The Importance of finding a vet you can trust to take care of your rats

Finding an exotic vet for your rats can be difficult and fraught.  Lisa, our newest Rat Faction admin has a brilliant guest post for you today, full of tips and stories about how to find yourself a trustworthy vet.  Don’t be afraid to shop around, stick up for yourself and your rats, and arm yourself with knowledge.  You da boss!


finding trustworthy exotic vet for domestic rats

I don’t know about you, but I see my vet more regularly than most of my friends!

My mischief currently consists of 7 rats, and there’s never a month that goes by without a vet visit.

With rats being prone to certain illnesses (mycoplasma, upper respiratory infections) and often developing tumours, it’s good to have a vet who is knowledgeable when it comes to rats.

In Germany rats aren’t even part of the veterinary medicine curriculum.

They’re still considered exotic pets, and quite a few vets don’t know how to treat them, so they usually follow the guidelines applied to hamsters and other smaller rodents.

finding trustworthy exotic vet for domestic ratsWhen I got my first rats, I took them to a vet clinic with about four or five different vets.

It was fairly easy to get appointments within a day or two, and everyone was really friendly.

We were seen by whoever had time for us, but they always made sure to update the records so that the next vet knew about our history.

Sounds fairly good, doesn’t it?

The only issue was that they weren’t very knowledge when it came to rats, and being a first time rat parent with basic knowledge, I didn’t click on right away.

I always researched symptoms before our appointments, but most of the time I felt insecure about the things I had read and how to bring them up in conversation.

finding trustworthy exotic vet for domestic rats

When I moved residence, I quickly found a new vet clinic very close to home.

By that time we’d had several run-ins with upper respiratory infections and mycoplasma, so I had been researching that quite a bit.

I was given Baytril, but was denied Doxycycline when I asked for it (for those of you lucky enough to have avoided respiratory infection and other lung issues, it’s usually recommended to use both antibiotics together to combat the illness).

Editor’s note: The reason for this is that myco is incurable! 

Baytril (Enrotril) KILLS the bacteria and Doxycycline (like Vibravet) SUPPRESSES the bacteria. 

Baytril doesn’t work as well to kill off the bacteria if they haven’t been suppressed by Doxy. 

The two together are a dynamic duo and unless your rat is very young, the prescription should ALWAYS be the two together. 

Check the Rat Guide for dosages, as vets often underprescribe in dose and in length of antiobiotic course.

Don’t be afraid to print out a page and take it in to your vet!  Lots of us do that!

The best we can hope is to suppress and fight the illness with antiobiotics as much and for as long as possible to help the ratty’s immune systems do their bit.  

Nothing else works, only antiobiotics, so please don’t delay if you see signs of any respiratory illness as by the time a rat shows symptoms they’re generally already advanced and the disease is fatal.

I don’t think they took me seriously, and I didn’t feel comfortable asking them again.

It didn’t help that the dosage they prescribed was too low, and so not long after, two of my rats were getting worse.

One morning I woke up to Luna gasping, a horrible sight I hope you will never have to witness this.

Editor’s note: gasping is an advanced sign of respiratory distress and immediate veterinary treatment is required.  See the Rat Guide for more details.

I took her to the vet clinic, which luckily opens for any kind of emergency, and she was given an injection and sent home.

It did help, and she got better during the next few days, but Tonks only got worse.

I took all of them back to the vet, thinking maybe Tonks will get an injection, too, but the vet who was on call took one look at her in the carrier, and told me to just continue with the antibiotics.

Tonks was so weak at this point, she was barely eating and had lost a great amount of weight in a very short span of time.

The vet who was responsible for sending her home without even listening to her lungs was one of the founders of this vet clinic, a well respected man.

His carelessness almost killed Tonks.

This was by far the lowest point in my history with rats and vets.

It was followed by the best experience I could have had.

Tonks still not feeling better, I started asking  for recommendations in rat Facebook groups in my area.

I was lucky, someone mentioned a vet who used to own rats herself and was pretty knowledgeable.

They were kind enough to give me an emergency appointment, and it was not a minute too soon.

For the first time ever my concerns were taken seriously, my descriptions of the symptoms I had been watching were listened to and we were finally given the medications they needed in the dosage they needed!

Tonks was starting to feel better, and we got a few more months together.

Months I will always be grateful for.

finding trustworthy exotic vet for domestic rats

The initial vet we saw that day passed us over to her colleague, as she had developed allergies that prevented her from holding (and keeping) rats for too long.

This vet is an actual angel. On top of being already very knowledgeable, she doesn’t pretend to know everything, and she’s not afraid to look things up when uncertain.

Editor’s note: if you find a vet that is collaborative and listens and looks things up you’re onto a good thing!

When the first tumours started popping up, she made sure to give us an appointment as fast as possible, and she always stayed on top of pain management and aftercare.

