Bambi and her owner, Critter City reader Bree, of Granite City, Illinois
Eye infections, abscesses and even intraorbital tumors can be a big problems for our rats. Sometimes, infection can result in the loss of vision. The good news is, rats do not really depend on their vision to navigate. They already have pretty lousy vision to begin with so they depend more on other senses that mother nature generously equipped them with! Their keen sense of smell, for starters, is one way for them to find their way around. Urine marking, as undesirable as it is to many rat owners has a very important purpse, believe it or not. Wild rats mark with urine when they travel through the dark underground tunnels. This is how they find their way back to their nest. They simply follow their own urine trail back home, almost like a trail of bread crumbs like in the famous fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel! Their whiskers are also pretty handy too. They rely on their whiskers to tell them if they have room to fit into certain areas. Their whiskers also pick up on vibrations so they can tell when they are near an object or if something is approaching them. This is one reason that they do not really need to depend on their vision should they go totally blind!
Below are a few examples of some of the problems that may occur with our rats vision from infection or other factors.
Uveitis is one infection often seen in our pet rats. This is the inflammation and infection of the uveal tract in which can cause the following symptoms:
*Frequent blinking of the eyes
*Blood in the eye (hyperemia)
*Swelling of the eye/eye lid
*White or cloudy apperance to the eye
* Squinting of the eyes, which can also mean the rat is in pain.
Treatment includes anti-inflammatory medications such as corticosteroids in the form of eyedrops along with antibiotics in the form of eye drops and also to be given orally as well. The rat may not always respond to treatment and the only thing left to do in order to end the rats pain and suffering is to remove the eye. This is not always easy for some Vets, as this requires the use of microsurgical instruments due to the very small area. This surgery should only be done by a Vet that has experience removing an eye, esp that of a tiny mammal like the rat.
Surgical site, healed nicely, fusing the eyelids permanently together.
As cute as can be, my boy, Santana, with only one eye!!
This is Lain. As of this writing it was unknown if this swelling was from infection or an abscess or possible tumor behind the eye. I suspect it is related to an intraorbital abscess and the rat would benefit from having the eye removed.
Abrasions to the cornea (Corneal abrasion)
We all know how rats eyes protrude out, and with hairless rats, they have no protection from debris due to lack of eyelashes. Rats are more prone to eye injury when you have more than one rat in the cage, which of course we recommend since rats like to be kept in pairs or more. Play wrestling,fighting, a scratch from wood shavings, even the use of timothy hay (which I do not recommend) can poke your rats eye and cause this type of injury.
As nasty as it sounds, however, the fact is, prognosis is good if the abrasion is not severe, as the abrasion tends to heal on its own in a few days. However, to prevent complications, it is best to have the rat seen by the vet as soon as you notice any symptoms which may be one or several of the following:
* Excessive blinking of the affected eye
*Squinting, as stated above, often indicates pain
* Porphyrin, also known as "red tears" from the affected eye, sometimes both.
Cute little Dom may have a corneal abrasion . Note the swelling and redness of the eyelids.
Treatment includes using topical anti-infective ointments or creams or eye drops, usually tobramycin or gentocin, as per your veterinarian.
Also, providing the rat cooperates, applying moist heat from a soft compress (a soft wash cloth is all you need!) One trick I have found that works to get the wash cloth warm is to get it damp first ringing out excess water and toss it in the microwave just for a few seconds. Of course I dont think I need to tell you to be sure its not too hot for your rattie, but I will anyhow....make sure its a comfortable warm temp, not scalding hot or even "hot" as this will of course burn your rat. Test it on your wrist like you would any hot substance before using it on a child etc... Anyhow, this makes it nice and warm and its faster than standing there letting the water run forever from the spigot to get it nice and hot first. Saves on water and your pocket book too! Anyhow, if you can, try to hold this on the rats eye best you can to help soothe it.
Never use medications for this condition that contain a corticosteroid as this can contribute to overtgrowth of bacteria and can cause one serious nasty infection of the eye that may not be very hard to control. This can have serious implications such as loss of vision or even the loss of the eye itself. Also, as always, be sure to keep his litter super clean as well as any of his bedding etc...
Cataracts and blindness
As stated above, rats do not depend on sight to navigate around, so if the rat ends up losing his or her vision, they usually adapt fine. The best way to help your blind rat is to try to keep the cage the same at all times. Do not always move their litter pan, bottle of water or food dish and keep their favorite sleeping spot the same too. A single story cage is the safest cage to use for a rat that has lost his vision.
There are many causes for vision loss, from infection on down the line. Many people assume if they flick their finger in front of the rat eyes and he blinks, he isnt blind. The best way to test for vision loss is to flash a flashlight into their eyes to see if the pupils respond. If they dont respond, that means that the rat probably has some vision loss, but how much they CAN see still cannot be determined.
Cataracts are a cloudiness of the lens that leads to blindness. This is a degenerative condition and it can manifest at any age, even in young rats like the little young rat below.
Hope, owned by Stephanie if NJ. She was only a few months old and has since passed away.