Below are some questions I am commonly asked and the answers to those questions. The answers are based on my own personal experience and research. These answers are not a substitute for the advice and expertise of an actual licensed veterinarian. If you have medical questions, it is always best to consult a veterinarian. If you have a question that isn't listed below, please email me and I will try to help you. Your question may also end up on this very page! Also, if you want a little more information on a topic, or links to good sites to do more research, I can give you that help via email.
??? The Rattery ???
The following is some information about my polices and my rattery.
Q: What breeds of rats do you sell?
There is no such thing as a certain "breed" of rat. Rats are rats are rats! There are different varieties, which refers to coat colors and markings as well as coat and ear type. To put it simply, asking about a breed of rat is like asking "What breed of Miniature Schnauzer is that?". It doesn't break down any further than rat. So, when you are talking to a breeder about what kind of rats they produce or specialize in, ask about varieties, not breed.
Q: I only want one rat...why do you insist that I have two?
Rats are extremely social creatures. One of the responsibilities of owning a rat is making sure you spend at least two hours with your rat a day while the rat is out of the cage. This is the minimum, and even more time is better. Unfortunately, no matter how much time you spend with your rat, you are unable to provide your rat with certain needs they have. Two rats will groom each other, sleep together, play tag, eat together (though they are more likely to snatch food from each other than share) and also provide each other with comfort when you are not around. Having two rats will not keep your rats from bonding with you. Two rats can offer each other a type of bond that we cannot compete with, but your rat will still bond with you on a different level. The difference is a rat with a friend is a happier, more stable rat. There are occasionally rats that should be kept alone due to aggression issues, but two rats that have been raised together usually don't fight. Just be sure the two rats you get are of the same sex!
Q: You breed rats, so why can't I?
I would never take it upon myself to tell someone that they could or could not breed their rats. Everyone with a male and female rat is perfectly capable of placing them together and getting the end result of a pregnant rat. The question is never if someone could or couldn't, but whether they should or shouldn't. I am a little more lax on new breeders, simply because I was just starting out once. Anyone with the right drive and reasons for getting started should be helped along the way, however, I don't like to put too much here about what my policies are, simply because it basically tells the person contacting me exactly what I want to hear. I don't want to offer the perfect script to the wrong person, so if you are interested in breeding rats, I encourage you to contact me and we can discuss it further.
Q: Can I come see all of your rats and your cage setups?
I don't allow anyone to come to my house for any reason period. There are several reasons for this. First of all, sometimes my rattery may be just one stop on a long list of rats being visited that day. Maybe the person wanted to go check out some items at a pet store, maybe the person plans to visit several ratteries that day. For whatever reason, people think it's ok to do that, and it's definitely not. Even if the person didn't touch any of the rats, by being around the other rats air space, they have the potential to bring nasty diseases to my rattery that could kill the entire colony. It would be nice if you could trust someone when they promise they wouldn't do that, but these days, it's best to not trust anyone. Secondly, I had a very bad experience with my breeding dogs a few years ago. I used to groom here, and people would bring their dogs to my home. I had a stunning black and silver miniature schnauzer stud that everyone wanted to see. During the day, the schnauzers would take turns in a kennel outdoors in order to get some sunshine and fresh air. One day, my male was stolen from my backyard while I was picking up my son from school. The kennel cannot be seen from the road, so it had to have been someone who knew the dogs were back there sometimes. That experience taught me that even your home isn't safe anymore. For that reason, I don't even allow people to pick up their rats from my home. I will meet adopters in a public place for everyone's safety. I never want to lose a beloved family pet again to sneaky people who act kind on the outside, but are evil on the inside. This is not to say that all adopters are out to get me, but I will not place myself into that situation ever again.
Q: Why do you always get first pick from the litters?
The reason I breed rats is so that I can make better looking, healthier, calmer, longer lived rats. Once good health is established in a line, the breeder is basically picking pups based on appearance and temperament. If I allowed adopters to have first choice from the rats, and I just kept what was left over, my goals would not become a reality. I reserve first choice because I know what I am looking for in the next generation of my lines. I am not trying to keep the best rats away from the public. On the contrary! I'm trying to get to a point where my rats are consistently producing large litters of quality pups. That means the best for everyone. I do not, nor will I ever have the space to keep every exceptional, breeding quality pup from every litter. This is why I like to work with other established breeders, as well as new breeders. It gives me a chance to place pups with others who will work just as hard on my lines as I have. Sometimes top quality pups go to pet homes, and that's great too! Don't think you have to get into the world of breeding in order to get the best pups available. Also, what I find less than desirable for my rattery may be just what you have been looking for.
Q: How do you determine which rats you will keep?
So many factors come into play when picking my keeper(s) from a litter. The first thing I look for is a bright, alert, curious rat. Temperament is definitely handed down through generations, and by choosing the more outgoing rittens with the greatest interest in me, I am making sure that my lines continue to produce friendly rats. Next, I look at aesthetics. I personally prefer big rats. The bigger, the better, as long as it is a naturally big rat, and not a rat who is big due to unhealthy diet or genetic issues or disease. I also like for my females to be thick with shorter noses. If looking at marked rats, I will pick the rats with sharp markings. Every now and then, though, a rat comes along that doesn't fall into what I am looking for, but I will keep it anyhow because I got attached. These rats may never be bred, but they are loved and cared for as treasured pets. Finally, from the rats I keep, I continue to monitor health and temperament. If a rat shows signs of less than optimum health, it is taken out of the breeding program and usually remains as a pet, but sometimes may be adopted out. If a line consistently shows poor examples of health, the line may be discontinued indefinitely.
Q: How do you care for your rats and your rattery?
