suffering the kind of double pneumonia that would put a human in intensive care. It doesn’t mean they aren’t seriously, life-threateningly sick. They just don’t always behave that way. In my experience, a rat who looks obviously ill is very ill indeed.

So, my approach is to never wait for a rat to look seriously ill before seeking treatment.

That means being really familiar with our rats and what they look like when healthy, so we can spot subtle changes. I try and give all my rats an individual health check every day – and I aim to do it during normal vet opening hours so I don’t discover anything worrying at 10 pm!

While I do check for obvious specifics – respiratory noises, lumps, discharge, painful areas, teeth – mostly what I am looking for is anything that gives me a feeling that something is “off”.

What Happens When a Rat Is Dying?

Inevitably, there will come a point when each rat has an illness we can’t successfully treat, or becomes so old they lose quality of life. At that point, as owners, we have to take responsibility for their deaths. It’s sad, sometimes heartbreakingly so, but unavoidable.

Ideally, rats, like humans, just pass away gently in their sleep. It is lovely, but also relatively rare. I think of the roughly 70 rats I’ve owned, only about 10 have died natural deaths. That’s because most of the illnesses rats die from destroy the animal’s quality of life before the body shuts down. And when that happens, I believe the only kind path open to us is to take them to the vet for painless euthanasia.

We think of death as the worst thing that can happen, but I believe living in suffering, or dying slowly, for example, by drowning in their own mucus (which is the end stage of respiratory disease), is much worse.

At what point to make the call and decide to have a rat euthanised is a very individual decision – not just for each owner, but for each rat. I’ve had rats who pottered on happily for months with very serious terminal conditions (my vet and I decided one of them must be a zombie). I’ve had other rats who became very sad and withdrawn with much less severe complaints.

The key for me is happiness, which in a rat generally equates to interest in things. If a rat is interested in food, interested in coming out the cage (even if they just potter about briefly and then go to sleep), and interested in interacting with me and other rats, then they have quality of life. They may need to be on a cocktail of drugs for palliative relief, but life is worth living.

On the other side of the coin, if they are withdrawn, and have lost interest in the things that they used to enjoy, then if their condition is not treatable, or they are not responding to treatment, I believe it is better to let them go.


As I said at the top of the article, this isn’t an exhaustive guide to rat illness, and nothing here can replace talking to your vet if you are worried about your pet. However, over the years I have found that most health problems in rats present with one or more of these signs.

If you want to know more about health in your pets, the Rat Health Guide has a lot of information.

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  1. Hi cat gave me a baby rat hair eyes slight open ears down was feedin formula all going well for 3days. Now won’t eat on side and won’t move still breathing. For now. Tommy swollen daughter & I in tears. Worked so hard every 2 to 3 hrs during the night tolet it as well were did I go so wrong.

    1. Hi Brooke,
      That’s very sad to hear. It may be that you did nothing wrong, but that it has an infection from the cat – cat mouths contain a lot of bugs including pasturella, and baby rats don’t have very strong immune systems. Unfortunately, when baby rats lose their mum’s it is really quite hard to keep them alive and thriving.

      1. My rat is 3 years old , he has a lump on his side and drags his back legs… He’s still eating drinking am d
        moving around so I think he’s ok for now?

      2. Hi Jenny,
        It’s fairly common for old male rats to have hind end degeneration and draggy legs. As long as they are comfortable and can still get about to access a warm padded bed, food and water, it isn’t something I worry about too much beyond providing anti-inflammatory pain relief. The lump is potentially more of a concern – it depends what it is, which would need a vet to diagnose. I make a judgement on quality of life in my old rats – eating and drinking is part of it, but also whether they are interested in what is going on around them, enjoy a cuddle, whether they are experiencing pain etc.
        All the best, Alison.

  2. I try and pick up my male rat who is 1 and if you touch his side he squeals but he has no lumps or anything. What can I do to help him? Or why is it happening?

