Hairless rats have a strange appearance and special needs that are slightly different from the averaged furred pet rat. Hairless rats are bred from Rex rats, one of many rat breeds. Rex rats, which have a coat that's curlier and coarser than an average fancy rat, have one copy of the Rex gene. When a rat gets two copies of the Rex gene, he is born hairless. Hairless rats are sometimes referred to as "Double Rex" rats, a reference to the two copies of the Rex gene. Unlike many other "hairless" animals, hairless rats are almost completely bald. Most will have some fine, sparse fur near the nose, around the ankles, and on the tail, but otherwise, they're all skin. This hairless attribute means that hairless rats have specialised care requirements, different from furred rats.
Get an appropriate rat cage. Hairless rats, like all other rats, require a large cage with bar spacing that's 1/2 inch or smaller. Rats should never be kept inside a fish tank, as this does not allow for good ventilation. Good ventilation is vital to ensure the health of a pet rat due to their highly sensitive respiratory systems. The floor of the cage must not be exposed wire. Some of the larger cages appropriate for rats are only available with wire floors, but this leaves the rat prone to foot and leg injuries. To remedy the problem, place a section of newspaper, changed daily, over the floor. To cover wire ramps, cut an appropriately sized piece of fabric and secure the fabric to the ramp by poking holes in the fabric and securing it to the floor with zip ties. Cut away the excess zip tie plastic. The fabric covering for ramps must be changed weekly, or sooner if needed.
Use soft cage bedding to accommodate a hairless rat's sensitive skin. Cage bedding must be soft and easy on the skin. There are two bedding options appropriate for hairless rats: Fabric cage bedding or CareFresh Ultra bedding. CareFresh Bedding is usually recommended for rats, whose sensitive respiratory systems are damaged by the oils in pine or cedar wood shavings. But hairless rats cannot tolerate the regular CareFresh bedding, which is too rough for their baby soft skin. CareFresh Ultra (white in colour) is softer and is therefore acceptable for use in a hairless rat's cage. The soiled bedding must be removed daily and a complete bedding change is required once a week. The other option available to hairless rat owners is using fabric bedding. Old T-shirts, old jersey sheets, fleece and other soft cotton fabrics can be placed inside the cage, atop a section of newspaper. The hairless rats will nest and burrow in the soft and warm fabric. The fabric, like the CareFresh, must be switched out daily and then laundered.
Place the hairless rat's cage in a warm, draft-free location. A hairless rat is prone to becoming chilled, so avoid placing the rat's cage near an open window or other draughty spot.
Clean the rat's cage daily. Hairless rats cannot tolerate a dirty cage and their sensitive skin will develop rashes, sores and infections if exposed to urine or faeces. Daily cage cleanings are required and absolutely vital to a hairless rat's health. If you are not willing and committed to cleaning out a hairless rat's cage on a daily basis, it is best to opt for a different pet.
House your hairless rats with furred rats, when possible. A hairless rat with a furred cagemate is more likely to stay warm when the room gets chilled. Rats tend to sleep and cuddle together when they're cold, sharing body heat. This works to a hairless rat's benefit.
Feed your hairless rat a diet that's higher in fat and calories. The hairless rat's body uses more calories than a furred rat, and it takes more energy for the hairless rat to maintain his body temperature, so it's vital to feed a diet that accommodates that. Some great foods for hairless rats include avocado, cottage cheese, meat, nuts, yoghurt and cream cheese spread thinly over whole grain crackers.
Monitor your hairless rat's skin for dryness. If dry skin is a problem for your hairless rat, provide chunks of bread soaked with olive oil. This will help to keep the rat's skin moist and supple. If this does not fully remedy the problem, massage unscented baby lotion (sensitive skin formula, if available) or pure olive oil into the rat's skin once a day.
Monitor your hairless rat for skin lesions. Sebaceous cysts are the most common skin lesions seen in hairless rats and these can often become infected. Some of these cysts can become quite large and will require lancing, twice-daily cleaning and a course of antibiotics to promote healing. For rats who are prone to sebaceous cysts, try bathing the rat once or twice weekly with a gentle antibacterial soap to remove dirt and dead skin cells that clog the rat's skin pores. Following the bath, massage a non-comedogenic and unscented baby lotion (pick a sensitive skin variety, if available) to prevent dryness. If this fails to improve the situation, speak with your veterinarian about trying your hairless rat on a course of antibiotics and a prescription shampoo.
If you use CareFresh Ultra bedding for your hairless rat, a T-shirt piece or a small fleece receiving blanket should still be provided to give the hairless rat a warm place to sleep if he becomes chilled.
Never keep a hairless rat in wood shavings. The wood will cause rashes, scratches and pain to the rat's sensitive skin.
Tips and warnings
- If you use CareFresh Ultra bedding for your hairless rat, a T-shirt piece or a small fleece receiving blanket should still be provided to give the hairless rat a warm place to sleep if he becomes chilled.
- Never keep a hairless rat in wood shavings. The wood will cause rashes, scratches and pain to the rat's sensitive skin.