|Lilly with her degloved tail|
(Warning: Graphic Image at Bottom of Post)
Monday night, when we took Lilly and her boys out to play, we noticed that Lilly had degloved the last 1 1/2" of her tail. Degloving occurs when the skin of the tail separates from the body, exposing the bone and tissue underneath. She may have gotten it caught somehow, or she may have injured it during a scuffle with her boys, or her tail may have gotten bit by one of the rats in the adjacent cage, despite the cages being 5" apart. The latter is the most likely, as our Hammie loves to nip at tails that find their way through bars (tails on rats he lives with are fine, though). I have moved the cages a little further apart, so hopefully all tails will be safe in the future.
Degloved tails are probably one of the most common injuries in rats. This is because the degloving mechanism is a part of a rat's natural defense against predators. Should a predator catch the rat by the tail, the skin can easily detach and separate from the tail, allowing the rat to escape and leaving the predator with a section of tail skin. However, this mechanism can also kick in when an accident occurs - another rat accidentally (or on purpose) nips a tail, the tail gets caught on something, a door pinches a tail as it closes, a tail gets stepped on, or someone ignorantly picks the rat up by a tail (yet another reason you should never pick up a rat by the tail).
If there is extensive skin loss, you should wrap the exposed area in a clean cloth to control bleeding and seek veterinary assistance immediately, as the rat could go into shock.
In most cases, the amount of skin loss will be minor. If it is just the tip of the tail that is affected, you can usually begin treatment at home and see your regular veterinarian at the next available appointment. Degloving is rarely a life threatening condition, since it evolved as a way to save a life, not take it. So if there is minimal skin loss, there is no need to panic. That doesn't mean it isn't extremely painful or that you don't need to treat it properly, but with proper care, your rattie will likely recover just fine.
The tail should be cleaned and antibiotic ointment can be used to try to prevent infection. Pain medication is helpful. For Weasel, we gave him some Children's ibuprofen. For Lilly, we had metacam on hand from her spay, so we used that instead (we used the higher 1 mg/kg dose because I had seen that dosage used in a case study in the Rat Guide). After the wound is cleaned, antibiotic ointment applied, and pain meds administered, the cage liners and litter should be changed, and the rat can be returned to the clean cage. It is usually safest to keep the injured rat in a hospital cage, separate from the other rats, so that the other rats don't accidentally hurt him/her, until you have the okay from the vet. For Lilly, we closed the ramp between the top and bottom levels so that Lilly could recover peacefully on the bottom while the boys wrestled on top.
An appointment with the vet should be made as soon as available (but an emergency visit isn't necessary unless extensive skin loss has occurred or the rat is not behaving in a healthy way). The vet will examine the wound and may prescribe antibiotics and/or pain medication as deemed necessary. The exposed bone will need to come off. Sometimes, it will fall off naturally and the vet will tell you to wait a week to see if that happens. If it does not fall off on its own accord or if the degloving is more extensive, a surgical amputation of the exposed bone may be required.
Lilly has seen the vet and has had the bone amputated and she is recovering fine. She is back with her boys and does not seem to be in further pain. Likewise, Weasel recovered easily from his degloving incident.
For more information about degloving, see the Degloving Injury article of the Rat Guide.