Rats are lovable, intelligent, social pets with unique personalities. They are so much fun to watch and play with. But unfortunately, the lifespan of a pet rat is usually only a few years and in many cases, tumors are the reason for their death. Since the tumor is a very common health issue for rats, it is important for rat owners to know how to care for a pet rat with a tumor and also how to avoid tumors in the first place.
As a whole, in many cases, it is possible to treat tumors. It is important to seek a vet as soon as you detect a lump on a rat. The earlier the vet is contacted, the higher the chances to treat the rat. Sometimes it is also possible to slow down the growth of the tumor through a certain diet.
In the following, you will find information on how to detect any tumors, what to do, if you find any tumors on your rat, possible treatments, and how to avoid tumors for your pet rats.
Is it Common for Rats to Get Tumors?
Some health conditions are very common for pet rats. Besides respiratory diseases, tumors are very common in rats.
As a whole, yes it is common for rats to get tumors. They are genetically predisposed to tumors. It is one of the most common health issues, especially for older rats of 18 months and older.
It is possible to detect tumors in very early stages and to treat them. In the following, you will find information on how to find out that your pet rat has a tumor, and which treatment options are possible.
How Do I Know if My Pet Rat Has a Tumor?
Rats don’t like to show their pain. A rat in pain is more vulnerable which is a risk since rats are prey animals. The rat will always try to hide any pain which makes it harder for rat owners to stop any health issues. But a rat owner who knows the pet rat well will be able to detect tumors.
As a whole, if a rat starts behaving differently than usual, it might be a sign of a tumor. The rat could be in pain, have trouble walking or climbing, develop lumps, gain weight, have an increased appetite, or bulging eyes. Different types of tumors can have different effects on the rat.
There are different types of tumors. Some are more obvious than others, some grow quickly, and some are hidden internally for a long time until it is almost too late for a removal.
Tumors can occur in different parts of the body. Depending on the location of the tumor, it can affect the rats’ movement. Some tumors will lead to weight loss, while others can cause increased appetite and weight gains. If the tumor is located in the brain, it can lead to bulging eyes and the rats can have trouble getting around.
How to Examine a Pet Rat
As a pet rat owner, you will spend a lot of time with your rats. You will know the typical behavior, how they usually move around, and how they look and feel. Rats are extremely good at hiding symptoms. But if you know your rats well, you will be able to spot any awkward behavior.
In addition to checking on the appearance and behavior of your rat, you should regularly give your pet a physical check. Once your rats trust you and like you, it won’t be an issue to scan your pet every few weeks. If you spot anything unfamiliar, you can see a vet to find out if these abnormalities are harmful or not.
As a whole, the examination of a pet rat should include watching the behavior and a physical scan of the rat every few weeks. Different types of tumors can come with different symptoms. The sooner tumors are noticed, the higher the chances of successful treatment.
Not every tumor creates a lump that is externally visible. If a tumor is located in the brain, in the mouth, or internally, you will not see lumps but might see that your rat has troubles eating, getting around, or losing appetite and weight.
The earlier you see a vet if you notice anything unfamiliar, the better.
If you examine your rat, pay attention to any lumps. Don’t panic if you feel a bump. It could also be a cyst or an abscess. Only a vet can say for sure if further treatment is necessary or not.
Before you pick up your rat for the examination, take your time to observe the behavior.
Are your rats eating as usual?
Are they as active as usual?
Is the cage smellier than usual or not?
Do the feces look normal to you?
Do the rats have any difficulties getting around?
Is a single rat being bullied or hiding all the time?
Sometimes rats start to bully a rat if it is sick or older. In some cases, rats start to care more for a single rat if that rat is injured. Any difference in the behavior can be an indicator that something is wrong.
If you are about to examine your own pet rat, you can pick it up and gently hold it with both hands. One hand should have the thumb and index finger around the shoulders like a ring, and the other hand can support the butt and hind feet. Make sure that the rat can breathe normally and is not stressed out. A rat in pain might bite, and if you are unsure, you might want to use gloves as protection.
Have a closer look at the eyes. The eyes should be clear without any discharge. The rat should not be blinking constantly and the eyelids should not be swollen.
The nose should be clear without discharge. If your rat sneezes every now and then, that’s totally normal. But constant sneezing could be an indication of a health issue.
The teeth are usually yellow. A rat has four incisors. I found it easier to look in the mouth of a rat when it yawned instead of trying to look at the teeth during the examination. But maybe your rats are more patient than mine.
The gum in the mouth should be light pink. If it looks yellow or red, you should see a vet.
Rats tend to have respiratory diseases. Make sure that your rat breathes normally and effortlessly without making lots of noises all the time.
The fur should be soft and smooth. If you notice bumps or small wounds it could be an indication of lice or fleas.
Examine the entire body for any lumps, bumps, or wounds. If you detect a bump and it seems to have grown quickly, you should see a vet as soon as possible.
Different Types of Tumors in Rats
Tumors can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Benign tumors usually grow slowly and do not spread to other body parts. A benign tumor can be removed in an operation by a vet and it is usually curative as long as the tumor is still small enough.
Malignant tumors are more disastrous. They grow fast and often spread to other parts of the body. They can spread to internal organs and it is not easy to detect them quickly. Only with an MRI or PET scan, it is possible to detect a malignant tumor at an early stage.
Unfortunately, once a malignant tumor has spread to different parts of the body, the chances of successful treatment are rather low.
Some of the more common tumors in rats are pituitary tumors, lipomas, mammary tumors, testicular tumors in male rats, keratoacanthoma, and fibromas. There are many more types of tumors that can occur in rats.
How Long Will a Rat Live With a Tumor?
The disposition to cancer increases with age. Many rats show tumors from around 18 months onwards.
As a whole, the life expectancy of a rat with a tumor highly depends on the age of the rat, the overall condition, and if it is a benign or malignant cancer. An old rat with a small benign cancer might live for several months, while a rat with cancer spread throughout the body might die soon.
Once you spot unusual behavior or bumps on your pet rat, you should consult a vet. The faster a tumor is spotted, the higher are the chances for a successful treatment.
Lisa is one of the two founders of Animal-Knowledge. She has been very interested in animals and insects from a very young age and has owned different kinds of pets such as snails, ants, fish, turtles, mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, a dog, … you get the idea 🙂