How to Care for a Sick Rat

Our rat, Vi, is now over two years old. She was in great health for her age, despite having undergone a spay at 1 1/2 years of age and multiple surgeries to remove recurring mammary tumors. Recently, however, something strange happened. For nearly a week, she could barely move due to some kind of paralysis (I theorized multiple sclerosis). I was gone on a Washington DC/NYC trip when she went down, and returned about five days later. She lost control of her arms, legs, tongue, and most of the rest of her body. She could barely eat, and my family thought she would die. She required around the clock care to get food in her, and she was always in a rodent carrier around us.  Strangely enough though, a couple of days after I got home, she was slowly but surely began regaining control of her body. She can now walk around, her eyes are bright, and she can eat. She is not in the state she was before the paralysis (she still sleeps a lot and tires easily), but the difference is striking.

What’s my point in telling you this? Well, I got to experience first hand what works and what doesn’t for a rat that is completely dependent. I hope this guide helps you in caring for your pet rodents.


The importance of your rat staying hydrated cannot be stressed enough. In this time of ill-health, getting dehydrated will just make it worse. Keep an easily accessible bowl of water in your rats accommodations (and change it frequently), or a water bottle. If she cannot drink on her own, you will need to get her to drink with a syringe or dropper as often as you can. Bottom line: Keep Your Rat Hydrated!!!!


The important thing is to get calories into your rat. For reference, a rat needs about 60 calories a day (less for smaller rats and vice verse for larger ones. For older rats, they need even fewer calories because of the decreased energy output). Rats diets should be low in fat, and this should be no exception. Indeed, a high fat diet will be no help in improving health (I hypothesize it could be the opposite). Instead of relying on fat dense foods, focus on the more calorie dense grains, beans, and fruit juices as a concentrated energy source. Include vegetables (especially leafy greens) and whole fruits if you rat is able to eat them. Blending nutritious vegetables and fruits into your food mixes will allow your rat to easily get those powerful antioxidants and vitamins into their body.

In the area of food, your rat is totally powerless. If you cannot get food into them it could be fatal. If your rat has lost control of her mouth completely, you will need a syringe or dropper to pump liquids into her. Some good choices are juice, smoothies (made with your rat’s preferred flavors), watery purred grain cereals, purred beans, and baby food (which you can make yourself). Even if she can still chew, chances are your rat may have difficulty swallowing, so stick with soft foods, and avoid foods that may get stuck in the throat, such as nut butters, crispy flour products, and large chunks of food that could be a choking hazard (nuts, seeds, etc).


It will help to have your rat around you a lot to remind you to feed her and attend to her other needs. If they are sick, chances are your rat can’t move around much anyway, so a house composed of a small carrier with soft bedding would be a good choice. In fact, if your rat’s balance is off (as was the case with my rat, Vi) it could be potentially dangerous to leave them in their usual cage, as they could easily fall off a ledge and get hurt.

Other needs:

When sick, it will be difficult for your rat to sufficiently clean themselves, or to move to a suitable place to relieve themselves. Because of this, they may get excrement or urine in their fur. Your job is to take a warm wet cloth and, yes, clean them up. Your rat will thank you and it will prevent any infections that could pose a threat. Change bedding frequently to prevent a build up of waste.


(rat at River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary)

I hope this information helps, and I wish you and your rats the best of health.

Disclaimer: this information is not meant to replace the advice of a trained vet. Do what your vet advises in the event that you have a rat in ill-health.

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2 Responses to How to Care for a Sick Rat

  1. Justin Wright says:

    Do you use a gluten free rat food? My son is interested in getting a rat, but we are concerned with contamination from the cage and fur.

    • VEGirl says:

      Hi Justin,

      Yes, I feed them a gluten-free diet– I sent you an email elaborating more on our rat diet. To all other readers with this same question: I’ll be writing a post on this soon!

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