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Abscesses (Identifying and Ridding)

There are lots of lump-like things that you may find on your rats including cysts, abscesses, and tumors.

If your rat is female and 1.5 years of age or older, more than likely the lump is any one of the above.

If your rat is male and 2 years or older, the lump may be any one of the above.

If your rat doesn't fit in either of those two categories, lean towards "cyst" or "abscess."

How to tell:

    Cyst: Generally quite small, cysts are "waxy" lumps that, if you apply pressure to them, tend to change shape (and stay that way). They don't soften over time (unless surrounded by abscess gunk), they generally don't grow much (unless for some strange reason they become surrounded by abscess gunk), and they require and actual slice through skin so you're really better off seeing a vet for the removal of a cyst (they're also complex in that one needs to dig out the "core" of the cyst or they'll continue to return).

    Tumor: Tumors come in all shapes and sizes. Some grow fast, some don't grow at all, some grow and then stop growing. But all tumors have some things in common: They aren't waxy so if you push on them they may feel like they've responded to the push but they'll return to their original shape when you let go. They don't soften with heat so applying a hot compress to the lump won't change the consistency of the contents you feel (more below). See a vet for the removal of a tumor (sooner rather than later).

    Abscess: Abscesses start out small and hard and they get slightly larger and much softer over time. Think "big zit." If you have a small hardish lump, run the hot water for a bit (so it gets hot), fill up a cup or bowl with the hot water, grab a rag or paper towel, dip the towel in the hot water, and hold it on the lump. If it softens, it's an abscess. Take the towel off and feel around for a scratch. If you find a scratch (a scab), you can see a vet or try to clean it out yourself. If you don't feel/see a scratch (scab), you can still see a vet or try to clean it yourself UNLESS THE LUMP IS ON YOUR RAT'S FACE (in which case it would behoove you to not dally and to see a vet!)

Here's how to clean out abscesses at home (once they're no longer hard):

Disclaimer: If you don't feel comfortable doing this, see a vet (or just let it go - if there's a scab, the rat will tear the scab off and lick out the gunk). And if it's located on their face and not super-soft already, see a vet. Generally rats can't actually feel this because the abscess has stretched their skin out so much that they can't feel the poke. Once the contents start coming out they'll wiggle (they can feel that) but once it's nearly empty (usually the best you can do using the below-mentioned method) they generally thank you by grooming you!


    The curved tipped syringe (the first item) you want to fill with saline.
    The needles you are using as sterile needles (to poke with - not to extract anything per se - it's just cleaner than using a needle, heated and washed with rubbing alcohol or not).
    The paper towels and/or cotton balls will be used to wipe and trap.
    Another paper towel is going to be used as a hot compress.
    The cotton swabs will be used to clean out harder-to-reach areas.
What to do:

After filling the curve tipped syringe, open up one of the needle packages. Take one paper towel and run it under hot water. Find the lump and with your index and middle finger, pinch it from behind. Never let go because you're going to not only use that to apply pressure from behind but to prevent infected ooze from going inside. Apply the hot compress to the lump. Once the lump has softened, poke the lump right in the middle about 2-3 mm in (they don't feel this usually). Get your cotton ball or paper towel ready (wrap it around/underneath) and remove the needle. Wipe anything that starts to ooze.

Take the curved tipped syringe and plug it in the hole (as much as you can: the hole is smaller than the syringe) and push in about 1/2 cc of water (you'll know when to stop because the abscess will balloon). Before removing the curved tip syringe, COVER it with a paper towel. The force of the extra liquid will propel the infection out of there (trust me on this). Tip: If some of the abscess goo is thicker, it may block the hole (and that will make Mr. Rat uncomfortable) - be ready with the needle to clear out the pathway (and be ready with the paper towel to collect the flying goo).

Repeat as necessary. Once it's almost entirely cleaned out, fill the curved tip syringe about 1/4 full with hydrogen peroxide and fill the rest of the way with saline. Shake it up. Make this your last squirt - it'll kill some of the lingering bacteria and it'll dry it out a bit (but not too much). Use your fingers pinching the abscess from behind to push out anything that might be left behind. Use cotton balls and Q-Tips to clean any infection on the fur up so he doesn't lick it off.

Check on it the next day. If any infection was left over it might swell back up some. Use a new clean needle to poke a hole in the same location (or peel the scab if there is one). Pinch from behind and push anything inside out (but you needn't go through as much effort this round: Just keep repeating this until it heals.) If you want, finish up with the 1:3 parts hydrogen peroxide to saline mixture.

It will either: Be done with on the first day. Or... The scab will open to a bigger hole and he'll ultimately, by grooming alone (on his part), keep it cleaned out (with your help, of course, to get rid of the bulk of it) until it is able to heal. But usually, it's done with on the first day.

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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!

All content contained herein © 1996-2007 by Andrew Waltz, Nathalie Baldwin, & the rats of RatRaisins, Inc.  
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