Freak Accidents

Following a near fatal freak accident with our sweet permanent ratty rescue Becky, we decided to produce a short article as to what you need to look out for when keeping small furries – not just ratties.

The following may be a bit harrowing but we feel it is necessary to highlight the dangers that you don’t even think of for your furry friends…

HAMMOCKS

I have always warned people how tatty, holey hammocks can be dangerous to your rat – how many of us have had a ratty that has got his or her leg or a long claw caught in the torn lining and hurt their foot or been left hanging there by a claw?

I always check my hammocks before putting them in the cage and Becky’s one had a tiny hole in it. However, that didn’t stop her having a terrible accident.

One night as I went to feed her, she leapt forward in her hammock to grab her food and got her head stuck in a hole. She struggled which made it worse and in the space of a moment, she was hanging out of the hammock with her head still stuck in the hole.

She was being strangled to death. Blood started pouring from her nose and mouth (the vet later told me it could have been where she bit her tongue or a burst blood vessel). I managed to cut her free after what seemed like ages and she flopped on to her side in her cage.

We quickly put her in a warm box and kept stroking her to stop her going in to shock.

Thankfully, within a few hours she was back to normal. Our nerves didn’t recover that quickly.

ELECTRICAL CABLES

No matter how vigilant you are, free roaming rats can get in to all sorts of mischief. Sadly, I have heard of rats being electrocuted and dying when biting through live wires.

VERTICAL BLINDS

A friend left her two boys free roaming in her lounge as she always did and went off to do the washing up. When she came back after literally five minutes, one of the boys had got himself twisted up in the beading of the vertical blinds on a window sill.

She found him panicking trying to get out of the beading and his panic was making it worse. She managed to free him by cutting through the beading and he was very shaken (as was she).

PLASTIC TUBE

Big Hutch was a year and half old big lump of a rat here at CavyRescue. As he couldn’t climb very high, he had a plastic tube lying in the base of his cage where he liked to chill out sometimes or stash his food.

The end of the tube was slightly gnawed, not a problem, so we thought. However, one day when moving Hutch’s cage slightly whilst he was in there, the tube rolled over and a jagged edge of the tube severed the skin from his tail.

Hutch screamed in pain and there was blood everywhere. The nerves were exposed (imagine the pain he must have been in). We had his tail amputated and Hutch went on to live another 15 months, with no ill effects.

CAGE DOORS

We are all careful when it comes to closing ratty doors (“Mind those noses and toeses”) but now always double check that they are secure following this very sad story.

A little rat managed to open a cage door a teeny wee bit and tried to get out. The poor girl was strangled to death.

SOFA

Another very distressing story. A lady used to let her rats free range on her sofa and they soon made a home in there by gnawing a little hole (as ratties do). However, this poor ratty managed to get stuck in the springs of the sofa and died.

FALLING

While rats have more intelligence than the whole of my street put together, when they get excited and play, they have the sense of danger of a two year old child. I have heard several harrowing stories of rats falling to their death from the top of their cage.

Make sure that you put loads and hammocks across your cage so that if a ratty falls, they have a soft landing.

Detrimental Effects of Early Maternal Separation on Rat Pups and Their Mothers

Biologically, rats are classified in the class Mammalia. They are mammals. This class of animals has more than 15,000 species, of which human beings are one. One may define mammals as being tetrapod vertebrates which means that they are four-limbed animals with backbones. The diagnostic feature of the group as a whole is the possession of mammary glands which produce milk, on which the young are fed during the early stages of their lives. They are homeothermic or warm blooded, having an approximately constant body temperature irrespective of the external conditions. With few exceptions, mammals have hairy skin and are viviparous, retaining the young in the body of the mother during the early stages of development, and giving birth to live young instead of laying eggs (Rowett, 1960).