She always talks me through everything and doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but I can tell she really cares.

I feel like my rats are in really good hands with her, and it has made being a rat parent so much easier.

To have a vet you can trust, someone who will tell you the truth, help you to make the tough decisions and want the best possible care for your babies, is everything.

I hope you all find a vet like her.

To make finding a good vet easier, here are some tips I wish I had known when I first got rats.

  1. Research your options

Ask around. Do you personally know any other rat parents?

Ask them which vet they see and what their experiences were like.

If you don’t know any other rat owners, join some Facebook groups for rat lovers in your (wider) area.

Join a forum, they often have vet recommendations as well.

You might have to travel a bit further to see a great vet, but it is so worth it.

Don’t forget to research emergency options as well.

For some reasons rats really love to cause you worries at night or on weekends.

Is there an emergency vet near you? Do you know how to get there / do you have their phone number?

  1. Ask

Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, both before you settle for a vet and once you found one.

Ask them about their experience with rats, and if the have performed surgeries on rats before.

It’s not rude, it’s important.

Especially with surgery, I would always ask about the procedure.

If a vet tells you to not give your rat any food prior to surgery, you might want to find another vet who actually knows his stuff.

Rats are not able to vomit, therefore they can (and should) eat before surgery.

Editor’s note: a good sign your vet or the vet staff don’t know enough about rats is when they tell you to fast your rat before surgery.  DO NOT DO THIS, their metabolisms are so fast, they need the energy to get through the surgery and recover.

  1. Pay attention

You know your rats best, so you will be able to tell when something is off.

Take notes of what you see, take videos of any strange behaviour, that way you can show your vet.

Get a pair of kitchen scales and occasionally weigh your rats.

Feel their bodies for odd lumps and bumps.

Listen to their breathing.

  1. Do your homework

It’s great to have a very rat savvy vet, but do your own research, too.

That way you will recognise symptoms earlier and will know what to look out for and help your vet with a diagnosis.

There are a few places to go for advice, but my absolute favourites are a Facebook group called ‘Real Rat Lovers Want to Know’ (RRLWTK) and Rat Guide.

RRLWTK has files on most medications, telling you the proper way to mix meds and what dosage your rat should be receiving based on their weight.

You can present a case in their group and will be given advice by both other rat parents and medical contributors.

It’s also really helpful to read about other cases, that way you will know you’re dealing with when your own rats have similar issues.

Make sure to read and follow the guidelines, the wonderful people running the group are doing this in their free time and they shouldn’t have to call people out for not following the rules.

Rat guide is a great source for medical references and research.

I told my vet about it and she now often consults it.

You might not understand all the medical jargon (I know I don’t), but the general explanations are pretty good and your vet will be able to understand the rest.

  1. Don’t be afraid to speak up

You’ve done your research, now don’t be afraid to mention it.

When my Rosa developed a pituitary tumour I kept reading about cabergoline.

I mentioned that to my vet, and while she had never heard of that, she was willing to do some research and try it.

The results were great, and she has actually treated many other rats with PTs the same way.

Editor’s note: YOU are literally the voice for your rats and their advocate.  Vets have the degree, yes, but you are the expert on your rat’s symptoms and behaviours and if you must speak up and advocate for your rat if you know or think you know of a treatment that will help that hasn’t been offered etc.  If you had a human child you’d do the same, your pets are no different.

  1. Have an emergency vet fund

This doesn’t help you when it comes to finding a vet, but I would always advise to have an emergency fund for vet visits etc.

There have been times when I spent as much money on rent as on vet bills (several tumour removals in one month).

I’m really lucky with my vet, their prices are great compared to some other vet’s I’ve been to.

If you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to good vets, compare their prices.

Editor’s note: find out more about general prices for the most common vet trips here.

Here are some useful links:

Rat guide, the website with detailed health research, medical histories and a medication and care guide.

Real Rat Lovers Want to Know, a dedicated Facebook group where you can ask for medical advice and check the files for mixing and dosage information

All tips and opinions expressed in this and any other article on this blog are the opinions, experience, observations and beliefs of the author only.  Please read with an open mind and critical thinking cap on, take what makes sense, and discard what you disagree with.  

Tell us in the comments if you’ve had particularly good or bad experiences with vets!

Lisa K

Lisa K

Admin at Rat Faction
Lisa is owned by her cheeky but lovely (b)rats and can be found on Instagram!
Lisa K

1 Comment

  1. I like how you mentioned that there are special veterinarians for exotic animals and that there should always be coverage given to those outside of the usual cat/dog/bird varieties of pets. When it comes to taking care of the more exotic kind of pets like rats or rabbits, it helps to know that there are several signs and symptoms to look out for when they’re suffering from illnesses and should be treated right away. While I don’t have any pets of my own, it’s at least comforting to know that there are always veterinary options available for those who choose to own something other than a cat, a dog, or a pair of lovebirds.

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