Rats are intelligent, affectionate creatures that make great pets for people who want an exotic companion. For those who want an even more unusual pet, hairless rats are perfect. They have many of the same personality traits and care requirements as furred rats. But hairless rats do differ from furry rats in a few distinct ways. If you want to adopt a hairless rat, check out this guide to ensure you’re ready to take on the responsibility of adopting a hairless rat.
You’ll learn everything you need to know about being a hairless rat owner, including:
- The basics
- Cages and bedding
- What to feed a hairless rat
- Exercise and enrichment
- How to groom a hairless rat
- Common health problems
- How to adopt a hairless rat
Hairless Rats: The Basics
A hairless rat resembles a furred rat in size and weight, but you’ll see pink skin instead of white, brown, or black fur. Hairless rats also might make better companions to people with bad allergies, but their lack of hair doesn’t make them totally hypoallergenic.
How many types of hairless rats are there?
There are three types of hairless rats: double rex, patchwork, and sphynx.
- Double rex: A double rex rat isn’t truly hairless, as it still has eyebrows and curly whiskers. They also tend to have peach fuzz nn their heads or feet. Double rex hairless rats come in several colors and have black or red eyes.
- Patchwork: Patchwork hairless rats also have a double rex gene, but they will have hair in small patches all over their body. They may shed these patches as they get older, or the patchy hair may grow back in the same spots. Their coloring varies as well.
- Sphynx: The Sphynx rat, also known as truly hairless, gets its name from the cat breed of the same name. These rats have absolutely no hair – no eyebrows or whiskers. As a pet, the Sphynx is the rarest hairless rat, as they’re mostly bred for lab research.
Are rats born hairless?
Hairless rats are hairless due to a gene mutation that causes immune deficiency and their hair loss is genetic. They’re born with hair, but it all falls off within a few weeks of being born. When a hairless rat reproduces, there’s a chance their offspring will be hairless too, but it depends on the hairless rat’s mate.
Are hairless rats blind?
All baby rats are born deaf and blind, whether they are baby hairless rats or furred rats. After two or three weeks their eyes and ear will open.
Caring for Hairless Rat as a Pet
A rat is already an exotic pet, with different considerations than a typical cat or dog. A hairless rat is even more particular than a regular furred rat and requires some special attention and care. The care tips in this guide will cover cage and bedding, food, exercise, grooming, and health.
Cage and bedding
Hairless rats are prone to heat loss and expend more energy than regular rats on trying to keep warm. Their cage and bedding should be geared toward maintaining warmth and avoiding cuts and scrapes on their exposed skin. Your hairless rat’s cage shouldn’t have any sharp edges that they might cut themselves on. The cage should also be in a room that won’t expose your hairless rat to cold air, with an ambient temperature around 64-79 degrees Fahrenheit (18-26 degrees Celsius).
Although wire cages work great for regular rats, hairless rats benefit more from a large glass aquarium. But finding one big enough could be challenging, and an aquarium might be pricier than a wire cage.
Hairless rat bedding should keep the rat warm and free from cuts. Any bedding with wood chips or pine shavings isn’t an option as they tend to cut up hairless rat skin. Shredded-up paper is a good bedding option, but only if you change it daily as soiled bedding irritates their skin as well. The best bedding solution would be shredded pieces of fleece or cotton (like an old t-shirt or towel) as this bedding is least likely to irritate their skin. But even with fabric, you’ll still have to change it daily.
Hairless rats can eat the same diet as a furry rat, they just need bigger portions. Because they use up their energy to stay warm, hairless rats have a higher metabolism than regular rats. They can eat rat pellets and fresh fruits and vegetables, with a ratio of 80% pellets to 20% fruits and veggies. Some fresh food you can give your hairless rat includes:
- Sweet potatoes
When you feed your hairless rat fruits or vegetables, always cut them up into small pieces so your rat can chew them. Never leave fresh food in your hairless rat’s cage for more than one day, and ensure your rat always has clean water. To help prevent skin dryness, you can also add a few drops of olive oil to your pet’s food.
Hairless rats have no special considerations when it comes to exercise and playtime – they need to run around outside their cage at least once per day just like regular rats. The only thing to watch out for are hairless rats’ toys. Avoid toys with sharp edges that could scratch their skin.
