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Causes and Treatments of Skin Damage.

At some point or another in your rats life you will probably be faced with trying to work out where those wounds on your rats body came from, especially if the rat is living in a group as they should be.

There are multiple causes of skin lesions but I will list some of the more common reasons here but if none of these work then it is definitely best to consult with your vet. If your rats skin is already very red, has open sores or the rat is showing other symptoms like lethargy then a vet visit should be done before going ahead with any at home treatments as it may be something more serious than what is listed here.


My first thoughts when seeing rats with skin damage on their shoulders, necks, chins and faces tend to be that the rat has mites. Mites can sometimes live on rats for quite some time before causing an issue but when the rats immunity is being stressed the mites start causing all sorts of itches.

The best course of action is to use a product called Revolution. You will need to get the puppy and kitten formula (pink pack) as the other ones are too strong for rats. Each rat that lives with the effected rats needs to have 0.02ml applied to the backs of their necks or somewhere they can’t reach to lick it off while it is still wet (only takes about 5 minutes to dry). The revolution can be applied every 4 weeks or as needed.

In cases where mites are the cause and it is a high amount of mites you may need to re-treat the animals in 2 weeks time. For cases where it is only suspected that mites are the cause then observe the skin condition over a couple of days. After about 3-4 days, if it was mites, the rats skin should be starting to heal with no additional lesions unless the rats are over run with mites at which point another application will need to be done 2 weeks after the initial dose was given. Sometimes, even thought the mites have been treated the animals continue to have lesions appear. This may be caused by the wounds healing (we all know sometimes scabs can be itchy) or maybe the cause was never mites in the first place. If the skin is still being opened and you have treated for mites and have not actually seen your rat scratching then you may need to look at other causes.
NB- There is a few products on the market that claim to treat mites and mange. These products are normally in a spray bottle that you spray directly on the animal (generally labeled as “Mite & Mange spray”), these products are useless against an infestation on the rats and should not be used. The spray can also be inhaled causing issues with your rat’s respiratory tract.
Ivermectin is another product that vets tend to use with small animals to treat mites. Injecting this product into the animals can cause severe reactions, sometimes causing death. It is preferred that if Ivermectin is being used that a very small amount is applied to the rats neck which the animal will ingest by cleaning themselves. Applying the product to the animals’ fur is a safer way of using this product with less severe reactions generally.


If your rat is living with other rats and the treatment for mite’s has not helped with the irritated or wounded skin then you need to asses for fighting between your rats. Rats can and sometimes do fight. Some fights are just the rats asserting their dominance while others can be fueled by hormone overload (males).

If you have not witnessed a fight and have not heard any commotion that doesn’t mean it is not happening. Rats are very clever and know when we are around etc. Bite wounds normally are found around the rump of the animals but can be anywhere including the tummy area.

If you have witnessed fights that seem to be very aggressive or those that are causing wounds then the animals need to be separated when you are not there to intervene. Rats have been known to kill their playmates, especially when hormonal issues are occurring. If you suspect that your male or males are hormonal then a neuter is the best way to calm this all down so they can live together again.

If it is females that you are having the issue with then things are a little different. It is not common for females to fight severely, they will get into little spats and chase each other around, especially during the period that they are ready to mate but apart from that, females fighting severely who have lived in harmony together previously are fairly rare. Females can get aggressive if pregnant or after they have had young but if this is the case then she should be removed from the group so she can raise her young and then once they are weaned she can be slowly integrated back into her group.

Other possible causes

The last common cause is more of a reaction to the wounds healing. When the scabs start to form some rats can’t help but scratch because they appear to cause some irritation like when we get scabs.
Sometimes being given an anti-inflammatory medication like metacam can take enough of the discomfort away that the rats stop scratching or the use of medicated creams can also help. Most of the creams we can get in Australia via the vet for this are cortisone based and should be used with care and sparingly. Rats will want to lick at the cream so only apply a very small amount and watch the rat for long enough so the cream can be absorbed a little into the irritated skin.

Sometimes wounds can close over but bacteria is left under the scab which can also cause discomfort, some even become abscess that will swell up with pus and then eventually break open. Treatments for these issues can range from vet to vet depending on their knowledge with small animals.

If abscess issues arise then treatment is normally to leave the abscess to burst on its own. You can help this process by applying warm compresses to the affected area a couple of times a day which will bring the infection to the surface. Some of the tissue will turn black (the skin in that area is dying) and the abscess will burst. Generally the pus within this area smell’s terrible and it is important to make sure that the cavity is clean of all pus. The abscess should be allowed to heal, do not apply any products to make the cavity close quickly as this can result in another abscess forming because it has healed too quickly and trapped bacteria in the area again. An abscess should heal from the inside to the outside to stop infections to re-occur. Should you have a reoccurring abscess it is important to seek vet assistance as your rat may need a short course of antibiotics to treat the infection. Common antibiotics used are Vibravet or Baytril but may also be Amoxicillin or Bactrim.