Are you worried that your rat isn’t seeing the world as they once did? It can be a bit alarming to think that your rat is going blind. But how do you work it out? Well, the good news is that there are two simple tests you can do to help find out. We’ll walk you through both of them and how to take care of your rat if they are going blind.
Is my pet rat blind? Here’s how to tell – you can either conduct a finger test in front of their cage or you can conduct a finger test when they’re trying to focus on something else. We’ll walk you through both of these tests in a minute. However, the only conclusive way to know if a rat is blind is to get advice from a vet.
Before we get to the tests though, let’s take a look a rat’s eyesight, whether rats can go blind and what might affect their vision. Then, finally, we’ll take a look at what you need to do if your pet is blind.
Rats Don’t Have The Best Eyesight
It’s worth noting that rats aren’t like some other animals, they don’t have what you’d call 20/20 vision in the first place. In fact, if you could see through a rat’s eyes, you’d find that they see the world through a blurry haze.
They can’t see much beyond a few feet at best and are very much near-sighted creatures, so, if your rat isn’t reacting to your presence on the other end of a big room – it’s that they can’t see you but it doesn’t mean they’re losing their vision, it just wasn’t that good in the first place.
Rats have much better hearing, however, so if you cough, or open a door, or scuff your shoes on the carpet – then they will react but it’s to the sound of you and not because they magically recovered their visual powers.
The truth is that rats were designed to operate in the near dark, even close up their vision isn’t the best and at distance it’s non-existent. So, before you start worrying about a rat going blind, it’s important to remember that your rat isn’t particularly reliant on its vision, anyway.
Rats Are Also Color Blind (Compared To Us)
Rats see in a different light frequency range when compared to human beings. So, they don’t see the whole spectrum of different colors, but they can also see ultraviolet, which we can’t.
The majority of what a rat sees is likely to appear black and white (with a touch of grey and some color but how much isn’t certain).
So, one thing’s for certain – you can’t test a rat’s eyesight with a color based test because they’re guaranteed to fail even if they’ve got excellent vision, for a rat.
Can Rats Go Blind?
Yes, all animals with eyes can go blind. Rats do seem to be particularly prone to going blind which is probably linked with the fact that their eyesight wasn’t great in the first place. However, there are some odd myths linked to rat blindness (some of which even have a little bit of truth to them).
Does A Rat’s Eye Color Matter?
Yes, it appears it does. Rats with red or pink eyes are known to have particularly poor eyesight when compared to rats with eyes of other colors. Those with red eyes also show far greater levels of photosensitivity (that is their eyes react extremely quickly to any light) than other rats too.
These rats seem to struggle with “depth of field” which is a term most commonly used in photography and refers to the area in view which is in focus.
So, you can often see a red-eyed rat shifting its head constantly while it tries to figure out what it is that it’s seeing because this moves the object through the depth of field the rat can focus on.
Some people claim that in exchange for this handicap, red-eyed rats see better in the dark. This sadly, isn’t true. As you might expect – nothing can see in places with no light and these rats don’t see any better in low light environments than their peers do.
Albino Rats And Blindness
Rats which have pink eyes because they are albino are actually at a disadvantage when the light is poor – they see markedly worse than their peers do.
This has a scientific explanation: rats with pink and red eyes because of albinism don’t develop the same number of rod-shaped receptors in the eye. Why? Well, because these cells only develop when in the presence of melanin (the colored pigment in the eyes).
This means that about 1/3 of their rod cells don’t form properly. This leaves your albino rat at a distinct disadvantage in the sight department.
Sadly, albino rats often end up becoming disabled just a few weeks into their lives. Most albino rats that reach maturity will either go blind or be very close to blind.
Exposure To Light May Be A Problem For Pink + Red-Eyed Rats
It is difficult to be certain of this without conducting what would be fairly cruel experiments, but it seems reasonable to suspect that rodents with these light colored eyes are going to find extended exposure to sunlight or bright light damaging to their eyes.
So, if you want to help them out you can:
- Ensure that your cage is nowhere near bright lighting
- Make certain that you keep the curtains closed unless it’s a cloudy day
- Consider using window panels that have a darkening effect (it can be useful to go for removable panels that you can move around if you want to move your rats around the house)
What Else Can Make A Rat Go Blind?
Rats are a bit like people in this respect. They can go blind for a whole host of reasons. They can be born blind, they can get sick and lose their sight, they can go blind due to dietary deficiencies, they can even go blind because their genetics determined that they would.
One thing you should watch out for is if your rat gets any kind of infection in their eye. If you don’t get these treated quickly (watch for signs of swelling and/or bulging of the eye as well as inflammation in the tissue around it) then it might lead to blindness.
Rats play fight a lot and it’s entirely possible for a rat to lose an eye in a fight. Their claws are very sharp, and their eyeballs are very sensitive.
While you cannot prevent all forms of blindness in your rats, you can ensure that they are fed properly and don’t suffer from blindness due a poor diet. You may even want to add multivitamins to their feed (though vitamins designed for rats and not those for humans, of course).
Will My Rats See Better In The Night Time?
Yes, in theory because rats are designed to deal with a nocturnal world. In reality, much of a rat’s real interaction with the world comes from smell and hearing. It’s not that they don’t see better at night – it’s that they’re still not very visual creatures.
They’re far more likely to hear a predator creeping up on them in the wild than they are to see it. There are also fewer predators roaming the world at night, which is why they prefer to go out and hunt in the dark.
How To Tell If Your Rat Is Going Blind?
There are two simple tests to see if your rat is going blind. However, if you want absolute confirmation – you’ll need to consult a vet, there is no home blindness diagnostic kit for rats:
- The finger test. Make sure your hands have been thoroughly washed before you try this – otherwise they’re more likely to respond to the smell of food than the sight of your finger. Hold your finger about 3 inches away from the edge of their cage and then move it backwards and forwards through their field of vision. If they can track the finger – they can see. If not – you will want to repeat this test a few times before you worry it’s going blind, sometimes rats just don’t want to cooperate with this test.
- The sneaky finger test. If you rat keeps moving its head around and looking like it’s trying to focus. Bring your finger up to the side of them but without making noise. If the rat doesn’t see it immediately – they may be going blind.
What To Do If Your Rat Is Blind?
The good news is that a blind pet rat can live a long happy life rather like a blind person can. You just need to be aware that changing the space they are in can cause distress and that they are going to take longer to do certain things than a sighted rat. Try not to move things around in their cage as it can result in confusion.
Is my pet rat blind? Here’s how to tell: you can conduct the finger test and/or the sneaky finger test and if you suspect your pet rat is blind, you can talk to your vet to have this confirmed. Don’t worry, though, a blind rat can still lead a happy and fulfilling life, you just need to make life as easy for them as possible.