Mites in Rats

Maria Zayas, DVM
Published: January 9, 2023
Mites in Rats

What are Mites in Rats?

Mites are small arthropods (the same family as spiders and lobsters) that live on or in the skin of animals. Mites are an uncommon issue for rats, however the most common mite is Radfordia ensiferia, also known as the rat fur mite.

Symptoms of Mites in Rats

Common signs of mites in rats include:

  • Itchiness

  • Red inflamed skin

  • Hair loss

  • Dull hair coat

  • Scratches on the skin

Causes of Mites in Rats

Mites are tiny insect-like animals that naturally live in or on the skin of animals. Sometimes they serve a purpose–like hair follicle mites. These usually don’t cause a problem unless the animal is sick or immunocompromised.

Other mites called ectoparasites can cause hair loss and itching when present on the animal and need to be removed. Rats primarily suffer from fur mites, caused by direct contact with infected rats or contaminated bedding. 

How Veterinarians Diagnose Mites in Rats

Mites in rats are diagnosed typically one of two ways:

Tape Prep Method: A small stick of clear tape is used around the lesion on the rat to collect dead cells, hair, and small mites living within the hair. The tape is then stuck to a slide under the microscope. This works well because fur mites don’t typically burrow deep into the skin like other mites.

Skin Scrape: This test consists of gently scraping along the surface of the skin and then transferring those collected skin cells to a slide under a microscope, where your vet can identify the mites.

Treatment of Mites in Rats

The most common way to treat mites is by giving a medication called ivermectin by mouth for about 1-2 weeks. In particularly severe cases, or mite species that live deeper in the skin, your vet may also advise giving medicated baths to your rat.

Recovery and Management of Mites in Rats

During treatment, it is important to keep your rat’s cage very clean. You’ll want to remove and disinfect all objects inside the cage and replace the bedding to lower mite counts in their environment. Use diluted bleach or white vinegar to disinfect their cage. Rats should almost never live alone but you should quarantine any rats with fur mites if the rest of your rats don’t have symptoms. Watch them closely for signs of stress during quarantine. Alternatively, your veterinarian may choose to treat all rats that have already been exposed.

Be sure to follow the medication schedule given by your veterinarian and complete treatment for as many days as you were advised, then re-check with your veterinarian to confirm the treatment was successful.

To prevent future mite infestations, proper care is essential. Make sure to keep your rat’s cage and bedding clean and avoid stressful events. Do not allow your rat to interact with other rodents outside of their colony as they can be a source of spread of mites.

Mites in Rats FAQs

How do I know if my rat has mites?

Rats with mites will have skin lesions. Your veterinarian can perform tests to find the cause, which might be mites.

How do you get rid of mites on rats?

Seek veterinary care to get rid of mites on a rat. After confirming diagnosis, your vet will provide you with medication such as ivermectin for treatment.

Can humans get mites from rats?

Rats with significant infestations may have enough mites for humans that handle them to notice some small bites, but rat mites cannot live on or infest humans.

Do rat mites go away on their own?

Typically, they do not. The best way to get rid of mites is to treat rats with ivermectin.

References

  1. Disorders and Diseases of Rats - All Other Pets. Merck Veterinary Manual.

  2. Fisher, P. G. Exotic Companion Mammal Dermatological Disease.  Veterinary Information Network. 2015.

  3. Hadley, T. L. Common Infectious and Parasitic Diseases of the Exotic Companion Mammal in the Shelter Setting. Veterinary Information Network. 2017.

  4. Keller, K. A. Quit Bugging Me: Ectoparasites in Companion Mammals. Veterinary Information Network. 2022.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Sergei Pivovarov


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