Aging Roof Rats
Roof Rats are fairly healthy animals but, sadly, their natural lifespan is only 2-4 years, even in captivity. This is similar to the lifespan for Norway rats. Older Roof Rats, however, seem to have fewer chronic illnesses than older Norway rats, and tend to remain fairly healthy until the end.
Their short lifespan is probably a result of the lifestyle they are forced to live in the wild, where they are subject to constant predation and other dangers, and have an average life-expectancy of less than 1 year. Consequently, they evolved to mature quickly, and have as many babies as possible while they can. Roof Rats don’t get a chance to grow old in the wild, so it wasn’t as important for them to evolve a long natural lifespan.
Female Roof Rats are capable of having their first litter by 3 months, although they will continue to grow a bit until they are 4 months old. Interestingly, as with Norway Rats, they often grow a bit more with every litter, presumably due to the growth hormones from their placenta or developing fetuses. Their first two litters tend to be the largest ones, sometimes as much as 12 babies, but usually 6-8. After which their fertility declines, and their last successful litter they may only have 1 or 2 babies. This usually occurs within months of their first birthday.
Male Roof Rats are potentially capable of siring offspring at 3-4 months. Not all of them are very good at it, or even try very hard for that matter, especially when they are still immature and lack self confidence. There doesn’t seem to be any age limit on healthy male Roof Rat fertility: Popeye is still siring babies at over 2 years old.
As they get older, well fed pet Roof Rats may put on weight and become less active. As with people, this is probably not good for their health, so you should encourage exercise by letting them play outside of their cage as much as possible, and make sure you don’t feed them treats with empty calories. Basically, if it’s bad for you, it’s bad for them, too.
Aging Roof Rats will be prone to respiratory illness, tumors and circulatory diseases.
Respiratory illness can be treated with antibiotics as previously discussed, but chronic infections will cause scarring and permanent loss of function. Respiratory illnesses in older rats with a history of past infections tend to be harder to treat and result in greater decline in health and wellbeing. Which is why it is important to treat any respiratory illnesses promptly and completely, and avoid any environmental conditions that could cause or exacerbate respiratory issues, such are unclean litter, drafts and cold, and low humidity. Also, treats high in Vitamin E, such as Apricots and Almonds, are thought to promote respiratory health.
Tumors are relatively common in animals with rapid metabolisms, like rats. As with humans, not all tumors are cancers, and if you find that your rat has a new lump, that is not necessarily a death sentence. It is possible that a vet will be able to remove or reduce it with surgery, and extend your pet’s life. Otherwise, he may advise monitoring the lump, and possibly palliative care if it is causing discomfort. As with medical care for people, you will need to balance the expense with the benefit.
Circulatory diseases include heart failure and stroke. Heart failure is uncommon in Roof Rats, as they don’t tend to be as overweight and sedentary as Norway Rats. Strokes, however, are a common cause of death. It sounds horrible to say this, but this is probably not a bad way for your Roof Rat’s life to end, as it is sudden, relatively painless and they don’t tend to linger. A Roof Rat that has a stroke may experience sudden weakness, disorientation, loss of balance, loss of consciousness and seizures. It is possible to take your Roof Rat to a vet, and it is understandable that you will want to do everything possible out of love, but treatment will be expensive and it isn’t likely to be successful in such a small animal. It might be best to simply be with him and comfort him as best you can.
Again, prevention is best, so help your Roof Rat maintain a healthy weight and cholesterol levels through exercise and high fiber, healthy snacks. Vitamin E promotes good respiratory health. And anti-inflammatory foods, high in Omega-3, will help your pet avoid Tumors and Circulatory Diseases for as long as possible. Raw, unsalted, unblanched Almonds are high in Fiber, Vitamin E and Omega-3, so are a very good treat for Roof Rats. Fortunately, Roof Rats absolutely love Almonds, and will do almost anything to get them, so it’s a win-win! We hand-feed each of our Roof Rats one or two almonds every day as a bonding treat, and let them run around free range near us whenever possible, and I firmly believe it has helped them live longer, happier healthier lives.