    1. Hi Leah. It’s hard to say without meeting him as there are various things it could be, ranging from bruising to damaged bone or muscle or internal tumours. If he were mine, I would get a vet to examine him and see if they can identify a problem – you can then figure out a plan to help him together.

  3. I just noticed my rat has become ill. But my vet is more expensive to see and treat a small animal than a dog or cat. My rat is all hunched over, fluffed out, eyes slit, and nose and face buried in his hands and breathing fast and heavy. I don’t know what to do for him. His buddy is laying outside the house.

    1. Hi, did you find out what the problem is? My rat had the exact same symptoms and we do have a vet appointment for him tomorrow but I’m so worried he’s gonna die overnight:(

      1. Clair, ours is doing the same and it’s Sunday. Spoke to the vet and they want to see her in the morning. Right now, she is sleeping under my shirt on my tummy. What was wrong with your rat?

  4. I was just wondering what I should do with my rat he turned a year old a couple days / weeks ago and I have been getting worried as his mood has changed a little but he was always kind of a lazy rat I thought it might be because we just got 2 new baby rats (a couple weeks old) because he was fine before then we got them and I believe it’s just cuz he’s gotten older and doesn’t want to play as much but I’m not sure does any one have insight ? He still is eating and drinking fine and does groom the other rats I usually just worry a little to much but does any one have an idea maybe thanks sm

    1. Hi Apryl,
      I often find subdued behaviour is a precursor to symptomatic illness, so I usually get them a vet check if I see any notable changes. A year isn’t very old for a rat, so there shouldn’t be big age related behaviour changes at that point, especially compared to how he was at, say, 8 months old.

  5. hi,
    so my rat who was 3 years old passed away last friday because he was sick and had a lump on the side of him and before he passed i noticed he wasnt moving at all but thats the only thing i noticed and the night he stopped eating i decided to put him down the next day be i reached into the cage and he died in my arms… but he has a brother and he is also sickk and he was liffting his head not anymore thogh and he has staining around him but and is mouth breathing and stopped eating tonight another thing i noticed is that bwfore a rat passes they zone out qite a lot can someone pls tell me if hew will be okay?

    1. Hi Kayla, I’m sorry I didn’t see this earlier. I guess your rat has passed now, so my sympathies for his loss. For future, staining, mouth-breathing and not eating means a rat is very seriously ill / dying. It’s best to take them to the vet straight away if possible.
      Three is a good age though!

  6. I’m not sure if my rat is dying…. I came home today and he was laying underneath his hut instead of in it. I also noticed his back legs aren’t working either? I realized he is dehydrated even though he has water 24 seven. I tried to give him water manually with a little bit of Pedialyte a pinch of salt and some sugar. I was hoping this was going to help him recover at least a little bit. Except he’s not really doing much. He still has a lot of energy and I’m noticing he’s trying to fight through it however I don’t know how to fix this. He’s jerking around and trying to lift himself up but falls to his side with no chance of getting up… I keep thinking he’s throwing something up but I’m really not sure at this point. Is there anyway someone would be able to tell me what is going on with my son? (Rat)

    1. Hi Destiny, I’m sorry I didn’t see this earlier. I can’t say what is / was wrong with him, but it sounds like a possible stroke, fit, inner ear-infection, or other neurological problem. I would always take a rat to a vet as an emergency in this situation.

    2. Rats do not have the capacity to throw up. They have no gag reflex. They cannot burp either which is why it is dangerous to give fizzy drinks

  7. Hello! My rat is three years old and he seems to be having a hard time moving. He has lost his sense of balance and is having a hard time holding himself up. He doesn’t seem to be suffering but is losing weight quickly… I’m not sure if I should wait it out or call a vet to set the date.

    1. Hi Taylor,
      I would have him checked by a vet – this might be something terminal, in which case it would be fairer to let him go, but it might also be something that can be managed and adapted to so he can continue to have quality of life. So the first step is getting a diagnosis and then you and the vet can make the best decision for him. I find that by 3 years most rats need supplemental feeding with easily digestible meals to maintain their weight.
      All the best.

