American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the WSSF 2011 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.


Hairless Rat Self-Mutilating Front Leg

Matthew & Elizabeth Kennedy, FL, e-mail
Q Over the last 16 years, we have kept nearly 40 rats. Most have been Norways of different colors and fur types including two Hairless rats (2002–2004).

For the last couple of days our current Hairless, Betsy, has been self-mutilating around her right front leg. She has lost a lot of blood and is lethargic and cold. We are keeping her on a heating pad (on low) and feeding her spinach. The first time she did this was after she was spayed a year ago. She recovered but continued to pick at the spot and it has only once been nearly healed.

Betsy’s bandage after her spay consisted of cloth surgical tape over gauze with just the edge of the tape touching her skin. Originally this bandage was just in front of her hind legs however, Betsy worked it up her body a little and since it still kept her teeth from reaching the sutures, we left it alone. The bandage was on for 10 days. The marked areas are where she self-mutilated her leg. Drawing from Matthew and Elizabeth Kennedy.

About Betsy: She has a very independent personality. She does not get along with our two older rats so she lives alone. She has no other health problems.

Routine: She is usually out in the morning for a short shoulder ride, at night she is out for 20–60 minutes, likes to snuggle orgo for a supervised run on the floor.

Food: Betsy has constant access to fresh water and lab blocks. At night, she gets dinner such as fruits, veggies, grains, and occasional richer treats such as scrambled egg.

Housing: Betsy lives in a 10- gallon aquarium with a mesh top. The cage is washed with dish soap once a week and rinsed thoroughly. The bedding is CareFRESH™ paper pulp and it is changed twice a week.

Attempts to rectify the problem: Our vet has tried Clavamox and Baytril (antibiotics), Prednisone and Zymox (antiitch/anti-fungus), as well as Ivermectin (for mites/other bugs). He thinks the problem may possibly be due to a nerve being “tweaked” during her surgery. We have changed the bedding from aspen to paper pulp, tried giving her more play time/attention and are currently introducing her to a new, larger wire cage. We also tried cutting down the amount of protein she eats. So far, nothing has helped. We are very worried about Betsy. If anyone has any ideas about what the problem is or has a possible solution, please let us know. Thank you.

Update: Yesterday, we took Betsy back to our vet, Dr. Scott Martin, because she had cut herself again. When he examined her and saw that this time she had gnawed to the bone, he said he would close the wound, put her in an E-collar and keep her for a couple of days in hopes of breaking the cycle of mutilation and of giving her time to heal completely.

Later that day, Dr. Martin called to tell us that Betsy had come through the procedure well but soon afterward she had stopped breathing. He tried to revive her for 45 minutes using CPR and epinephrine but he could not bring her back. Surprised that such a young and apparently otherwise healthy rat could not survive getting a few stitches, he performed a necropsy and discovered that she was highly parasitized. He found what appeared to be tapeworms in her liver and some other parasites in her intestines.

Dr. Martin has sent the worms, her liver, skin scrapings, and a sample of her stool to a pathologist/parasitologist to determine a course of treatment for our other two rats and, perhaps, us as well. We will let you know more when we get the results in the hope that our experience will help other rats.

We are stunned and crushed by Betsy’s death. She was only one year old.

A I sent your info to our rat vet/pathologist and she had some comments and additional questions:

I would not wait and it would be good to treat these rats with a Ivermectin, Praziquantal, and Pryantal Pamoate. It is unlikely the parasites killed her.

What anesthesia did they use? What did her lungs look like? The symptoms of self mutilation are very rare in rats and there is some underlying disease or condition that caused it. Adult tape worms would not be in the liver but in the intestine. If she had tape worm cysts in the liver that would be odd. Rats get tapeworms from eating cat feces. Does this owner have a cat? Carmen Jane Booth, D.V.M. Ph.D.

Hopefully the results of the tests will come back quickly. If you can answer any of the above questions, that would be helpful. Karen Robbins

UPDATE: We took Marguerite, our 2-year-old Hooded rat to Dr. Martin for an ultrasound to see if she had worms. (Roxy, her buddy who is a Blue rat about 2 years old, was deemed too frail to have one.) Fortunately, Marguerite had no worms. Regardless, both rats will be treated for worms anyway.

Here are some answers to your questions:

What anesthesia was used? IsoFlurane.

What did her lungs look like? We will ask. We do know the vet was able to restart her heart but couldn’t get her to start breathing, which he said was odd.

Do we have a cat? No. We have a dog, but she and the rats have never been in direct contact and she is not allowed in the part of the house where the rats live.

Did Dr. Martin give a specific explanation of what a “tweaked” nerve is and how this was caused by a spay operation? In the past, Dr. Martin theorized a tweaked nerve might have been the problem, but we didn’t get into specifics. However, another possible explanation of why her self-inflicted wound was far from the site of the surgery is that Betsy was scratching near the edge of the large adhesive bandage that was put on after the spay.

What medications was she on for her condition when she died? Baytril and Prednisone.

Did we try massage of the affected area and how did she react? No, we didn’t.

Do we know how she got the parasites? No, we have no idea.

Would we share her case history? We would be happy to share Betsy’s history.

Do we have photos of Betsy and the area she mutilated? We have photos of Betsy, but none of just the wound.

Thanks again.

ANSWER: Thank you for the latest information on your rats. Here is what Dr. Booth says:

For Rat surgery, you can use surgical glue and suture or staples with an E collar made of old X-ray film. This works better than bandages. Having bandage adhesive on her paws would not make her chew off her own foot. She had to have some kind of abnormal sensation or no sensation to the foot. They can do a fecal analysis to check for tape worm eggs. Carmen Jane Booth, D.V.M. Ph.D.

Update: Our vet finally got back the report on the worms. It was Taenia taeniaeformis. Due to the isolation of our rats, Dr. Martin thinks it is possible that the worms came in with their lab blocks or bedding. *

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Updated February 13, 2015