If you look all around the site, you can get a good idea for how I raise my rats. I choose not to post all of my info on my website because I feel like someone who does not have the best intentions would basically have an answer sheet for the questions I am going to ask. That being said, I don't expect anyone to care for their rats exactly like I do. All that is important to me is that you are caring properly for your rats and keeping their best interests at heart. There is more than one correct way to properly house, feed, and care for rats. I also am not trying to ostracize you or make you feel like you aren't good enough to have one of my rats. My rats are not magic, nor do they poo gold. They are just loving animals that make great pets. If I find that some type of care you have in mind or are currently using is not up to what I feel is appropriate, I am more than happy to help you make better decisions by talking you through making your home better for rats. If I deny your adoption application, it may not be a permanent no. It's probably just a "not right now".
Q: What do you do with the baby rats that you can't find homes for?
Sometimes it takes longer than usual to find homes for all of the baby rats from a litter. I maintain a waiting list as well as advertise when the babies are two weeks old. Things happen, though, and occasionally adopters back out,or there is just not a demand at that moment. Rats that are not adopted into homes remain at the rattery until an appropriate home can be found. If I have several babies from a past litter still available and the rattery space is full, I will stop all breeding projects until all adoptable rats have been placed. I am careful not to overwhelm myself with rats, and there is no point in continuing to produce rats when homes are just not available for them. So far, this has not been an issue, but I am prepared if it ever happens. I will never allow my rats to become reptile food. I made the conscious decision to bring them into the world, so it is my responsibility to see them through to a loving home, not another animal's stomach.
Q: Why do you charge more than pet stores for your rats?
I try to keep my prices for my rats relatively low in comparison to other ratteries, but I do need to make sure they are going to good homes. Pet stores typically charge for rats that will be fed to reptiles. My rats are NOT FOOD. I have to keep my prices high enough to deter reptile owners from feeding my rats to their pets, but low enough to make them affordable for everyone. I am not trying to make a profit by breeding rats, and all of the money I make from the sale of my babies goes right back into buying supplies for the rats. I have yet to make a profit.
Q: What makes a good breeder?
Being a good breeder is pretty simple. Firstly, a breeder should have open lines of communication. They should be willing to answer any questions you may have, and do so in a timely manner. They should also remain in contact with you after the purchase. It is important to feel like your breeder is someone you can turn to for help when you need it. If a breeder makes you feel like you are pestering them, or that they don't have time for you, you should probably look elsewhere. Secondly, a good breeder should be honest. Nothing makes me angrier than being lied to. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always question and do your research. It would be nice if we could just take someone's word for something, but these days you just can't. Good breeders are also very knowledgeable about rats and the varieties they are working with. While no one breeder knows everything there is to know about rats, a good breeder has done loads of research before getting started, and has a good foundation of knowledge to build on. Lastly, a good breeder truly cares about the rats. This means the rats are raised in a clean environment, are not over bred, are fed a proper diet, and are socialized from an early age. There is a big difference in a baby rat that has been handled daily and a baby rat that has never been picked up, held, or snuggled. There is more to being a good breeder, but for the sake of brevity, these are the basic things to look for.
Q: You refused to sell me a rat for breeding...do you think you are better than me?
Not at all. If I refuse to sell someone a rat for breeding, I am simply looking after the interests of the rats as a species. Breeding shouldn't be taken lightly. Every pairing directly affects what happens to the rat as a species. I can't be a responsible breeder while supporting irresponsible breeding. I fully support someone's desire to learn more about what it takes to breed rats responsibly and I am more than happy to help such individuals get started, but I reserve the right to say no, and no amount of bullying, badgering and name calling will bring me to lower my integrity as a breeder.
One of the rats is no longer on your site...what happened to it?
Sometimes I have a rat that I have held back to enter the breeding program, and for whatever reason, that rat did not make the cut. In these instances, the rat is offered for adoption and placed in a loving home. I actually keep a wait list of people who prefer to adopt an adult rat. When one becomes available, I go down the list and let the potential adopters know who is available and why. This is why a rat would disappear from the site and why I don't have an "Available Adults" page. If you are interested in an adult rat, please contact me to go on this specific waiting list.
??? General and Random ???
The following is a compilation of fun rat facts and common general questions.
Q: Can my ferret and my rat live in the same cage?
It is never wise to mix inter species living arrangements. Even more so when the two may be mortal enemies like the ferret and rat. Ferrets were used as ratters many years ago, and this instinct is still strong with many ferrets. Sure, there are rare examples of two animals being friends that shouldn't be, but why would you want to take that chance? For the safety of all pets involved, keep them housed with their own species.
Q: Do rats vomit?
Rats are completely incapable of vomiting for several reasons. The first reason is that the barrier between their stomach and esophagus is too thick to open the way it would need to to permit food to come back up. Secondly, when vomiting occurs, it is caused by the muscles of the diaphragm contracting separately and forcefully onto the stomach. Rats lack the ability to work their diaphragm this way. Rats may not be able to vomit, but they can regurgitate. Regurgitation is different from vomiting in that vomiting is a forceful burst of undigested stomach contents into the esophagus. Regurgitation is effortless.
Q: How are rats and humans alike/different?
Well...rats have bellybuttons, are omnivorous, form strong social bonds, experience grief as well as several other emotions, and can eat chocolate! On the flip side, they don't have gallbladders, or thumbs, will happily nosh on a deceased cagemate, and they lack tonsils.
Q: Sometimes my rat makes funny noises and his eyes move in and out of his face...is he ok?