  8. So I was given two female hairless rats the owner doesn’t want them anymore. They’re very friendly and adorable little pets ( first time owner) the one unfortunately i suspect has cancer (lump on the chest) and due to the age i believe not much can be done and my vet doesn’t have experience with rodents. The previous owner was feeding hamster food but I’m slowly taking them off of it so I’m adding some dandelion, split peas, mealwurms, lentils, rice and pellets instead is that okay for them to eat? Is there anything else that I can do for her? Once the one friend has passed over is it necessary to get her a friend seeing that she is a senior herself?

    1. Hi Brendan. Good on you for taking them in. The lump might be a benign mammary lump, in which case they are usually best removed if the rat isn’t ancient. Mammary lumps can also be treated with a superlorin implant which can stop or slow the growth. If your vet is open to discussion, it might be worth having another chat with them to figure out what it is.
      We have a couple of articles on feeding which would be worth reading, but if the base of your food is a good quality rat pellet, that’s a good start. Rather than uncooked rice, lentils etc (which they often don’t eat), I’d add in some rolled grains (like, rolled oats, spelt, barley, rye etc) and some plain (no sugar) puffed grains or broken up rice / corn cakes, low sugar cereals, dry pasta, and a some seeds like pumpkin kernels, pine nuts. I’d also get them used to having regular fresh veggies as those are also important for rat health. Dandelions are a great source of green veggies, so good start there.
      I would usually get a rat a new friend (I try and do it before they end up alone if the sicker one is fit for intros), unless she is very old and cranky.

  9. hello there, my rat is about 5 months old, and is always super active and playful and she isn’t super cuddly. she’s always running around the room at 100mph enjoying herself. late last night though after playing, and ran up to me and layer on my chest and her sides were sucked in and she wasn’t wanting to move. her eyes were closed half way and you could definetly tell she wasn’t feeling good. she wouldn’t eat or drink, and she laid there with me for an hour before i put her back in her cage. the next morning she was totally fine and acting like herself again. should i be worried?

    1. Hi Taylor, I’d get her checked over by a vet. There are a few things it could be (hurt herself during play, a heart issue, a neurological issue), so the best thing to do is to get her checked over by an expert for your piece of mind.

  10. hi!
    my rat who a couple of months ago turned 1 years is thinner than he used to be and sleeps more than he used to,i have one other rat in the cage with him who is now 9 months old and he doesn’t have any problems ,i’m kinda concerned because my other rat had to be put down bc he had a lump in his neck and was dieing he first started to lose weight and energy too but then got worse ,i don’t know what to to because he doesn’t have all the sings that my other rat had before he passed away,What can i do ?

  11. hi!
    my rat who a couple of months ago turned 1 years is thinner than he used to be and sleeps more than he used to he also has a kinda orange spot that covers his hole back and his poops are red my mom says nothing is wrong but i am scared ,i have one other rat in the cage with him who is now 9 months old and he doesn’t have any problems ,i’m kinda concerned because my other rat had to be put down bc he had a lump in his neck and was dieing he first started to lose weight and energy too but then got worse ,i don’t know what to to because he doesn’t have all the sings that my other rat had before he passed away,What can i do ?

    1. Hi Evi. I can’t really take a guess at what is happening from the description, but when a rat changes their behaviour, loses weight without being given less food, or has a change to their poo that isn’t connected to a change in food, it is a good idea to get them checked over by a qualified vet. That’s really the only way to find out for certain if there is something going on with his health.
      Good luck,

  12. Hi!

    I have been feeding a 1-2 weeks old baby rat that the cat came with since yesterday morning.
    I have done everything according to the detailed instructions on “theratfanclub” except from the amount of feeding.
    but from being active and healthy it is now just laying on the side and the body is kind of hard,
    but it poops when stimulated and wants food – all in this stiff/hard curled position.

