Strokes are more common in older rats, but can occur in young rats too. A stroke can be caused by either a cerebral hemorrhage, blood clot in a brain artery, brain abscess, or tumor. The most common sign of a stroke is weakness or paralysis, which can affect the whole body or only part of it. During a massive stroke, there may be loss of consciousness, seizures, and irregular breathing. It is also possible for rats to have a series of minor strokes that cause increasing symptoms. A hemorrhage from a pituitary tumor can cause symptoms similar to a stroke.
Even after a massive stroke, a rat can recover either partially or completely, so don’t give up on a rat who is suddenly paralyzed. It may take a week or more to see any improvement. A severe stroke will often leave a rat too weak to care for himself so he will depend on your for his many needs and care such as:
Because the rat will be unable to eat by himself he will depend on you to feed him, just as people who have had a stroke need help. Hand feeding is easy and you will get the hang of it after just a few feedings. The feedings will be a time of special bonding with your rat because he is now helpless and needs you. You can do it! To find this website's article about food for hand feeding and the process itself, go to the Healthcare tab above. On the drop down menu, click on Food. Once there, scroll down to the section called "Help for Special Needs Rats."
A rat who has had a stroke is usually unable to stand up well enough to drink from his water bottle so you will need to lower the water bottle significantly. If you still don't see your rat drink water you will need to give him water by syringe or he will become dehydrated. Please thoroughly read this website's article about food for hand feeding because it will also review proper body positioning for giving rats water. There is a high risk of rats choking on water and aspirating it so this is very important. Just go to the Healthcare tab above. On the drop down menu, click on Food. Once there, scroll down to the section called "Help for Special Needs Rats."
Rinsing and Bathing
Rats who have had a stroke are almost always unable to care for themselves. You will need to bathe the rat at least twice a week. To find this website's article on Bathing Rats go to the Reading tab above. On the drop down menu click on Bathing Rats. In addition to bathing the rat at least twice a week you must thoroughly rinse off his penis or her vaginal area with warm water at least once each day to try to prevent urinary track infections. Also, rinse the rectum with warm water at least once each day to remove stool that may have hardened around the rectum preventing a bowel movement. The rat must not become impacted with stool. Dry the rat well with paper towels so he/she doesn't get sick.
Risk of Falling
Rats who have had a stroke are at high risk for falling. If they live in a multiple level cage they should be moved to a larger single level cage or have all shelving and ladders removed from their multiple level cage. A rat who has had a stroke will most likely be unable to climb, but can wiggle down a ladder and fall off of it or gain access to a lower level and become stranded away from water. The safest thing is to modify their cage into a hospital cage for their protection.
A rat who has had a stroke will be less active and body temperature will be lower so warmth is important. The best bedding material for rats is fleece blankets so provide them in your rat's cage. Keep your rat's cage in a warm area of your home away from drafts.