This is called bruxing and eye boggling. Bruxing is when a rat grinds his incisors together, and there are several causes for this. It is perfectly normal. Sometimes rats will brux when they are nervous, in pain, or agitated. Some rats brux when they are really happy! The eye boggling is caused when a rat is bruxing really enthusiastically. It is caused by muscles in the face that control the jaw. These muscles run by the eyes, so when a rat bruxes really hard, his eyes will "boggle" in and out of their sockets ever so slightly. It can be kind of creepy the first time you see it, but after a while, it becomes really cute and comical! See James boggle his eyes HERE.
Q: I don't think my rat likes me...why aren't we bonding?
I think this is a common feeling for new rat owners. You get online, you see all these cute rat videos of rats coming to their owners, doing tricks, grooming their owners hair while riding on their shoulders etc., and you go out and buy a rat. You get home, put your rat in his new home, and watch with a broken heart as he scurries to the nearest wooden house or igloo to hide for hours. When you try and get him out of the cage, he runs. You offer him treats, and he stares blankly ahead. The common misconception is that rats are going to immediately bond with you and do cute little tricks on the first day. This is very very rarely the case. Rats need a lot of time and patience to adjust to their new surroundings. Try doing things like just sitting by the cage with your hand inside. Don't touch the rat or chase him, just let him check you out in his own time. Bond with your rat by placing him on your shoulder and letting him ride around while you do some housework (the kind of housework that does not involve chemical cleaners, please). Sit on the couch with him and watch some tv. After a while, the rat will associate you with getting to explore new places and smells. The rat may still run when you go to pick him up, but that doesn't mean he doesn't want to come with you. Sometimes rats will not take treats because it is a new food. Rats instinctively try new foods in small amounts because they need to make sure the food won't hurt them. If they don't become sick, they know the food is ok, and they will begin to take it from you. Leave treats around the cage so that the rat can try them on his own time the first few times, and when he knows it is safe, you can offer them to him from your hand. Again, this takes time. Earning the rat's trust and bonding with him may take longer than you expected, but to bond with a rat is well worth it.
Q: Should I get a powder coated or galvanized cage?
I always get powder coated cages, and I suggest to all new adopters to do so as well. The powder coating over the wire protects the wire from urine. Urine on galvanized wire wears down quickly and cage replacement needs to be done too frequently and is not cost effective. Also, galvanized only wires will hold in the smell of urine, even with frequent cleaning, so you end up with a stinky room. Always spend the extra money to get powder coated, and it will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
Q: Is there really such a thing as a rat bonding with a human?
Absolutely there is! Rats are perfectly capable of forging a close bond with their humans. This is not to say that every rat will do so, as some rats have poor temperaments or have experienced abuse in their past that makes bonding closely with a person difficult or impossible. This is why responsible breeders choose to breed the most outgoing and friendly rats, as these traits will pass to their offspring. Sometimes, a rat has bonded with you and you may not even notice. For example, I have a rat named Fifi. I got her when she was a little baby and I had high hopes for her breeding career. After her first litter, Fifi had difficulty regaining the weight and I decided there was no good reason to breed her. I didn't feel that she had bonded with me, so I decided to find her a home where she could just be a pet. I had interest from an adopter, and I took her to meet him to see if it would be a good match. When we arrived, it was a nice place and the mood was very calm and relaxed. We talked for a bit, and I then handed Fifi to him to see if they would get along. He put her on his shoulder and we kept talking. We were standing up in the middle of the room with no furniture near us. I began to walk back to the table to get some paper and a pen, when out of nowhere, Fifi made a three foot jump from his shoulder to mine. I don't know how she did it, but I thought I knew why. Fifi had in fact bonded with me, and she wasn't going to let me walk away without her. I decided that I could not let her go, and she returned back home with me. She now stays here as a pet only. She may not show it often, but I have no doubt that she sees me as a protector and that she loves me like only a rat can.
Q: I've heard that rats can laugh...is that true?
Yes! Well, it's assumed that it is laughter anyhow. A study proved that when rats were flipped onto their backs and "tickled", they emitted a high frequency sound that was similar to laughter. The sound is of such a high pitch that it can't be heard by the human ear.
Q: Will rats eat meat?
Rats are omnivores, just like us! This means they will eat meat, eggs, pasta, cookies, veggies...pretty much anything you give them. For this reason, it is never a good idea to house smaller animals with them. If you were to place a mouse into a colony of rats, there is a chance they would attack and eat the smaller rodent. In the wild, they would hunt smaller mammals, bugs, and other creatures in order to get a good dose of protein.
Q: Wait....Rats eat BUGS?!
Absolutely! One of my rat's favorite treats is live meal worms. It's not a good idea to feed them to them more than a few times a week, because they are very high in protein, but it makes a wonderful and healthy snack occasionally. Plus, it's super cute to see a rat with a worm hanging out of its mouth like a spaghetti noodle. You can hand feed them, or just place them in a bowl. Some rats don't care for them, but a lot of rats go crazy for the squirmy things. Even though rats eat bugs, it's never a good idea to go in your backyard and feed your rats any bug you find. Bugs outside may have pesticides on them which would be dangerous for your pet to ingest. Also, you may accidentally feed a bug that resembles something safe, but is actually dangerous. Buy the bugs from a bait store or from a pet store.
Q: Why are hooded and albino rats so common in pet stores?
It's a well known fact that rats are used in laboratories to study the effects of medications, psychological effects of stimuli (or lack thereof), etc. When doing a scientific study, you must have a good control group, as well as the same type of group to test on. The genetics need to be the same in order to get a true reading at the end of an experiment. Scientists knew this, so they began line and inbreeding rats to get a more genetically similar rat for their studies. It takes about 300 inbreedings to produce a rat of this high similarity, but the scientists eventually got them so similar that it is even more so than a cloned version. Two common types that most lab rats come from are albino and hooded. Not all rats remained indefinitely at the lab for whatever reason, and many ended up in pet stores and mass breeding facilities. For this reason, hooded and albino rats are the most common rat found on the chain pet store market. That is not to say that hooded and albino rats that end up in pet stores are from labs, though. It just means that there is a good possibility that somewhere back in their lines, they have a relative that was used in a lab for scientific study.
