The Science

Having had two rats now that have choked, I thought it would be a good idea to add this to the illnesses section, even though it is technically not an illness. If the rat can't get rid of whatever is choking it, they can unfortunately die, so I thought it would be good to share how to treat this, especially since it can actually be pretty common.

Unlike humans and many other mammals, rats don't have what we call a "gag" reflex (where they can cough something back up). So, if anything gets stuck and causes an obstruction they can choke.


Certain foods are not easy for rats to swallow, like peanut butter or anything sticky. These may get stuck in the rats throat. One of my rats choked on some banana and another choked on a piece of sliced, processed cheese (the pre-sliced individually wrapped ones used for sandwiches). Of course, rats aren't very picky about what they eat and have a tendency to try nibbling on anything they find, and may choke if it is nothing something of the food line. Be very careful what you leave lying around!

Some people have also had experience of rats choking when they are being greedy. They steal food too quickly to prevent the other rats getting it, and then gorge it so fast that it lodges in the throat.


If a rat chokes, one of the symptoms you may see is a pulling in of the head, right down into the chest area as if they are trying very hard to burp (a bit like some humans do). I call this accordioning (it was the best word to use to describe to the Vet the first time I saw this!). There may also be saliva around the mouth, which can look quite milky and thick, and they may also try and rub their mouths on whatever is handy at the time, as though trying to clean away something nasty.


It is always best to check with a Vet when you believe your rat to be choking, since it can also look very similar to problems associated with respiratory illnesses, so it is always wise to get the vet to check the rat over, just in case.


In most cases, the rat usually works the obstruction out themselves, given time. This can take several hours, so be prepared to wait. If after a certain length of time (say five hours), it is probably best to seek veterinary attention. It can be a very harrowing experience to watch, of course, but you should at least give the rat a chance to do this itself. Most times the rat can still breath around the obstruction.

If the rat cannot breathe, AND you cannot get to a Vet, you could try decoupaging him (also called the "fling") - not to be tried if you are squeamish, or aren't exactly sure what to do, as you may cause more harm than good. Hold the rat at arms length above your head with index fingers under the chest and thumbs at the back, then bring the rat quickly and forcefully down to about waist level. You may have to do this a couple of times. You may then see him chewing, if the food is dislodged into his mouth. I would then suggest (if you are sure the obstruction is gone) leaving the rat somewhere peaceful and quiet for a short while to recover, as it is quite a frightening experience (for both you and the rat). Keep and eye and make sure all signs of choking have stopped.

If the rat really is having major problems with the obstruction and you don't want to try the above (most people wouldn't), it is best to see your Vet as soon as possible.


Make sure any foods you supply are overly "sticky". Common sense should tell you what kind of foods rats may choke on. If letting a rat on the floor to run around, make sure there are no small, chokeable, items lying around (even a staple holding the carpet down could be picked out and swallowed).