The ideal time to research vets is before you get your rats. However, if you do not do this you should certainly make sure you find a vet before you need one. Rats are prey animals that instinctively conceal symptoms of illness as long as possible, because this would make them vulnerable in the wild. They are small and have a correspondingly fast metabolism meaning they can fall ill very quickly. Should this happen you do not want to waste time consulting an inexperienced or far-distant vet because you have not found a good rat vet near your home.
Bear in mind that not all vets are specialist or experienced in all animals. Even if you already have other pets and are quite happy with the vet you use for them you should check out your current vet's knowledge of rats - don't make assumptions that a good vet for one animal is good for all species. If your current practice has more than one vet ask which one typically sees the most small animals - e.g. perhaps one vet has a special interest in rodents.
Personal recommendation is always the best way to find a vet, and if you know anyone in your area who keeps rats try asking them which vet they use, how often they have needed them, what conditions they have treated, what procedures they have carried out and how happy they are with the experience. The Fancy Rats web directory contains some vets who are recommended by our members
You can find other rat owners at shows, online via forums, and by word of mouth e.g. if you have children you may find someone in their class at school also keeps rats. If you live close to a breeder (check the NFRS Breeders Register) you could try contacting them to ask which vets they have used.
A good small local pet store that is knowledgeable about their animals may be able to give you a vet recommendation, but I would not suggest this approach with a large chain store. You can also try contacting rescue organisations in your area that deal with rats frequently, and asking them which vet they would recommend.
Find it yourself
If you cannot find anyone who can recommend a vet you need to do your own research. Begin with the phone directory (Yellow Pages in the UK) and browse to get an idea of how many veterinary practices there are within a sensible distance of your home. You may be lucky and have many nearby, or you may find only one or two. Do not stretch to practices too far away - remember you may need to get there in an emergency. You can also use the online listing provided by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons at http://www.findavet.org.uk.
But how to decide which is the best for your rats? I personally like to phone up a practice and see how they respond to questions from a potential new client. Many will say that they treat all animals. That is fine, but it does not tell you how much experience they have with rats, just that they are willing to look at a rat. I have heard of a vet greeting a rat with the words "oh my, what a big hamster" - fortunately the rat only needed her nails trimming.
Remember rats are not exactly top of the syllabus at vet school and only someone genuinely interested will have read up on them. Here are some questions you could ask:
- Do you have a vet with an interest in rats or rodents? Or who specialises in rodents?
- How many rats does he/she see per week?
- How often does he/she operate on rats?
- What anaesthetic do you use? (should be isofluorane gas)
- Do you require that rats be starved before surgery? (the answer should be no as rats cannot vomit)
- What operations have you done on rats recently? (likely to include lump removal, castration, lancing of abscesses, possibly spay or caesarean)
- What is the success rate for these procedures?
When you visit the vet with a rat for the first time observe the reaction of the staff to your rat. During the consultation observe how the vet handles your rat - do they hold him/her confidently and gently or are they stiff and uncertain? The veterinary nurses at the practice I visit always chat about my rats while I am waiting, and one likes to borrow them for a quick cuddle before I take them home! The staff genuinely like rats and I have no worries about leaving my rats in their care before or after an operation.
As with any medical or veterinary consultation if you do not understand what is said, or the terms used, you should ask for clarification. It is important to feel happy with your vet in every way and how they respond to questions and concerns that you raise is a part of this.
Author: Alison Mercer