Q: Why does my rat sway his head side to side when he is looking at something?
This behavior is usually seen in pink eyed or red eyed rats. Rats have poor vision to begin with, but rats with pink and red eyes have worse vision than a black eyed rat. By swaying side to side, the rat is trying to focus his vision and see an object more clearly. It is perfectly normal, and does not indicate a problem. It's also kind of cute.
Q: What kind of rats are rare?
In my opinion, there are no such "rare" rats. There are rats that are not common in certain areas of the world, but are still fairly common in other places. This includes downunder, harley, etc. If you find a rattery listing dumbos, dalmations, rexes, etc as rare, make sure you look elsewhere. They are trying to hype up their rats to make a sale, and are probably just in it for the money. Do your research and find out which rats are less common in your area. If you are wanting a less common rat, the price may be higher than average rats, but that is the way a business works. Ratteries do need to make money for keeping the rattery running, but a breeder should not lie to potential adopters in order to make a quick buck.
Q: Rat tails are so gross...can't you just cut them off at birth like people do with dogs?
No, you can't just cut off a rat's tail. A rat has an actual use for their tail, and cutting it off can be quite deadly in the long run. Rats use their tails for regulating their body temperatures. In the summer months, a rat lacking a tail is in great danger. If you are that repulsed by the tail of a rat, then rats are probably not for you.
Q: Do rats grieve?
Absolutely!! Rats can go through a grieving process after the loss of a cage mate. It is not uncommon for a rat to stop eating and drinking, become less active, experience depression, and other symptoms after a death in the colony. I have personally watched a rat grieve, and it is heartbreaking. A few years ago, I had two brother rats named Master Splinter and Nicodemus. When they got old, Master Splinter passed away one night from age. When I found him in the morning, Nico was snuggled up next to him and wouldn't let me take him out. Every time I would reach my hand in, he would come at me aggressively. When I did remove the body, Nico refused to eat, drink, or leave his spot where Splinter had been. He eventually passed away a few days later. So yes, grief is visibly experienced when rats lose a friend.
Q: Can I give my rats soda?
A neat random fact about rats is they cannot burp. This means that if you give a carbonated drink to your rat, it will cause severe gastrointestinal distress. Imagine the worst gas pains of your life, and that is what your poor rat would go through. It's best to just stick to fresh water for your rat's hydration needs.
Q: Was I born in the year of the rat?
The Chinese zodiac cycles every twelve years, beginning with the rat and ending with the pig. You are in the year of the rat if your birthday falls in one of the years: 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008. The next year of the rat will be in 2020. People born in the year of the rat are considered to be crafty, attractive, and successful and are considered most compatible with those born in the year of the ox, dragon, and monkey.
Q: Are male or female rats better?
This is really based on personal preference. Female rats are more active and cleaner than males. They don't normally scent mark and they don't have grease like the bucks do. Males are more laid back, and plain out lazy once they mature. They are a bit smellier, as they have glands that secrete a greasy substance that helps them scent mark. They also drop little bits of pee everywhere as a way to mark what belongs to them. There are exceptions to every rule, so this is just a typical answer.
Q: Do rats stink?
I would be lying if I said rats were odorless pets. Females usually do not smell icky, but sometimes a dominant female will scent mark her subordinates by peeing on them. Male rat can develop an odor because of their oily coats, but a bath every two or three weeks will keep this odor down. And of course it goes without saying that dirty cages create dirty smells. To keep your cage its cleanest and odor free, make sure to clean your cage before it needs to be cleaned. Waiting will cause urine build up, which can be tricky to remove completely. I would have to say they are a very low odor pet when taken care of properly, but can stink up a room when things are being done responsibly.
Q: Why do rats stick to the walls of a room when roaming out of the cage?
Rats have terrible eyesight. They use their whiskers and body to help them sense where they are and what possible dangers may be near by. They stay away from the center of the room because their is far less tactile feedback for their other senses. It's instinctual and helps them feel safe.
Q: Why do rat breeders dislike snake owners?
I think this is a common misconception between reptile enthusiasts and rat folk. Rat breeders do not dislike reptiles or the people that own them. A lot of time, money, and love goes into producing a litter of rats, and most lines take years to perfect. No rat breeder wants to see something they have worked hard to produce become reptile poop at the end of the day. I personally think reptiles are beautiful and mysterious creatures. I have a lot of respect for the animals, as well as the people who care for them. In my opinion, there are a lot of reasons to not feed a reptile live prey. For one, there is a great risk to the reptile. An angry, hurt, or scared rat is nothing to play with. For another reason, while reptiles in the wild would use various methods to incapacitate their prey, captive reptiles have their prey dropped right into their tanks, eliminating the need to put the prey animal through being crushed, having their nervous systems stopped to the point of death, or being swallowed alive. I think it is more humane for both animals to feed frozen prey from a reputable source that humanely euthanize the prey animals before they are frozen. I do understand that some snakes refuse to eat anything but live prey. They just won't be eating any of my rats.
Q: Is it true that some cultures hold high regard for rats?
In India there is a place known as the Karni Mata Temple. It is considered a holy spot and the rats in and around the temple are considered to be sacred. There are high penalties for killing a rat from the temple. The Hindu god, Ganesh, is sometimes shown in pictures with a rat companion named Vahana. At the temple, visitors are supposed to bring offerings to the rats. The rats are thought to be reincarnations of children by some, and reincarnations of those hiding from Yama, the Hindu God of deat by others. Either way, these rats are special to those who practice the Hindu religion and visit this temple.
