Rats are great pets to have, but because of their short life span anyone thinking of adopting a pet rat should know how to care for an elderly or sick rat.
Most rats will live anywhere between 2-3 years although I have had the occasional pet rat that lived for 4 years with extra care. But because they have such short life spans you need to keep in mind when they get to be 2 years old they are middle aged and might slow down. At age 3 they are getting to be senior citizens and may need some extra care and more TLC. I've found that older rats like to be around their humans a lot more and just cuddle, they really like to be next to you or just sit in your lap and nap.
Adjustments to the Cage
As your rat gets older you may have to make a few adjustments to their cage so they can more easily get to things like their food dish and water bottle. Covering any slippery surfaces with fleece and taking out any upper levels when they start having a hard time walking around will make it easier for your aging rat and will minimize any falls they could have on a second shelf or stairs. Providing extra ground level beds and places to hide out will make it more comfortable for your rat.
When to talk to a Veterinarian
As with any older animal, there may be health reasons that they need to be taken to a vet's office. If they seem to be in pain, cannot walk on their own, stop eating or drinking or grooming themselves, it may be time to take your elderly rat to the vet's office and see what the vet can do to help your pet have a happy few more days or make the choice to humanely euthanize them.
What Illnesses to Look For
Rats can have certain illnesses just like humans can. Some to be on the look out for are Tumors, mites, upper respiratory infection and broken bones.
Tumors can usually be felt on your rat and as soon as you spot one you should make an appointment with your vet. They can sometimes be taken out if caught early and your rat may live a long healthy life, but rats can get very sick very quickly, so waiting is not a good idea.
If you hear or see your rat sneezing a lot, having trouble breathing or making wheezing noises while breathing that is a good sign that your rat may have an upper respiratory infection which if caught early can usually be cleared up with antibiotics.
Mites can sometimes get on your pets and there are sprays and baths that you can buy in most pet stores or you can take your rats to a vet and get something from them, but make sure if you spot small bugs on your rat that you do something or else they may loose all their hair from all the scratching they will do because of the mites.
Broken bones can result from falls, even short falls from upper shelves in their cage. If your rat looks like its having a hard time walking or is squeaking when you pick him up, you should take him to a Vet's office right away because he could be in pain.
As a rat owner you will face these choices as well others that may be very hard to make at the time, but I can tell you whole heart-idly that they are well worth it and you will not find a more loving animal to have as a pet.