Barbering in Rats
Barbering is a grooming behavior seen in male and female rats. Specifically, this occurs when a dominant rat chews the hair and whiskers of less dominant rats. The dominant rat chews the hair of the submissive rat very close to its skin, giving it the appearance of being clean shaven. This is the reason the condition is called barbering.
This condition may be easily distinguishable by appearance alone. The submissive rat appears cleanly barbered, even bald in spots, and has no other symptoms that indicate the hair loss is due to an illness. In some cases, usually under conditions of stress and boredom, rats may become barbers to themselves.
Whether due to self barbering or barbering by cage mates, the appearance of the barbered rat will be otherwise normal except for the hair loss. There are no cuts or irritation to the skin. However, sometimes too much aggression can lead to skin infections or dermatitis in the barbered rat, and this will need to be treated by a veterinarian.
Barbering can be prevented by separating dominant rats from submissive ones. If you do not want to separate your rats, another solution might be to provide hiding places, like tubes or cans, for the submissive rats. Keeping your rats busy with exercise and play activities is also important, as it can distract them from becoming bored, stressed, and prone to acting out in destructive ways.
Symptoms and Types
- Loss of hair (alopecia) or bald patches on the skin
- Bald patches on the muzzle
- Bald patches on the head
- Bald patches on the shoulders
- Barbered stomach (in case of self-barbering)
- Barbered front legs (in case of self-barbering)
- Behavior may be inherited
- Dominant and/or aggressive rat
Your veterinarian will diagnose barbering based on a physical examination of the barbered rats and sometimes by observing the whole rat community. Typically, other than the loss of hair, the barbered rat will otherwise be completely healthy. You will need to give a thorough history of your rat's health, onset of symptoms, and any incidents or behaviors that may point to a reason for the barbering behavior, such as stressful events or a change in hierarchal behavior in the group of rats.
If there is any inflammation or dermatitis present, your veterinarian will treat the barbered rat. But you may also want your veterinarian for further advice in preventing this from occuring in the future, such as isolating the barbered rat (s) and behavior modification therapy for the dominant rat(s). If the barbering is due to self-grooming, the veterinarian may have other behavior modification methods.
Stress and boredom are the main causes for this behavior. This can usually be avoided by providing your rats with diversions like toys, play objects, or any running toys or wheels. Provide the barbered rat with hiding areas, like tubes, to avoid being barbered by dominating rats.