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Rat Suddenly Lethargic

A family seeks answers on why their new pet rat is sluggish, eats less and seems to be in pain.

Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: August 29, 2013, 6 a.m. EDT

alert rat
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
Healthy rats are alert and interested in their surroundings.

Q: We have had our rat for only about three or four weeks. Over the last three days he's grown very sluggish. He used to run around our house and walk all over us when we let him out of his cage. Now he finds a pillow close by, walks to it and lays there. His appetite has decreased as well. And he seems to be pain a little because he squeaks sometimes when we pick him up. What could be wrong?

A: You don’t say how old your rat is, and knowing the age range can help determine the possible causes of what you are seeing.

What you describe are termed "non-specific” signs of disease. This means that many different diseases and syndromes can cause what you are seeing. These signs may be due to arthritis, organic disease like liver disease or kidney disease, toxins, nutritional deficiencies, congenital diseases, infections, cancers or neuromuscular disorders.

Your rat definitely needs to be seen by a veterinarian. Bring the following items and tell your veterinarian the following information to increase the chances of a successful visit.
1. Bring in samples of the food that you feed, including the packaging or labels on the food container.
2. Determine how much food your rat is eating.
3. Is your rat drinking more or less water than when you first obtained him?
4. Have the amount and color of the urine changed in the four weeks since you have had him?
5. What do the stools look like? Are they formed or is there diarrhea? 6. What litter do you use on the bottom of the cage and how often do you change it?
7. Finally, is your rat allowed to have free roam of the house or is he supervised? If your rat does walk around your home, is there any chance of a toxin in the home that your rat could have ingested?

Although it is impossible to tell what exactly is causing the signs in your rat, the answers to these questions will greatly help your veterinarian determine how best to help your rat.

See all veterinary Q&A about rats, click here>>
See veterinary Q&A for all small animal pets, click here>>

Posted: August 29, 2013, 6 a.m. EDT


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