Supporting an Elderly and/or Sick Rat

Discussion in 'Health & General Care' started by ViciousCurse, Jul 12, 2019.

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  1. Jul 12, 2019 #1




    Well-Known Member

    Jan 28, 2019
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    Minnesota, USA
    I felt the need to make this post simply for newer members or to help some more experienced members. Feel free to share and discuss what's the best for our sick and elderly fur babies! In this thread, this is what I've mostly experienced.

    Shadow the Rat (highly recommended Youtuber from me) has made a video on it. Check this out for her video!

    As many of us know, when our rats get older, they struggle more and more with grooming themselves and keeping up with their nails and teeth. I've found that baby wipes (unscented) are the best to help wipe down the rat, especially if the rat suffers from incontinence and isn't aware they are urinating and defecating on themselves. Cleaning their tail of urine, feces, or whatever else is very important as their tail regulates their body temperature (older animals already struggle to regulate their body temperature). Make sure not to wipe them down too frequently. I'll do it about once a week, or more often if they're really dirty. If there is feces or urine on the fur, please wipe that off relatively quickly. Feces and urine can cause skin infections if left on the rat. It also smells and can make the rat uncomfortable, especially if they are unable to groom it off.

    Bathing is often dangerous for the sick or elderly rat, since they may accidentally inhale water and may drown. Bathing also dries out their skin and can make them cold if not properly dried off.

    However, I do encourage my older rats to keep up with grooming. My males tend to fall over when they try to groom those hard to reach areas (such as right above their tail, or anywhere around their genitals), so I do hold them against my body, in the crook of my elbow. Often the rat will begin grooming automatically, since they'll now be able to sit up without fear of falling over. Gideon, one of my first rats, actually sort of "taught" me how to do this. If I wasn't getting the message and offering an arm for him to lean on, he would lean against my face while he groomed those difficult spots.

    Grumpy finds it incredibly difficult to groom the fur above his tail without my support, so I will often scratch that spot with my nails and try to move the fur just the way he likes it. Often, he will reach back and begin grooming my fingers in thanks. I also rub Grumpy's fur around his face, ears, and shoulders.

    Rats also can't keep their nails trimmed when they get advanced in age (often because it's difficult to maintain that position for an extended period of time). I use small nail clippers to help keep their nails trimmed. When clipping your rat's nails, be mindful of where their quick is located. The quick is the part of the nail that contains blood vessels and nerves and is incredibly painful to the animal when it is mistakenly cut. Often there is a fair bit of blood. Clipping nails is important because it is important not to let the nail overgrow. If allowed to, the nail may actually curve and embed itself into their toe, similarly to an ingrown toenail in humans. Also, long nails prevent normal walking, which can be extra painful on arthritic and sore joints.

    Click here for reference of a nail quick. If you're unsure of how to click your rat's nails, take them to a knowledgeable vet that can assist you.

    Rats, like my Grumpy, often do not appreciate nail clipping. Please be quick, but still careful.

    Older rats sometimes struggle to grip food or sit up properly (especially if they have a PT (pituitary tumor) or have suffered a stroke), so it's best to feed them on elevated feeding positions, or to provide taller bowls that they can lean on. Baby food, whether it be those little trendy squeeze packs or a container of baby food, is very important with elderly rats. Baby food tends to contain a lot of calories, which can help an older rat maintain their weight and does make eating easier for them, especially if they struggled to eat before. Another form of soft mushy food for rats is watering down their rat blocks (Oxbow adult rat food is the best to water down). This still gives them the much needed nutrients, but it makes it easier to eat for the rat.

    If I have an older rat who is refusing their main rat block (even if I've held it up to them or it's been watered down), I will feed them lots of treats. While a number of members here may disagree with this, I think it's more important to get something in their bellies and to try to keep their weight up. Maddox, near the end, began to reject his rat blocks, so I gave him puffs and kept his weight maintained until he started eating his normal food again.

    If younger/healthier rats are bullying the old/sick rat out of food, provide food elsewhere and bar them off from the other so that he or she can eat. Then when the elderly/sick rat has finished, then they can have their buddy. Same goes for water bottles and bowls. Even without sick or old rats, I recommend having various food bowls and water bottles and bowls around the cage so there never is competition between rats.

    Perhaps the most important, in my opinion, is to always have rats or some companionship to our old and sick rats. If you are planning on having more rats, I suggest you have already started introductions so that any surviving rats will have friends, even if their buddy passes away. While rats do love our companionship, we are not rats and will never fulfill the social needs of a rat. However older rats, even when surrounded by friends, often want our companionship, even from our most reclusive and shy rats. After Maddox lost his brother and cagemate, Amun and Gideon, he still sought out my companionship, despite having Grumpy, Ni, and Lil Chu to keep him company. Maddox would sleep with the others and interact, but he did always want my comfort.

    Never ever separate your rat from their buddies, unless the vet says you absolutely have to. Separation from their friends can incredibly stressful to a rat and stress can make a weak immune system even weaker. If you have to separate rats from one another, please try to do it for the shortest amount of time possible.

    Please, remember to be patient with your older babies. Admittedly, I find myself getting annoyed at Grumpy's clinginess or when Gideon needed to sit on my shoulder, but they are getting old and some know they are the end of the line. Even when I was signing the paperwork to euthanize Gideon, all he wanted was to sit on my shoulder and seek my comfort. When they are old they want you, especially if they have recently lost their buddies. Grumpy knows I know his favorite spots, so he will come up to me to ask for grooming and to get his kisses.
    Dena likes this.

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