Spaying and Neutering – Not Just for Cats and Dogs!
by Mainely Rat Rescue
Some may scoff at the cost of a rescue pet, often exclaiming “I can get one at the pet store for less than half that price!” What many don’t realize is what goes into that adoption fee to set the animal apart from one bought at a pet store or found on Craigslist.
Spaying or neutering is one of the costs that may factor into an adoption fee. At Mainely Rat Rescue, we focus on—you guessed it—rats, as well as other small pets such as guinea pigs, mice, and hamsters. We routinely spay and neuter as many of our rats as we can for their own benefit as well as for adopter preference. For those newer to the idea of rats as pets, $80 seems like an awful lot of money to invest in just one animal, especially when rats should always be adopted in pairs or more. In addition, rats have much shorter life spans than do cats and dogs. However, the health and behavioral benefits far outweigh the cost of a spay or neuter.
For males, neutering provides primarily behavioral benefits. Males who are neutered at a relatively young age will have softer fur, be less greasy, scent-mark less frequently, and generally smell nicer. Because neutering reduces testosterone levels, it also greatly decreases the odds of the boy developing an aggressive personality. If the rat in question is an adult and already aggressive, neutering will reduce or even eliminate that aggression, making him much more pleasant to humans and rats alike, and making introductions to new cagemates much easier. The behavioral benefits are not immediate, but begin around 3 weeks post-op and continue over another month or so while testosterone levels continue to decrease. An added benefit to neutering is that, several weeks post-neuter, males can move in with females, allowing for a mixed-sex cage without the oops litters! Neutering is best when the male is young, ideally between 3-8 months of age, but adults over a year old may still benefit. Discuss with your exotics vet if neutering might be right for your rat.
For females, spaying has well-documented health benefits; the statistics are incredible. Studies show a decrease in overall tumor rate from around 75% to 5% in spayed females as compared to intact ones (1). Broken down by the two most common tumor types (mammary—those in the mammary glands akin to rattie breast cancer, and pituitary—tumors in the brain that cause a lack of coordination leading to the inability to eat or drink), mammary tumors decreased from around 50% in intact females to 4% in spayed females, and pituitary tumors decreased from 66% in intact females to 4% in spayed females (2). Considering how heartbreaking, not to mention financially draining, both of these types of tumors can be, reducing the incidence of these types of tumors to only 4% is priceless! For these benefits to be maximized it is best to spay as young as possible, ideally by 6 or 7 months of age, but you can still reduce your girl’s chances of developing these types of tumors (or of having mammary tumors recur) at any age your vet feels is safe for her to undergo surgery. Research on the positive effects of spaying female rats continue, in fact, 2 of our vets were active participants in a study published in October 2019 (3).
Spay and neuter surgeries can be beneficial for other types of small pets as well. For mice, neutering allows a male mouse to live with female mice, rather than live on his own (male mice should never live together, even if both are neutered, as they will fight—often to the death). In guinea pigs, spaying a female is usually only recommended to decrease or eliminate the risk of uterine cancer, ovarian cysts, or mammary tumors, though flank spays are gaining in popularity in healthy young pigs, and are much less invasive. For the purpose of mixing males and females in one cage, neutering a male guinea pig is a simpler procedure (4).
As with any medical matter, we advise that you discuss elective surgery with your exotics vet before making a decision. It can be beneficial to discuss with multiple vets, as fees for surgery can vary dramatically between vets, and different vets will have different procedures. It is important to find a vet who you can not only afford, but who has surgical methods and success rates with which you are comfortable. For help finding an exotics vet in the northeastern United States, Mainely Rat Rescue maintains a list on our website. If you are located elsewhere, check with your local rescue or humane society to see who they might recommend. If the up-front cost of a surgery is more than you can afford, there may be low-income options. CareCredit or an exotic pet insurance company may also be able to help you make payments over time.
Just like cats and dogs, rats and other uncommon pets deserve to live their life to the fullest. Spaying or neutering can help make your pet happier and healthier, and may give them the chance to live as long as possible—which is especially important for these short-lived critters. Rats, guinea pigs, and others have so much love to give. We hope that every small pet adopter will keep these guidelines in mind to make the best decisions for their pets’ well-being.
1. Planas-Silva, Maricarmen D., et al. “Prevention of Age-Related Spontaneous Mammary Tumors in Outbred Rats by Late Ovariectomy.” Cancer Detection and Prevention, vol. 32, no. 1, 2008, pp. 65–71., doi:10.1016/j.cdp.2008.01.004.
2. Hotchkiss, CE. “Effect of surgical removal of subcutaneous tumors on survival of rats.” J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1995 May 15;206(10):1575-9.
3. Vergneau-Grosset, C., et al. “Evaluation of Deslorelin Implant on Subsequent Mammary Tumors of Rats (Rattus Norvegicus).” Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, vol. 31, 2019, pp. 108–116., doi:10.1053/j.jepm.2019.08.001.
4. Sinclair, Dr. Kristin, DABVP. Personal Communication. October 2019.