    It is so sad. I never get used to this and have been in tears several times today..

    My main concern is that I do not know how much I should feed!

    According to what I read they should only have 3 cc every 4 hour when weight is 6 gram.
    But when I fed him only 3 cc, he opened his mouth and made massaging movements with the for-arms like to pump more milk, so then I have been giving him more, maybe 8 cc each every meal, because this is what he wanted.

    And STILL – now it seems like he is dehydrated!

    I have read that: “To test for dehydration, pinch the skin on the back and see how long it takes for it to go back down. If it takes more than a full second, the baby is dehydrated.”

    Well, his skin does not go back even in 10 seconds! But how can he be dehydrated when I have been giving him more than 3 times the recommended amount of formula?

    Now I really do not know what to do.
    Should I give far less food (to follow instructions online)
    Or should I give fare more (if the skin thing means dehydration?)

    Or can the skin not going back mean something else than dehydration.

    Need answer very fast 🙁

    1. Hi Emma-Lisa. I feed as much as baby rats want, unless they are at risk of digestive problems. However, it sounds like there is something else going on here other than feeding. My first thought is that he might have been poisoned, as internal bleeding would explain the dehydration. I would recommend taking him to the vet.

  13. Hi there I have noticed my mouse has a clenched fist and it won’t open. Another of my mice has large rashes on its body and raw patches. The male rat’s tail is pussy, raw and chuncky. It is discussing and I think it’s quite painful, I am very warrior about them I separeted them from the others but if it is a desise it has probably already spread to the others. I’m not sure what to do and if u can’t help me I will call the vet. Got any ideas to what it is and what I could do to help?? I don’t know what to do.

  14. hello

    I have a female named Doja Rat who is roughly 18 months old. My son’s rat and her have recently become cagemates and now her breathing is really harsh and chirpy/whistles. She tilts her head up in her hammock and let’s it rest as well as climbs on her hammock extending her neck to the top of the cage. I had a baby rat that had similar issues and I gave him Tylan in his water and he cleared up within the week. I do not have an exotic vet near me and I’m worried Tylan isn’t all I can be doing for her. What are some advice tips for my current situation.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Devin,
      Unfortunately, that sounds like a very severe respiratory infection. Veterinary treatment with targeted antibiotics, and possibly oxygen therapy and bronchodialators as needed is the only recommendation I can give. Respiratory infections in older rats often need a combination of antibiotics to address the problem, as the lungs are more compromised than in younger rats. I wouldn’t recommend dosing the meds in water as it is hard to ensure the rat gets the correct doseage that way (as it depends on how much they drink).
      If you have access to a nebuliser then nebulising for short periods with sterile saline can sometimes help open the airways, but this is a support approach to relieve symptoms – it won’t address the underlying infection.
      I’m sorry I don’t have any more DIY tips to give – unfortunately an embedded respiratory infection can only be adequately treated by veterinary drugs.
      Good luck,

  15. Hi
    I recently found 6 baby rats a few days ago and just yesterday, their ears opened for the first time. Freedom was going well. I feed them every three hours and stimulate them to pee and poo. I put them in a box with thick bedding underneath to avoid them getting cold, but yesterday my boyfriend offered to feed one and it choked to death. I tried feeding the rest today, but once the milk enters their mouth, they start choking. They open their mouth really wide and it seems like they are unable to breathe. I’m really worried.

    1. Hi Favour,
      It sounds like they are aspirating the milk, either due to weakness or illness. If they were pinkies when you found them, then it is likely that they didn’t get enough of their Mum’s milk and will be unable to fend off infection. The only option I can recommend at this stage is having them checked by a vet, but unfortunately, orphaned babies often don’t make it, especially if they are orphaned within their first week.