??? Rat Health ???
The following information is not meant to substitute the advice of a veterinarian.
Q: How long do rats live?
The typical life span of a rat is two years. This is one of the downsides to rat ownership. These furry little creatures steal your heart, then pass away far too soon. That is why breeders are focusing on producing rats from long lived lines. Some rats have been known to live four or five years. It would be wonderful if one day this can be the average age. No rat will live to its potential age, though, if they aren't given quality food, proper housing, a clean environment, proper vetting, and love. Don't be surprised if your rat in an aquarium living on seed mix and stale water doesn't even make it to the two year mark. If you want an animal that can live in a tank, eat seeds its whole life, and requires minimal to zero human contact, get a hamster.
Q: Why is my rat sneezing, and what is that red stuff coming out of its nose?
I am not a veterinarian, so the following is my own opinion, based solely on my own beliefs and experience. It is not meant to be medical advice, and any health issues should be discussed with a veterinarian. That said...sneezing can be caused by lots of things. Some reasons are simple and easily remedied, while others are quite complicated. Stress can lower a rat's immune system, allowing an upper respiratory infection to set in. I generally allow my rats a few days to get over the infection on their own. Over use of antibiotics is the number one reason they become ineffective. By allowing the rats to fight the infection on their own it gives their bodies a chance to build an immunity to the infection, and results in a healthier rat in the long run. A URI is nothing to be taken lightly, though. If a rat is exhibiting labored breathing, is losing weight, or has symptoms for more than a week, it is definitely time to see a vet. Other symptoms of a bad URI are excess porphyrin secretions around the eyes and nose. Porphyrin is a reddish, pink liquid that is present in all rats. It is the equivalent to a runny nose in humans, and when over produced can be a good indicator that something is wrong. It isn't always disease related, however. Certain beddings should be avoided because they can cause sneezing and excess porphyrin discharge, which can lead to a URI. Dust free or very low dust paper beddings and aspen are the beddings I prefer and encourage owners to buy. All softwoods, including but not limited to cedar and pine, should not be used with rats. They have been proven to cause major respiratory issues and there are toxins on the wood that can do serious damage to your pets. Another very serious cause of sneezing and discharge is an unfortunately fairly common problem known in the rat world as Myco (short for mycoplasmosis). I encourage you to study up on this disease. (Learn more HERE) There are many resources to learn more about it and treatment options. There are other possible problems that can lead to sneezing and discharge, but the previously mentioned are the most common.
Q: Don't rats carry the plague?
Actually, no. Fleas carried the plague, many many years ago. These fleas were carried by rats, but todays rats are not a threat to our lives. There are some sicknesses that can be passed between rats and people, but as with any pet, washing your hands after handling your rats and their environment will take care of any issues. Proper cage cleaning is another must to reduce risks.
Q: Why are my rats destroying their toys?
Rats have a natural urge to chew. There is no way to fight it, and it actually serves a purpose. Those four long front teeth are called incisors. They are known as open rooted, which means they grow throughout the animals life. If a rat doesn't chew hard objects, like wood, their lower incisors will eventually curl back and into the roof of the mouth. This can cause severe mouth discomfort, eventually causing the rat to refuse food and starve to death. It is important as a rat owner to check your rats teeth periodically to make sure they are not growing too quickly or in a bad position. If the teeth look too long, or are creating sores in the mouth, it's time for a visit to your vet for a tooth trim and possibly a round of antibiotics.
Q: Why is my rat constantly scratching and losing hair?
The two most common reasons for itchy, balding rats are allergies and ectoparasites. A vet can determine the cause, and can help you figure out the best course of action for your rats. Ectoparasites like lice and mites can be brought in on the bedding, like aspen. Freezing the bedding for several days can kill the little bugs. This isn't a viable option for everyone, especially if you buy bedding in bulk, so it's always good to check your rats over for scabby skin, tiny crawling specks, or hair loss around the eyes and ears. Luckily, if you do find bugs, they are fairly easy to get rid of. A vet can provide revolution to kill the parasites on the rats, and you can thoroughly clean the cages, wash all cloth bedding in hot water, and throw away all bedding in the bottom on the cage (such as aspen or carefresh). Unused bedding should then be frozen or thrown away if you have no way to freeze it.
Q: My rat's feet appear swollen and ulcerated...what is wrong?
It sounds like your rat is suffering from bumble foot. The condition is a result of bacteria invading your rat's feet and creating sores and swelling. The causes can be unsanitary environment, genetic factors, and having to constantly be on wire flooring, as well as a combination of these factors. The first defense against this problem is making sure you buy rats from reputable stock that have not had problems with this issue. The second thing to do is to make sure once you have pet rats, you keep their living environment clean. That should go without saying. The third way to avoid bumble foot is to make sure your rats have a place they can walk where their feet aren't always in contact with wire. Cover wire ledges and floors with fabric, provide hammocks and other soft places to rest and climb, and choose a cage with a solid bottom floor. Treating the condition can be somewhat expensive and time consuming. A topical treatment will need to be applied frequently to the affected feet, as well as an oral antibiotic given to help fight the internal infection. Treatment should be prescribed by a licensed vet.
Q: How much should I feed my rat per day?
