Why Do Pet Rats Die Suddenly?

It’s always unfortunate when one of our pet rats dies. It can appear like they have a clean bill of health one day, and then they’re gone the next day.

It’s actually not that uncommon of a situation. So why do pet rats die suddenly then?

Pet rats can seem to die suddenly because most of the time they’ve been dealing with illnesses and injuries for a while without you knowing about it.

Rats are prey animals so it’s very normal for them to hide conditions that they have and that can cause us to not know something is wrong until the last second.

Why Do Pet Rats Die Suddenly?

If you have had a pet rat die sometimes it can seem like they died suddenly. To us pet owners it can look like our rats were here one second and then gone the next.

Usually though, what happens is that they may have been dealing with conditions or injuries silently without anyone knowing.

The reason is that rats are prey animals and they can do a really great job of hiding symptoms of most of their illnesses.

They’re so good at it that a lot of the time you may never notice they’re going through something until it’s too late.

That does not mean you’re doing a bad job of taking care of them though, they just are naturally able to successfully hide their pain.

There are many reasons why rats can seem to die almost randomly that I’ll go over in this article, and it may be able to help answer some questions that still remain about losing our little friends.

Bad Genetics

Sometimes when a pet rat dies suddenly it can be from bad genetics. This can happen because of the way rats are mass bred to eventually become pets.

These genetics can be passed on through breeding practices that aren’t so good for them.

If a pet rat has bad genetics passed on to them they could be more likely to develop conditions that can ultimately cause their death later on in their life.

As their owners that can make it seem like they have died almost randomly though.

So even though we take care of our pets the best we can, sometimes we can’t stop them from having some illnesses or conditions brought on by the genetics that they inherited.

It’s a very unfortunate situation and it’s just one of those things that’s totally out of our control as pet rat owners.


Even though pet rats are very clean, they can still easily get infections most of the time.

It can be very common for rats to get general respiratory infections or infections like pneumonia.

The stress from moving into a new home or just stressful environments in general can increase the chances of them getting these kinds of infections.

Because rats are prey animals, they can do a really good job of hiding most of the symptoms of the infections that they have.

So if their condition starts to get worse it can be very hard to tell that they’re going through something.

Because of that, it can look like your pet rat died randomly when really they may have been dealing with a form of sickness for a really long time.

General Illnesses

Rats can also die suddenly from general sickness or conditions. They won’t usually show that many symptoms when they’re sick and even when they do it’s very hard to notice.

The sudden death of a rat can be caused by:

  • Heart conditions.
  • Heart attacks.
  • Strokes.
  • Tumors.
  • Cancer.

Some of these are actually very common in rats. For example, when it comes to rats having cancer, female rats are actually more likely to have it than male rats.

It’s not something that you should feel too guilty about though, especially because they’ll hide most of the symptoms associated with these illnesses.

These kinds of conditions are generally out of our control as pet rat owners and all we can usually do is give them the best life possible.

Eating Something They Weren’t Supposed To Eat

If your pet rat died suddenly it could be from something they weren’t supposed to eat. Rats sometimes feel the need to scavenge for food.

So if you’ve allowed them to have some form of playtime outside of their cage sometimes they may find small bits of food that they’ll eat that they’re not supposed to.

Things like chocolate and most other sweet or sugary treats are off-limits for rats.

So if they somehow got ahold of a decent amount of them it could turn into a bad situation.

Eating any foods that they’re not supposed to eat or even bigger foods that can be a choking hazard can cause rats to appear to die very suddenly.

Injuries That They Don’t Show

Sometimes when pet rats died suddenly it can be from injuries that they don’t show.

The reason why rats are really good at hiding their pains and injuries is that they are prey animals.

Your pet may have sustained injuries and could be silently dealing with it all without you knowing about it.

Not all of their wounds are easily noticeable, especially when they do a really good job of hiding it.

So if left unnoticed, over time some of those injuries could turn into infections.

That can make it seem like your pet died out of nowhere. When actually they may have been bravely and quietly dealing with some form of trauma for a while.

Old Age

In general, pet rats live about two to three years. That can seem like a decent amount of time when it comes to having these pets.

But unless you are breeding your rats yourself, most of the time you won’t really know their true age when you adopt them from the store.

Pet stores don’t always know the actual age of the rats that they are selling.

It’s not always their fault though, sometimes it’s just the breeding process or the way they are labeled when they get new pet rats in.

Even in the cases where they do know and the ages are correctly labeled, the rats aren’t usually newborns.

That means that when you adopt your rats from the store they’re already a little older and sometimes one-third of their life has already been lived.

So if you experience a sudden rat death after you’ve had them for a while, it can seem like it’s out of nowhere but sometimes they may have already lived out their life.

Remember their life span is two to three years from when they’re born, not from when they’re adopted from the store.

How To Know For Sure How Your Pet Rat Died

Although there are a few other ways to deal with the death of a pet rat, if you’re still unsure of the cause of their sudden death, then you can try getting a necropsy done.

A necropsy is a type of examination that can be done after your pet has died and it can help with discovering the true cause of their death.

Considering what it is, it’s not too expensive and it usually costs around 100 to 200 dollars to have it done.

These are mainly done by veterinarians and in a lot of cases, you can get most of the results back within 48 hours and the final report in about three to four weeks.

So getting a necropsy done may be able to answer some remaining questions that you have and help you get some closure on this unfortunate situation.

What You Can Do For Your Remaining Rat

Remember rats are very social animals. They’re used to living in groups and most of the time human contact just from their owners isn’t enough.

They can become very depressed if they are alone and in some cases, pet rats may die from loneliness.

So if your pet rat has died and you only have one left, it’s a really good idea to get them a new pet rat friend.

They really thrive when they can be as social as possible and love to be with other rats that they get along with.

By giving your lonely rat another friend to play with, you’ll be helping them create new social bonds and they’ll be a whole lot happier because of that.

Always try to do the best you can for them because most of the time that’s all we can do.

As long as you know that you did your best to give them a great life, you should try to feel not so guilty about their passing.


Hi, I'm Mason, I've kept small animals as pets since I was 8 years old. I love to learn and talk about them basically every day. Over the years I've adopted small pets like hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs.

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