Rat/Mice Diseases - Skin Problems

  • The most common skin problem in rats and mice is caused by itching.
  • The rat and mice scratches herself which creates scabs, most often on the neck and shoulders, but sometimes also on the face, chin, or forehead.
  • These scabs are sometimes mistaken for injuries caused by other animals.
  • The most common cause of itching is fur mites.
  • Much less commonly, itching can be caused by lice,fleas, an allergy, eczema, a fungus infection, and possibly excessive dietary protein (such as fish or cat food).
  • Skin problems in rats asnd mice is almost never caused by a bacterial infection.
  • Itching also seems to be related to stress, common for eczema.
  • Here we are discussing common skin problems:
  • Fur mites on dead rat
    1. Mites

      • Mite infestation is very common in rats and mice.
      • Under normal conditions mites are present in small numbers and do not bother their host. However, they can become an issue when their numbers increase.
      • This typically happens when a rat or mice is stressed, has decreased immunity due to other illnesses, and/or is unable to keep the numbers reduced through normal grooming.
      • Mites appear as white specks under the fur, near the follicle of the hair on the skin -- often on the shoulders, neck, and face of affected pet.
      • Fortunately, most skin mites are not bloodsuckers and often produce no visible signs. For this reason, the presence of mites, and even an infestation of mites is not really a serious health problem.
      • Symptoms of excessive mites are generally presented as inflammation of the skin and an increased need to scratch.
      • In rare cases, the irritation and itching can be severe enough that a rat will scratch its skin until there is an abrasion, creating an environment in which a skin infection can occur
      • Mite infestation is treated by topical application of parasite-killing medicated dusts and sprays.
      • Sometimes the medication may be in the form of a solution so that it may be administered orally through drinking water.
      • Your veterinarian will advise you on the appropriate route of administration, depending on the severity of the infestation.
      • Maintain a clean living environment for your pet by routinely cleaning and disinfecting all of the cages where the rats and mice are housed.
      • Proper care, balanced nutrition, and protecting your pet from stressful situations can also help toward preventing mite infestation in your pet.
    2. Fleas

      Fleas on Rat
      • Fleas are ectoparasites, or parasites that infest and feed on the outside of the body (e.g., skin and hair).
      • Rodent fleas are uncommon in pet rat/mice, but are sometimes seen if pets come into contact with wild rodents.
      • The fleas are diagnosed by identifying them on the infested rat/mice.
      • Though flea infestation is not a serious condition and treatment is available to control it, if proper steps are not taken to prevent further spread or reinfestation of the fleas, this can become a recurring problem.
      • Scratching
      • Red and inflamed skin
      • Flea infestation is treated with medicated powders/dusts or sprays that are designed to kill the fleas.
      • To prevent reinfestation, disinfect and clean the cage and surrounding environment thoroughly.
      • When holding or playing with rat or mice other than your own, it is recommended that you wash and change clothes prior to handling your own pet.
    3. Lice

      Rat with lice
      • Blood sucking lice are common ectoparasites of wild rodents.
      • Also called pediculus, these types of parasites are relatively uncommon in pet rats and mice and are sometimes acquired when a domestic pet comes into contact with a wild rodent.
      • Apart from causing uneasiness and irritation to the pet, lice infestation can also lead to enough loss of blood that a condition of anemia can develop. Left untreated, anemia can lead to death.
      • Lice infestation of rats and mice is not zoonotic in nature, since the type of louse that infects rats and mice is specific to rodents. Human handlers of infested rats are at no risk of becoming infested with lice.
      • Infestation is diagnosed by identification of adult lice or eggs on the fur.
      • Intense scratching
      • Restlessness
      • Weakness
      • Anemia (lack of red blood cells)
      • Medicated powders and sprays are available for easy treatment of lice.
      • Cleaning and disinfecting the pet’s living area on a routine basis, and making sure that wild rodents cannot gain access to your pet's living environment are essential to keeping your rat /mice free of this parasite.
      • Another important routine is to wash your hands and clothes after handling another rat/mice, especially before handling your own rat/mice.
    4. Barbering