As far as rat reproduction and neonatology (the study of infant animals) is concerned, a general synopsis is provided below:

After a gestation period of between 21 and 23 days, a litter of 6 – 15 pups is born (n = 8). During her gestation, the mother rat will display vigorous nest-building activity, especially in cool environmental conditions. She will carefully construct a nest, provided she is given the materials with which to do so. Mother rats readily tear up paper to build a nest (Weihe, 1989) which can be rather elaborate in structure (Meehan, 1984). Rat mothers who do not have nest materials given to them will attempt to make a nest out of whatever floor covering is available. The nest is constructed usually in the corner of the cage or housing facility (Fallon, 1996). Thus demonstrating a strong maternal instinct to want to protect and nurture the young. Nest materials serve a five-fold purpose – 1. covering to protect the young and keep them out of sight of predators, 2. a place of additional warmth where the temperature can be controlled, 3. a place of rest, 4. a place to rear the young and 5. a place of food storage (Twigg, 1975; Meehan, 1984; Fallon, 1996; McDuling, 2006, in press).

The young are born pink, naked, blind, without hearing, and unable to walk or fend for themselves, and completely helpless. They make bird-like peeps. They are thus entirely dependent on the mother for food and warmth (Warren, 1995; Daly, 2002). The head is always searching with quick response to olfactory (smell) and taste stimuli (Farris, 1950). Pups are extremely sensitive to rearing conditions. The newborn rat is essentially poikilothermic (unable to adjust their own body temperature), and must rely upon the micro-environment of the nest maintained by the mother. They rely upon the huddling of the litter to achieve temperature regulation stability (thermal homeostasis). Within two weeks, they are able to regulate their own temperature, their coat develops and their eyes open (Koolhaas, 1999). They are fed on their mother’s milk until they are about three weeks old by which time they have grown hair, can see, hear and run about and can feed on a mixed diet similar to that of the adults (Rowett,1960; Daly, 2002).

In addition, the new born rat lacks the ability to urinate and defaecate on their own. The mother stimulates the pups to do so by licking their anuses and genital regions (Daly, 2002). If one is raising baby rats by hand, simulated maternal stimulation of defaecation and urination must be provided (Harkness and Wagner, 1995). One of the first acts carried out by the mother on the newborn is licking of the anogenital region. Infants in which this licking does not occur soon die (Meehan, 1984). This clearly demonstrates the absolute necessity, without exception, for the young to remain with the mother. Further, it would suggest that pups who do not have this maternal action are subject to much physiological stress.

Rat pups do not acquire thermoregulatory abilities (the ability to keep themselves at constant temperature) until the end of the first week of life. They remain in the nest and are kept warm by each other in the nest, where they are completely covered, and by the mother. Even adult rats display huddling behaviour to keep warm. The litter has a high demand for heat whilst the young are hairless (Fallon, 1996; Weihe, 1989). Harkness and Wagner (1995) also state that young rats of less than 16 days are easily chilled (they become hypothermic) and must be kept warm if one is raising them by hand, to prevent the aspiration of foodstuffs introduced into the stomach. In studies done by McDuling (2006, in press), it was found that in addition to warm bedding, an infra-red lamp was provided as an additional source of heat, and placed at an appropriately safe distance away from the young rats so as to maintain the temperature of the internal environment at between 21є and 26є C. The actual temperature in which rats should be housed varies. Some authors advocate a temperature of between 18є and 22є C (Weihe, 1989) whilst others say that a temperature of between 18є and 27є C with an optimal room temperature of 22є C is acceptable (Harkness and Wagner, 1995).

Mothers with normal milk production of around 10 – 20 mL/day, usually feed the young for around an hour and then move off the nest for a while to rest and eat, and then return to the nest to nurture the young. A pup’s body weight doubles within five days. A fine, thin, lanugo hair occurs after day five near the end of the first week. As the insulating fur grows, temperature regulation becomes more efficient so that the young are less dependent on the mother’s body heat. The pups are fully covered with a thin fur by day nine, but this is not thickly confluent until at least day 16. Around day nine, they begin to move about and their incisors are large enough to allow them to nibble solids, but still need their mother’s milk as additional nutrition. Soon after this, their eyes open. At this time, the mother is producing her maximum milk yield. Rats younger than 16 days cannot eat solid foods as their molars have not erupted yet. The young increase their solid consumption whilst still suckling until they become fully independent of the mother’s milk supply at about three weeks or 21 days of age (Weihe, 1989). If suckling stops for whatever reason, the mother’s milk rapidly dries up (Meehan, 1984).

It is thus of extreme importance that the young are left with their mothers until at least 16 days of age, and preferably until weaning at 21 days of age. Most authors advocate leaving the pups with their mother until 28 days of age which ensures better survival rate and better socialisation later on in life.

