There are many things to consider when taking care of the aging rat.
When rats get older, they do slow down and prefer sleeping and cuddling more with their cagemates and may also start to want to be held more by their owner too. This is when many rat owners start to bond even closer with our rats....when we see how they want to turn to us for comfort. We finally have our "squish" rat to cuddle with!
Unfortunately, with age comes reduced mobility.
Older rats are prone to weakness caused by muscle wasting, degeneration of the spinal cord, pituitary adenoma and possibly stroke.
Hind leg paralysis is quite common, particularly in male rats. Treatment with anti inflammatory drugs (like prednisone or metacam) can help make the rat more comfortable. Actually, most paralyzed rats get along amazingly well despite their lack of mobility.
Changes made in their living quarters:
This may now be the time to make some changes in the elderly rats cage to help accomodate him/her easier.
Be sure to make his home safe and easy for him/her to navigate.
A few things to recommend:
1. Replace steep ladders with low, wide ramps with good grip Coveri them with fabric or rubbermaid easy grip sink mats etc..to help ensure they are able to grip easier. My elderly rat oreo used to simply SLIDE down the ramp, but went up it easy.
2. If the rat is really having a hard time getting up and down the ramps, replacing the cage with a single story cage may be the best choice.
3. Keep food and water on each level of the cage so he doesn't need to travel far to eat, that is, if you decide to use a multi story cage.
Sometimes changing the cage entirely can actually cause the rat to really slow down more since he has lost his room to roam.
4. Provide a hammock or soft cloth as a type of "net" below shelves in case of a fall. This way, the hammock will catch the rat instead of having him hit the bottom. An older rat may become a bit unsteady on his feet and this happens more often as they age.
5. Cover any exposed wire flooring. The weaker rats are more likely to get their feet or claws caught in the wire flooring.
6. Lower his water bottle so he can reach it without standing up.
7. Hammocks in general may be difficult for the elderly rat to climb in and out of. Dont remove it altogether, but offer another place to hide/sleep such as an igloo or waffle house or even a homemade house out of cardboard, providing the rat doesnt urinate in his sleeping quarters.
8. Make sure he has not become the target for other rats to pick on him. Most often the elderly rat gets respect and the other rats do not bother him but there may be an excetion. Keep an eye out for that.
9. Keep the air temp at a comfortable level. . older rats are more prone to respiratory problems and generally have less fat for warmth. A heating mat placed under one end of his cage may be used during winter or if A/C vents cause the room to get chily. You can also use a reptile lamp on one end of his cage placing the lamp 2 feet above with cords out of reach.
When rats get older, they can have a harder time grooming due to weakness. In a male, buck grease can collect and can actually cause a nasty skin infection. You may need to wipe your rat down daily due to the rat losing some control of his bladder and wetting himself more often. Pay close attention to their belly area too.
Urine can burn and irritate his/her tender skin and cause a rash such as urine burn.
You can also buy a soft bristle baby brush to use to brush his coat. My rats LOVE this and both young and old rats appreciate this!
You may need to remove built-up wax with a Q-tip once a week if the rat cannot reach good with his feet and toe nails like they usually do.
Eating habits may change with the older rat. This is now the time to make sure you provide your rat with nutritious foods and high calorie treats wont hurt either every now and again.
Nutrical may be helpful in this case as well.
Elderly rats may have a hard time holding food and may need to et foods that they can lick like baby food and soft smashed/mashed food such as fruits and vegetables. You can soak lab blocks in soy milk. My older boy Patterson LOVED this!!
Provide a low dish for your rat instead of them trying to reach into a
Male rats may not be able to clean their penis very well anymore and they are prone to developing a penis plug. This penis plug is simply a build up of a waxy substance that collects from oils and also urine build up. It can clog the sheath causing tremendous pain and problems urinating. All you need to do is to check for a plug by feeling for a hard lump and if you do, that means it is plugged. In order to rid the plug from clogging the sheath, you will need to gently but firmly push the sheath down and pop out the plug. I would inspect this area on the boys daily just to be safe. If you feel uneasy about doing this,by all means, see the vet, but dont let it go on like this either. It can cause serious problems.
As rats age their immune system declines and they can become more prone to respiratory illnesses. They also take longer to recover from this than they did when they were younger. There are vitamins and other health supplements many people use for older rats, especially when they are not eating well. Once I research them I will list them here.
Other health issues associated with limited mobility in the elderly rat include bladder infections, skin problems and fall injuries.
Your rat will be able to live his life out, with a good quality of life with your help. We know that time is not on our side with our elderly rat so to show our love, why not make them as comfy as possible?
Some of my senior rats below:
Oreo lived to be 3 years and 6 months old. The only sign that showed her age was her black hood became mixed with gray fur right around her 3rd birthday.
Holly (above) was my one and only wild rat that I tamed. She was around 11 weeks old and was very aggressive. Trust training took about a week and she became one of the sweetest rats ever, although she did have to live alone (her choice) since she tried to kill any rat that she came across. This petite darling had no idea she was so tiny and tried to over power even the largest rats. Holly passed away 2 months shy of what we were going to celebrate has her 4th birthday, although she may have been older than twhat we thought since she was wild and only guessed her age when I first found her.
Charlotte lived to be 3 years and 4 months old and Patterson lived to be 3 years and 2 months old.