Grooming is one of the areas where hairless rats need a lot more care and attention than furred rats. They need a weekly bath with shampoo designed for sensitive skin. Choose either baby shampoo or mild, non-toxic pet shampoo. Dry your hairless rat off completely after the bath, and place your pet near a heater or a source that generates warmth.
In addition to putting olive oil in their food, you can rub a few drops of olive oil on a hairless rat’s skin if it seems dry. Avoid lotions or moisturizers as your rat will just lick them off. Your rat may also benefit from a humidifier in its room to help its dry skin.
Hairless Rat Health
Like all pets, hairless rats are susceptible to several diseases or health problems. They share most of their health complications with regular rats, but their hairlessness also gives them distinct health issues you should pay attention to.
- Cancer: Cancer unfortunately occurs in pet rats, and possibly more so in hairless rats because they have a limited gene pool. Some rats may develop cancerous tumors, others may become lethargic and waste away from cancer. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about your hairless rat’s cancer.
- Respiratory infections: Most rats will have a respiratory infection at some point, but the condition is chronic for rats with weaker immune systems and the contagious Mycoplasma pulmonis agent.
- Immunodeficiencies: Hairless pet rats have weaker immune systems, but not as weak as hairless rats bred for disease research in a lab (Sphynx hairless rats). If you happen to adopt one of these types of hairless rats by mistake, it likely won’t live longer than six months.
- Kidney failure: Kidney failure is a genetic issue that used to be a much bigger problem among pet rat populations in the U.S. Today, breeding techniques have made kidney failure less common. If your rat has kidney failure, there’s nothing you can do for your pet, and it’s more humane to put them out of their misery than let them suffer for a week or two.
- Ringtail: Ringtail is when a rat’s tail develops rings due to dehydration. Dry bedding can cause ringtail, although it’s more common in lab animals than in pet rats. If ringtail goes untreated, it can cut off circulation in the rat’s tail and cause tissue necrosis.
- Eye problems: Rats don’t have good vision, and hairless rats are prone to birth defects affecting their eyes. These defects may include enlarged eyes, eyes that cannot close, small or missing eyes, eyelashes that curl into the eyeball and cause irritation (entropy), or eye infections.
- Skin conditions and scratches: As you may have guessed, hairless rats tend to have more skin issues and are more likely to get cuts and scratches on their skin than furred rats. You can look after their skin by making sure it doesn’t get too dry and eliminating toys or other items in their environment on which they could cut themselves.
- Buck grease: Male rats exude an oily, orange substance in their hair when they’re active and running around. Hairless rats produce this grease as well, but they don’t have hair to catch it so it will sort of crust onto their skin. Dried buck grease won’t harm your rat, but it’s a little gross. Either give your hairless rat a bath (baths shouldn’t happen more than once per week) or wipe your rat down with a warm, wet washcloth to remove the grease.
- Abscesses: An abscess is an infection that forms under your rat’s skin after a scratch or bite. As you can imagine, hairless rats are more prone to abscesses than furred rats, as they don’t have any fur to protect their skin. You can try to take care of an abscess at home or take your pet rat to the vet.
The average lifespan of a rat is around one to three years, but that length is shorter for hairless rats. Because of their susceptibility to health problems, a hairless rat’s lifespan is typically about one year.
Adopting a Hairless Rat as a Pet
When you want to adopt a hairless rat, you should take the cost and place of adoption into account.
How much does a hairless rat cost?
A hairless rat may cost anywhere between $25 – $50, depending on where you adopt it. Pet stores that sell small animals may have hairless rats for sale, but if you want to minimize the potential for health issues, you may consider going to a reputable breeder instead.
Where to adopt a hairless rat
Specialty fancy rat breeders may travel to shows or have their hairless rats available for you to adopt at any time. To locate a breeder in your area, search the American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association list of local rat clubs.
Do Hairless Rats Make Good Pets?
Like regular rats, hairless rats are intelligent with an even temperament. They can be affectionate with their human owners just like furred rats can, and they also like having another rat around as a companion. It’s best to put two hairless rats together because rats with fur tend to be a little rougher with their hairless counterparts. They don’t realize their hairless friends have less protection than they do!
If you want a hairless rat as a pet, ensure you have the time and resources to take care of it before adopting. Even though they’re a little work, the companionship with your new pet is worth it!