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1pm December 3rd, 2006

Bedding:

There are a lot of things that make a great bedding for rats and a lot of things that are NOT good bedding for them.

My personal favourite for a regular cage use is "YESTERDAY'S NEWS".

This is a type of pellet made totally from recycled paper. It is extremly absorbant, fairly easy to vacuum up when your ratty decides to throw a little on the floor in a joyous kafuffle with a cagemate, and is totally dust free.

Rats have extremly delicate respiratory systems so having them on any kind of litter that may irritate their airways can potentially be dangerous. DO NOT USE PINE OR CEADAR WOOD SHAVINGS! Using these will almost always lead directly to respiratory infection that can and more often than not be fatal for your precious ratty without treatment.

Lots of people choose to use soft rags, old newspapers or paper towels. Any of these are fine. If using fabrics, and if you happen to have a litter or very little ones, be sure that the fabris don't have small threads that can wrap around tiny limbs of babies causing damage. Polar fleece is an excellent fabric choice.


Nutritional Needs:

Your ratty is going to love anything that you give him, that does not mean that anything is going to love your ratty.

A rats diet should consist of some sort of rodent block (I like Living World Extrusion) supplemented by treats at your discursion. Any diet is going to get boring if you are eating the same thing every day so it is good to make sure that fresh fruits and veggies are made available.

A rats diet should consist of about 16% protein, anything lower and they are getting too little and too much can cause an increase in things like mammary tumours which rats are susceptible too anyway.

There are just a few foods that you should stay away from in your rats' diet:

  • Green parts of a potato (eye) ~ contain Solanine, a poisonous substance
  • Onions ~ may cause blood problems
  • Cooked or Processed Foods ~ may be deficient in vitamins or amy contain additives and preservatives
  • Chocolate ~ contains a substance similar to caffeine that can be toxic to some small animals (although sometimes in cases of respatory distress or infection small doses have been known to help decongest the rat).
  • Some peanuts ~ may be contaminated with aflatoxins, a poison they are also fatty and in escess can lead to lethargy and obesity.
  • Lettuce ~ can cause diarrhea and some contain laudanum a toxic substance. Iceberg lettuce has little nutritional value and should be avoided.

    If you have a pregnant or nursing rat, then you should allow for more protein (about 20%) as the mom needs the extra fat and calories to sustain her brood.

    Timothy hay or alp alpha are other good sources of roughage in a rat diet. A handful in the cage every couple days will provide a tasty treat that is good for them too!


    What to do in case of an unplanned litter:

    Soooo you thought that cage mate you bought was the same sex as your other rat and suddenly about 21 days later oops you have many more rats.

    DONT PANIC

    If you realize your girl is pregnant before she delivers, all the better. Signs to look for include:

  • the rounder belly ( about the third week)
  • that she has groomed away the hair on her nipples exposing them
  • that she is " nesting" like crazy Mom may love you most of the time but try not to take it personally if she gets nippy just before and after she delivers. Hormones run wild in this delicate time and she will feel very protective of her young. Mom will need also extra protein while she is nursing. Try mixing in a little low fat dry dog kibble with her regular food.

    Make sure there is plenty of clean fresh water available to her, too. When mom is lactating, she will drink up to three times as much water as she has in the past.

    Make sure that you have mom and babies in a safe enclosure. An aquarium with a well ventilated screen top works well so that the wee ones canít run the risk of falling out between bars or getting stuck.

    I would also remove all hammocks and ladders from the maternity cage as the babies can stay attached to mom as she is climbing around and run the risk of falling.

    Rats mature quickly and can become sexually active very young, so you will want to separate your boys and your girls NO LATER than their five week birthday. At this point they can leave mom and find their new homes.

    Handling and socializing your babies is very important when they are first born. You want to wait about two or three days but then start very gently picking babies up and getting them used to the smell of humans and being in hands. This is the best way to ensure that when you are finding homes for your babies, they will be good pets and not terrified of their new owners.

    When it goes Wrong:

    90% of the time moms will deliver just fine in the wee hours of the night, but on occasion there can be complications and we may have to step in.

    Ratsí labour and delivery should take between one and two hours. If in that time your rat is obviously labouring and there is nothing happening, there may be a problem. Make sure she is comfortable and try to refrain from handling her too much as the babies are really fragile in the uterus. You will want to call a Vet at this point and take her in right away. There may be the need for a caesarean section. DO NOT try to assist in delivering the babies yourself unless you are sure of what you are doing.

    If you see a baby half out and the mom canít finish delivering you can use a small amount of KY or a sterile lubricant and try to gently ease the baby out of the canal. But I really donít recommend doing this without a professional as you run the high risk of injuring mom or baby.

    Check out MSN Rats Group for really good breeding information.


    Health Concerns

    When you are shopping for your new addition, whether you go through a breeder or a reputable pet store, you should make sure that the people have knowledge about their rat history and health.

    Things to look for when purchasing a rat are as follows:

  • Clear eyes and nose ~ are they free of Pophryn (the reddish mucus that shows up when rat is having respiratory issues)
  • Coat~ it is shiny and laying flat against their skin, is it free of bald spots and flakes?
  • Feet and tale ~ are their feet free of ulcers (bumblefoot) and sores. Especially on the tale, sores can be signs of either fights or over grooming due to stress.
  • Are there only rats of one sex in the cage? If not, look out and start knitting little booties (about 15 sets of them)
  • Teeth ~ should be dark yellow to orange and should not be digging into any part of the rats jaw. Overgrown teeth can be a serious problem if they are left unattended and usually have to be trimmed and in some really bad cases removed by a Vet. You can keep teeth in really good condition by always having ample things for rat to chew on, Rodent blocks, mineral stones, proper wooden chews that you can get at any pet store. If your rat has teeth that look to be white or a really pale yellow then they are missing something in their diet, the darker the tooth color the healthier rat is.

    A healthy rat will generally live anywhere from eighteen months to three years. There are health concerns that you need to watch for after about age one, especially concerning femaleís mammary tumours; they can be a really big issue. Keeping proper protein levels can help but your best bet is immediate vet treatment.

    The other great health concern to rat is Myco. A respiratory infection that most rats carry but only some emit symptoms. Usually in times of stress or illness the Myco will become full blown and if not treated then can be fatal. Always have a sneezing rat examined, or if you see any signs of running eyes or nose, it can be treated with antibiotics.

    Bumblefoot is a condition that can affect rats that donít have a flat surface to walk on. It is ulceration on the foot cause by constant climbing or walking on cage bars. It can be cured with a vets help, but the condition can be very painful so best to always make sure your rat have the option of climbing or walking on a soft surface in their cage.

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