Saturday, November 26, 2011


The wild brown rat is a descendent of the domesticated rats you see today. They have been bred for approx one hundred years.

2.5 - 3 yrs (varies)

Average Size
14 - 16 inches including the 7 inch tail.

Living Arrangements 
Being social animals it’s crucial that they are housed in groups. At the very minimum they should have at least one buddy. However, it’s recommended they have several friends in their colonies. When their friends die they go through a mourning process so it’s important that they have many friends.

The easiest pairing is usually females. Males can tend to fight unless they are introduced at a young age. Females tend to be more accepting of new rats in their colonies throughout their life. Of course this is a generalization and it can vary depending on the rats.

Gender differences
Besides the obvious physical differences they often act differently as well. Females tend to be busier and on the go all through their lives. Males tend to be calmer and more social with their humans. This varies depending on the rats and their ages but in general that is typically the main difference between the personalities.

Keep your rats out of drafty areas as they are prone to colds. Also extreme heat or direct sunlight should be avoided since heat stroke is can be an issue. Temps between about 60-80 is about the right range for your rat to be comfortable.

While many house their rodents in aquariums it’s recommended that cages are used. Not only does this give them better ventilation but allows them room to climb and play. The larger the house the better. You want them to have a lot of room to play and live. Also if they want alone time a bigger cage can provide that.

It’s recommended that the flooring be solid. If you do use a cage with a wired bottom be sure to provide solid surfaces so that they can get off the wires on occasion. This helps prevent sores and other issues causes by hard surfaces under their delicate feet.

Many different products can be used. Each have their pros and cons. The general consensus among rat owners though is NEVER use Cedar and when at all possible you should avoid Pine as well. While Pine isn’t as harmful on their lungs and doesn’t cause the burning Cedar can it can still causing breathing issues.

Many experts recommend aspen, care fresh, or recycled paper pellets such as Yesterday’s news. Paper towels, newspaper, and flannel cloth can also be used.

Cage Accessories
You can buy products especially designed for rats, small animals, or even birds. However, it can be just as fun if you get creative and use things around your home. Not only do they enjoy it just as much but it can save you a lot of money as well.

Boxes, flower pots, dishes, pvc or cardboard tubes can be used for awesome hiding places. No need to purchase those high priced hammocks. Get creative and make your own with flannel, towels, baby blankets, old tshirts, or whatever else you have around.

Some rats may enjoy wheels but not all of them do. Generally it’s the females and usually when they’re young. Be sure to purchase one that is safe for your furry friends. A solid running surface without wire is best. This can help prevent a tail or foot from being caught while they’re playing on it.

Rats love a variety of things to play with. It’s fun to experiment and see what they prefer.

Chew toys
Rats like other rodents have teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives. It’s important that they are provided with something safe to chew on. Wood that hasn’t been painted or treated, cardboard, dog biscuits, store bought rat safe chew toys are all various things you can provide.

Basic Care
Remove any uneaten food, soiled bedding, and dropping daily. At least once a week the cage should be completely cleaned out. This schedule may vary depending on what you’re using for bedding, the amount of rats, and the time of year. Different cleaners can be used but be sure they are not harmful to the rats and are completely rinsed and dried off everything before coming in contact with the animals again. It’s generally recommended that warm soapy water, vinegar with water, or peroxide mixture be used. Avoid any strong bleach or ammonia based products.

Hand taming
Generally curious and friendly by nature they usually don’t take long to trust you. However, they do need to get used to you before they’ll allow handling. You can build trust by offering them small treats. Once you’ve begun to establish trust with that move on to the next step. Begin picking them up. Be sure one hand is supporting their bottom and the other is gently holding their backside. If they are squirming and want to immediately dart back into their cage give them time. Don’t restrain them against their will but only put them back in their cage when they have calmed down. If you put them back in immediately they’ll do that each time they want back in the cage. A little trick that many do is simply walk away from the cage. They now have to rely on and trust you. Allow them time to calm down. Try the hand walking method. It almost looks as though they are running in place. They begin trusting you and often they find that to be a fun game. Eventually you shouldn’t have any problems convincing them to join you outside the cage. Often the opposite tends to happen. You’ll have problems convincing them playtime outside the cage is over. Of course every rat is different so some may or may not take to things as quickly. The key is being patient and building trust.

Once you’re bonded you can and should provide a lot of out of cage time. Provide them with a safe area where they can play, explore, and get exercise. Be sure they’re always supervised during these out of cage playtimes.

Things to remember
Always move slowly when approaching your rats
Let them first smell you by offering the back of your hand
Be sure hands are washed or else they may want to sample them
Don’t stick your fingers through the cage as they think that’s a snack
Never pick a rat up by it’s tail or squeeze them

Many rat owners use a high quality pellet known as rat blocks or “lab blocks”. There’s a few versions on the market. Be sure to look for a brand that lists a soy meal base versus corn. Dried corn and alfalfa type products are hard for rats to digest.

The other alternative is making your own rat food mixes. There’s many websites that show how to go about doing this. You can try different methods until you know what works best for you and your rats. The advantage of making your own is not only knowing what is put in your rat’s food but you can cater it to your rat’s needs better.

Small amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits are also recommended. Foods such as peas, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, corn on the cob, sweet peppers, carrots, fresh leafy greens, pears, strawberries, blueberries,  bananas, apples seedless grapes, pineapple, mango, are all great things to start out with. Small amounts of melon can also e given but should be limited as they can cause diarrhea.  You can mix it up and try various things to see what your rats favor.

Some grains and seeds can be given as well. Oats, barley, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, millet, unsalted peanuts, shelled nuts,

Occasionally it’s okay to share some of your “people food” with your little friends. Table scraps such as cooked pasta, chicken, mashed potato, squash, small pieces of egg, pieces of whole grain bread or pizza crust can also be given. Treats should be limited to prevent health issues especially obesity.

Of course fresh, clean water should be provided at all times. Water bottles should be used versus bowls as they stay cleaner.

Ceramic crock type or metal dishes are best for keeping the food. Plastic may end up being a chew toy.

Foods to avoid
Onions, Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, Soda, Lemonade, Citrus,
Foods with high acid, fat, or sugar content.

Symptoms of sickness
The following symptoms can indicate a problem. Be sure to contact your vet if you notice any of these.
Hair loss
Visible parasites (lice, mites, ticks, fleas etc.)
Lack of energy
scratching, rubbing, or chewing that causes bleeding
Limping or favoring their leg
Eyes bulging from their sockets
Dull eyes
Excessive sneezing (rats sneeze occasionally)
Rattling or congested sound when breathing,
Labored breathing
Red discharge from eyes or nose (pigmented secretion, not blood)
Reddish brown staining around the eyes
Head tilted to one side
Lack of appetite
Weight loss
Constipation or diarrhea
Blood in urine

Note - There’s many opinions, conflicting information, and care sheets out there for the way to care for rats. As with any animal it’s important to always do your research. Be sure to check out many sources.

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