Common Hairless Rat Health Problems

Updated on July 22, 2017
Godiva.  Never camera shy!  RIP
Godiva. Never camera shy! RIP

How I Started

I got my first rat when I was twelve years old after a long campaign with my mother. Suffice to say I would never have succeeded had someone not dumped two rats outside where they were caught by the local dog officer. I did pretty much everything wrong with Nappy but by the time I got around to the big bad world of breeding I was on the right track.

Still my first furless rat and litter were far from a planned event. I had wandered into a disgusting little pet store one day and saw Penny staring up at me. She was all pink with giant black eyes and was living in a ten gallon aquarium with three of her brothers. Did I mention it looked like she swallowed a tennis ball whole? I couldn't leave her there in that filth to have her babies so I took her home and a few days later she gave birth to six enormous babies. The last died at five days of age as Penny couldn't lactate and I wasn't great at hand feeding them. This was my introduction into the often complex world of the furless rat.

Pointers on Keeping Furless Pets

  • If you don't want your furless rats to have a lot of scratches, house them only with other furless. (The furry rats tend to be rougher with them, having no idea themselves what having no hair is like.)
  • Although aquariums are not recommended for most rats, they are the safest (and warmest) caging available for furless rats who scratch very easily on more traditional cages.
  • Always make sure there's at least one cloth item or a large pile of Care Fresh or similar bedding in their cage, for cuddling when it's cold.
  • Feed them a higher-protein and higher-fat diet then you would give a furry rat. Furless burn more calories trying to keep warm!
  • Keep an eye on their water bottle as they will drink more than a furred rat. I couldn't tell you why, but this has been my observation.
  • Make sure the humidity isn't too low. Furless can get dry skin.
  • If you have a male that gets "buck grease," you can give him a bath, but try to keep it to one bath or less a week as too many baths can also cause dry skin.

A large abscess formed on the body of a furless rat.
A large abscess formed on the body of a furless rat.


Abscesses are very common in rats, particularly if they are housed with other rats, as they are infections that form under the skin after a scratch or a bite. With that being said furless rats are more susceptible to getting abscesses because there's a lack of fur protecting them from these little injuries. They are very common on the neck area but can show up anywhere and give any owner a fright, as to an untrained eye they might appear to be a tumor. Not to fear abscesses can be tended at home or lanced by a vet. Personally I always try the home method first as it is less stressful for all. Basically when a scab starts to form you can take a warm wet washcloth, soaked in a salt water solution, and place it on the abscess until the scab starts to soften. After this it'll start to pop on its own and then you are in for a real treat because it'll be up to you to squeeze out any puss or fluid build up and wash it up really good. Just think of it as an enormous zit and be forewarned this will be the worst smell you will ever smell. With that being said if you keep the wound clean it should not reform into another abscess (although this sometimes can happen) and the wound should heal up OK on it's own providing there aren't any other issues. For stubborn abscesses that keep reforming in the same spot you may need to consult a vet for antibiotics.

Scratches, Bites, and Small Wounds

Because of their lack of fur the skin of a furless rat can get pretty banged up pretty fast. They can easily cut themselves on the wire corners of their cage or receive minor injuries during a scuffle or playtime with cage mates. Seeing an adult with completely unblemished skin is a bit like finding a unicorn. With that said these small scratches and injuries usually don't require any special attention and will heal up and go away or form scars. In the case of deep cuts or large wounds care needs to be taken to keep the area clean to prevent abscesses or other infections and if a wound refuses to shut Skin Glue (otherwise known as super glue) can suffice when you can't find an exotic vet to do stitches. Make sure to leave a little open for drainage - it helps with the not forming an abscess.

Buck Grease

All male rats produce a sort of oily orange substance that coats their hair when they're running around. Obviously if there's no hair to catch it this same substance will just build up on the skin of a hairless rat and turn into a sort of crusty marmalade coating. it doesn't hurt the rat but it is a bit gross. A bath can help them clean it off but try not to give too many baths - more than one a week may dry out their skin and do more damage than good. However a warm wet washcloth can take off a lot without fully submerging the poor little beasts. The photo here shows an otherwise pink furless male covered in orange buck grease, that is not his natural coloration. You can also see he has a bite mark from a playmate on his back too. Not to worry both these things happen frequently.