  16. Hi,
    I have three female rats, they are about 18mths old now, recently one of them has started flailing her head around quite violently. To the point she looses her balance.
    I’ve had rats in the past and have never seen this before.
    She seems happy enough, still eating and drinking.
    Any ideas what this could be please?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Jayne,
      It sounds like either something bothering her in her ear or something neurological such as a fit or a brain tumour. She will need to see a vet for assessment and diagnosis.

  17. Hello,
    I have 3 rats (females) but the only one I’m worried about is Moxie, my biggest. Two or three nights ago, I fell asleep with her in my bed and she didn’t move (which I am thankful for), but ever since then she has been incredibly clingy and attached to me. When I have her out, she always crawls over and falls asleep on me, when I try to put her back in her cage she just latches onto my arm and climbs right back up. She won’t cuddle with her sisters, doesn’t even go into the same hut as them, just sits on top. She climbs to the very top of the cage and switches between blighting the bars or trying to lift the roof off (it is a very tall bird cage, she does not succeed).
    I really need some advice on what to do with my baby because unfortunately I am unable to get antibiotics from the vet due to cost.

    1. Climbing to a high level and panicking in the cage is often a sign of respiratory distress (which can be lungs or heart), although I’m not clear if she has other symptoms? Unfortunately, I can’t advise on how to treat her without a vet consult, as correct diagnosis requires a vet seeing a rat in person. Some vets offer post-payment plans, and in some countries there are also charity options (PDSA etc), so it is worth ringing them to discuss.

  18. I already have a vet appointment booked for tomorrow, it’s the soonest I could get. My rat has been acting off for a few days now, puffy fur standing on edge, squinty eyes, lethargy, sleeping a lot so I made a vet appointment, he’s getting worse and worse as the days go by. Yesterday he lost balance a couple of times with his front legs and fell face first, he’s not drinking from his water bottle but we gave him a bowl of water and he is drinking from that. He doesn’t usually bite, he’s usually very friendly but has bit my boyfriend twice since he started to appear unwell and today he is curled up in a ball twitching and jerking as if he’s not able to sit up and is trying so my boyfriend tried to help him and move him to a more comfortable position and he got a burst of energy enough to lift his head up a little and bite but then went back to the hunched over ball position twitching again. I’lol find out tomorrow what it is from the vet but I’m so so worried it’s a brain tumour 🙁 he’s only 6 months old so this is not old age related, I just want to hear what other possibilities these symptoms could be so I can be prepared for what I might hear tomorrow and to convince myself there’s hope that it’s not a brain tumour.

  19. My rat was staying with my friend I went away for a few days and now she is breathing really fast won’t drink or eat hardly at all. What can I do I don’t have lots of money but don’t want her to suffer ?? Help

    1. Hi Monica,
      She needs to see a vet – it could be a variety of problems, but a rat declining food and drink is very serious so definitely merits a vet trip.

  20. Hi,
    I have four adult male rats (all 18 months+) recently they have all started scratching and grooming a lot more so we have bought treatments in case its something unpleasant living in their fur. I am particularly worried about one rat, who appears to have developed a red rash over his body, visible from where the hair has been pulled and removed. Is this likely to be stress from the over grooming and pulling of his own hair out or signs of something much worse? He looks really sore bless him but he is TOTALLY his normal cheeky self otherwise – still eating lots, loving a cuddle and playing with the rest.

    Any advice appreciated.

    1. Hi Daniel,
      The grooming and scratching does sound like a parasite infection of some kind – it is possible the rat with a rash is having an extra adverse reaction to either the parasite itself, the scratching, or the over-the-counter treatment. I suggest seeing a vet – they can take skin scrapes and find out what the underlying problem is, and ensure that the treatment is correctly dosed and the right thing for the right bug. They can also check for and treat any secondary skin infections – rats sometimes get bacterial skin rashes when they scratch a lot a result of normal skin bacteria getting in the scratches.

  21. Hi my rat is almost a year old he is fat but has red stuff around his eyes and nose he also props his head up and he folds his feet underneath him, he sometimes will eat plastic from his weel but he still runs around and plays with me but sometimes he doesn’t want to get up from his bed. Is he going to die?

