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When I first got rats and read about rat ailments the first thing that lodged itself into my skull was this:

If your rat has red around his eyes or nose or both, go to the vet!

Well, it's not bad advice. I mean if you're not sure, it isn't really worth waiting to find out what'll happen. But that's not really what Porphyrin tells us.

What porphyrin does tell us with utter certainty is that the rat is stressed. It can also, inadvertently, tell us how the rat is feeling. But first, the stress. The picture below is what I consider "stress." This needs to be watched. It could become something but on the other hand, it could just be the rat-snot from a sneeze (which this is - I took this after he sneezed - before he could clean it off):

As you can see, though, he's also got a bit of porphyrin on the top of his nose. This was not from a sneeze, at least not this sneeze (in order to get the staining on top of his nose, he had to have tried to clean his nose and consequently rubbed it on the top of his nose), so it's possible that something is going on:

To delve a little deeper, I check his paws. Paws and the fur around a rat's neck and face often tell more than the staining directly around the nose or eyes. To me it means that they are well enough to groom themselves, but that they do need attention. Perhaps it is allergy related (time to clean out the litter pan or supply a new hammock or perhaps he has a sensitivity to the bedding or nearby smells) or maybe it's the start of a small myco flare-up. I put him up to my ear and he sounds clear so I'm going to keep an eye on him, clean the litter pan, and wash the hammock:

I didn't have anyone with discolored fur (neck, ears, arms) but those are good places to look. It gives you an idea of how much and how long this has been going on.

What I did have though was one of the more subtle hints. This guy's nose is, as you can see, free of any red staining. But if you look under his nose, and closely inspect his cheeks, there is a bit of reddish-orange staining. This guy otherwise looks great, but seeing this on his nose worries me. He's the alpha so he's going to try to hide the fact that he's not feeling well. Indeed, his lungs sound rough so we're going to put him on antibiotics.

Porphyrin on the eyes can mean a couple of things. The "stress" may be indirect or may be directly caused by an irritant...

As you can see below, the eye is tearing. Upon closer inspection, you can also see little crispy spots where previous tears have dried up. If I see this in both eyes, this means an immediate vet visit. I would worry not so much because of the tears but because of the crisps around the eye itself. This means that he is not cleaning himself which means that he is lacking the energy to perform basic tasks. I would assume, based on this alone, that he's fighting a very serious infection.

But, as you can see, the tearing and dried out porphyrin staining is only around one eye. Perhaps he got something in it that is irritating it. For him I will lift the eyelids outward one at a time and rinse the eye with saline. I'll check it later. I'll also watch for any signs of infection.

This is another example of the same only there isn't any porphyrin dried up around his eye. He's cleaning himself so I'm not too worried about any other types of infections (though I listen to his chest just in case). For him I'll also rinse with saline and see if we can't get whatever is irritating his eye out of his eye. If this was in both eyes I would probably start him on antibiotics.

Below is another rat with porphyrin around his one eye - the bright red is fresh porphyrin and the darker red dried porphyrin. As you can see the eye is cloudy and the porphyrin is crusted around his eye so it has been irritated for awhile. He is actually antibiotic ointment in addition to saline flushes to clear this out. Without the opthalmic ointment, this eye would become seriously infected and ultimately be rendered useless. If you see infections like this you should definitely take your rat to the vet or obtain opthalmic ointment. Since there is a vein going to the eye, any eye infection has the potential of spreading to the brain. In short, if left untreated, it can be deadly.

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Disclaimer: There are many non-sarcastic accounts and tips on the web regarding rat care. This is not one of them. These are merely accounts of our experiences with rats, our perceptions of these experiences, where we've failed and where we've succeeded. These accounts are here for two purposes:

    1) To entertain.
    2) To help avoid repetition of mistakes

  Remember! Your rat is not a science project, he is your friend!

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