Other Skin Conditions

Furless rats can be pretty suseptable to skin conditions. Sometimes they can have protein allergies to the food they are eating, other times they might have dry flaky skin from low humidity, and still other times they might get calcified wounds. Calcified wounds are wounds that their bodies spend too much energy trying to heal and furless rats seem very prone to this abnormal response. Instead of just making new skin sometimes these wounds will have hair-like fibers in them which is the calcification. if left alone too long the calcification can get larger, the "hairs" thicker, and it can keep opening the original injury larger and larger. The biggest one of these I ever saw was the size of a quarter and had to be surgically removed by a vet - however these are slow growing and manageable at home if you catch them well before that. Tweezers work great to get the calcifications out and keeping the wound clean until it heals is always a good plan of action.

Eye Problems

Rats in and of themselves have very poor vision but the pink-eyed varieties have the least vision of any of them. They may sway their head from side to side trying to get a clearer view of what they are looking at. It is important to remember they can't see more than a foot or two in front of them so make sure to announce your presence before trying to pick one up by rapping on the cage or talking to them.

Furless rats are also prone to eye related birth defects which include but are not limited to: enlarged eyes, eyes that are unable to close, small or missing eyes, and entropy (when their eye lashes curl into the eyeball and cause irritation.) They can also get a lot of eye infections. Large eyes can sometimes be removed by a vet if they are causing pain (by being unable to be shut and moistened.) Eye infections need to be kept clean and a vet can decide if they need antibiotics. Otherwise the rest of these issues are just something that needs to be accepted as is.

Ring Tail

Ring tail is something that only certain fanciers even know about. Bizarrely I haven't seen it discussed by an veterinarians. However it is when a rat is kept on bedding that is too dry and that bedding sucks the moisture out of the skin of their tail causing constricted rings to form around the tail in one or more spots. This is a dangerous prospect because if it is left too long it can constrict the blood circulation in the tail and kill the whole tail - at which point only an amputation will save the rat from the following infection that will spread to the rest of its body. Beddings that have been known to cause this include corncob bedding and certain other very dry bedding types that are usually used for reptiles. In the photo you can see this rat has a constriction at the base of his tail causing swelling further up - this isn't a good thing either! Luckily if caught on time a little hand moisturizer and a change in bedding can save these tails.

Kidney Failure

Kidney failure is a tough thing to watch in a rat. There's absolutely nothing you can do about it except perhaps consider putting them out of their misery. It's a ghastly process to watch but an affected rat will rapidly lose weight and their skin will turn a very sickly shade of blue, grey, or sometimes even a bit green. This usually kills them within a week or two if it's allowed to continue. Back when I first started with furless rats this problem is what killed most of them in the US. Today better breeding has almost eliminated the problem but it is still a genetic issue and if you have a rat who dies from this please do not breed any of their surviving relatives.


Immuno-deficiencies have been purposely bred into furless lab rats for many years. This makes them susceptible to catch any and all diseases going around and makes them valuable for disease research. These rats are genetically different from most of the furless rats we find in the pet population today but every once in a while one of these "nudes" will slip into the pet population and break a heart of two. A lifespan of six months is very good for one of these rats living outside a sterile lab. Otherwise they die young and quick from just about everything.

The leaves of the Echinacea plant provide a great herbal remedy for lung issues.
The leaves of the Echinacea plant provide a great herbal remedy for lung issues.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory Infections are a leading killer in all rats but can be particularly nasty with furless rats because of their limited gene pool. Furless rats only produce furless babies when they are bred to other furless or furless carriers which means there's a lot of inbreeding going on and if someone is not wise on the benefits of occasionally outcrossing to furry rats (to expand the gene pool) or are just churning them out for money with little regards to their health, than this can become a big issue very fast. It has been my experience that respiratory infections take two things: genetic susceptibility and a contagious agent like Myco. Now Myco is extremely common and most rats will pick it up at some point or another in their life but only the ones with the weak immune systems or a genetic susceptibility to the disease will suffer chronic damage from it. Once caught respiratory infections are usually chronic for the rest of the rats life and it does wear them down after a while and will eventually kill them. Echinacea has proved a wonderful herbal preventative and treatment and for those who prefer to take them to the vet antibiotics can be ordered for these difficulties.


Cancer is the other really big killer of all rats and again is probably more common in furless because of their limited gene pool. Personally I have seen a lot of mammary cancer in particular in these lines. Sadly there's not much you can do except breed away from these lines and provide a healthy chemical free diet and exercise. Cancer is normally seen as tumors (not to be confused with abscesses) which can grow to be bigger than the rat if allowed to! Other types of cancer will just lead to wasting and lethargy. There's not much any one can do about cancer in rats today.