    1. Hi Jade,
      It’s impossible to say. If you think he is unwell, then it is important that he sees a vet so he can get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

  22. Hello, I have been reading some of the articles and was just wondering if any advice could be offered on my situation please. I have a few rat cages set up with a mix of male and female rats, they all appear to be very healthy but recently 2 of them have just dropped dead. The rats are all between 7 to 8 weeks old, most came from a litter my other rats gave birth to, but recently I rescued a few which they have accepted happily but show some signs of sneezing. The first that died was a male, who did show some distress of panting then died over night, (the girls with him decided to try eat him). The second was in another cage but same room. She looked to be pregnant and started building a nest, but other than that was her normal lovely self. Again I found her dead and half eaten this morning. Would eating parts of each other spread anything? Looking at my rats they are all clean, active and acting as they normally do, but so were the others before sudden deaths. What do you think? I don’t want to loose anyone else or risk my older rats that are thankfully housed separately downstairs. We do our best to clean between cuddles but cheeky dad escaped to come upstairs and see his baby’s recently.

    1. Hi Nicole,
      It’s possible you have a virus in your colony. The best place for advice on that would be your national rat groups, as they will know what is circulating in your part of the world.
      On a slightly different note, if the rats are 7-8 weeks old, they need to be in single sex groups, as the girls will get pregnant at that age, but it is too young to be healthy for them as they are still growing themselves. If they are pregnant, or generally feeling low on protein to support growth then that may be why they ate the dead – it is actually fairly unusual for that to happen in pet rats. We don’t recommend keeping unneutered mixed sexes together in general as it results in back to back breeding that is very bad for the does health. It is also generally best to separate nesting pregnant does from the group to reduce her stress levels and protect the babies (as sometimes other rats will eat them).

  23. My female patchwork rat had babies she had 12 about 2 weeks old ones hair fell out. Now I can hear a loud heartbeat from her. She climbs and eats just fine I moved them all to my big cage and all my other rats keep going after her so I moved her back to the baby cage… am not sure what’s wrong with her but no vets around will see a rat…

    1. Hi Melinda,
      I’m not sure how old the baby is now? I wouldn’t be moving them to the main cage until at least 6-7 weeks – and boys will need splitting off into a single sex group at 5 weeks. It’s very unusual to hear a rat’s heartbeat unless you have them pressed to your ear, so it is entirely possible she has an underlying medical problem which might also cause other rats to attack her. However, without access to a vet it is impossible to diagnose it or suggest a course of treatment. I would keep her safe in the baby cage with sisters / mummy, and ask around on your local / national rat groups for vet recommendations.

  24. Hi my name is Gaby. And I have a two year old hairless (furless) male rat. About two days ago when I got home from running errands I seen he was having some red discharge coming out of his eyes, I googled it and saw it was porphyrin. I cleaned him up and everything. I’ve never been more than two days with changing his bedding, but being 7 months pregnant has been tough so this week I gave it a few more days. That same night I noticed he was flopping around in his cage and it freaked me out. He’s never been the type for affection no matter how hard I tried, I think coming for the pet store really scarred him. Yesterday I picked him up and saw on his belly that he has lumps about three big ones. His breathing looks off and he’s been hunched over when he normally stretched out so I know he’s in pain. I know hairless rats only live up to three years so he’s quite old. I’m just wondering do you think he has some kinda disease (maybe respiratory) or is this old ago that is taking him away.

    1. Hi Gabriella,
      He needs to see a vet as a matter of urgency. Porphyrin around the eyes is a sign that the rat feels very unwell, and it is probable that the lumps are tumours. The vet will be able to give you a firm diagnosis, ensure that he is not in pain, and euthanise when appropriate. This is really important as rats hide pain very well, so the fact he is visibly unhappy means it is very severe.
      I’m sorry not to have happier advice, but taking him to the vet is the best thing you can do for him now.