Rats have a pretty high metabolism, so I suggest keeping their food dish filled around the clock with lab block, and offering fresh fruits/veggies a few times a week. I also try to throw in a little cereal, animal crackers, pasta, or other healthy snacks at least once a day to liven up their meal. I will refill the dish with more lab block once the original portion is eaten. Rats can be sneaky, though, and will figure this out. My girls started eating all of the snacks from their dish, then hiding all of the lab block in their cozy cube so that I would refill the dish with more lab blocks and snacks. Once I figured this out, I began to make sure all of the lab block was consumed before offering any more snacks or block. Fruits and veggies need to be checked and cleaned out daily to make sure they don't spoil in the cage. Try not to feed more than the rats can eat. Water should be freshened every single day. There is no reason to make rats drink stale water. There is no reason to make rats go without water. Fresh, clean water should be available at all times, day and night.
Q: What is mega colon?
Mega colon, also known as MC, is a genetic condition that is always painful and usually fatal. Basically, while a rat is developing, they never receive the nerves in the colon responsible for excreting feces. It can occur in a section or the entire colon. Because the nerves are not present, the body doesn't go through the natural processes when a rat has a bowel movement. The nerves are never stimulated, therefor the colon remains closed and feces will not pass through. Eventually, the poo backs up, creating a severely extended abdomen. It is very painful for the rat, and it is more humane to euthanize. Some rats have proven to live longer than average if their entire colon is not affected and they are kept on a strict, specialized diet. The rat will still generally have discomfort. Mega colon is more common in high white rats. High white doesn't pertain to the amount of white on a rat. High white is typically a rat with abnormal markings, such as blazed, black eyed white, husky, etc. It can either be early or late onset. With early onset, rats will start exhibiting symptoms as they start to eat more solid foods. They may fail to thrive, become bloated, have strangely shaped stool, etc. Late onset generally begins affecting the rat around four months and up in age, but can remain with no symptoms until the rat is about ten months old. Symptoms are generally the same. Not all high white rats have MC. They are just more likely to have it than other rats.
Q: Why do I need to quarantine new rats?
If you currently have no rats in your home, there is no need to quarantine new rats. You only quarantine when you are planning to introduce new rats to an existing rat, or place rats together from different sources. For example, if you bought a rat from person A and a rat from person B, you should not place these rats together until they have both had a separate quarantine period. This is for the safety of the rats. A seemingly healthy rat could be carrying illness and disease that has not had time to produce symptoms. A quarantine period allows you to make sure you are only introducing healthy rats to your existing pets. Quarantine should be for a period of no less than two weeks, with a longer time of four to five weeks being best. A separate airspace is mandatory for a proper quarantine. If you have central heating an air, this means it is a near impossibility to QT the rats in the same home as the current rats. A ventilated, heated and cooled shed, basement, garage, etc is acceptable as long as none of the vents connect to the home. Also consider housing the rats at a friend or family members house if they are pet free. If you don't have central heat/air in your home, there is a way to QT safely in your own home, but there is a lot of work involved and it can get pricey. Please email me if you would like to learn more about this method. Also, remember that if you have visited the new rats, you don't need to go near your pets for about three hour and always change clothes and wash your hands before handling your current rats after having contact with the new rats. Having the rats in the same room defeats the purpose because some deadly viruses can travel several feet in the air to a new host. It may seem silly, but quarantine is done with the best interests of your rats health in mind.
??? Birds and the Bees ???
The following information is not to encourage people to breed. It is simply there for someone who may have adopted a rat who was pregnant without knowing it, or just for the sake of informational reading. There is much more to know about breeding than what is listed below.
Q: How do i get started as a breeder?
For most people the simple answer to this question is, you don't. If you are determined to breed rats, then there are several steps to take to get you there. In no particular order....the first thing you need to do is find a current responsible breeder who would be willing to help you get started. Pick one or two varieties that you are interested in, and find a breeder that will work with you by sharing knowledge and stock. Good foundation stock is the key to success in the long run. Sure, you could start out with pet store rats and work for years to breed out aggression, illness, and to add longevity, but why start from scratch when there are good breeders out there who already have excellent stock on hand? Next, you need to do loads of research before bringing your first breeding pair home. Learn more about the varieties you want to work with. Consult your mentor on the best cages, methods, food, and care for the adult rats, and babies. You also need to make sure you have a vet in your area who sees rats and who is available for emergency care. Rats can need emergency care during labor just like any other animal. Nothing is more heartbreaking than losing an entire litter as well as the mother, but it can and does happen. Decrease your chances of losing lives by retaining a vet that knows rats. Speaking of vets, you should also make sure you have plenty of money to get started and maintain top care for your rats. There is NO PROFIT in breeding rats. On the subject of profit, make sure your reasons for wanting to breed are the right reasons. Teaching children about life is not a good reason. There are lots of books and videos that are helpful for explaining sexual reproduction and don't add to a population of unwanted rats. Breeding because you like cute baby animals is not a good reason. If you love cute babies, volunteer at your local humane society. They always have cute kittens and puppies who need cleaning up after and playing with. Breeding because you want to make money is the absolute worst reason to breed. I promise you that breeding for that reason will leave you very frustrated, as you generally put more into the care of the animals than you make when you sell them. Breeding because you want a carbon copy or piece of your current rat is not a good reason. None of the rats that come from your current rat will be like your current rat. In order to get a carbon copy of your current rat, you would need to first clone that rat to make sure all of the genetic information was exactly the same. Then you would need to replicate that rats entire life second by second to recreate the same behaviors and tendencies the current rat learned throughout it's impressionable months. That is impossible. The only good reasons to breed rats is because you want to make them better, and because you have the knowledge, passion, and drive to make that happen.
Q: I want a boy and a girl rat, but I don't want babies...can rats be spayed or neutered?
