Hairless rats, also known as Sphynx rats, are definitely of the weird and wonderful variety due to their distinctive looks and special needs. They are not as common as their furry cousins and caring for them can pose a bit of a challenge, but whether you find them cute or not, there’s plenty of pet owners out there that cherish their “baldies” for the way they are. If you are thinking about getting a hairless rat, you should consider a couple of things that we will hopefully clarify here.
Why Are They Hairless?
Naked, bald, hairless… Whatever you call them, Sphynx rats are just that… Furless. They can have very fine hair all over their bodies or in patches (most of them are double rex rats), but a truly hairless rat is completely bald: fur, eyelashes, whiskers and all. The hairless appearance is down to a genetic mutation causing the absence of the thymus gland, which is responsible for immune system in mammals. Because of the severe immune deficiency, sphynx baby rats can be born with a fuzzy fur, but it soon falls out, leaving them completely bald.
While furry rats are pretty easy to look after and require standard level of care, hairless ones are a bit different. Due to their unique characteristics and needs, they might not be the best choice if you are new to keeping rats, but with a few adjustments, can still make wonderful pets. Here are some basic requirements for a happy and healthy naked rodent.
- Warmth. Because hairless rats have no fur to keep them warm, it’s extremely important that they have plenty of soft and cosy hideaways, fabric hammocks and blankets to burrow in and stay cosy. If you need inspiration on how to furnish your rat cage, check out How To Set Up Rat Cage And What You Will Need. Hairless rats prefer warmer temperatures, so it’s crucial their cage is not placed in a cold environment with draught coming through. The best cage choice for a hairless rat would be one with solid walls, like a fish tank, but with plenty of air coming in. You can also adapt a standard barred cage by hanging blankets down like tapestry to keep the chill out or place it near a radiator. And when that’s done, a furred rat companion (or two!) is advisable as there’s nothing better than a snuggle with another warm body!
- Diet. Hairless rats are well known for running their body temperature hotter than their furry friends. The lack of fur requires their metabolism to go into overdrive and burn more calories to keep warm. A more rich, calorie packed diet and always accessible fresh drinking water are needed to sustain the required body temperature and keep a hairless rat healthy. Foods containing more fat and protein are the best choices when it comes to feeding your naked eat. Just be careful of overfeeding, hairless rats can get fat too!
- Cage. As we mentioned above, hairless pet rats thrive in warmer environment and can be housed in fish tank like cages, providing they are big enough and have good airflow. However a standard cage with bars is also perfectly acceptable and with a few adjustments, can make a great home for your hairless pet. The most important thing when setting up a cage for a naked rat is eliminating any sharp corners and edges that might hurt its delicate skin. Even a small scratch can turn into a long-standing health risk, so it’s extremely vital to avoid injuries at all cost. Soft surfaces with no exposed wire floors and ledges covered in plush fabric are one of the best ways to keep your hairless pet cosy and harm free.
A squishy and fluffy bedding (substrate) like Carefresh should also be used instead of wood shavings (even Aspen, which is safe for furred rats) or shredded paper as their sharp edges can cause an injury to the sensitive skin of a hairless rat. You might need to change the bedding and any fabric items in the cage every couple of days to keep the ammonia smell to a minimum and make sure your hairless rodent doesn’t sleep in pee soaked material, which can cause skin infection.
Common Health Problems Of A Hairless Rat
As lovely and one of a kind as hairless rats can be, they are unfortunately plagued with many health issues, that can be deadly for them. Most of the common well-being problems stem from the hairlessness itself and poor immune system, which often means that a lifespan of a naked rat is much shorter than of its furry cousin (most hairless rats live to 1.5 years old compared to 2 – 2.5 for standard ones).
- Scratches and wounds. These are the most common injuries seen in hairless rats. Because of the lack of fur, naked rodents have no protection against bumps and scrapes, sustained accidentally by brushing against something sharp or even by play fighting with their cage mates. Many injuries are unintentionally caused by other rats, whether it’s because of grooming or sharp and pointy nails. Any small wounds or scratches can normally be treated at home, but severe cases should be seen by a vet to avoid prolonged infections and forming of abscesses.
- Abscesses. Caused by a scratch or a bite, abscesses form on old wounds that failed to heal. Even though they can look gruesome and scary at times, they are actually fairly common in hairless pet rats and can be successfully treated at home, if they are not infected. An abscess will normally look like a lump on your rat’s body and can be topped off with a dark scab. You can help your rat with healing of the abscess by making a warm compress (a wet washcloth soaked in water or saline) to soften the scab and allowing the wound to open. Once the scab is loose, a puss like substance will drain out and then the area can be cleaned up with a sterile dressing. After draining, keep and eye on the injured site to make sure no infection if forming and if needed, consult your vet. An untreated, prolonged abscess can calcify (turn hard) and might need to be cut out surgically.
- Grease. Noticeable especially in male rats, the so called buck grease is an oily substance that moisturises the hair and skin of a furred rat. In a case of its hairless cousin, it can be clearly visible and sometime can cause blockages in the hair follicle grooves, leading to formation of oily build up. The easiest way to avoid any skin infections is to give your hairless pet a nourishing bath. At least once a fortnight, prepare a luke warm bowl of water with a very mild baby shampoo or another organic soap solution. If your rat is not keen on water, you can use a wet washcloth to wipe off any dirt and grease of his/her body. Some rats are fine with going under the tap or in the actual bowl, so it’s down to you to determine which option will stress your rat out less. After a bath, give your naked friend a good drying off with a soft cloth and use organic coconut oil to moisturise their body. The taste of the oil might just be enough for your rat to forgive the ordeal you just put him/her through!
- Eye problems. Even though hairless rats are mostly bald, some varieties retain tiny hairs here and there, which can cause irritation. The most common issue with ingrown hairs is curling of the eyelashes known as entropy. It often leads to painful eye infections and can even result in blindness. Because of their limited genetic make-up, hairless rats are also prone to birth defects, including enlarged or unable to close eyes, small or missing eyes and will often suffer with eye infections at least once in their lifetime.
- Cancer and respiratory issues. As two of the biggest causes of death in all rats, cancer and difficulty breathing are even more dangerous when it comes to hairless rats. Due to inbreeding and therefore a small gene pool, naked rodents are highly susceptible to contracting those diseases and often experience trouble with shaking them off. Their poorly developed immune system sadly cannot withstand serious infections and they quickly become chronic, leading to untimely passing.
Should I Get A Hairless Rat?
That’s the question only you could answer! If you can put the time to research and create a healthy environment for a hairless rat, they will love you just as much as a furry rat would.
Even though a naked rat might not be the best choice for people, who are just beginning their journey with rats of any kind, with a few adjustments it’s fairly simple to take good care of a hairless rodent. As long as you go into the experience with your eyes open and knowing all the facts about their needs and rather short lifespan, owning a sphynx rat can be a true joy… Plus your mobile phone will be full of cute pictures!
And if you are allergic to animal fur and struggle to find a pet, that won’t set a frenzy of sneezing off, a furless rat might be the answer! Just remember, rats need at least one same sex companion in their cage, so instead of getting one “baldy”, get two!If you enjoyed reading this article, please share it with your friends and on your social media! Also leave us a comment below with your thoughts or questions.