  25. so, i have two rats and recently I noticed that one of them was acting really different. It has been two (fish) weeks and she still seems sick. Other rat is fine though. First I noticed that she had some mammary tumors, (vet says benign but idk) and then she just got really lethargic, lost enthusiasm around food (she usually loves food) and sleeps almost all day. I also noticed a buildup of porphyrin around her eyes and nose. her left side seems weaker, so i’m thinking it might be a stroke, but she hasn’t gotten any better and i’m really worried. I’m about to go on vacation and i don’t want her to die while i’m gone.

    1. Hi,
      It’s really important that she sees a vet. There are a few different things it could be, but all of them are very serious. It would be best to see a vet and assess whether it is treatable, or whether euthanasia before your departure would be the kindest.
      All the best,

  26. My baby rescue rat died early this morning. I’m so sad. I had him for 9 days since finding him.
    On July 5 pm .. I found this little one on the ground all by itself on the Brooklyn subway platform by the wall. I thought it was tiny toy as it laid belly down with all 4 limbs stretched out. Then as I looked closer I saw it moved and lifted its head up. It was alive. I hesitated in what to do. But ended up taking it home . It was so tiny no bigger than my pinky finger.. it had brownish color on its smooth back, no fur, eyes closed. I guessed it was approx. 5 days old , born on July 1.
    I quickly bought enfamil baby formula and fed it every 2 hours , for a few days, round the clock using a Syringe , by having the baby rat suck the milk off my hand, by the folds of my fingers. He was thriving. I was exhausted..but continued to feed round the clock. After a few days I switched to every 3 hours, round the clock …then I read not to feed baby formula with iron. So after 6 days ..I switched to Goats milk Puppy formula. .. On July 11, I also started using these mini critter nipples.. that attach to the syringe. I saw him suckling it. But at times he wasn’t ..I check the nipple and the hole was ok. He also would open his mouth real wide .. I wasn’t sure if that was a yawn or he aspirating..or was he telling me the milk not getting through nipple?? Now I’m thinking he not getting any enough formula with the nipple??
    I notice that if I let him suckle from my fingers , like before, he was more eager to eat. But I continued feeding him with the nipple. Now I’m thinking .. he wasn’t getting milk from the nipple and he must of been was slowly starving.
    I notice his body was always cool.. so I would wrapped him in a mini fleece blanket like a Cocoon to keep him warm after he fell asleep after eating. I added another blanket on top of him plus two layers of paper towel to keep him warm, plus my apt is hot , no air conditioning this summer. . I kept him snug with a rolled bunting close to and around his body for snugnesses. But, I always found him outside all coverage sleeping with out any cover ..?!? When I picked him up his body would be cool to the touch when I would go to feed him. Did this contribute to his demise?
    I’m so very sad .. He was the cutest baby pup rat. I loved him and learned so much about baby rats ! His baby fur came in and he just got his baby teeth.. but his eyes still didn’t open..
    I made sure he urinated before and after feeding. But I notice he wasn’t pooping much at all. I switched to every 4 hour feeding a couple of days ago. And woke up at 4 am today July 13..to feed him and found him dead. Was every 4 hours too soon for an 13 day old ?
    Now I’m mourning his passing. . He touched my heart. I have 8 cats and a pigeon I rescued this pass winter as a fledgling. I was anticipating keeping this rat and was looking at hamster cages to buy. Rest In peace little one.

    1. Hi, Nancy. I’m really sorry to hear about the poor baby. It must have been tough for you, but please know that you did your absolute best. Raising abandoned baby rats without their mother is an incredibly challenging task.

      Feeding them every 3-4 hours during the first two weeks is recommended, and it sounds like you were on top of that.

      Unfortunately, even when we do everything right, things don’t always turn out as we hope. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the outcome is beyond our control.

      We have an article on how to care for abandoned baby rats is you ever need it in the future: https://www.animallama.com/rats/found-baby-rats-what-to-do/

      All the best!

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