Often a brain tumor in the domestic rat is not immediately recognized and is misinterpreted as a (middle) ear infection or age problem. However, it is important to arrive at the correct diagnosis in time and to start the appropriate treatment as early as possible. Without a scan, a brain tumor is difficult to recognize. Fortunately, you can learn to see clues in your rat’s behavior yourself. But how should it proceed? How can you make him or her feel better? And most importantly – can your rat still live a good quality of life with a brain tumor?
In most cases, it is a pituitary adenoma, a benign tumor in the brain caused by an elevated level of prolactin in the blood – which can lead to old age. Even though we are not talking about cancer, the growing tumor will still cause a number of symptoms due to the pressure on the rat’s brain.
You will soon notice some changes in your pet’s behavior. If you suspect that something is not right, observe him or her every day at different times of the day during different activities (walking, eating, climbing, social interaction …) and be vigilant for the following symptoms:
- The head is tilted to one side
- The rat runs in circles, spins around itself, or falls over
- Hindquarter weakness, hip tilt
- Difficulty eating and washing due to poor coordination of movements
- The head is thrown up when touched
- Change in behavior (such as sudden aggression, apathy, loss of appetite…)
- Blindness, odd pupil size
- Sometimes the rat can show small attacks
Cabergoline lowers the level of prolactin in the blood, and can therefore slow the growth of the tumor and even shrink the tumor. For example, Galastop is often prescribed by the vet, a liquid form of cabergoline that is often given to pregnant dogs. However, the amount for rats is very high, which makes giving them very stressful.
An alternative to this is to use the human version in pill form, such as, for example, Dostinex. The dose of this is very high, so your rat only needs a fraction of this. This can be ground and given to the rat in a paste. Cabergoline can extend your rat’s lifespan up to 6 months, with a reduction in symptoms.
Note: always consult with your vet about the treatment and the appropriate dose for your rat. It is important to choose a veterinarian with experience in the treatment of small pets or exotic animals.
Of course, you can never completely prevent a brain tumor, but you can reduce the chance of it by taking the following two preventive actions.
Never buy a rat from a pet store, but choose a rattery with experience. A rattery follows its lines and will breed with rats that show no health problems in order to obtain healthy rats.
Female rats can be sterilized preventively. Sterilization not only reduces the risk of a brain tumor but also of the frequently occurring (benign) mammary gland tumors. It is recommended not to wait too long with sterilization – this could be done from the age of 12 weeks. Again, be sure to choose a vet with the right knowledge and experience!
Quality of life
As the owner, you know your rat best, and you and your vet will continue to assess your rat’s quality of life during treatment. Medication can help, and you can also support your rat with extra pastes to keep him or her strong. Provide cage safety for rats with balance problems so they can’t fall deeply or injure themselves in any other way, but don’t separate them from their cage mates as this is much more stressful!
If the moment has come when you have serious doubts about the quality of life of your rat, the time has come for euthanasia. to consider. Indications for this may be that the rat can no longer eat and drink independently, can no longer hold defecation, or is in pain. Discuss the possibility of putting to sleep with your vet, and make sure you are well informed about the process (Can you stay there? Will anesthesia be given first? What are the options after death?).