Q & A

From the May/June 1997 Rat & Mouse Gazette


I have a 16 month old male and a five month old female. The female is very spasmo and I'm wondering if the female of the species is just looney in general. I would like to eventually breed them and I'm wondering how old should my female be. Also, can the males breed until they die?


Female rats are much more curious and active than male rats, but I wouldn't normally call them "spasmo". Some rats are just more outgoing and silly than others, however, so this may just be the case with her.

Female rats should be bred for the first time between the ages of four and eight months, having not more than three litters in their lifetime, and not being bred past one year of age.

Males, if bred while young, will sometimes breed right up until the day they die. However, males who have not been bred while young, will often become lazy and uninterested.

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What is the treatment for Bumblefoot? My rat's sore has become very unattractive, to say the least, and yet he doesn't have the slightest discomfort, scaling the cage constantly.

In the early stages, you can try to treat Bumblefoot (Ulcerative pododermatitis) topically with Blu-Kote which contains an antibiotic and a drying agent. You can also try treating it systematically with oral antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory drug such as Dexamethasone. If these fail, the only other treatment is to try to remove the damaged area surgically, but this rarely works. Chances are pretty good that the rat will end up losing his foot if you choose this route. Because of this, and because the rats don't seem to be in any pain from it, I've always chosen not to put them through the surgery and put them on soft bedding such as CareFRESH instead of Sani-Chips that can easily poke into the affected area and make it bleed. It will still bleed pretty badly from time to time, but they really don't seem to be bothered by it. One of my rats who was a Jumbo and was quite fat had really bad Bumblefoot and never responded to any treatment. When he got old and lost the use of his back legs, the swelling went down considerably, and his feet stopped bleeding as well.

Bumblefoot (Ulcerative pododermatitis)
Photo by Scott Isaksen

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If you find that your rat has a tumor, how long do you have to get it removed before it's too late? In other words, do you have to get them into the vet within a day or two or will they die that quickly?

Benign tumors normally are not attached to any organs; they are most often just under the skin and don't grow very fast, so the tumor can be very large before removing it. BUT... it's best to have any tumor removed while it's small because it will require a smaller incision, less time under anesthesia, and the tumor itself will have had less time to sap its host of precious nutrients and energy.

Malignant (cancerous) tumors normally grow very rapidly and most often are attached to an organ, bone, etc. The sooner you remove these types of tumors, the better, because they spread to other parts of the body very quickly. I had a female rat, Star, many years ago who had a tumor pop up on her shoulder on a Saturday and grew very quickly over the next day. I took her to the vet on Monday to have it removed. By then it was the size of a marble. The surgery went very well, but the tumor had encompassed the shoulder bone (scapula), and the entire scapula was lost in the surgery. She could no longer use the arm, but she was alive.

The tumor looked really suspicious, so we chose to send it to pathology to find out exactly what was going on. It turned out to be osteosarcoma - cancer, and within one month she was feeling very poorly so I took her back to the vet. She could barely move at this point and we did an X-Ray to see what was happening. She had seven other tumors in her body - one on her spine. She was in a lot of pain and we made the decision to euthanize her.

So, every tumor situation is different. There is no set pattern, but a tumor that is attached to something (you can't get your fingers all the way around it) should be considered suspicious, as it may well be cancer. In Star's case , I only had one more month with her, but with Roxie, who had a cancerous kidney removed, I had an additional five months with her! Surgery is worth it - no matter what the price.

osteosarcoma: a malignant (cancerous) bone tumor. Secondary growths (metastases) are common. The symptoms are usually pain and swelling at the site of the tumor and there is often a history of preceding trauma, although it is doubtful whether this contributes to the cause.

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Do tumors ever go away on their own? What parts of the body are inoperable if a tumor is found on it?

A true tumor will not go away on its own. If your rat has what appears to be a tumor, and all of a sudden it's gone, then it wasn't a tumor. It was most likely an abscess or a follicular cyst. If the alleged tumor was on the throat, it could also have been cervical edema caused by Sialodacryoadenitis (SDA Virus)

Parts of the body that would be considered inoperable for rats would be the brain, spine, and most organs, unless it's a kidney that they have two of and can have one removed.

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