Mites on Pet Rats Home Remedies

Does your pet rat seem agitated and eager to scratch itself? Perhaps you’ve noticed some itchy welts on your skin as well. Most probably, you’re dealing with a mite infestation. Mites are the most common parasitic infection in pet rats, beating the incidence of lice, fleas, and ticks.

Once the mites find a host, they won’t go away on their own. If your pet gets infected, you need to apply an antiparasitic treatment. Luckily, there are many effective options available. But before we get to that, let’s clarify what rat mites are and how to tell if your pet rat has them.

What are Rat Mites?

Rat mites are external insect-like parasites that hide in your pet rat’s fur. They are related to ticks and show similar behavior. Multiple species exist, but the most common ones are Liponyssoides saguineus (the house mouse mite) and Ornithonyssus bacoti (tropical rat mite).

Mites will bite into a rat’s skin, causing irritation and potentially spreading bacterial and parasitic infections. Some mites suck the blood of rodents, while others just gnaw at the skin. The worst part about mites is that they can survive without a host for prolonged periods. Thus, it’s hard to tell when or where a pet rat might get the parasite.

You might get a mite infestation from unexpected sources, such as a new pet rat, rodent litter, bedding, or any object that came into contact with an infected animal. Don’t worry, though! These pesky little bloodsuckers are easy to kill. But you must act quickly, as mites can lay up to 100 eggs at a time and have a short life cycle of just two weeks.

Symptoms of Mites on Rats

Rat mites are tiny and barely visible. Most species are up to 1 millimeter long. Even the keenest eye might not spot them, especially if the infected rat has a dark coat. Fortunately (or unfortunately for your rat), there are other signs of mites lurking in your pet’s fur. There’s a high chance your pet rat got mites if it exhibits these symptoms:

  • Frequent and rabid scratching
  • Rat is biting itself or gnawing at skin
  • Inflamed skin (redness, swelling, scarring)
  • Open wounds on the skin
  • Scabbing on or around inflamed areas
  • White dust-like specs at the base of hair follicles

The white specs are a clear sign of external parasites, as these are either active mites or mite eggs. Note that mites can change color. Naturally, rat mites are a light grayish color. After feeding, they might become red or black.

Treating Mites on Pet Rats at Home

So, your pet rat is plagued by disgusting mites. The good news is that these bug-like creatures are easy to get rid of. But you’ll need a little patience. You should consult a vet for the most appropriate treatment option. You’ll get a prescription and a treatment plan you can administer at home. If you can’t reach a veterinarian, consider the following remedies.

– Medication

Pharmaceuticals are highly effective for killing mites. Just know that you might need a vet’s prescription for these. You must also be very careful when dosing these, as excess exposure can lead to poisoning and seizures in small animals. Here are the most commonly available options:

Revolution: This topical medication treats mites, fleas, lice, and roundworms. Typically used for dogs and cats, this medicine is also highly effective on rats. One single application should kill the parasite. Sometimes, you might have to repeat the application after 30 days.

Note that Revolution can be toxic if swallowed. Side effects include tremors and irritation at the site of application. Rats must only receive very small doses to avoid toxicity. This medicine is not safe for rats that are malnutritioned, or under five weeks old.

Ivermectin: Ivermectin can be used as a topical or oral medication. It’s mainly used as a dewormer for horses and sheep but can also treat lice and mites in rats. You’ll most commonly find it in the form of a paste for internal use, so your pet must eat it.

You can purchase this over-the-counter, but I’d still consult a vet first. Be careful when dosing this medication! Rats need only a very small amount of ivermectin. Toxicity symptoms include seizures, tremors, lethargy, breathing paralysis, and anorexia.

The ideal dose for rats weighing one pound or more is the size of a small grain of rice. Dose the medication once per week for up to a month. Use half the dosage for rats weighing less than one pound.

Xenex: Xenex is an insecticidal topical medication specifically formulated for rodents. You can safely use it on rats, hamsters, mice, chinchillas, guinea pigs, rabbits, and other small pets. This product kills mites, ticks, lice, fleas, and flies.

Once applied, the medication has a long-lasting effect for up to two weeks. Just know that Xenex can be toxic if ingested. You’ll have to ensure your pet rat doesn’t accidentally lick or eat it. Using a cone collar can help.

Mitaban: Mitaban, also known as Amitraz, is a topical treatment against multiple mite species. This medication is suitable for most animals, including small pets like rats. However, safety has not been established in young or pregnant animals.

This medication might be toxic if swallowed. You mustn’t apply this solution to open wounds! If you must use it around the face, use a petroleum jelly-based eye protectant to prevent the solution from irritating your rat’s eyes. After application, keep your pet rat in a warm and draft-free environment.

The recommended dose for rats is to dilute 10.6 milliliters in 10 gallons of water. Apply the treatment with a cotton swab. Wash the rat two weeks after application. You can repeat the treatment 3-6 times to destroy the parasites.

– Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is an effective natural treatment for mites. Oil is easily accessible, non-toxic, and simple to use. It’s worth a shot if you can’t get medicine or are worried about medication toxicity at high doses.

Just pick whatever liquid oil you have in your pantry. Olive, sunflower, canola, and even liquefied coconut oil all work the same. Use a small quantity to coat the rat’s fur with an even layer. The oil will suffocate and kill the mites.

You don’t have to wash it off because it’s non-toxic. The rat can safely groom it off. But bathing your rat will help eliminate the dead mites in its fur. You might have to repeat the oil method 14 days later if the mites had laid eggs.

– Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth acts like mechanical pest control. This fine sand has an incredible absorption power. It will kill mites, fleas, and other insects in two ways. First, it will suck up all the moisture in the rat’s fur, creating an inhospitable environment for parasites. Secondly, it will directly dehydrate, weaken, and kill any bug that comes into contact with it.

Food-grade diatomaceous earth is safe for your rat and can provide trace minerals when ingested. Just know the powder can be irritating if inhaled. To use it, lightly dust the powder on your rat’s fur and brush it in with your hand.

Avoid applying this treatment on open or recently healed wounds. The sand could dehydrate and irritate skin lesions. Cover the sensitive areas with Vaseline before applying the treatment to prevent issues. Repeat the application once weekly for two months. You don’t have to wash diatomaceous earth or Vaseline off, as these are non-toxic to rats.

How to Properly Clean Rat Cage after Mite Infestation?

Mites don’t just make themselves at home in your rat’s fur. They can lurk anywhere and survive for extended periods without a host. You’ll have to clean your pet rat’s environment too. It’s the only way to eradicate mites for sure.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Empty the rat’s cage and set aside reusable objects (food bowls, toys, etc.)
  2. Throw away the rat’s bedding, food, and anything made of wood, paper, or cardboard.
  3. Clean the cage and toys with a 10% bleach solution. Let everything soak for 15 minutes. Rinse the cage and toys with clean water and let them air dry.
  4. Clean the food bowl and water dispenser with a food-safe detergent.
  5. Buy new bedding and food. Let these sit in the freezer at 0-5°F for 24 hours. This will kill potential parasites.

You might also have to wash or disinfect any objects that came into contact with your pet rat or that are close to the enclosure. But this might not be a realistic solution. Instead, you could keep the cage in a different room for at least three weeks after disinfecting. Any stray mites left behind will starve to death in the meantime.

How to Prevent Rat Mites?

Rat mites are a pain in the butt. Getting rid of them requires multiple treatments and an intense disinfecting routine. Nobody would want to go through this annoying experience twice. That’s why prevention is your best friend! Here’s how to stop a rat mite infestation before it even starts!

Quarantine all new rats for at least three weeks.

New rats are among the most common sources of contamination. If the rat seems fidgety or scratches itself a lot, there’s a high probability it carries external parasites.

Sometimes, asymptomatic rats carry mite eggs that hatch days after introduction into the enclosure. You need time to observe new rodents before deciding if they’re safe. Otherwise, you might unknowingly give parasites to your other rats.

Freeze all new food, litter, and bedding.

Commercial products like these can also carry mites. Luckily, keeping them in a freezing environment for at least 24 hours will kill the bugs and eggs.

Avoid contact with other animals.

Wash yourself and change clothes if you pet or handled other animals. Typically, you might get mites from other rodents like mice and hamsters. In rare cases, rat mites might temporarily infect stray cats and dogs. You never know where these bugs are hitchhiking.

Take your rats to a vet check-up every six months.

A vet will help you identify external parasites before the infection gets severe. You’ll also know to separate your infected rats to slow the spread of parasites.

Keep the rat’s cage clean.

Regularly disinfect the enclosure and any objects that come into contact with your rats. If parasites are lurking, you’ll zap them before they can attack other rats in the enclosure.

Are Rat Mites Dangerous to Humans?

Rat mites have one primary host— rodents. This is their preferred source of food. However, certain mites can also infect humans (and other animals). Noteworthy species include Liponyssoides saguineus (house mouse mite), Ornithonyssus bacoti (tropical rat mite), and Laelaps echidna (spiny rat mite). But don’t panic! Your pet rat’s mites aren’t a threat to your health.

Rat mites might bite you and feed on your skin tissue. This will cause painful skin irritation and intense itching, similar to a bed bug’s bite. It sounds terrible, but here are some facts to soothe your mind:

  • Rat mites are highly unlikely to transmit disease to humans.
  • Rat mites don’t suck on human blood nor burrow into the skin.
  • These mites can’t survive on hair, skin, or clothing and won’t stay long on humans.

Besides the annoying itching and the risk of infecting your pet rat, there’s not much to worry about. If you get bitten, you can soothe the irritation with over-the-counter ointments or an antihistamine prescribed by your doctor.

Can You Use Frontline on Rats?

Frontline is a highly effective treatment against fleas and ticks. But this product is specifically formulated for cats and dogs. While it could technically kill most mites, it’s not a suitable treatment for your pet rat. This product is highly toxic to rats if ingested.

There are safer and equally effective alternatives. Revolution, Xenex, and Mitaban have safer formulas and easy-to-follow dosing instructions. These are the most commonly recommended mite treatments for rodents and small animals. Ivermectin can also work well in small doses, and you can purchase it over-the-counter.

Conclusion

Rat mites are external parasites that feed on the rat’s skin and blood. They can cause open wounds and blisters, predisposing your pet rat to skin infections. The constant itching and biting also make rats uncomfortable. So, once your rat exhibits symptoms, you should commence treatment.

Topical or internal medications are very effective for killing mites. Revolution, Ivermectin, Xenex, and Mitaban will get the job done quickly and safely when dosed correctly. If you can’t buy medications without a prescription, contact your vet. In the meantime, you can also use vegetable oil or diatomaceous earth to kill mites.

Additional hygiene measures are necessary to completely eradicate the mites and prevent repeated infections in the future. Remember to disinfect your pet’s cage and toys regularly. Freeze new bedding and food to kill hitchhiking parasites. And always quarantine new rats for three weeks to avoid accidental contamination.

Rats   Rodents   Updated: October 8, 2022
avatar I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets.
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