Yes, rats can be surgically altered to become sterile. It is a very risky procedure, however, for obvious reasons. Sometimes a vet will do the procedure and everything seems fine, only to discover at the end that the animal will not wake up. This can happen in dogs and cats too, but it is not nearly as common. Working with such a small patient is very difficult. You need to make sure that the vet you choose is experienced in exotic and uncommon pets, and has done the procedure on a rat before. I don't think you want your rat to become the test subject. I am not trying to discourage you from having your pets sterilized, though. I just feel it is important to understand the very real risks involved, and that maybe it would be easier just to get two rats of the same sex. If you do decide to have one of the animals sterilized, if it is the male, make sure you keep him away from the female for at least four weeks after the neuter. Male rats have been shown to be able to copulate even once rendered sterile up to that point after sterilization.
Q: What happens when a female rat comes into season?
Rats come into season about every four days. Her heats may stop during the very cold and very hot months because it is not the ideal time instinctively to bring new babies into the world. There are always exceptions though. Signs of a female in heat vary from rat to rat. Some will wiggle their ears, arch their backs when you pet them near their tail, mount the other rats in her cage, squeak more when handled, or become slightly aggressive. Some rats give no indication of heat. Rats will typically come into heat during the night time hours. For this reason and the number of heats a rat can have in just a months time span, it is NEVER a good idea to allow male and female interactions, even if supervised. Rat copulation takes less than two seconds, literally in the blink of an eye. There is no time to separate them, so the only logical thing to do is make sure your rats are only allowed to be housed and to play with rats of their same sex.
Q: If I breed rat A to rat B, what color will the babies be?
Remember that Punnett Square from biology class that you thought you would never use? Guess what! You can use it here! Some things can be very simply determined. For example, rexing is dominant, so pairing a rex with a standard coat should give you a fifty fifty litter of rexes and standards. Dumbo ears are recessive, so dumbo to standard gives all standard ears. If you paired a black with a blue, all of the babies would be black. This is only true if these are the very first rats in the generation with no known ancestors and have no common coat colors in their backgrounds. That's why it's important to know the colors of a rat's parents and grandparents. It comes in handy when determining what varieties you will get from a pairing. It gets a lot more in depth from here, and while I understand it, I am definitely not good at explaining it. There are some great sites online, however, that break it down to easily understood terms.
Q: How important is temperament when choosing a breeding male/female?
Temperament is second only to health when I consider a rat's eligibility in my breeding program. First of all, my rats are pets first. I like to get them out and do things with them, as do my two children. I don't want a snappy, skittish, or socially withdrawn rat in my home. Not only is it aggravating, but it can also be dangerous to the other rats as well as my kids. Some rats are not problematic by nature and have gone through experiences that have shaped their negative behaviors. These rats can usually be rehabilitated. Unfortunately, some rats are inherently improper. Said rats can not be shaped to become normal members of a family. Rats of this nature should never ever be bred. Temperament is genetic, and horrible temperament can be passed to offspring just like disease and abnormalities. It is irresponsible to breed rats from a line with known temperament issues. I personally only use very outgoing and friendly rats in my program. I don't evaluate true temperament until rats are 12 weeks old. By this time, their general experiences have helped shape their temperament, either negatively or positively, and I can get a good feel for their mental stability and viability as a breeder.
Q: How do I know if my rat is pregnant?
Unfortunately, there are no tiny home pregnancy tests for rats. It's really a waiting game for the first two weeks after pairing. During the first week of gestation, you may notice a slight but constant weight increase. During the second week, females may begin to clean the hair away from their nipples. This is so that when the babies arrive, they will have easy access to her teats. The weight gain becomes increased during this week as well. During the third week in medium to large litters, you will notice her belly begin to protrude out from her sides. Most of my girls end up looking like they have swallowed a tennis ball by the end of gestation. The final week is the only week that you can really tell just by looking at a rat if she is pregnant. Some rats, however, will not appear pregnant at all.
Q: How many babies do females normally give birth to?
There is no definitive answer to this question. Females can have anywhere from one to twenty four pups in a single litter. Most of my rats average around fourteen pups per litter. That adds up to a lot of rats! This is one of the key things to think about if you are considering breeding rats. Fourteen rats eat a lot of food, need a lot of time, and make a lot of poop. As a rat breeder, you have to be prepared to house all of those babies in the event that they are not adopted. You make the commitment to these animals the moment they are conceived. You are pledging to care for them until they have found a proper home of their own, and for their lifetime if need be. You are pledging to give them the best housing, food, and playtime that you can possibly provide. If you can't imagine how on earth you would take care of so many rats without dumping them off at shelters, offering them as snake food, or allowing them to waste away from lack of care, you have absolutely no business breeding rats.
Q: What kind of cage do your rats have their babies in?
About a week before a rat is due to give birth, she is moved out of the large cage the females are in and into a twenty gallon aquarium or large modified bin. This is for her safety as well as the safety of her young. I don't feel a wire cage is a safe place because newborn pups are very small and can slip through the bars or fall from floor to floor, causing injury and death. The tanks and tubs are cleaned out every few days to keep ammonia levels low, and when the babies are weaned, they are moved to a wire cage so that they can exercise and play in a larger area. When the babies are a week old, the mothers are taken out of the area for a few hours a day to give them a break from the babies.Tanks and tubs work fine for short term stays as long as they are cleaned frequently.
Q: What bedding is safe for a new litter?
