One of the downfalls of falling in love with our pet rats is their short lifespan of 2-3 years. While this depends on a variety of factors like genetics and how well you take care of your rats, it’s not uncommon to have to say goodbye before their 2nd birthday.
Not only are their lifespans shorter than most pets, but they often hide signs something is wrong until it reaches a critical level. Here are 5 signs your rat is dying and what you can do to ease the process.
1) Loss of appetite
If you’ve kept pet rats for awhile now, you probably know how much rats love to eat. Pellets, treats, fruit, vegetables… your rats probably love them all. That’s why the loss of appetite is a clear sign that your rat is ready to move on.
Pain and discomfort are big contributors to the loss of appetite in unwell rats. Whether it is caused by complications with their teeth or an infection, it doesn’t take long for a rat to associate their pain with eating.
Unfortunately, this association can be so influential that some rats will stop eating their favorite treats.
If your rat doesn’t seem to be eating, you can try offering softer foods like banana and avocado. In some cases, you might need to hand-feed using a syringe and pureed baby food or a product like Ensure.
2) Unexplained weight loss
A rat’s metabolism begins to speed up as its ages so it’s not uncommon to see weight loss in older rats. Poor appetite is another common occurrence making it difficult for them to keep their weight up.
Low weight becomes a problem because it makes older rats more susceptible to serious health conditions like respiratory infections and tumors.
While this can be a sign your rat is dying, you can help them by providing a higher calorie/higher protein diet, supplementing with hand-feeding, and consulting your veterinarian for further instruction.
Other causes of weight loss in rats include dental problems (overgrown incisors), respiratory disease, and enteritis.
Rats are normally social and energetic, so it can be alarming when your furry friend shows this symptom. Lethargy is something you shouldn’t ignore, especially when combined with other symptoms like extreme weakness, low body temperature, and loss of appetite.
Some common causes for a rat’s lethargic behavior are dehydration, consuming toxic material, pneumonia, heart failure, and respiratory infection. All these conditions have the possibility of being fatal so it’s important to seek immediate veterinary care for a diagnosis and treatment.
4) Can’t hold food, seizures, and seems confused
Rats are susceptible to disorders that affect the function of the central nervous system: pituitary tumors, strokes, and seizures.
All these disorders have the potential to be fatal and significantly impact the quality of life for your rat. Common signs include running in circles, appearing disoriented, stumbling, loss of fine motor function, and violent convulsions.
Note: A fully treatable infection affecting the inner ear is known to cause similar symptoms in rats. You’ll want to make an appointment with your veterinarian to confirm a diagnosis before making any tough decisions.
5) Rapid development of tumors
Tumors are an unfortunate reality for most rats and their owners. They are easily one of the most common ailments and causes of death in rats especially females.
There are two types of tumors: benign and malignant.
Benign tumors are non-cancerous and considered less deadly than malignant tumors. However, benign tumors can become deadly by using all a rat’s energy and resources, pressing on organs, and causing internal bleeding.
Malignant tumors can spread through a rat’s body and damaging necessary tissue. Death is usually caused by massive organ failure or interfering with a rat’s ability to eat and drink. Common symptoms are weight loss, lethargy, skin ulcers, bleeding tumor, and bloated stomach.
You can tell the difference between a benign and malignant tumor by how loose it feels in the tissue. With a benign tumor, you should feel like you can move it around independently from the tissue while malignant tumors will feel tightly attached with a more flattened appearance.
If your rat is showing any of these signs, you will have to make the decision to attempt treatment (if there is one), provide a comfortable environment until they pass naturally, or euthanize. This isn’t an easy choice, but you must think about your rat’s best interests and the possibility of them feeling unnecessary pain.
Unfortunately, rats are notoriously stoic and won’t show signs of illness until it has become very serious leaving a narrow window of opportunity for treatment. With treatable infections, medication is a viable option and most healthy rats should have no trouble making a full recovery.
Benign tumors can be removed through surgery if they aren’t too big or impeding with the function of an organ. Malignant tumors will grow back if removed but they can be treated with medicine prescribed from a veterinarian.
Tumors will grow until they suck all your rat’s resources if they aren’t removed. Before this happens, you will want to get your rat euthanized to avoid needless suffering.
If your rat’s quality of life doesn’t seem affected, you can let your pal live their last few days at home where they are most comfortable.
If this is what you want to do, you should reduce stressors like rowdy cage mates, other pets, and a dirty cage. If your rat is having difficulty moving, keep them in a one-level cage to reduce the risk of injury. Don’t forget to give your pal lots of hugs, attention, and treats too!
It’s difficult to see your pet rat in such a vulnerable state. Sometimes you can treat ailments or help ease the process by providing extra treats and comfort.
In some cases, you will need to make the tough decision of getting your beloved pet euthanized. Whatever the outcome is, you can hopefully take comfort in knowing you gave your little pal a great life and treasure the memories you shared.