Caring for a Paralyzed Rat

Hind limb paralysis is fairly commonplace in elderly rats, particularly males. There are a few areas where your aged pet will require some special care.

The Rat’s Cage and Bedding

It’s important to keep a paralyzed rat in a one-level cage, with soft, absorbent bedding.

An elderly rat who is losing control over his hind quarters is very prone to falls, along with foot and tail injuries (he may not feel that his foot or tail is caught, and the rat may sustain injury as he attempts to move forward. He may also fall off the side of a ramp.) Keep your rat safe by transferring him to a one-level cage.

In addition, you must opt for a soft, absorbent bedding. In the early stages of paralysis, the rat’s feet will “shuffle” and his tail will drag while he walks. If you’re using a rough bedding material, this can lead to friction burns, sores and scrapes. Once the rat is completely paralyzed, he will drag his rear legs and tail when he walks. This makes him even more prone to developing sores and friction burns, so it’s important that the bedding is soft.

I recommend using old cotton sheets and T-shirts as bedding (cut into 1-by-1-foot squares). This bedding option is machine washable and inexpensive. If you opt for fabric bedding, it’s important to avoid loose-weave fabrics and towels with a “loop” weave, as the rat’s nails can get caught in the loops, resulting in injury.

The soft Carefresh bedding is another good option, thought it’s more expensive.

It’s important that the bedding is really absorbent, as the urine will need to be wicked away while the rat does his business. Otherwise, he’ll be forced to drag his tail and undercarriage through the urine-soaked bedding.

The Rat’s Food Bowl and Water Bottle

Paralyzed rats cannot sit upright on their haunches and they cannot climb, so you must make a few adjustments to ensure that they can access their food and water.

Elderly rats must eat while standing on three legs (instead of sitting upright). This makes it a bit difficult to access food in a bowl with a high lip. Therefore, opt for a small saucer-type plate or a small, shallow bowl.

In addition, lower the water bottle so the rat can access the water while he’s standing on all fours.

Grooming a Paralyzed Male Rat

Paralyzed rats (even those who are in the very early stages of hind limb paralysis) need a bit of help when it comes to grooming, especially the males.

Male rats have a tendency to develop a waxy plug at the tip of the penis. In young healthy rats, you rarely ever see this waxy plug, as rats are meticulous groomers and they tend to this on their own. But older rats who cannot sit upright on their hind legs are therefore, they are unable to clean their genital area. (And fellow rats cannot help with this grooming need, since they can’t access the rat’s undercarriage.)

Therefore, it’s important to check for this waxy plug on a daily basis. It’s very easy to clean — just use a warm, damp paper towel to remove the build-up.

If you do not help the male rat with this type of grooming, the plug will block his urethra, making it impossible to urinate. This can lead to death, as bacteria and toxins accumulate in the rat’s body. The rat can also develop a urinary tract, bladder or kidney infection.

In a general sense, your rattie’s companions will do most of the grooming work. That’s a definite advantage to keeping more than one rat — the younger, healthier rats tend to groom and care for the older ones. That, and rats are very social animals, so you should never have just one!

Other Help for a Paralyzed Rat

Paralyzed rats are prone to developing skin sores and infections due to contact with urine (a condition called “urine scald.”) Therefore, it’s really vital to clean the cage daily (or twice daily if you have more than two rats, particularly if the older one develops an infection or sore.)

In addition, it’s helpful to check your rat twice a day to ensure he’s clean. A quick sniff will reveal whether he has urine on his belly, rear legs and the underside of his hind quarters. If you find your rat’s fur and skin is soiled, you must bathe him and wrap him in a towel to dry. After-bath time serves as a great opportunity for some cuddling!

I cleaned my elderly rat’s cage twice per day and I was very careful to check him regularly for soiled skin or fur. He was completely paralyzed for approximately five months and he never developed a sore or a skin infection, so it’s very possible to keep your rat paralyzed rat happy and healthy!

There is a very particular method used for bathing rats; you can make it enjoyable for the rat and the owner! See our related article with directions for bathing a rat (elderly and paralyzed or young and healthy!)

See our related article on rat paralysis symptoms and causes. And stop by our archives for additional rat care articles!

Photo Source: Kai Kuusik-Greenbaum on

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

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