What are our options for our pet rat's (maybe) tumor?
August 8, 2008 5:32 PM   Subscribe

What are our options for our pet rat's (maybe) tumor? Today we noticed a what we think is a tumor on our 3.5 year old female fancy rat. It's under her left armpit and about the size of a grape. From googling it seems as if tumors are a common occurrence in female rats, and this is probably a mammary tumor. We were wondering if any of you had any experience with this sort of thing or possible recommendations for small animal veterinarians in the Atlanta area. We are hoping not to euthanize her.
posted by goHermGO to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A friend of mine had a daughter with pet rats, and one of the rats had this problem. She looked into surgery and the vet said it would be $500 for surgery, and that he couldn't guarantee the results.

There's not much you can do in terms of practical solutions to extend a rat's life. They only live so long.
posted by orange swan at 6:16 PM on August 8, 2008

3.5 years is a very, VERY long time for a rat to live! Wow!

It's worth taking her into for a checkup and to see what your options are.. Some vets - particularly those with a great deal of experience with small animals - won't charge you much for tumor removal.

Mammary tumors are very common in domesticated rats, definitely. But... my favourite rat developed a large lump under her chin that we were certain was cancerous. After much stress on my part, it turned out to be a cyst and, eventually, it went away on its own.

One friend had a tumor removed from her rat and, almost immediately, another tumor appeared.

Another friend had a tumor removed from her rat and it lived a very long time.

Regardless of what you decide, you'll have to be honest with yourselves and make the (horrible, painful, difficult) decision about what lengths and expense you're willing to go to in order to give your rat a longer life, what you're willing to put them through (surgery, recovery) and what the prognosis is, ultimately.

My biggest concern for all of my animals has always come down to the quality of life they can expect if they have a procedure done. If it will allow them to live longer, happier and healthier, I'm likely to go for it. If they're going to go through a lot of pain, suffering and anxiety, and not gain a LOT of time, I'm less likely to say yes to any procedure.

Either way, I'm sorry your rat isn't well.
posted by VioletU at 6:45 PM on August 8, 2008

My best friend raised rats for quite a while, and I was able to gain some experience with this problem while helping her care for them. Almost all of her rats developed mammary tumors at some point, most of them after the age of 3. Surgery is an option, sure, but it was terribly uncomfortable for her rats and put them under a great deal of stress. She learned later that feeding the rats flax seed (using either the flax seed oil or the ground seed), mixed with plain yogurt, could help keep the growth of those tumors under control. For most of her rats, it seemed to work great, and the tumors didn't get too out of control before the rats died of natural causes.

Anyway, the flax might be worth trying! Hope you can find a solution to help your little friend!
posted by I_love_the_rain at 7:01 PM on August 8, 2008

I had two rats with tumors on different occasions. One male, 3 years old, and one female 2 years old.

In both cases, the tumor eventually got big enough to affect their quality of life, but this took a few months. Both had surgery, and both lived over a year afterward - the male lived to the ripe old age of 4.5.

As I understand it, tumors are very common in older rats. They are almost always benign but can get big and cause difficulty both externally (trouble walking, discomfort, etc.) and internally (pressing against lungs or other internal organs.) Our male rat's tumor was almost golf-ball sized when it was removed.

Both of my rats recovered quickly, with no major complications from surgery. The female developed a second tumor a year later, though, and died shortly after the second surgery. She was 3 by then, though, and could have had an additional health problem.

Given the same situation, I'd do it again if I thought they were suffering and could have a healthy year or so after surgery.

Considering your rat is already 3.5 years old, I'd lean towards leaving the tumor alone and seeing what happens. There's a very good chance she can live with it for the rest of her normal lifespan and if it grows big enough to cause serious trouble you can consider your options then.

You should definitely see a small-animal vet for a checkup, though. They might know better than me how to deal with this. And watch for signs of serious trouble - lack of activity, low appetite, difficulty breathing.

As for money - It cost us less than $100 each time, but we used a "regular" vet who we happened to know well. A small animal specialist will probably charge more.

Good luck! Rats are great pets.
posted by mmoncur at 7:34 PM on August 8, 2008

I used to work in a laboratory with white rats. Rats tend to get subcutaneous cysts as they get older--it's very very common. Can you move it around under her skin? Then it's probably just a fluid-filled cyst, and not cancer.

Cysts can get quite big before they start to interfere with the animal's quality of life. (Golf ball or large egg would probably be too big.) If she is biting or scratching at it (abrasions, losing hair), or if you can see that it restricts her movements significantly, or if she begins to show signs of distress such as losing weight or stopping grooming, then you should bring her to a vet. But if she seems unconcerned, then just love her and her lump. Anesthesia for surgery is too stressful and risky to put a rather elderly rat through unless absolutely necessary.
posted by oceanmorning at 10:56 PM on August 8, 2008

Rat mammary tumors are hormonally responsive. Intact (non-spayed) rats produce more estrogen, which raises the risk of these tumors.

For future reference, the risk can be lessened by spaying the rat when young.

If the tumor is removed surgically, a spay should be done at the same time to reduce risk of recurrence.
posted by ebellicosa at 11:46 PM on August 8, 2008

posted by ebellicosa at 11:46 PM on August 8, 2008

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