A Pituitary tumor is a tumor found in the pituitary gland of the rat. It can affect both male and female rats, but is more common in older female rats between the ages of 12 and 24 months of age that are not spayed. Sadly, they are inoperable and eventually fatal over time.
Inner ear infection symptoms can sometimes mock symptoms of pituitary tumors. Also keep in mind that the rat does not have to display every symptom in order to be diagnosed.
Signs of a pituitary tumor:
Weakness of the limbs, usually the forelimbs first, with the rat having trouble grasping and holding food
Inability to chew and swallow
Loss of the use of back limbs
Loss of balance, seems clumsy
falls off of things such as shelves, toys etc...
Circling and spinning when walking
Protrusion of the eye, effecting one more than the other due to pressure from the tumor.
What can I do to help my rat?
Along with compassion and loving comfort, not much can be done to help a rat with a PT. However, the rat can be made more comfortable by helping the swelling that is caused by the tumor by having the vet prescribe a steroid, namely prednisone. This can help reduce swelling temporarily. The vet must also prescribe an antibiotic to help prevent infection that may be produced by a weakened immune system caused by steroid use. However, there should be no concern at this point about using steroids and any side effects since the rats life span is greatly reduced by the tumor itself. The rats over all comfort is the only thing that should be considered at this point. There has also been some evidence that Cabergoline, which is a medication that has been found to slow down the secretion of prolactin. Since I have not had much experience using this drug, I cannot really discuss its success or failures. However, many rat owners do claim the drug has actually slowed down the symptoms of a PT in their rats and in turn, has prolonged the rats life by several months and happy to report the rats quality of life had returned for several months. This, of course, is not with all cases and I have also heard that it had done nothing to help other rats with a PT. I still feel it is worth posting the link to tell you more about it and to possibly discuss it with your Veterinarian.
Do I need to put my rat to sleep because of this?
If the rat does not pass on her own, euthanasia may eventually become something to consider. However, once the rat is on the steroids you may notice a positive change in her for a while. As long as your rat has quality of life and is not in any discomfort and can still be hand fed and continues to remain hydrated etc.... there is no need to euthanize your rat. Once she can no longer eat or take liquids (liquids can be added to baby foods and the rat can be fed baby food to keep her strength up and to keep her hydrated) once she refuses food etc...you will know in your heart when it is time to let her go. Suffering is something we do not want our rats to ever have to do no matter what and although the decision to put your rat to sleep is often a difficult one to make, it is the most humane act of love we can ever do for our beloved rats.
Little Miss Mollys problems with estrogen fueled tumors first started with a tumor located under her right side just under her front limb. It was an aggressive tumor, growing very fast in a short period of time. Along with the tumor, Molly lost the use of her hind legs. Although hind leg paralysis made sense, the Vet said she felt it could be a tumor on her spine thinking she may not be a candidate for HLP at her age. Molly was scheduled for surgery and a week before surgery, another tumor was found on her lower abdomen.
The night before surgery, Molly took an unexpected turn for the worst and had trouble using her front paws. She was unable to grasp and hold food and became very lethargic. The surgery was canceled to remove the two mammary tumors and a consult was scheduled to evaluate her newest symptoms. Molly died the next day before she was examined by the vet. Although this was not classic text book to a Pituitary tumor since the usual head tilt and loss of balance including circling and spinning were absent, due to the fact her body was already producing mammary tumors at an accelerated rate, it is believed that a Pituitary tumor was the cause her her unexpected death. Instead of first involving the forelimbs, it caused weakness and eventually the total loss of use of her hind legs before it caused weakness in the forelimbs. Her diagnosis was not confirmed by necropsy and is based solely on symptoms related to pituitary tumor.
Miss Molly at rest. Note the curled up fists commonly seen with this condition.