Health and veterinary care
Newly acquired pet rats need to he health checked by a vet within a week or purchase, especially if you intend to mix the rat with others. After that they need to be health checked at least annually. This is quite important as the shorter life span of a rat means that a few months can make a significant difference to the health of your rat. Diseases can develop and progress quite rapidly.
At home you should always monitor your rat’s food intake, body condition, eyes, ears, mouth, feet and toileting behaviour.
Should my rat be desexed?
There are enormous health benefits from desexing rats. Desexing, as well as preventing pregnancy, has the potential to extend their life span and prevent serious disease.
Male rats benefit from desexing in several ways. The removal of the testicles ensures that you little man cannot get testicular cancer. Desexing will also prevent pituitary tumours, a frequent and often fatal problem in older rats.Rats will develop a much softer, less greasy coat and will become even more placid and relaxed. A desexed male rat most closely resembles a big, squishy, fluffy bundle of chilled out sunggle bug. Quite the adorable pet!
Desexing your little rat girl will dramatically decrease the incidence of mammary tumours and pituitary tumours. These tumours are among the leading causes of death in female rats. We all want as long as possible with our ratties and preventing mammary (breast) cancer in females is the single most helpful thing that can be done to extend their life for as long as possible.
****But now there is an alternative to surgery!
Suprelorin® hormone implant, designed as a chemical castration option for dogs, has been shown to be safe and effective in a wide range of species – dogs, cats, ferrets, rats, rabbits and birds. It is effectively desexing without the surgery!
If you have a female rat, come in and discuss a Suprelorin® implant versus desexing with us and let’s protect your little girl for life!
When should I worry about my rat?
If your rat is exhibiting any of these signs, you need to seek veterinary attention.
- Sneezing or coughing
- Gurgling respiratory noises
- Excessively snotty nose
- Red pigment around the eyes and nose
- A loss of appetite or weight loss
- A hunched posture with fluffed fur
- Lumps or bumps or tumours, especially if they are rapid in growth
- Blood or pigment in the urine
- Fight wounds
- Scabs on the skin, hair loss, itching and scratching
- Change in behaviour, aggression between cage mates
- Wobbly, weak or paralysed legs or tail
- An increase in the amount of water drunk
Respiratory disease is very common in rats and requires treatment. Infection with Mycoplasma is common.
Rats have a life expectancy of 2-3.5 years. They are weaned at 3 weeks of age and can breed by 4-5 weeks although it is not advisable to breed until they are at least 6 months of age. Pregnancy lasts 21-23 days and litter size ranges from 6–13 babies. Adult body weight ranges from 225 to 500g, females tend to be smaller than males.
Rats are very interactive and sociable animals who readily accept human companionship. Rats are also known to be intelligent animals and can learn a variety to tricks and commands. With lots of handling, especially from a young age, they make very tame and affectionate pets. They are fastidiously clean animals and can be litter tray trained.
- Rats can be housed in a range of cage types. Provide a cage as large as possible and ensure that it is easy to clean and well ventilated. Bird cage type enclosures are superior to plastic/glass tubs. If a bird cage is used, ensure that they are not walking on wire surfaces only as they can develop foot problems.
- Ensure that the area that they’re kept in will not become too hot as they are prone to heat stress. Equally, ensure they are not exposed to extreme cold.
- Regularly clean the cage and change their bedding to avoid ammonia build up from their urine and faeces. High levels of ammonia can damage their lungs and cause disease.
- Suitable bedding materials include shredded paper or pelleted recycled paper ‘cat-litter’. They may also enjoy making nests from old rags or scraps of paper or some straw.
- Make certain that the cage is predator proof.
- Provide boxes etc for ‘hiding’ places, and ‘hammocks’ for sleeping areas.
- Use dripper type water bottles. Water bowls are likely to become soiled.
- Rats are sociable animals, consider housing at least 2 together. They can also be housed in colonies. Ensure you do not house undesexed animals of the opposite sex together unless you want to breed. Rats are prolific breeders and will rapidly produce numerous babies.
- Rats can usually be handled quite easily. Pick them up by gently placing your hand(s) under them and be sure to support the full length of their body. Never pick them up by the tail.
- Encourage daily handling and play/explore time outside of their cage.
- Rats should be provided with daily exercise and mental stimulation to avert boredom. Be aware that any rat exploring will likely chew things that he finds, take particular care with electrical leads!
- Be sure to wash your hands after handling your rats
- There are lots of fun games you can play with rats
Rats are omnivores (they eat plant and animal material). They will eat a wide variety of food if offered. They are particularly drawn to high fat, high sugar and high protein foods.
There are two ways to approach feeding your rat – controlled diet and free choice diet.
For rats, a healthy diet consists of a good quality rat pellet or cube supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables. Some examples of these include; apples, pears, banana, melons, stone fruits, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, endive, carrots, Asian greens, celery, parsley, berries, tomato, fresh corn, beans and peas.
Rat food pyramid – controlled diet
Avoid feeding rats a seed/grain mix. Rats are very prone to becoming obese as they tend to ‘select’ their favourite bits in the mix resulting in an unbalanced and inadequate diet. Offer treats such as grains, seeds, breads, biscuits, sweets, cooked pasta and rice, breakfast cereals and chocolate in very small amounts!
Free choice diet
While the above is true and correct and will prevent obesity and be good for your rats health, there is a school of thought that advocates the ‘whatever you want diet’. Rats only live a short time and do really enjoy their food. While obesity is a health risk and can shorten their life span, the difference between a sleek rat and a fat rat may only amount to a couple of months extra life. In this instance, feed your rat whatever you happen to be eating at the time! Variety is the spice of life and rats certainly are very appreciative of new and yummy foods.
There are some diseases of older rats, in particular chronic kidney disease that will benefit from dietary modification. These situations should be discussed with your vet and an appropriate diet can be formulated.
For further rat information – tricks/treats/games and training techniques visit the Dapper Rat website. This is an excellent website with lots of fun stuff!