Signs of Illness in Rats

Signs of Illness in Rats

Rats are very good at hiding pain and illness. They’re naturally a prey animal, so their natural instinct is to disguise any weakness. There are, however, a few signs of illness in rats that you can look out for.


Porphyrin is often the earliest sign of illness in rats. Porphyrin is basically the rat version of snot and appears as red staining around the eyes and nose.

Some Porphyrin is normal; if your rat has just woken up it may have some around its eyes, like a human with sleep. It can also appear if you’ve taken the rat somewhere new, or changed the substrate in the cage.

Excessive amounts of Porphyrin is a sign of illness in rats though. It can indicate general illness, respiratory infections or stress.


Piloerection is a fluffed, rough coat. Coat condition can tell you a lot about a rat’s health, and a rat who remains fluffed up for extended periods could be feeling unwell. It can also indicate your rat is stressed or nervous, or just cold.


Rats are active animals, so if one rat suddenly becomes lethargic, it can be cause for concern. If the rat becomes uninterested in its surroundings, sleeps more than usual, or is reluctant to come out from a sleeping place, it could be unwell.


Rats use their tongues to groom, but if you notice your rat consistently licking at the same area, it may mean they have injured it. Rats lick at an area to relieve pain.

Change in Appetite

If your rat stops eating or drinking normally, it could be unwell or have some kind of stomach issue. Try to watch your rats for a while after feeding, so you know if the whole group is eating as normal.

Side Sucking

A rat may appear to ‘suck’ in its sides, creating a scooped effect around the abdomen. This is a clear sign of pain or illness.

Weight Loss

Unexplained weight loss is an obvious sign something is wrong. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your rat’s weight, both by eye and by occasional weighing.

Behaviour Changes

If your rat suddenly begins to behave differently, whether becoming more withdrawn, aggressive or unwilling to interact, it can be a sign that something is wrong.

If you notice any of these signs, you should take your rat to your vet. Rats are hardy creatures and will recover well from injuries, but a sick or badly hurt rat should be treated by a vet. It’s wise to do a regular health check on your rats so you know about any potential issues. Find a health check guide here.

Signs of Illness in Rats -

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