Many studies on maternal separation have been carried out, and the results have been rather alarming. In a study by Greenberg and Ackerman (1986), rats who were prematurely weaned at day 15 were very susceptible to developing hypothermia as well as erosions in their stomachs (gastric erosions or ulcers). These ulcers are highly indicative of stress. It was found that these rats also had reduced fat stores. Fat is the tissue which, when broken down, provides heat to the body.

Prolonged hypothermia and starvation also has a profound effect on the infant rat’s physiology and metabolism. Plasma glucagon, glucose and free-fatty acid concentrations rose significantly after 20 hours of induced hypothermia and starvation (Hoo-Paris, et al, 1991). Glucagon is the hormone released when the body undergoes a stressful stimulus such as starvation, and promotes the breakdown of glycogen in the liver to glucose which is then released into the bloodstream. The fact that the concentrations of glucose and free fatty acids rose so significantly suggests that the body was breaking down its own reserves in order to maintain a steady state. The body was actually being broken down, and thus deteriorating. Such deleterious changes may limit survival time in hypothermia, and suggest that unless these infant rats were fed and warmed, they would surely die.

Blumberg, et al (1999) found that prolonged maternal separation inhibited endogenous heat production in infant mammals exposed to cold. Cold can be defined as any temperature lower than that necessary to sustain life. In work on early postnatal infant rats who were separated from their mothers for 18 hours and left in a relatively cold environment, it was found that the infant rats could no longer produce any heat of their own. Heat production or thermogenesis was inhibited and this appeared to occur many hours before energy stores such as glucose and fats have been fully depleted. These rats were, quite frankly, in a state of hypothermia, and close to death. With respect to the previous study, it would appear that the rats used by Hoo-Paris, et al were in a state of severe deprivation.

Further studies revealed that maternal separation resulted in a significant fall in heart rate (bradycardia) and respiratory rate (Hofer, 1973; Hofer and Weiner, 1975). Decreases in both heart rate and respiratory rate suggest that the animal is pre-mortem, i.e., close to death. If infant rats are taken away from their mothers before the appropriate weaning age when they are capable of surviving on their own, an enormous stress is exerted on them which could result in their ultimate death. In the study by Hofer and Weiner, 1975, this bradycardia was reversed by the intragastric infusion of milk. This further confirms that starvation and maternal separation have a huge impact on the survival of the infant rat.

As far as the mother is concerned, she is fiercely protective of her young, and will attack and bite anyone who attempts to intrude into the nest. She will even destroy her young if she feels that they are threatened. The mother rat should never be disturbed. If the cage bedding is to be changed, it should be done with care and preferably whilst the mother is off the nest. The young should not be touched by hands, but rather scooped up together with the nest and placed in the clean cage. If the young are scattered in the cage, the mother will carefully retrieve each pup back to the nest in her mouth. (Fallon, 1996; Harkness and Wagner, 1995).

Maternal protection of the young is a very important part of normal rat behaviour and the mother will defend her young from outside interference with aggression. If a nest is disturbed, the mother will invariably build a new nest in a safer location and move all the young to the safer location (Twigg, 1975; Meehan, 1984). Twigg in 1975 also stated that pregnant rats and rats who have just given birth will defend their young not only from other species, but from other rats as well.

The mother keeps the pups together in the nest. If an infant strays from the nest, a lactating mother will readily and rapidly retrieve it (Meehan, 1984; Koolhaas, 1999). As far back as 1933, it was noticed that mother rats rapidly retrieved their young when these young have either strayed from the nest or have been taken from it (Weisner and Sheard, 1933). These authors observed that if the young were removed from the nest for prolonged periods, the mother rat continued to search for them for “prolonged periods in her fruitless efforts…” They also observed that when retrieving the young, the mother was exceptionally gentle and deposited them in the nest with equal care. It has been subsequently found that pup retrieval is facilitated by ultrasonic vocalisations (sounds human ears cannot hear) sent out to the mother by the pups who have become separated from their mother and littermates (Koolhaas, 1999). The fact that pups call out for their mothers when they have been separated from them is clearly indicative of the distinct need for maternal warmth, protection and nourishment. Furthermore, if a mother rat tirelessly searches for her pups when they are separated from her, clearly demonstrates maternal commitment to these pups. It is not unlike a human child who has become separated from his/her mother and cries for that parent, and the mother doing everything in her power to find her child. All of this clearly demonstrates a concern for the young and for their well-being. One might argue that placing human qualities on animals is not scientific. However it is becoming increasingly evident that such qualities are universal to all animals, and that the study of animal behaviour has been long accepted as a science since 1973. In this year, Lorenz, Tinbergen and von Frisch were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for their efforts to advance the notion that animals are indeed sentient beings, capable of a wide range of emotions and behaviours. Since then, the field of animal behaviour or ethology has progressed in leaps and bounds.

