Pet rats often get itchy skin, especially during the winter, and watching the poor thing scratch all day can make you feel terrible. Aside from given the rat a bath regularly, you can provide him with essential fatty acids to help reduce skin irritation. The fatty acids can be found in oils, such as fish oils, and are a natural remedy. It does not require a vet visit or prescription.
What are fatty acids and what do they do for a pet?
Fatty acids, according to Dr. Shawn Messonnier DVM, are also called Omega-3 and Omega-6. They can found in fish oils. The best oils have eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), but can also be found in linoleic acid and gamma-linoleic acid from evening primrose. Fancy words aside, these fatty acids have been used to treat allergies in pets, but can also treat kidney disease, lower cholesterol and reduce arthritis symptoms.
What are causes of itching in pet rats?
Rats can get itchy skin from mites and fleas, and are treated differently than with fish oil. Some rats are allergic to certain foods. Dry air, especially in winter, can cause itchy skin in rats. Some rat owners will claim that too much or too little protein in the rat’s diet is also a cause. The problem with that is rats need a high protein diet. The worst you can do is make your rat fat with too much protein or more susceptible to disease with too little. Many rats are allergic to peanuts and sunflower seeds, which are high in protein. That might be where that claim has come from. Stress is another cause of itching.
If your rat has been in stressful situations, such as being attacked by other rats, alone in a cage or change of home, it might make them start itching. To test for a food allergy, do not give your rat a certain food for a week. Then give them the food, and take away another, until the itching clears up. Then you know what the culprit is.
What fish oils should you give your rat?
There are two good choices for your rat. You shouldn’t give your rat fish oil meant for dogs because dogs are so much bigger. You can use fish oil meant for cats. Dr. Messonnier suggests not using oil from flaxseed. The body converts the acid in flaxseed to the essentially fatty acids (EPA and DHA) rats need, but not all pets can convert it.
-Nordic Naturals sells an Omega-3 Pet liquid. For rats, use the Cats and Small Breed Dogs formula. It contains both EPA and DHA. A 2-ounce bottle costs $15. There are other brands with a similar formula.
-FerreTone is a vitamin supplement for ferrets, but is a good choice for rats. It contains linoleic and linolenic acid to give the pet rat his essential fatty acids. It also has several vitamins that are good for rats, too. It is readily available in pet stores for around $8 for 8-ounces.
How much fish oil should you give your pet rat?
Rats are smaller than cats and ferrets, so they do not need the same dose. You can get away with 1/2 teaspoon a day. If you give them capsules, they won’t need one every day. The liquid fish oil is the easiest to give a rat. You can let them lick if off the spoon or put it on their food. If you are worried about giving your rat too much of the fish oil, call your vet and let them give you a specific dose. When in doubt, always call the vet.
Are their alternatives to itchy skin besides fish oil?
There is a prescription medication called Invermectin. It can be given as a shot or a liquid that is rubbed behind the rat’s ears. A few shots are usually required and that means several vet visits. It is the best treatment for mites. Try using fish oil before paying for the added cost of Invermectin. Fish oil is all-natural and requires no prescription or vet costs. Do keep in mind there is the chance that the fish oil will not help your rat’s itchy skin. It is not a cure-all and research is still being done on its use. It will not harm your pet to try.
Messonnier, Dr. Shawn, DVM. Fatty Acids for Pets, preciouspets.org
Omega-3 Pet Cats and Small Breed Dogs, Nordic Naturals
FerreTone, Petco Animal Supplies, Inc.