The Rat Fan Club

This article is from the Rat Health Care booklet. Order one today! Check out the info at Rat Books

Finding a Good Rat Veterinarian

by Debbie "The Rat Lady" Ducommun

Over the years I've received many calls about the problem of finding a veterinarian who understands the treatment of rats. I've heard many sad stories of rats lost due to the lack of knowledge or caring of vets. One rat died after being spayed due to hypothermia and blood loss. When the owner picked her rat up she knew from her poor condition that she was dying, but the vet insisted the rat was fine! Another vet told a rat owner that it was impossible to remove a medium-sized tumor because it was too big and instead recommended the rat be euthanized. I've heard of vets who say "There's no point in removing tumors from rats because they never survive the surgery" (of course, we know different) or "It's not worth the time and money because their lifespan is so short." Another vet euthanized a rat with a broken leg because he said he couldn't do anything for him.

Of course not all vets are uncaring or completely unknowledgable about rats. But...
1. It's obvious that vets do not receive adequate training in the treatment of rats at vet schools. And some vets feel that since many rat owners aren't willing to pay for the same medical treatment for their rat as they would their dog, cat, or bird, it doesn't pay for them to develop this knowledge.

We must combat this attitude by making it clear that we want competent medical care for our rats and that we are willing to pay reasonable rates. (I think some vets overcharge because they don't want to be bothered, or are willing to take advantange of desperate owners. For example, quotes for $300 to remove a small tumor, or $200 for an $8 blood test.) And if any vet or staff member makes a derogatory comment about rats, we must tell them that we don't appreciate such an attitude.

2. Some vets, with the best of intentions, believe that if they can treat cats and dogs, they can also treat rats, without any special knowledge. They may not realize that rats have special needs, for example regarding post-operative and nursing care. Therefore we must be involved in the treatment process to make sure our rats get proper care. We must also take every opportunity to educate our vets on proper care.

The "Types" of Vets

In my experience there tends to be 4 basic types of vets when it comes to rats:
1. those who don't respect rats, regardless of their knowledge and experience (although it's doubtful they would gain much of either with such an attitude).

2. those who respect rats but who believe they already know all they need to know to treat them (even if they really don't) and are not open to advice.

3. those who respect or even like rats but who don't have the knowledge or experience to properly treat them. These vets generally are open to advice.

4. and finally, that gem among veterinarians, one who truly respects and likes rats, and through experience, openness, and a search for learning, has developed the knowledge needed to properly treat them.

I recommend avoiding type 1 or 2 vets like the plague. Although type 2 vets may have some experience treating rats, their unwillingness to consider alternatives based on lay-experience can lead to problems. So of course, our goal is to locate a type 4 vet, but since they're few and far between, many of us need to instead work with a type 3 vet who is willing to work to become a type 4. I would much prefer to work with a type 3 vet who is willing to read up on rat health care and listen to suggestions from their rat clients than a type 2 who will not listen.

How to Locate a Good Vet

First, if you're looking for a new vet, or have just moved, look on our vet referral list, or check with one of the other rat clubs for a referral. If there isn't a recommended vet in your area, I suggest the following strategy. Call all the vet offices in your area and ask them who they refer their rat patients and other "exotic" animals to. Generally one or more vets in an area will establish a reputation as the "exotic" animal vet. Make a list of all the vets mentioned, call their offices and ask for the vet to call you when it's convenient. Then ask the following questions:
How do you feel about rats as pets?
How many rats do you treat each year?
What type of rat surgeries have you done? How many and what has been the success rate? (It shouldn't be less than 95%.)
Do you require that food be withheld overnight before surgery? (Tests whether they know that rats can't vomit. The answer should be no.)
What treatment do you recommend for a mycoplasma infection? (Tests whether or they're familiar with this most common of rat diseases. The vet should mention some of the treatments discussed in my Rat Health Care booklet.)
If I could provide you with a booklet on rat health care written by a lay-expert on rats, how would you feel about this? (Tests their willingness to learn and accept advice.)

Once you have the answers to these questions, you should have a pretty good idea of how knowledgeable and experienced they are regarding rats, and their attitude towards rats.

First Visit to the Vet

Finally, it's best to take one of your rats in for a basic exam to find out how the vet handles and treats your rat and whether they seem easy to talk to. Try to get a feel for how open they are to suggestions and discussion. It's a definite plus if they put a towel down on the cold metal table for your rat.

During the exam, the vet should examine all your rat's parts, especially teeth. She should perform an internal exam on your rat (feeling the abdomen) and listen to the chest with a stethoscope. She should handle your rat gently but firmly without fear or nervousness. She should also take your rat's history, asking about his age, diet, type of cage, bedding, litter, and previous health problems.

Although this process can be time-consuming and expensive, it's the best way to insure that your vet will be a true working partner with you in the health care of your rat. But what if the local "exotic" vet doesn't pass muster? Then you must try to find a vet who is willing to learn more about rats.

Once you've located a vet you feel comfortable with, tell her about The Rat Fan Club and suggest that she subscribe to the Rat Report. Suggest she buy a copy of Rat Health Care. It would be a particularly good sign if she follows through on these suggestions. If not, consider buying at least the booklet for her.

Then (and this is always important) if your rat needs medical treatment, read up on the problem yourself so you can be involved in the process. And don't be afraid to question your vet on a particular treatment. After all, you know your rat best! Only through this type of action and encouragement will the proper treatment of rats become "commonplace" among veterinarians.

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