There are several options for a safe bedding area that a rat can give birth in. First of all, stay away from the usual no no beddings like cedar and pine. Studies have shown that newborn rats exposed to these beddings in the first few weeks of life have less of a tolerance for disease and are generally sicker and shorter lived than the average. I personally line the tank with aspen and offer strips of paper towels. I prefer this because it is a safe alternative to other bedding choices and it does not endanger the newborn rats in any way. Usually, the new moms will begin building a nest a few days to a few hours before birth, and will line the bottom of the nest with the paper towels. 48 hours after birth, I will pick out the dirty strips and give her fresh ones to line the nest with. This makes clean up easier without disturbing her nest and stressing her out. Other safe bedding choices are unprinted newspaper stock and fleece. Towels and other fabrics are not safe because the newborn and young rats can get their tiny feet tangled in the strings and it can cause serious damage as well as loss of limb and/or life. I used to offer an igloo or wooden house as well, but I have seen a mother rat squash and injure her litter while doing some zealous post delivery nesting. I will usually put a blanket around the side of the tank she has chosen as her nest to make her feel closed in and hidden. Don't put anything over the top, though, because that will lower the air circulation.
Q: How can you tell when a rat is in labor?
I seem to have an uncanny sixth sense the day before my rats give birth. In my experience, they will become really quiet with spurts of restlessness. A few hours to a day before birth, she will start to squint in the corner of the cage and brux. This is probably due to the discomfort of the changes her body must go through to prepare for delivery. Nesting usually begins around this time too. My girls tend to build pretty elaborate nests that they tear down and rebuild until birth finally begins. There will be a little bit of spotting shortly before the first baby is delivered, but usually this will go unnoticed because the new mom will keep her genital area very clean. When strong contractions begin, the rat may seem to press herself to the floor of the cage as her sides seem to squeeze in. Then she will sit up, reach to her genitals, and pull her new baby out. Finally, she will remove the birthing sac, clean the baby, and eat the placenta. You should allow her to do all of this and not interrupt unless there is an emergency situation. Cleaning the baby is the first form of bonding for mother and baby, and the placenta contains important proteins and nutrients that help her maintain her strength after birth. Don't panic if a newborn takes a moment to start breathing. Some will need their mother's stimulation to get going, but trust that she will provide it. If she ignores a baby in distress, it is best to let nature take its course. Disrupting her during labor can stop labor completely or stress her out, resulting in the loss of the entire litter, or the mother if she becomes septic.
Q: How do I know when to call the vet?
Rats are pretty good about delivering without a problem, but never say never. It can happen to anyone and any rat. Even rats that have previously delivered without complications can need emergency care. One reason to see a vet is if you notice excessive amounts of blood. There will be blood with the delivery, but it shouldn't be dripping out constantly and shouldn't be pooling up around the cage. If that is the case, a placenta could have separated early and the female could be hemorrhaging. Another cause for concern is if a rat seems to be straining without producing a baby for over an hour, especially if there have already been pups born without an issue. This could mean a pup is stuck, or her contractions are not strong enough to move a baby down the birthing canal. If you see feet or tail sticking out, don't start pulling on the small appendages. For all of these situations, call your vet immediately and get her and the living babies to the vet ASAP. If you don't have an emergency vet or a vet knowledgeable in rats, then it would be best to not breed until you do have one.
Q: Is is ok to watch a rat have her babies?
That all depends on the rat. Most rats have their babies late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, while we humans are fast asleep. Some rats will have their babies during the day though. I usually watch my rats give birth, as long as I am not stressing them out. If I observe the rats becoming agitated at my presence, I will leave them to their privacy and just check in periodically to make sure everything is going well. It is never ok to disturb her in the middle of labor, though. If you find you can't stop yourself from trying to move her to count babies or can't sit still or quietly for long stretches of time, it would be best to just walk away.
Q: What do newborn rats look like?
When rats are born, they have no fur and their eyes and ears are still closed. Their skin is somewhat transparent and many of their major organs can be observed. In fact, the way breeders tell if their mother rats are doing a good job with newborn pups is by looking for what is known as a milk band, which is a yellowish white band that goes across the stomach. Within the first week the ears open, and around two weeks, the eyes open.
Q: If you handle the babies right after they are born, will the mother abandon them?
Rats do not abandon their babies because they have been handled. Some animals will abandon their young if your scent is on them, but rats do not fall into this category. It is always best to leave mom rat and her babies alone for about 24 hours after birth, though. This is so that mom doesn't become too agitated. If a mother rat feels panicked, it can cause her to abandon or kill her babies. The only time you should reach into the cage during that period is to remove any dead babies, and even that should be done with caution. It's best to try and get mom off the nest by offering her a yummy treat, or just waiting until she moves on her own. There will be plenty of time later for counting babies and socialization. Some rats will become very snappy when their babies are young, and she shouldn't be penalized for this. It's perfectly normal and her overly protective instincts should fade out by the time the babies are a week old.
Q: When do the varieties start to appear on newborn rats?
Coat type can be determined within the first 48 hours. Standard coated pups will have straight whiskers, rex, hairless, and patchwork rats will have curly whiskers, and velveteen rats will have wavy whiskers. Ear type can be determined by many breeders within the first 48 hours as well, but I usually wait until the babies are around a week old to say for certain. Markings appear when the babies are around five days old. The coats begin to come in around a week old, but some color dilutes are difficult to determine until the pups are closer to two weeks old. Look at the page on this website titled "growth journal" under the "more" tab to see birth and growth of a litter of pups.
Q: When can the baby rats go to their new homes?
When the pups are around 3 weeks of age, they start trying solid foods from their mother's dish. I also start to introduce rice cereals and baby foods at this point. The mother will feed them less milk, until she finally weans them altogether around week 4. Between week 3 and week 4, I will start taking the mother out for longer and longer periods of time until she is out of the picture for good at the start of week four. I keep the pups together for another week and start letting them go to their new homes around the start to middle of week five, depending on how emotionally developed they are. At the start of week five, whether they go to their new homes are not, the young rats are separated by sexes. This is to make sure that a young rat doesn't end up pregnant!
More Q & A coming soon!
Have a question not listed here?
Check out the rat guide, which is in my opinion the most thorough and complete site for rat care on the web!