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How to Tell If Your Pet Rat is in Pain

August 12, 2012

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Signs of Pain in a Pet Rat

Pet rats descend from wily, smart wild rats.  They are social, intelligent, creative, and hoarders of sparkly things.  After thousands of generations of laboratory breeding programs, pet rats remarkably retain their personalities and sweet intelligence.  They also inherited a tremendous propensity to grow tumors, become fat, or develop other illnesses too easily.

A smart, social pet who hides pain well, rats often go untreated for their pain. Here are some detectable signs of pain in your pet rat:

A rat in detectable pain will hunch over, usually nose to tail or nose to feet or floor.  She (or he) will squirt her or his eyes.  The corneal surface of the eyes will likely appear dull, not the usual bright and shiny.  The ears may be set low, almost horizontal, or pulled back against the skull.  The bridge of the nose may be scrunched in ridges or the whiskers pulled back.  Certainly, the whiskers will not be forward and vibrating in exploration.

Eating and drinking slows almost to a halt.  Play, exploration and most movement ceases.  The breathing may be deeper and more rapid than usual.  If there is heart failure (common in older obese rats), the paws and tail end may have a blue tinge from lack of oxygen.

Signs of Pain in Your Pet Rat

  • Hunched over
  • ruffled, dishevelled fur
  • squinty eyes
  • dull corneas
  • nose to floor
  • no eating or drinking
  • no play or exploration
  • not very responsive to your voice or touch, withdrawn

Pet Rat After Surgery

Brown and white hooded pet rat hunched with her tail and nose touching, her fur sticking up in spiky "shelves" and her eyes dull and staring. She's in pain right when she wakes up from surgery.

Hooded rat showing pain after surgery

Angelica needed surgery to remove the tip of her tail that had been caught in a door. Doc Truli gave her pre-operative painkillers and used local anesthesia to numb the tip of her tail, but painkillers may not be 100% effective.

This picture shows Angelica when she woke up.  She was hunched.  Her little used were partly closed and dull.  Her fur stuck up in ridges.

Doc Truli gave her some painkillers and 10 minutes later she literally “shook it off!”  Angelica sat up, shook her whole body like a dog.  The brightness returned to her eyes and she ran into the hiding box Doc made for her.  A few minutes later, she started eating a rat block because she felt nearly normal already!  (No picture, rat moving too fast and hiding too well!)

Compare a Rat in Pain with a Healthy Rat

Sleek, shiny, brown Dumbo rat sits on mommy's shoulder.

Healthy, happy, slightly apprehensive Dumbo rat.

To see the difference between Angelica in pain (above) and a healthy rat, take a look at Harley (pictured here). Harley came to Doc Truli for a semi annual physical (rats should have a physical and a fecal exam every six months).

Harley has sleek, shiny, smooth fur.  His eyes are bright and attentive.  His whiskers are out to the sides of his face at the ready.  He is showing some apprehension by how spread apart his toes are as they grip mom’s shoulder.  His ears are not very good for giving us clues to his feelings.  Harley is a specialty breed of rat called a Dumbo rat.  (Can you see the resemblance to Disney’s Dumbo the circus elephant?)  Dumbo rats have large, disproportionate ears that lie back and to the sides of their little heads.

There are over 65 breeds of pet rats!  You can see cute pictures and earn more about all the kinds of pet rats at the American Association of Fancy Rat Breeders website.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 12, 2012 11:52 am

    Reminds me of a lovely pet rat we once had named Wish-Wash by it’s mother.

    Bart in Pennsylvania

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