If you have a rat and it’s starting to lose some of its hair, you may be wondering if this is a natural process driven by aging? Well, it can be but it might also be an indicator that something is wrong but don’t worry – it’s usually quite straightforward to identify the reason for hair loss in a rat.
Do old rats lose hair? Is it normal? Yes, to some extent it is normal (though a healthy rat can’t go bald – unlike a human being) for an ageing rat to lose some hair. However, it’s important to check whether you rat is losing hair because of age or another, usually treatable, cause.
In this guide we explain why it’s normal for older rats to lose their hair and the hair cycle for rats as well at the potential problems which can cause premature hair loss in rats and their possible solutions.
The Rat Hair Cycle
Rats are, of course, born hairless but it doesn’t take long for them to gain their coat.
Baby rats grow their fur and then they molt and end up looking patchy while they do so, in fact, it’s possible during their first molt (at around 3-4 weeks of age) they will end up almost bald again.
Rats will regrow their coats (though some may end up 90% bald and never grow a full coat at this stage) after this molt and while they will molt again throughout their lives, they will never molt as severely as this again.
From here on in, rats become fastidious about cleaning themselves and are constantly grooming their own hair – even more so than cats do!
As rat reach the end of their lives, they may start to neglect their grooming and even if they do groom their hair may not grow back as fast as it once did.
They won’t go bald (a bald adult rat is a cause for serious concern) but they may start to lose hair in little clumps and their overall appearance may be a little shabbier than it used to be. This is nothing to worry about.
Potential Problems That Cause Premature Hair Loss In Rats
While rats can lose their hair in their old age, there are plenty of things that can cause your rat to lose their hair before they get old too and it’s worth scoping your rat out carefully for some of the signs of these things before assuming it’s all about them getting old.
Hair loss when caused by other underlying problems is known as barbering in rats. And these are the main potential causes:
Let’s took a look at each in turn and what you can do about it.
Parasitic Infections (Probably Mites or Lice)
Rats are very susceptible to parasitic infection and mainly these are likely to be lice or mites. They can be picked up on your clothes as you wander about in the outside world and then brought home – it’s very difficult to keep pet rats completely clear of infections like these.
Lice can often be seen visually on the coat itself and you may be able to identify mite clusters under the surface of the coat. If you suspect or have confirmed, either, it’s easiest to get them treated by a vet – who will usually treat all of your rats for the same fee (and even if they don’t, yet, have the mites or lice – this will stop them from getting it).
It’s a bad idea to use spray and powders unless directed to by a vet as they can do more harm than good.
Fungal Infections (Ringworm)
Ringworm is possible in rats but it’s much rarer than it is on cats or dogs, probably because your average household rat doesn’t go outside to play (because it’s not safe).
However, as ringworm can be transmitted from rat to human or human to rat, it’s imperative that if you find yourself suffering from ringworm (raised round skin lesions) that you get your rats treated too. Your vet should be able to recommend a treatment over the phone for ringworm.
Now, we’re going to assume that you’re not deliberately starving your rats, in which case they are clearly going to be malnourished but rather that you’ve examined all the other potential avenues for hair loss in your rats and you have concluded that it’s not old age or any other cause.
If that’s the case, you can add multi-vitamins and even additional minerals to your rat’s diet using a specially formulated multi-vitamin for rats (which you can buy online or from your vet). You will add this to their food and/or water as directed on the packaging.
As there are large variations in the makeup of particular food stuffs from region-to-region, it’s difficult to know what kind of malnourishment your rats are facing without expensive tests – so, it tends to be cheaper and easier to use generic supplements to combat this.
Abuse (Often Found When Adopting Rescue or Feeder Rats)
We’re not suggesting, in any way, that you might be abusing your rats but if you’re one of the kind souls that has taken in a rescue rat or one of the unlucky souls to have purchased a feeder rat as a pet without knowing it. You may find that they are losing hair.
Note: A feeder rat is a rat bred by an uncaring breeder with the specific intention of it becoming food for another animal. These rats are usually treated very badly and are rarely socialized which can be horrifically distressing to the rat.
The only thing you can do is give them love, support and time and hope that they recover from their ordeal.
Rats, according to vets, are very prone to allergic reactions and the culprits can range from a room deodorizer to the type of litter that you bought. It might also be something in their food.
Now, you can try a process of elimination to try and work out what the allergy might be (including an elimination diet if needed) but while the rats are suffering and you have no idea what’s causing the barbering, you might want to wash your rat occasionally in a gentle allergenic shampoo (and conditioner).
You might also want to add a little fish oil to their meals which is said to be a natural antihistamine for rats.
If none of this works, you might want to ask the vet for Prednisolone for your rats but be warned – this can have side effects.
Sometimes, rats, just like people don’t get on very well with each other. A rat showing large amounts of unexplained hair loss might be getting beaten up by one of its cage mates. If you find that you can hear the rat squealing a lot – it’s a strong possibility that this is the case.
If you rats have only been recently introduced to each other, then this may take a while to rectify itself, but it will eventually. The fighting/bullying is a dominance ritual and it will stop once it has become clear which rat is the dominant rat.
The final likely cause of barbering in rats is stress and/or boredom. Rats are highly intelligent creatures for their size, and they need to keep their minds occupied. If they can’t get out and play, they can become distressed and start pulling at their own fur.
They may also be stressed by too much noise, too much light, etc. just like people can with the same barbering outcome.
To relieve boredom – give your rats room to play, to relieve stress – try and work out what’s causing it and remove the source from your rat’s lives.
You also get some types of rats that are short haired, curly or even bald – like this Dumbo Double Rex:
Do old rats lose hair? Is it normal? Yes, it is. In fact, rats are just like people in this respect though a healthy rat won’t ever go completely bald, either. However, just because older rats lose their hair – it doesn’t mean that hair loss means your rat is getting old.
There are many other possible causes of hair loss in rats and it’s important to ensure that you identify the right cause as many can easily be treated and that means your rat will stop barbering and return to their usual happy, healthy coat.