Do Pet Rats Need Vaccines? Health Care Basics

Do Pet Rats Need Vaccines Health Care Basics
Do Pet Rats Need Vaccines Health Care Basics

There’s quite a lot of information available on dog and cat vaccination requirements, but information regarding pet rat vaccination is startlingly sparse. This may leave many rat owners wondering if their pet rodent needs to be vaccinated.

Pet rats do not need vaccinations, though they may require other veterinary procedures. Owners may take their pet rat to a veterinarian for annual examinations. During these examinations, veterinarians may test for parasites, overgrown incisors, and other common conditions that afflict rodents.

This article will explore illnesses common to rats, in addition to discussing what vaccines (if any) are required for pet rats. We’ll also address what procedures veterinarians recommend for pet rats.


What Illnesses Are Common to Rats?

There are a handful of illnesses and conditions that are common to rats. Some of the most illnesses or afflictions that affect rats include:

  • Parasites
  • Obesity
  • Overgrown incisors
  • Respiratory illness
  • Nutritional upset

Taking your pet rat to a veterinarian at least once a year, or at the first sign of these issues, can help prolong their life and ensure that they are healthy and happy. One of the first things a veterinarian usually checks for when caring for a pet rat is the presence of parasites.  


There are two types of intestinal parasites that can take up residence inside of a pet rat. These parasites can transfer to humans and infect them as well, especially if owners aren’t careful about personal hygiene after handling a rat or their soiled bedding.

The first type of parasite that commonly affects pet rats are tapeworms. These flat creatures enter a mammal’s body orally. Rats and humans can become hosts for tapeworms after eating foods that contain tapeworm eggs. While beef, pork, chicken, and fish are the most common culprits, any type of contamination where larvae or eggs are transferred can result in infection.

Tapeworms can grow to massive sizes, and they can cause significant weight loss, constipation, and nutrient loss in pet rats. If you notice your rat seeming lethargic, even after eating full meals, it may be a sign of parasites. Of course, these symptoms are also present in pinworm infections.

Pinworms can be a little easier to detect than tapeworms, but they’re just as unpleasant. Pinworm larvae tend to creep out of an infected mammal’s anus during the night. If you notice small, white, or gray rice-like droppings in your pet rat’s cage, there’s a good chance that they have a pinworm infection.

Rats may also obsessively clean their bottom or scratch their lower half when infected with these parasites. Fortunately, veterinarians can prescribe medicines that kill all intestinal parasites, allowing the rat to pass the dead organisms without pain or danger. And while parasite-induced weight loss is dangerous, so is feeding-induced obesity.


Wild rats and tamed rats are both creatures of opportunity. When food of any kind is presented to them, they typically respond by eating as much of that food as they can, as often as they can. While this type of behavior helps wild rats survive harsh conditions and extended periods without food, it can cause pet rats to become overweight or obese.

When rats have too much access to high-calorie snacks and beverages, their bodies can begin generating fat-filled lipomas. These fatty deposits lie directly beneath the skin and can inhibit movement. Some can even rupture, bleed, or become infected. The best way to avoid this situation is to use moderation when feeding a pet rat.

Store-bought foods often contain an ideal amount of calories and nutrition, but owners must be sure to follow manufacturer serving guidelines. In addition, it’s important to provide rats with something they can chew, or their teeth can become a problem.

Overgrown Incisors

Like beavers, rats have upper incisors that continuously grow throughout their lives. When they cannot chew on hard materials (like wood) or safely grind their teeth, their ability to eat can be significantly impacted. Overgrown teeth tend to curl, and they may even puncture the upper roof of their mouth. Providing safe chewing materials for your rat can help prevent this issue.

However, some rats have dental problems that prevent them from painlessly grinding their teeth. When pet owners notice a dramatic increase in their pet’s incisor length, it’s time to contact a veterinarian for help. This is also true of owners who notice vibrations coming from their rat’s chest during normal breathing.

Respiratory Illness

There are several factors that can contribute to respiratory illness within rats. An unclean environment, household cleaners and fragrances, smoke, and stress can all contribute to respiratory upset. Consistent cage-cleaning, maintaining repetitive schedules, and reducing your rat’s exposure to chemicals, fragrances, and smoke can all help. 

Still, even the most health-conscious pet parent can find themselves dealing with a sick rat. Respiratory infections are incredibly common in rats and rodents and can be caused by bacteria and viruses. The best course of action anyone can take when dealing with a sick pet rat is to contact a veterinarian and schedule an immediate appointment.

If the respiratory upset isn’t due to filthy living conditions, stress, smoke, or household fragrances, they may require antibiotics to recover from their illness. Without these life-saving medicines, rats can become seriously ill and even pass away. Some breathing issues may also be related to the presence of tumors, so veterinary assistance is vital.

Nutritional Upset

In addition to respiratory distress, pet rats are also prone to nutritional upset. Too much or too little of nearly any nutrient can cause their digestive systems to spiral out of control. To make matters even more complicated, rats have almost two dozen infectious agents in their digestive system. 

When digestive upset or illness occurs, veterinarians have to figure out if any of these agents are causing the problem, or it’s being caused by an external agent (such as a recently contracted virus or bacterial infection). They must then decide on dietary changes or medications that can help relieve digestive issues.

Are Vaccines Required?

Vaccines are not required for pet rats. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t require occasional and consistent healthcare. Annual examinations are crucial to maintaining a pet rat’s health. Many veterinarians also recommend additional procedures, like neutering, to ensure a long and healthy life for a pet rat.

Sterilization and Neutering

Rats are prolific breeders. They can become sexually mature after only six or twelve weeks of life. In addition, female rats can ovulate every four days or so. The typical gestation period for developing fetal rats is less than a month or about twenty-one days. Within a single birth, a female rat can have between about seven and fourteen children.

In short, rats are capable of breeding often and producing a massive amount of offspring. Choosing not to neuter your pet rat may be logical if you’re planning on breeding rats. However, reproduction does take a physical toll on female rats and can result in aggressive behavior from males. 

Sterilization and neutering procedures can help quell sexual aggression, elongate a pet rat’s life, and prevent owners from raising hundreds of tiny rat babies. Apart from parasite treatment, dietary recommendations, antibiotics for respiratory illness, and manual incisor shortening, neutering is the primary procedure veterinarians perform on pet rats. 


Pet rats may not need vaccinations, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t receive annual or bi-annual veterinary check-ups. Pet rats can suffer from a wide variety of conditions, including respiratory illness, obesity, parasites, and overgrown incisors. They require consistent physical examinations to stay healthy.

Older rats may require more frequent veterinary visitations, but this is not always the case. Owners of multiple rats are also encouraged to visit veterinarians and have their pets neutered, as rats regularly reproduce and in large numbers.