An out of control mammary tumor.
An out of control mammary tumor.

Breeding Difficulties

Breeding problems in furless rats are common. Usually these problems revolve around the fact that many of the females seem to have an inability to lactate. Sometimes they have milk for the first few days and then dry up, other times they may never make any milk at all. Add to this the fact that they have a reputation for being bad mothers and just outright abandoning pups and you got a recipe for a challenge that's for sure! Many breeders chose to breed a furry rat a day or two before the furless rat breeding so they can have a foster mother available if this becomes a problem. Other breeders prefer to only breed furry carrier females to avoid the lactation issues altogether. If babies are born to a non-lactating mother its probably not a good idea to use any of those babies as breeding stock in the future as they will likely pass the problem on (and yes, this goes for the males too! Their daughters may have lactation issues in the future!)

Questions & Answers


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      • Theophanes profile image

        Theophanes 4 weeks ago from New England

        @GremlinMom - Hey! Good to hear from you! Actually, male and female rats have very similar looking parts. In the very young (a week to four weeks old) you can only tell by the distance between their bits, but in older rats, past weaning, the appearance of testicles is where it's at. Undescended testicles would be very rare in a rat as they're normally bigger than their head (seriously!) but if you want to double check there's another thing you can look for that'd be easy to see on a hairless - nipples. Only the females have them in this species. I'm going to venture a guess you have a girl but good luck! :)

      • profile image

        GremlinMom 5 weeks ago

        I have a 2 1/2 year old male hairless rat named Gremlin. He is the sweetest rat I have ever had! I have also noticed that his testicles haven't dropped. Is this normal?? I know for a fact he is a boy cause we look for pics on the internet and he has a little dinger, lol! Hope someone can help me with me with this. Thanks in advance!

      • profile image

        jasmine 2 months ago

        I have two baby rats.They are almost 5 weeks I think.I got them form a breeder and she told me they week 5 weeks old and they were still so tiny! I have one white one and a hairless one. Both are from the same litter. both are female. Mt white one loves to be petted and still skittish about been held but still comes to the cage door. My Hairless one is very skittish still does not like to be touched,held or hear noises. she would rather hide out in the furry coat sleeve she has. Is it the hairless gene making her more skittish and not like me or do i just need to work with her more???

      • profile image

        Dan 8 months ago

        OK I understand now, thanks for giving me a headache.

      • profile image

        Dan 8 months ago

        "Rats in and of themselves " what??? I thought very deeply what this means but put put a fork in me.........

      • profile image

        Jess 19 months ago

        Thank you for this. We had an accidental litter born, and 4 of the 12 are hairless. 3 out of the 4 are blind. Their poor little eyes look like raisins... I'm not sure how to help or if I can, but it's interesting to know it's almost common for hairless to have eye issues.

      • Theophanes profile image

        Theophanes 2 years ago from New England

        Thank you for your kind comments Megan. Rats do indeed deserve some love too! If I didn't become allergic to the little buggars they'd still be romping through my house. :)

      • profile image

        megan 2 years ago

        Wow, great information! I appreciate the time the author took to describe in meticulous detail about the variety of issues that can arise. I have been rescuing rats for years now and have unfortunately come across almost everything on the list. It can be heartbreaking, but it's so worth it; to even save one rat is all worth it, it's certainly worth it to that particular rat. I always take mine out with me on my shoulder (providing it's good weather) and educate folks about them. Most have an irrational fear and hatred for them, but once they meet one, that all goes away. Rats need 'our' help and love and to teach folks about them. Together, we can save 1 rat at a time and change 1 mind at a time. Look at it this way, even if you only get a short period of time with your little bub(s), at least they knew love during that time they were in your care.

      • Theophanes profile image

        Theophanes 6 years ago from New England

        Well, I can't really give you an answer there. I can only guess if she's showing no outward signs of illness like breathing difficulties than she may have something internally wrong with her... cancer, kidney failure, some other disease. Wish I could help more but I have nothing.

      • profile image

        Ashu28 6 years ago

        Rat is pink eyed albino female .rat have regular bath twice a week.the problem is she doesnot eat anything.she does not have any sneezing or coughing.she has normal breathing.she is normal and active but problem is she doesnot eat and always scaraches her skin.also there is no vet in my area.can you tell me any home remedies

      • Theophanes profile image

        Theophanes 6 years ago from New England

        A female furless or a normal fury rat? Yellowing of the skin is usually a sign she hasn't been bathing herself, its a build up of natural greases from her coat and it would be just as itchy as if you decided not to bathe for a month. This means whatever is wrong with her has probably been going on for awhile but probably isn't related to the skin. Is she breathing hard? Or making coffee peculator noises? Is there anything else going on? I am afraid without knowing all this I can only suggest for now a consult a vet that accepts "exotics."