It is thus, in this author’s opinion that separation of infant rats from their mothers at an early age is highly detrimental and imposes not only a great amount of stress on the infant, but on the mother as well. Such stresses are both physiological and behavioural. Therefore, it would be deemed to be exceedingly cruel to forcibly separate infant rats from their mothers for even the briefest period of time. Such separation represents an imposition of human will on the natural behaviour and biology of rats. This author has always gone to great lengths to simulate the maternal environment as far as possible when hand-raising orphaned baby rats, and to provide a stress-free environment in which to allow these baby rats to develop. Of course, humans cannot hear the pups calling in ultrasound, and so conditions were provided to ensure that the babies were kept warm, well fed, and nurtured. All of their needs were taken care of as one would do with one’s own child, and their well-being was of the highest priority.

In conclusion, then, it may be stated that the practice of removing infant rats from their mothers for any purpose whatsoever should be prohibited and punishable by law. Especially should baby rats not be used as reptile fodder as this imposes a further stress on them. One cannot even imagine their confusion, disorientation, separation anxiety and fear. In fact no rat or other animal should be used as reptile fodder for the same reasons. It is hoped that laws will soon be put in place to improve the quality of life for animals in South Africa, and indeed throughout the world. In this 21st Century, we should strive to make this a better place for all concerned by the application of compassionate science.

Author

Colleen McDuling, B.Sc(Med.Hons), MSc(Med.Sc.), Animal Behaviourist, Scientific Representative of the South African Rat Fan Club.
References

Daly, C.H. (DVM); 2002; Rats A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual; Barrons; New York.

Fallon, M.T.; Rats and mice; In: Laber-Laird, K., Swindle, M.M., and Flecknell, P. (Eds); 1996; A Handbook of Rodent and Rabbit Medicine; Elsevier Science Ltd.; Oxford.

Farris, E.J.; 1950; The rat as an experimental animal; In: The Care and Breeding of Laboratory Animals; Wiley; New York.

Greenberg, D. and Ackerman, S.H.; 1986; Reduced fat stores after weaning; a correlate of vulnerability to stress ulcers; Physiology and Behavior; 38 (3); 375 – 379.

Harkness, J.F. and Wagner, J.; 1995; The Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents, fourth edition; Lea and Febiger; Philadelphia.

Hofer, M.A.; 1973; The role of nutrition in the physiological and behavioural effects on early maternal separation of infant rats; Psychosomatic Medicine; 34 (4); 350 – 359.

Hofer, M.A. and Weiner, H.; Physiological mechanisms for cardiac control by nutritional intake after early maternal separation in the young rat; Psychosomatic Medicine; 37 (1); 8 – 24.

Hoo-Paris, R., Jourdan, M.L., Moreau-Hamsany,C. and Wang, L.C.H.; 1991; Plasma glucagons, glucose and free fatty acid concentrations and secretion during prolonged hypothermia in rats; American Journal of Physiology; 260; (3 part 2); R480 – R485.

Koolhaas, J.M.; The laboratory rat; In: Poole, T. and English, P. (Eds); 1999; The UFAW Handbook on the Care and Management of Laboratory Animals, Seventh Edition, Volume 1 Terrestrial Vertebrates; Blackwell Science, Oxford.

McDuling, M.C.; A study in successfully raising baby rats (In press)

Meehan, A.P.; 1984; Rats and Mice, Their Biology and Control; Rentokil; Felcourt, East Grinstead.

Rowett, H.G.Q.; 1960; The Rat as a Small Mammal, Second Edition; Jarrold and Sons; Norwich.

Twigg, G.; 1975; The Brown Rat; David and Charles; Newton Abbot.

