Spaying in Rats

What is an ovariohysterectomy?istock_000008413771xsmall1

An ovariohysterectomy is often referred to as a spay or spaying. It is a surgical procedure in which the ovaries and uterus are removed completely in order to sterilize or render a female animal infertile.  Some veterinarians will perform an ovariectomy, in which just the ovaries are removed.


Why should I have my rat spayed? 

There are many behavioral and health benefits associated with spaying your rat.

  • The obvious is the elimination of unwanted pregnancy. Although raising baby rats might be a wonderful family experience, finding homes for the new rats might prove more challenging than one would anticipate.
  • Spaying significantly minimizes the risk of ovarian, uterine, mammary and pituitary cancers in rats. Mammary cancers are quite common in rats.
  • There is no chance of uterine infections (pyometra) if there is NO uterus.
  • Spayed rats are much less likely to display undesirable hormone induced behaviors such as mounting and aggression.
  • The rat may be calmer and easier to handle as it is not experiencing the stresses of sexual frustration.


When should I have my rat spayed?

Most rats are spayed between four and six months of age.  The older the rat, the greater the chance of developing tumours.


What does a spay surgery involve?

This major surgical procedure is done under general anesthesia. You must NOT fast your rat the night prior to surgery as is done with other animals.

Your rat will be given a physical examination prior to the surgery. Your veterinarian may recommend some pre-operative blood tests.  This is to ensure your rat is healthy enough to have surgery performed and that there are no pre-existing problems that may compromise your pet.  The operation is performed through a reasonably small incision in the midline of the abdomen, just below the umbilical area. The hair in this area will be shaved and surgically prepared prior to the surgery. The ovaries and uterus are removed. If an ovariectomy is performed, there will be incisions on the side of the rat just behind the last rib. The surgical incision will be closed with several layers of fine sutures (muscle and skin). Most rats go home within forty-eight hours after surgery.

"You must NOT fast your rat the night prior to surgery as is done with other animals."

What post-operative care will my rat need?

Your rat will likely be given pain medication in hospital and may be sent home with several days' worth of the same.  Keep your pet in a clean, quiet environment and try to minimize excessive running, jumping or hard play that may stress the incision. Separate this rat from any others at home for 5-7 days to minimize suture chewing by the other rats.  Feed normally, a rat should be eating and drinking within 12-24 hours of the operation. Inspect and assess your rat and the incision several times daily and report any concerns regarding behavior changes, appetite, drinking, urination and defecation to your veterinarian. Occasionally, rats will chew the sutures and open the surgical wound. This needs immediate veterinary attention.

Skin sutures will be removed in seven to ten days.

Are complications common with spaying?

In general, complications are rare with this surgery. However, as with any anesthetic or surgical procedure, in any species, there is always a small risk.  To minimize risks, it is important to follow all pre-operative instructions and report any sign of illness or previous medical conditions to your veterinarian prior to the day of surgery.

The potential complications may include:

Anesthetic reaction.
 Any animal may have an unexpected adverse reaction to any drug or anesthetic. These reactions cannot be foreseen, but are extremely rare. 

Internal bleeding.
 This may occur in association with any of the cut or manipulated tissues. This is very rare and is more likely to occur if your rat is too active in the days following the surgery. Signs to watch for include weakness, pale gums, depression/listlessness, lack of appetite, or a distended abdomen. 

istock_000008566751xsmallPost-operative infection.
 Although rare, this may occur internally or externally around the incision site. Infection can be managed with antibiotics. Infections most commonly occur when the pet licks the surgical site excessively or is kept in a damp dirty environment. Monitor the surgical site several times daily for swelling, redness, wound breakdown, pus or other discharge.

Suture Reaction or Sinus Formation.
 This is extremely rare but occurs when a sensitive body reacts to certain types of suture material used during surgery. This results in a draining wound or tract that may appear up to several weeks after the surgery was performed. Further operations may be required to remove the suture material and correct the issue.

Will spaying have any adverse effects on my rat?

The vast majority of rats will experience no adverse effects following spaying.

There are many myths and beliefs about spaying that are not supported by facts or research.  Your pet will not become fat and lazy.

Feel free to discuss the pros and cons or any concerns you may have with a veterinarian familiar with rats.


This client information sheet is based on material written by: Rick Axelson, DVM

© Copyright 2012 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.