What to Do If Your Pet Rat Has Lice

If your pet rat is itching and scratching, he may have a common ectoparasite called lice. The word is terrifying and probably makes you itch just thinking about it, but don't worry, there are ways you can avoid this gross little parasite and safely treat your pet if he contracts it.  Pet lice can be treated and eliminated safely if you know what to do.

  • 01 of 05

    Kill the Lice

    Hooded dumbo fancy rat eating
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    If you suspect your pet rat has lice, seek medical attention from your exotic pet veterinarian immediately. Your exotics vet can diagnose your pet with lice and treat it appropriately, possibly using a drug like ivermectin or selamectin off-label (meaning the drug is not intended for this purpose but veterinarians routinely use it and are legally allowed to do so).

    Do not attempt to buy over-the-counter medication from a drug store or pet store to treat rat lice. Human lice treatments are far too strong for a small pet and can kill your rat. Pet store treatments can be dangerous in their own right, causing seizures or just being ineffective and a waste of money. It's better to rid the lice from your pet than the pet from the lice, so play it safe and speak with your vet.

  • 02 of 05

    Clean the Cage Thoroughly

    Cute funny rat in cage at home
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    After your rat has received proper treatment from your vet, and before returning your pet to his enclosure, thoroughly clean and wash the cage, dishes, and any toys in the cage with water and some mild dish detergent. Be sure to rinse all the soap before putting fresh bedding in. Throw out any bedding and food that could have been previously infected, and freeze any remaining materials to kill any insects that may be hiding out for at least 24 hours. If it is below freezing outside you can always put your rat's cage and belongings outside overnight to freeze (but not your rat!) and then replace the bedding, water, and food the next day.

  • 03 of 05

    Species Specific

    Girl with pet rat on her head
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    This means humans get human lice, mice get mouse lice, guinea pigs get guinea pig lice, and rabbits get rabbit lice. So don't worry about you or your child getting lice from their pet rat with pediculosis (lice infestation). If a rat louse jumps on you it won't bite you, and it won't survive. In other words, you can't get lice from your rat and you can't give it to him either.

  • 04 of 05

    Mites vs Lice

    Albino Rat
    1001slide / Getty Images

    Simply put, mites are arachnids like spiders and ticks, and lice are insects like ants. There are also two kinds of lice, sucking lice and biting or chewing lice. The sucking lice are more worrisome than chewing lice because of the possibility of ​blood-borne disease transmission and anemia (excessive blood loss). Regardless of the type of lice, both are quite itchy. Don't delay treatment if you see your rat itching.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Pets at Risk

    Guinea pig


    Rats, mice, guinea pigs, and gerbils are the most common pets to acquire lice. Oddly enough, as popular and overbred as they have become, hamsters are not widely known to get infected with lice but guinea pigs commonly do. Rabbits will occasionally become infected, especially if they have spent time with other rabbits, such as at a fair or a rabbit show.

    If your rat is itching it is best to get him checked out by his vet after cleaning the environment and making sure the air isn't too dry in your house.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.