How Clean Are Pet Rats: Do They Carry Diseases?

Rats aren’t generally thought of as pets unless you own one of those really cute little house rats, that is! When you begin looking into owning your very own pet rat, though, you may find yourself wondering if these rodents can be kept in good health. And while most people think of them as pests, rats can actually make great pets.


But before you go ahead with buying a rat, there are some important questions you should ask yourself first. These include things like how often do you feed your pet, how much exercise does he get and what kind of housing will you provide him/her? The answers to these questions will help determine whether or not your pet rat needs special care.


In addition, if you’re interested in keeping a pet rat as a companion animal rather than just pest control, you’ll also want to consider your lifestyle and any other factors that could impact his overall health.


In this article, we’ll explain how to tell if your new rat friend is healthy enough to live indoors without becoming an indoor pest. We’ll discuss how to keep your pet rodent hygienic and safe from diseases. And at the end of our discussion on rat health, we’ll give you tips on how to tell if your pet is ready to come home with you.


What Is the Hygiene Level for Rat Ownership?

One of the biggest questions many prospective rat owners have when considering adding one of these creatures to their family is how clean rats are. After all, rats are known for their filthy habits. Rodents tend to gnaw through anything that isn’t nailed down, including household objects, furniture, clothing, bedding, and paper products. Not only do these activities cause unsightly damage to homes, but they can also spread disease by contaminating food, water, and surfaces.

But don’t worry although rats’ natural instincts are disgusting, they’re still domesticated animals who require proper care. That said, it’s up to their owners to ensure that their pet rats stay clean and pest-free. To start, you’ll need to understand what makes rats dirty and where your pet gets its filth.


Rodents shed small amounts of fur daily because they have no hair follicles (like humans). Their teeth grow constantly throughout life, so they continually grind away at old bones and dead skin cells. Because of this constant shedding, their cages must be cleaned frequently. Just remember, however, that cleaning alone won’t solve the problem.


Rodent droppings are made up of bacteria, parasites, and viruses, which means that they can remain infectious for long periods of time. Therefore, you must take extra precautionary measures to prevent the transfer of germs between different parts of your rat’s environment.

Once you’ve determined that your rat is clean, it’s time to move on to more specific questions regarding rat health. Read on to learn about the health risks associated with pet rats.


Do Pet Rats Get Sick Less Often Than Other Pets?


It’s true that rats are prone to certain illnesses, such as tapeworm infections, salmonella, and roundworm infestations. However, many vets say that these issues occur less often than with dogs and cats. For example, according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, 75 percent of cat deaths are caused by infectious agents, whereas fewer than half of human deaths are attributed to similar causes.


With regard to rats, the same holds true. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, only 2 percent of rat deaths are related to cancer, compared to 13 percent of dog deaths. Still, it’s important to note that even though pet rats seem relatively healthy, they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Like other pets, rat health depends largely upon their living conditions.

Before bringing a rat into your home, make sure you read the owner’s manual thoroughly to familiarize yourself with the requirements necessary for maintaining a healthy pet. This includes understanding the feeding schedule, cage size, activity levels, temperature control, and space requirements. Also, consult a vet regularly during the first few weeks to monitor your pet’s growth and condition.


The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends using a veterinarian for your first visit with a new pet rat. You should bring along a sketchy medical history, especially if you already have another type of pet that has been diagnosed with a genetic disorder. Make sure you also bring along vaccination records and information about any medications being used currently.


Are There Any Health Problems Specific to Pet Rats?


As mentioned previously, there are several health problems that plague pet rats. One of the most common is called “rat-bite fever.” It affects both wild and domestic rats and usually develops within 24 hours after exposure to infected fleas. Symptoms include chills, high fevers, headaches, and nausea.


Left untreated, rat-bite fever can lead to serious complications, including kidney failure, meningitis, pneumonia, and toxic shock syndrome. Fortunately, treatment is relatively easy. All you need to do is treat the sick pet with antibiotics and fluids.

Another common illness among pet rats is ringworm, which is commonly referred to as scabies.


This potentially dangerous parasitic infection occurs when a rat burrows under the skins of its host. Scratching eventually leads to open sores that can become infected. Ringworm is contagious and easily spreads from one individual to the next. Luckily, treating it is fairly simple. Vets recommend bathing your pet with shampoo containing selenium sulfide and applying topical ointments to reduce itching.


One last concern that affects both pet rats and mice is the presence of mites. While these parasites are typically harmless, scratching and grooming are unnecessary actions that encourage the rapid multiplication of mites. Vets recommend washing your pet’s coat using medicated soap once every week. Avoid over-grooming your rat, since this helps to spread the parasite further. Finally, avoid putting non-medicated items on your rat’s cage floor, since the mites can crawl back in.


Although rats are notoriously smelly, they are surprisingly quiet. Most of us would prefer silence around us. As noisy urban dwellers ourselves, we’d probably appreciate having a pet that doesn’t emit too much noise.


However, if you’re planning on purchasing a pet rat, you should know that they produce a lot of noise. Some experts call this “screaming” because of the shrill squeaks emitted. Although most rats are considered docile, if provoked they can become aggressive. A loud scream might scare off intruders, but it can also alert neighbors if your pet lives in an apartment complex.


How Can You Tell If Your Pet Rat is Healthy?


Your best indicator of a healthy pet is the physical appearance of your rat. Look closely for signs of poor diet, dehydration, or neglect. Signs of dehydration include sunken eyes and dry, cracked skin. If your pet seems lethargic, weak, or dehydrated, contact your vet immediately.


You should also pay close attention to behavioral changes. It’s possible that your pet rat was injured or ill at some point. It’s important to recognize symptoms early if your pet shows signs of distress or pain. For instance, if your pet begins scratching excessively, licking or chewing itself, or appears to be depressed or anxious, seek immediate veterinary care.


Finally, always look out for any strange lumps or bumps on your pet’s body. Even seemingly innocent occurrences, such as a swollen belly, could indicate a severe underlying health issue. If you suspect that your pet has been bitten by something, immediately wash the wound with soap and warm water. Then apply antibiotic cream or powder and wrap the area in gauze. Contact your vet right away.

Since rats carry various types of parasites, it’s important to inspect your pet’s poop regularly. Pay particular attention to fecal matter left behind after meals. Anything suspicious should be reported to your vet immediately.


While rats are typically considered to be low-maintenance pets, they require regular checkups and monitoring. Check the cage regularly to observe your pet’s behavior and weight gain. Wash your pet’s cage regularly and replace the bedding frequently. Be sure to use fresh water bottles and food dishes. Keep food and treats locked inside closed containers to prevent contamination. Finally, try not to disturb your pet when it sleeps, since sleeping is essential for its well-being.


Last Word

Keeping your pet rat clean and free of disease takes diligence and dedication. Now that you know everything there is to know about keeping a healthy, clean pet rat, you’re ready to welcome your own furry friend into your home. A rat’s sense of smell is highly developed due to the fact that they have 300 million odorant receptor genes, which allows them to distinguish between thousands of odors.

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