Warren, D.M.; 1995; Small Animal Care and Management; Delmar Publishers; Albany.

Weihe, W.H.; The laboratory rat; In: Poole, T.B. and Robinson, R. (Eds); 1989; The UFAW Handbook on the Care and Management of Laboratory Animals, Sixth Edition; Longman Scientific and Technical; Burnt Mill, Harlow.

Weisner, B.P. and Sheard, N.M.; 1933; Maternal Behaviour in the Rat; Oliver and Boyd; Edinburgh.

by Paula Spagnoletti of the South African Rat Fan Club

Rats as Pets – 5 Myths Busted

History has depicted them as filthy creatures that brought about the Black Plague of the Middle Ages. Hollywood has shown them as vicious killers ready to attack humans at the slightest provocation. Is it any wonder most people are fearful at the mere mention of their name?

How can such a small animal elicit such a huge reaction? But more importantly, do they deserve their reputation?

Before you judge rats, it might help to understand a little bit about them. Everyone knows rats are rodents, but did you know a male rat is called a buck, a female is a doe, and the babies are called pups or kittens? Rats reach puberty at an early age, between 6 to 8 weeks. Their bodies are between 9 and 11 inches long, with a tail up to 9 inches and they come in many different colors and varieties. Rats have an average lifespan of 2 to 3 years and are most active at night.

Now that you know more about them, let’s take a look at some of the myths people believe about rats as pets. Maybe you’ll see them in a whole new light.

Myth #1

Rats are mindless creatures.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Domesticated rats are intelligent with a natural curiosity which makes them very trainable. They can be taught simple tricks with relative ease and love the interaction of learning. My son has a three year old Blue Fancy rat named Samantha. She quickly learned her name and will come when called. She also learned to play fetch, chasing a small plastic ball when it is rolled away from her on the floor, then rolling it back.

Myth #2
Rats are vicious, dangerous creatures.

Rats are very friendly, social animals. They are easily tamed simply by being handled from a young age. Rats enjoy spending time with their owners; bonding with them much as a dog bonds with a person. They love being petted and being close to their family. Our rat loves to sit on my shoulder while I’m writing at my computer, sometimes falling asleep while she is up there.

Myth #3
Rats are filthy, disease bringing rodents.

In reality, rats are very clean creatures, grooming themselves daily. The sign of a healthy rat is a clean, well-groomed coat. They are not a low maintenance pet, but are much easier to care for than a hamster or larger pet. Replacing the bedding in their cage every week, and making sure they have fresh food and water daily will go a long way to make your furry little friend happy. I’ve found that rats are orderly animals. Every time Samantha’s cage is cleaned she rearranges it to suit her needs. She likes her house, bowls, and toys to be where she wants them.

Myth #4
Rats are not playful.

Rats enjoy interaction with their human owners, requiring daily play time. They need at least an hour outside of their cage every day to play and socialize with their family, as well as toys to play with when you can’t be there. The best toys I’ve found are ones designed for cats. Pick ones that can’t be chewed by your rat, because they will chew. Samantha has two plastic balls with bells inside that she plays with. You can hear her at night, rolling those balls around to make the bells ring.

Myth #5
Rats are only nocturnal creatures.

While this is mostly true, it isn’t set in stone. Rats will be up when they think you are. Yes they are up at night, but they are also up during the day. They will wake up if they feel that you are ready to play. Taking them out during the day is a great way to train them that daytime is a good time to play. Samantha sleeps during the night and day, but she is always willing to come out during the day and spend some time with me or my son.

Rats can be a great first pet. They are easier to maintain than a dog or cat, and are friendlier than a hamster. With a little understanding your family can reap the benefits of rat ownership too. Give rats a chance. You’ll be glad you did.

About the Author
Dawn Arkin is a former rat phobic who discovered the joys of having a pet rat later in life. This article has been submitted in affiliation with http://www.PetLovers.Com which is a site for Pet Forums.

Iota’s Malocclusion

Little Iota came to us with severe malocclusion aged just 9 weeks old, which we think it is congenital as her face has a very slight twist to one side.

With her top teeth growing to one side and down and over her chin and her bottom teeth growing up in a ‘v’ shape in to the top of her mouth, causing sores, little Iota was unable to eat properly.