      • profile image

        Ashu28 6 years ago

        I have a white female rat of 2years old.From past two days she has a yellow coloured skin infection and she always scartches on her skin.she doesnot eat anything.what is the problem?how to treat it

      • Theophanes profile image

        Theophanes 6 years ago from New England

        Tonia, send me an e-mail and I will happily give you my opinion. :)

      • profile image

        Tonia 6 years ago

        Theophanes, I think my rat may have what you refer to as a calcification. I'm not certain. It started as a bump below the surface. Two weeks pass and nothing about its appearance changed. Then yesterday, it suddenly appears to have opened and has a hard spot in it. I've google-searched rat skin calcification but can't find any images that are similar to what I'm seeing on him. Do you have any photos? Or possibly, could I forward one to you of how he looks? If it's something I can take care of myself, I'd like to do self-care. The best small-animal vet in the area is EXPENSIVE! I've taken him to her before, but I'm looking for a cheaper alternative.

        Thanks for any help!

      • Theophanes profile image

        Theophanes 6 years ago from New England

        Tina button could have kidney failure or something else going on. You'd need to confer with a vet to know for sure.

        Christine: hairless rats are very prone to eye infections and problems. She will very likely loose that eye. A vet could determine if it's an issue that could be solved with antibiotic eye cream or if it needs to be removed.

      • profile image

        Christine 6 years ago

        My hairless rat Vomer developed some kind of eye problem about 2 mths ago . It's a thick lumpy like pink stuff that has a foul odor and is just building up along her lower eye lid. It is under the eyelid and on the eye. It's starting in her other eye just not a thick but I anticipate it will eventually become like the other eye. I suspect a eye infection but what can I do about it?

      • profile image

        newratowner 6 years ago

        thank you for the info i just got a new baby hairless from a pet store they say she is about a month old. so im glad i got her b4 she became food for a snake, she is sooo cute and curiouse always getting into something

      • profile image

        lila 7 years ago

        i have a cute hairless rat that we call cece shes super cute and one day me and my mom were in my room looking for her(she got out) and saw her run in with a big plum in her mouth!! lol XD

      • profile image

        Tina 7 years ago

        Please help my hairless "button" looks just like godiva in the pic...but in the last few months he has lost a severe amount of weight! He is skin and bones! He is still eating like normal...except he has become a little pickier, but still eats about the same as the other rats. I have even tried given him nutracal, but still no weight gain!

      • profile image

        Pamela 7 years ago

        Sorry for your loss Riley...

        I have a hairless named Violet who had one eye removed a year ago (vet said cancer) and now the other one looks the same as the first. I was wondering if she was in pain...what to do...? She's so sweet. It makes me sad.

      • profile image

        Riley 7 years ago

        This was so helpful. One of my rats died early this morning, and had a blue stomach when I found him. Now I guess I know what happened. *tear*

      • profile image

        Orlie 8 years ago

        I rescued an older hairless from a petshop. Although now uber friendly, he doesn't bite and is content to just hang out or eat. He will sit under a towel or blanket on my lap or inside my shirt. I am so glad I found this site, it gives me a heads up on what to expect. This is my first rat but when I saw all the others dissappearing from the pet shop (my comment about them finding nice homes was met with "yeah, they found a nice home in a snakes belly") I knew that I couldn't leave Kojak there and so nagged my husband until he gave in and let me bring him home. Kojak was about 6 = 9 months old when I got him so I knew that he would never be as friendly and confident compared to a baby that had been raised by hand, but I didn't care, I would rather work with him every day to get him used to me, feed him everything he likes and take care of him than ever see him to to the belly of hell!

      • profile image

        Lynny 8 years ago

        Wow! Maybe not a great idea for a first..., I'd be worried at every thing!

        I have to get from a petstore( my parents don't wanna drive 5 hours) so I thought I would figure out if I would have a better chance with a hairless or not.

      • profile image

        ladywolf777 8 years ago

        i never liked rats until one day i bought 6 baby rats to feed to my snake i know that's cruel but the little guy hung on my finger it wouldn't let go he looked like he wasd praying so i keeped them now i am a rat lover they are so funny


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