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An Itchy Rat is an Itchy Nat.

Yeah, I know, most parasites are species specific (rat lice don't affect humans!). I just have sensitive itch glands. Bugs give me the creeps. Anyway, if your rat has scabs or if your rat is downright mopey and you're running out of things to check, or if you just got a rat for that matter: Think bugs.

Mites and lice are parasites. Rats can also sometimes carry pinworms. All of these things are pretty harmless overall but you don't want them caring for other things besides themselves. Plus, it would not be fun to be itchy all the time.

I've heard things like "If your rat has scabs, he has mites...but it also may be 'too much protein'." Whatever. Little pin-prick scabs means it's mites, or lice. This is what a pin-prick scab looks like:

But you don't always see scabs. Fret not - there are other things you can check. I've had rats with lice that had no scabs but they did have patches of thinning fur. This could be the result of an obsessive power-groomer or maybe they're obsessive groomers themselves, but it never hurts to check....their rump. That's right! Just part some fur on their hiney and take a good, close look.

A rat's rump is the meatiest and most convenient place for any bug to hang out. Most rats can't reach the area too well and, of course, there's plenty of food. So, when in doubt, check the rat's bum. There you'll find nits (louse eggs) and the lice themselves:

Nits look like this (little shiny bags shellacked to the rat's strands of fur):

Lice look like this (note that the little guy pictured on the left in each photo just had lunch - see the red spot by his head?):

There are tricks and complexities:

    Complexity: Adult males have dander, or an orangish film that covers a bulk of their back. Lice look like dander.
      Trick: Lice move so watch for things scurrying away from the exposed area..

    Complexity: Some rats have light colored hair (white, beige, etc) which makes finding the nits almost impossible.
      Trick: Use a flashlight and look for the shiny reflections of the egg sacs...or better yet, skip the egg search and look for the obvious red ovals running away.

    Complexity: Some rats have dark colored hair and skin - the browns and blacks are especially challenging when it comes to finding lice.
      Trick: Look for the nits. They're almost always there and really easy to spot on dark hair. Looking for lice on a rat with darker hair is possible but you have to be quick - namely, have your nose on his butt the second you part his fur.

    Complexity: But I have poor eyesight!
      Trick: Use a magnifying glass. If that doesn't work, get a piece of tape (or a few), part the fur and slap the tape on the part quickly. Pluck the tape off. Get a few samples from a few areas. Grab the magnifying glass and look for nits and lice at your leisure.

Here are some examples (lice: white arrows; nits: black arrows):

So now that you're all itchy because you found out that Templeton has lice, you'll need to do something about it for him and every rat near him (yes, that would mean "in the same house."). Easy enough. You've got two options:

1) Take Templeton and all of his ratty friends to the vet. The vet can give your rat an injection of Ivermectin (.2 mg/kg SubQ once a week for three (3) weeks) [preferred] or you can get the cat/dog flea sprays (like Frontline or Advantage) from your vet and, with a flea-spray wettened toothpick, draw a line down their backs [not preferable: If they lick their backs while it's still wet you've got problems].

2) Do-it-yourself: Head out to a Saddle shop or farm supply store and purchase a tube of Ivermectin Horse Worming paste (1.87% Ivermectin) that'll look something like:

Usually it comes in a box and is sold under brand names like "Zimecterin," Equimectrin," "Eqvalan." Sometimes it comes in a bag. The tube inside always looks like the tube above - make sure it says 1.87%! If you can't find it at a farm-supply store or similar, you can always purchase it online. Just head over to google.com and search for Ivermectin Paste. There are way too many online veterinary supply shops that carry it to list.

Once you have your tube in hand, squirt out a little glob onto a piece of plastic (like a ziploc baggie or something). Grab a spaghetti noodle. Mix the glob thoroughly and break off the part of the noodle with white paste and throw it away.

Next, grab a rat. Dip the noodle into the paste so no more than a glob the size of an UNCOOKED grain of rice is on the noodle (half for rats under 1 lb), lift a cheek (theirs, not yours) and stick the noodle in there right above their tongue. Let them keep the noodle as a reward (they love 'em).

Repeat for each rat you have and dispose of the remainder of the glob on your piece of plastic (or wrap it up for next week - no need to refrigerate).

In 7 days, repeat the above process.

And again 7 days after that.

If you look the next day after treating the lice, you should see no lice. In a week you may see some that hatched but they'll soon be gone. To compensate for the life cycle of lice and mites, treat once a week for three weeks. Make sure, during this time, that you keep their environment clean (toys, hammocks especially should be given an extra wash).

Ivermectin works by paralyzing all bugs that bite your rat. If, for whatever reason, a louse is lost in the bedding or a hammock and manages to find its host later, you could conceivably (though unlikely) start the whole cycle over again so giving everything a thorough scrub, particularly during those last two weeks, is a good idea.

Oh, and this applies to 99% of all parasites that may affect your rats.


    Ivermectin 1.87% paste - 1 UNCOOKED grain of rice worth for a 1 lb rat orally

    Once a week for 3 weeks to compensate for the life cycle of the bug (and his little kiddies)

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Disclaimer: There are many non-sarcastic accounts and tips on the web regarding rat care. This is not one of them. These are merely accounts of our experiences with rats, our perceptions of these experiences, where we've failed and where we've succeeded. These accounts are here for two purposes:

    1) To entertain.
    2) To help avoid repetition of mistakes

  Remember! Your rat is not a science project, he is your friend!

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