She had her teeth burred (which is where they are trimmed but with a machine, which is safer) and out vet cut off just under a centimetre on each tooth – a heck of a lot when you consider how tiny Iota’s head is!

It was such a joy to see her drink from her water bottle from the first time and pick up and eat solid food!

She had her teeth burred regularly and in early August she was strong enough to undergo a general anaesthetic and have one set of teeth taken out. This went really well. Her top teeth were removed in September – and, so far, it has been a success. Three days after the operation, I caught her chomping on a chocolate drop!

She manages to eat hard food okay by pushing it to the back of her mouth to chew on but we also supplement her diet with soft food too.

Iota is now living with two other ladies who came via an RSPCA ‘raid’ on a house of a collector. They were in pretty bad shape when they came to us, but now are thriving. Iota is the Boss, though, she has such a strong character, making it known that she runs the show.

We are praying that her case will continue to be as successful as Becky’s, another of our residents, and are currently fund raising to cover the costs to date of £520.

Living with a ship rat

Ship rats or black rats (Rattus rattus) are a separate species from brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) which are what lab rats and our domesticated rats are. In Roman times ship rats were in Britain and were the common rat here until the early 18th century when the brown rat arrived from Asia and took over! Ship rats are now very, very rare in Britain though common in other parts of the world.

Friends had a colony of ship rats which they had acquired from two sources (one was the Isle of Lundy a few years before a wildlife cull which aimed to eradicate all of the rats on the island and the other a well known pest control company).

The Lundy rats were much more healthy physically and mentally. They were not tame but some were hand reared by my friend which made them trusting and I was lucky enough to have several as pets.

Contrary to what you would expect, quite a number were agouti with white tummies. The majority were black or very dark grey.

The hand reared ones could be handled and let loose in the room. I could catch them fairly easily in my hands though not as easily as domesticated brown rats, most of whom will come when called.

Ship rats are smaller than brown rats and more delicate with large eyes and ears and very long tails. They were quite something to live with.

I had one, Timbers, free range in my house for several weeks after she leapt past my hand when I was putting food in her cage. She was virtually wild as she was not hand reared and it was like living with a poltergeist. Things got moved and some of my post disappeared behind a cupboard.

If I had visitors she was invisible but when we were alone together she would sit on the stairs and watch me. She knew I didn’t have a hope of catching her. I left food in her cage with the door open hoping that I might surprise her in it but she was far too wary.

Eventually my friends bought a humane trap. I set it up in the dining area and then went to the kitchen to find some bait. Meanwhile nosy Timbers went in and got caught. She swore and swore. (They are noisier than brown rats and more temperamental).

She was decanted back into her cage and we made a deal – she would not try to escape and I would not try to touch her. Timbers spent the rest of her life in a compost heap in her cage which was never completely cleaned. I think this suited her.

We undoubtedly had a relationship but I would not say we were equals. She knew she was cleverer.

Article by : Veronica Simmons from Kropotkin Stud

How vitamins can help control respiratory disease in rats

Respiratory disease is sadly very common in rats and can be fatal. Rats can live with the disease – normally controlled with aggressive medication as discussed in our Guide to Respiratory disease .

However, the use of vitamins can also be beneficial when controlling respiratory disease. Our vet has seen lots of research that says that this particular combination of vitamins A, C and E can help ratties with this horrible disease.

So, without getting too technical here and in layman’s terms, vitamins A, C and E can help repair damage to the respiratory system and if your rat has respiratory problems, then it would be worth investing in a pot of these vitamins.

Rather than use human versions of these vitamins, you should get one specifically for mammals. There is an excellent product called ACE High which we use for all our rats who have respiratory problems or who are generally unwell. You sprinkle a tiny bit of the product over wet food (such as cucumber or in a bit of porridge) once a day (or we mix it with baby food – a firm favourite at the rescue!). The rats certainly enjoy it!

Of course, you must continue to use any medications that your vet has given you to help control/treat respiratory problems in your rats, and the ACE High is an ideal complementary treatment.

You can ring and order ACE High from Vet-Ark on 01962-844316 (make sure you ask for the ACE High for rodents that comes with a green label on it) or order it online from one of the pet prescription websites. As it has a shelf life of six months once opened, unless you have a huge amount of rats, you may want to opt for the 50g size.

