Minimal to extensive loss of skin involving variable amounts of deep tissue loss through defense mechanism or trauma.
- Loss of tail skin and / or part of the tail due to trauma.
- Loss of skin and / or underlying tissue from extremities due to trauma.
*Note: for additional information on recognizing various signs of pain or discomfort refer to: Signs of Pain In Rats.
Degloving is a defense mechanism in rats, or other small mammals, that causes the upper layer of skin and tissue to be sheared or torn away from the bone. While degloving can happen to any extremity it is seen to occur more frequently with the tail. This can happen when the rat is grabbed or picked up by the tail, or for example, when the tail is caught in the cage door and the rat attempts to pull away. This injury is not only quite painful to the rat, but leaves the exposed area open to infection.
In incidents of degloving, the portion of skin and underlying tissue that is lost does not grow back. If the injury is small, for example the tip or small portion of the tail, the injury will usually dry and heal on its own having the rat lose only the tip of the tail.
In those incidents where the loss of skin and or underlying tissue is extensive, amputation, plus treatment with antibiotics, and medication to relieve pain and discomfort may be required.
Case Histories of Degloving
- Fig. 1: Degloving injury in adult female rat
- Fig. 2: Degloved Tail in a female Northeastern Wood Rat (Slice)
- Fig. 3: Degloving injury and amputation of forelimb in female rat (Picasso) *Warning graphic.*
- Fig. 4: Degloving injury in 23-month-old female rat (Lilith)
If skin loss is extensive, assess for shock and treat as needed.
If there is extensive loss of skin, bleeding may be controlled by wrapping a clean cloth around the injured area, while seeking immediate attention from a veterinarian. The veterinarian will assess the need to debride the wound and / or amputate. Broad-spectrum antibiotics such as enrofloxacin or the cephalosporins, and analgesics for pain such as Banamine or Metacam are recommended.
In the event damage is minimal; for example a small portion or tip of a tail has been degloved the following procedure may be used:
- Control any bleeding that may be present.
- Clean wound with normal saline (a solution that is least toxic to sensitive tissue although it is not an antiseptic solution), or a saline wound wash product (e.g., Simply Saline Wound Wash, or Blairex Wound Wash Saline). Saline solution can also be made at home using 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 pint of warm water.
- Pat dry the area following the use of wound wash, and apply a topical antibiotic ointment minimally, such as: Polysporin or Bacitracin. To aid drying of dead tissue a good choice is Baytril otic solution (topically).
*Note: it is important that when choosing to apply a topical ointment to avoid housing the rat on litter-type bedding, until healed, to prevent litter and debris from sticking to wound.
- An oral systemic broad-spectrum antibiotic such as Baytril (enrofloxacin) is recommended where infection is thought to be present, along with an anti-inflammatory and analgesic such as ibuprofen or meloxicam (Metacam) for pain and swelling.
*Note: If damage is minimal, the bare area of the tail will usually dry up and slough off, healing.
Refer to the Rat Medication Guide for information on medications.
- Provide hospital cage to prevent further injury to wounded area from cage mates.
- Keep injured rat on clean bedding daily such as cloths or ink-free paper towels until healed. Avoid litter-type bedding during healing process to prevent the chance of wound contamination or infection.
- Contact veterinarian if wound does not appear to be healing or if there are signs of generalized illness.
- Bleeding halted
- Pain controlled
- Infection treated
- Healing occurs
- When picking up rats use both hands in a scooping motion to support the body. Do not grasp or hold up by tail.
- Monitor any and all young children playing with, or holding a pet rat.
- Remind guests in your home, that may be unfamiliar with rats, not to pick the rat up by the tail.
- Ensure the safety of the rat by checking cages, or wire rodent wheels, for areas where they might get limbs or tail caught.