      Rat Barbering
      • "Barbering" is the most common cause of hair loss in rats and mice.
      • Barbering is a grooming behavior seen in male and female.
      • Specifically, this occurs when a dominant rat and mice chews the hair and whiskers of less dominant rat and mice.
      • The dominant rat or mice chews the hair of the submissive rat or mice very close to its skin, giving it the appearance of being clean shaven. This is the reason the condition is called barbering.
      • This generally leaves bald patches on the face, head, neck or shoulders. Occasionally, rats and mice self-barber, chewing off their own hair. This typically leaves hairless patches on the stomach or front legs.
      • Whether due to self barbering or barbering by cage mates, the appearance of the barbered animal will be otherwise normal except for the hair loss.
      • There are no cuts or irritation to the skin. However, sometimes too much aggression can lead to skin infections or dermatitis in the barbered animal and this will need to be treated by a veterinarian.
      • Causes:
      • Stress
      • Boredom
      • Behavior may be inherited
      • Dominant and/or aggressive animal
      • Loss of hair (alopecia) or bald patches on the skin
      • Bald patches on the muzzle
      • Bald patches on the head
      • Bald patches on the shoulders
      • Barbered stomach (in case of self-barbering)
      • Barbered front legs (in case of self-barbering)
      • If there is any inflammation or dermatitis present, your veterinarian will treat the barbered rat and mice.
      • But you may also want your veterinarian for further advice in preventing this from occuring in the future, such as isolating the barbered rat and mice and behavior modification therapy for the dominant rat and mice.
      • If the barbering is due to self-grooming, the veterinarian may have other behavior modification methods.
      • Barbering can be prevented by separating dominant pet from submissive ones.
      • Stress and boredom are the main causes for this behavior. This can usually be avoided by providing your pet with diversions like toys, play objects, or any running toys or wheels.
      • Provide the barbered rat and mice with hiding areas, like tubes, to avoid being barbered by dominating animal.
    5. Ringworm

      Ringworm in rats
      • Ringworm is caused not by worms but by fungi called dermatophytes that parasitize the skin.
      • It feeds on keratin, the material that makes up the skin, nails and hair of the body.
      • The set of fungi that cause ringworm in rats are from a class of fungi called deuteromycetes, with Tricopyton mentragrophytes being the primary fungus that is responsible for cases of ringworm infection in rats and mice.
      • Ringworm is a zoonotic infection, meaning that the infected rat and mice is contagious to other animals and to people. Unless care is taken in handling an infected animal, the ringworm infection can easily spread to humans and other household pets.
      • Ringworm infections spread easily through direct contact with a surface contaminated with the fungus. Ringworm usually would pass from an infected person or animal to your rat/mice.
      • However, your rat and mice could get ringworm from contaminated bedding, toys, litter, other items in her cage, or even the cage itself.
      • Reddened skin
      • Irritated skin
      • Flaky skin
      • Itching
      • Hair loss
      • Treatment for ringworm is fairly straightforward.
      • To treat rats and mice wash the effected area with a mild cleanser.
      • Then apply an antifungal lotion that contains clotrimazole.
      • This can be applied up to twice a day; however, make sure the medication you purchase is suitable for rats and mice.
      • Oral applications are also available. Dips may also be used, like 2 percent lime sulfur, but take care not to get the treatment in your pet's eyes.
      • For severe or obviously bothersome symptoms, your vet probably also would recommend a medicated shampoo or lotion to soothe itching, flaking or scaling. You should quarantine infected animal until completion of treatment.
      • You can help to prevent spreading ringworm infection by maintaining good hygiene of your pet's cage and surrounding environment.
      • Separate the infected animal from its cagemates.
      • After quarantining your pet with ringworm, replace all flooring, bedding and any items you can't clean in your primary cage.
      • Disinfect the cage and other items with a diluted bleach solution and let them air dry.
      • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling your pet, the cage, and other items to prevent contracting the infection.