Becky’s Malocclusion

Becky was 7 weeks old when she came to us from a local vet. Her owner brought her in because she thought Becky was dying. Becky had a swollen face and concussion where she had been dropped by the owner’s unsupervised young child and somehow landed on her head.

When she came to CavyRescue, poor little Becky – who was riddled with lice – showed signs of neurological damage. Luckily, this has improved gradually over time and with using special medications.

Becky Eating

However, due to being dropped on her face, her teeth started quickly to grow skew-wiff – the top incisors right under back into the roof of mouth and the lower incisors at a ‘v’ shape growing straight up into her upper jaw.

Becky’s teeth needed cutting every 10 days which meant vets trips and being ‘put under’ every time. As with all such treatments, there are risks involved and with Becky being underweight and not being 100% healthy (due to not being able to eat properly; the lice infestation; literally forgetting to eat due to her short attention span caused by brain damage); and lack of proper care from her previous owner), after much deliberation and research, we agreed with our vet to remove the lower incisors at the end of September 2005.

Becky’s Extracted Top Teeth

Here is a rather fuzzy photo showing Becky’s top two teeth after removal. You can see how they were growing curved. If we had left it and continue having her teeth trimmed very 10 days, she could have died – either from the continual cutting of her teeth would have eventually cause bleeding (meaning she could have bled to death); the risks of regularly going under an anaesthetic; and, of course, the stress. Because it is such a big operation, we waited until she was older and stronger to remove her top incisors. (We were ecstatic when they were successfully removed early 2006, though Becky is still at risk from abscesses).

Due to complications resulting from the first lot of surgery (such as abscesses, nerve damage etc), poor little Becky has spent a lot of time at the vets, but she still remains a sweet, happy little girl.

However, she can never be rehomed due to her needing a special diet (mainly soft food), her ongoing health problems (both her teeth and the neurological damage) and therefore her need for constant monitoring.

Becky

Every day she makes great progress, both learning to pick up and then eat with her paws then pushing food to the back of her mouth to chew, (rats tend to pick up using their incisors to grasp food). Mentally she has less skittish moments and is getting more confident day by day.

Now 7 months old and with a whole month having passed without seeing the vet (the longest she has ever been away from there in the whole of her life!) Becky is doing great! She is playful, gregarious and is getting bigger every day – she is even the proud owner of a little tummy. She is a little miracle!

Pet Rat Care: The Top 10 Mistakes of New Rat Owners

Being a dedicated rat owner can be very rewarding. All it takes is a little research and a lot of preparation.

If you’re getting ready to adopt a rat as a cherished pet, there are some pitfalls that you should be aware of beforehand. Here are 10 of the most common mistakes that first-time rat owners make:

1. Getting only one rat. A person might think that getting two rats is too much extra work…or that a pet rat will bond with a human owner more readily if there is no other rat around to become friends with. The truth is that rats are highly social creatures. They need to have other rat-friends to play with and to “talk” to. Furthermore, taking care of two rats is not much more work than caring for one.

2. Getting the wrong kind of bedding. Sometimes a rat owner will want to cut corners and use newspaper or cheap bedding. Rats are very sensitive to the chemicals in the ink and cheap bedding can often have dusty particles that will irritate their lungs. If you see a red discharge coming from their noses, chances are, there is an irritant present in the air. Pine wood chips are not safe!

3. Feeding the rats an imbalanced diet. No, it’s not cute how your furry friends can eat almost as much pizza as you. Look, there’s no excuse. Fruits and veggies are not expensive items to buy; also, be sure they get their share of lab blocks, seeds, and a daily dab of a vitamin supplement.

4. Not cleaning the cage often or thoroughly enough. Their urine will decompose and produce ammonia. This, along with the decomposing bedding can irritate their lungs. Yes, it’s a pain to do. But putting up with the unpleasant aspects will only help you to appreciate them more. Clean and disinfect with bleach-water once a week, or up to two weeks, maximum.

5. Not taking them out to play often enough. Rats will eventually get depressed if they remain cooped up inside their limited cage environment. If you make play time fun and challenging, you will be looking forward to the bonding time as well!

6. Deciding to breed for the wrong reasons. Breeding responsibly is not a lucrative or easy hobby to get into, especially at the beginning. Don’t get stuck with a litter of rats that wind up becoming snake-food at a pet store. Instead, try investing some time volunteering for or starting an apprenticeship with a breeder.

