Neutering in Rats

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson DVM

What is neutering?

Neutering is also referred to as orchidectomy or castration. It is a surgical procedure in which the testicles are removed to sterilize or render a male animal infertile.

Why should I have my rat neutered?

There are many behavioral and health benefits associated with neutering your rat.

  1. The obvious is the elimination of unwanted pregnancy if un-spayed female rats are present. To prevent breeding, it is easier to castrate the male than to spay a female (removal of both ovaries or the ovaries and uterus.).
  2. Neutering eliminates the risk of testicular cancer. Reproductive cancers are relatively common in rats. 
  3. Neutered rats are much less likely to display undesirable hormone-induced behaviors such as mounting, urine marking (or territorial marking), and/or aggression.
  4. Your rat may be calmer and easier to handle after neutering, as it is not experiencing the stresses of sexual frustration.  

When should I have my rat neutered?

Most rats are neutered between four and six months of age. Many veterinarians prefer to neuter at six months of age.

What does a neuter surgery involve?

This surgical procedure is done under general anesthesia. Rats should not be fasted the night before surgery, as you would a cat or dog having surgery. Your rat should have his food removed one to two hours before surgery to prevent food from accumulating in his mouth, which could make it difficult to pass a breathing tube for anesthesia. Your rat will be examined before the surgery, and your veterinarian may recommend some pre-operative blood tests. This ensures that your rat is healthy enough to have surgery performed and that there are no pre-existing problems that may make surgery inadvisable.

The operation will be performed through two small incisions in the scrotum or one just in front of the penis at the base of the scrotum. The hair in this area will be shaved, and the skin will be prepared for surgery. The testicles will be removed. Most of the time, the surgical incision will be closed with sutures placed under the skin (subcutaneous or intradermal sutures) or using tissue glue. Most rats go home within 24 hours after surgery.

What post-operative care will my rat need?

Your rat will be given pain medication in the hospital before the procedure and may be sent home with several days of oral anti-inflammatory pain medication. Your rat should be kept in a clean, quiet environment at home. Try to minimize excessive running, jumping, or rough play that may stress the incision. Your rat should be separated from other rats for five to seven days while healing and should be fed as usual. He should be eating and drinking within 12-24 hours. Inspect and assess your rat and the surgical site daily. Report any concerns regarding the surgical site or changes in behavior, appetite, drinking, urination, and defecation to your veterinarian ASAP. Occasionally, rats chew the sutures and open the surgical wound. If this occurs, your rat must receive immediate veterinary attention.

Skin sutures placed above the skin surface will be removed in seven to ten days. Sutures under the skin will dissolve over time.

Are complications common with neutering?

In general, complications are rare with this surgery. However, as with any anesthetic or surgical procedure, there is always a small risk in any species. To minimize risks, it is essential to follow all pre-operative instructions and report any signs of illness or previous medical conditions to your veterinarian before your rat is prepared for surgery.

The potential complications may include:

  • Anesthetic reaction.Any animal may have an unexpected adverse reaction to any drug or anesthetic. These reactions cannot be foreseen but are extremely rare. 
  • Internal bleeding.This may be associated with any cut or manipulated tissues. This is very rare and is more likely to occur if your rat is too active in the days following surgery. Signs to watch for include weakness, pale gums, depression, anorexia, or a distended abdomen. 
  • Post-operative infection. Although rare, this may occur internally or externally around the incision site. The infection can be managed with antibiotics. Infections most commonly occur if the rat licks the surgical site excessively or is kept in a damp, dirty environment. Monitor the surgical site daily for swelling, redness, wound breakdown, pus, or other discharge.
  • Suture Reaction:This is uncommon but occurs when a sensitive animal’s skin reacts to certain types of suture material. This may result in irritation, redness, swelling, or, less often, a draining wound or tract that may appear up to several weeks after surgery. Further procedures may be required to remove the suture material and correct the issue.

Will neutering have any adverse effects on my rat?

The vast majority of rats will experience no adverse effects following neutering. Many myths and beliefs about neutering are not supported by facts or research. Your pet will not become fat and lazy. Discuss the pros and cons or concerns you may have with a veterinarian familiar with rats.

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