Spaying or neutering your pet rat is a common debate among dedicated and loving rat lovers.
On one hand, the procedure offers plenty of benefits for your pet rat, particularly for females. However, like with most forms of surgery, there are risks that you need to consider before putting your beloved pet rat under the stress of surgery and recovery.
Before rushing your rat through an invasive procedure, take some time to learn the pros and cons and how to care for your pet rat before and after surgery.
Here is our Care Guide for Spaying and Neutering Pet Rats.
What is Spaying/Neutering?
Spaying refers to the removal of the ovaries to make a female rat infertile. The entire uterus does not need to be removed.
Neutering is the removal of a male rats’ testicles, making them infertile.
Pros and Cons
- Can reduce aggression in male rats
- Lowers risk of mammary tumors in females
- Lowers risk of pituitary tumors if surgery is done between 3-6 months of age
- Allows you to keep males and females together
- Males will have softer fur and less buck grease
- Recovery is painful
- Risk of complications following surgery, including death
- Can be expensive
- Weight gain is common in male and female rats following surgery
When to Neuter/Spay Your Rat
Although rats reach sexual maturity around 4 or 5 weeks, the recommended age for neutering and spaying is between 3 and 6 months.
Depending on your situation, this might mean setting up a second cage to keep genders separated until the procedure can be done.
Neutering or spaying your pet rat is an optional surgery and should only be done in cases of extreme aggression or to reduce the risk of mammary tumors developing in females.
If your pet rat is prone to respiratory illnesses, your veterinarian might prescribe antibiotics to be given several days before the surgery. This will ensure they are healthy enough to undergo surgery and will lower the risk of infection following the procedure.
Unlike cats and dogs your pet rat does not need to fast prior to surgery. Rats can’t vomit or burp, so there is no risk of them accidentally inhaling regurgitated food or gastric juices while under anesthetic.
Fasting can be dangerous because it reduces energy reserves and makes rats more susceptible to dehydration and hypoglycemia. In some cases, fasting can pose a threat because it can alter how your rat reacts to the anesthetic.
Inhaled anesthetic is safer than injection for rats because the dose is easier to measure. If your veterinarian doesn’t use inhaled anesthetic, do not proceed with the surgery.
Post-Surgery Care for Your Rats
Unless there are complications, your rat should be cleared to go home the same day. This will reduce stress levels and ease the recovery process for your pet rat. A reputable veterinarian will show you what the incision looks like and go over any warning signs.
While your rat is recovering, they should be kept in a small cage separate from other rats for at least one full day. A cat carrier works well for this purpose because it’s more confined and limits unnecessary movement.
It’s important to keep your rat warm during and after surgery because anesthetic interferes with body temperature regulation. You can keep your rat warm using a covered heating pad, but you will need to supervise to make sure your rat doesn’t get too warm or tries to chew it.
Your veterinarian might prescribe antibiotics and pain medication to reduce the risk of infection and to help your rat feel more comfortable. It’s important to follow the instructions carefully and to complete the full antibiotic treatment unless told otherwise.
Routinely check the incision for signs of infection: redness, pus, and swelling.
After 24 hours, spayed female rats can be reintroduced to their cage mates but you should supervise to ensure no one tries to go after the incision. 7-10 days later, your female rat should be healed enough to run, climb, and play with her cage mates.
It can take up to 3 weeks for male rats to lose their entire sperm store. That means, they are fully capable of impregnating female rats during this time. It can take anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks for notice a change in aggressive behavior.
In addition to the signs of infection, you will want to look for:
- Unusual bleeding
- Reopening of incision site
- Abnormal breathing
- Excessive lethargy
- Lack of appetite, not drinking water
- Post surgical abscesses
Complications resulting from spaying/neutering can range from mild (small infection) to severe (respiratory or cardiac failure) so it’s imperative that you monitor your pet rat closely and seek immediate veterinary care if needed.
Tips for Avoiding Complications
- Ensure your veterinarian is experienced with spaying and neutering rats
- Ask questions and research prior to the surgery: “Do you use inhaled anesthetic for rats? … How do you keep rats warm during surgery? … What do I do if ______?” Are good questions to ask.
- Avoid surgery if the risks outweigh the benefits (old age, prone to infections, etc.)
- Monitoring for signs of infection and other concerns
There are benefits and risks associated with spaying or neutering your pet rat. In most cases, the benefits will outweigh the risks and give your pet rat a better quality of life in the long run.
It’s important to do your research and find a qualified veterinarian that is experienced with spaying and neutering rats. Don’t be afraid to ‘shop around’ if you feel uncomfortable with a veterinarian’s experience level, some will be more experienced with small animal care than others.
Acquaint yourself with signs of infection and other complications and seek immediate veterinary care if needed.
Although spaying and neutering surgeries are invasive, most healthy rats will recover without any problems occurring, and continue to live happy and healthy lives.