7. Not giving them enough toys. If you bore your rats, they will become boring. Rats not only love to play, explore and solve problems, but they actually need to be constantly stimulated by a challenging learning environment. Provide them with a variety of toys and games and switch things around constantly. They’ll love you for it!

8. Entering them into a fancy rat show before researching it. You may love your rats and think they are just the most perfect rats you have ever seen, but the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association (AFRMA) has very strict standards and those judges have seen hundreds–if not thousands–of rats in their day. Before deciding to enter your rats into a show, visit one first. Interview a handful of judges and learn exactly what makes a rat top in its class. Then decide.

9. Procrastinating on researching a qualified vet for small animals. The moment one of your rats becomes ill, you will want to have the phone number of a good vet handy. Not all vets will treat small animals or rats. Do the searching beforehand and spare yourself the frustration and desperation an emergency situation can sometimes bring about.

10. Underestimating the importance of belonging to a rat club or rat society. Belonging to a rat club or rat society such as AFRMA will go a long way in getting your key rat questions answered. Moreover, doing so will connect you with a community of rat lovers who are likely to want to share what they know for the sake of advancing the hobby as a whole.

Colin Patterson is author of a guide to Pet Rat Care that will explain all you need to know if you’re thinking about getting pet rats. Visit Colin’s site at http://www.petratguide.com

The Pox Virus

The Pox Virus is a very rare and nasty viral disease. Here ratty lover Kaz shares her amazing story of living with her pet rats who have the virus.

I brought Ebony and Savannah home from a pet shop on the 4th September 2004. No more than 2 weeks later I noticed a small wart type lump on Savannah’s back foot, on one of her toes. The next day, there was one on Ebony too, this time on her front foot, on one of her toes.

I thought it could have been some sort of hereditary trait because none of my other six girls had it and they had been successfully introduced so were all living as a group of eight so I took them to the vets. They thought it may be a nail bed infection or similar so Ebony and Savannah were prescribed antibiotics.

The antibiotics we tried were septrin peadiactirc, baytril for infections that got in the lumps, and purple spray because it is used for bumble foot and, clutching at straws, we would try anything.

The girls’ had the toes removed aged 10 weeks after failed attempts with antibiotics and these were sent off to the labs. Two weeks later they were diagnosed as having the pox virus. The original lab even got a second opinion and sent the lesions off, off their own back. But they agreed with what he had been diagnosed.

Some people have suggested that the lumps/sores looks like bumble foot, but after lengthy discussions with my vet, he has seen these lumps in real life and he says yes it takes a similar form to bumble foot because the lumps are constantly being walked on and having pressure on them.

But he has seen them when they start to appear, and the only way to find out 100% that it is the pox virus is to amputate limbs. When we basically already know what we are facing, why take such a big step to get the same answers we already know. Plus the fact all my rats had these lumps appear, and Orchid’s appeared on her tail (see further down the article to read about Orchid).

I don’t know how the girls got the virus – all I can hazard a guess at is wild rats, and this is only simply because the pathology report stated it’s from wild rats and cattle. But no more is known.

I notified the pet shop about the virus and they notified the breeder they got there rats from. I am not sure if it’s related but soon after they stopped getting there rats from her.

There are three types of the virus that affect rats. It is thought my girls have the dermal form of the virus:

  1. Pulmonary form. Rats became anorexic, extremely dyspneic, and moribund, with death occurring uniformly by the third or fourth day of clinical signs.
  2. Dermal form. Relatively mild. Partial anorexia; papular rash on tail, paws, and muzzle, with transition to dry crusts in 1-2 days; sometimes partial amputation of the tail and possibly also the paws; and deaths occurring rarely
  3. Mixed form. Symptoms are transient, lasting only two to three days. Suckling rats are most susceptible. Adults most often had the dermal form of the disease and survived.

The girls lead a normal life. We didn’t know how long they would live because this virus can be fatal but Ebony and Savannah are still here at 20 months old.

Savannah has massive pox lumps on both back feet, up the sides of her foot and underneath. Ebony surprisingly hasn’t shown any more signs of this virus, although it will still be laying dormant in her system. They can still run, jump and climb etc!

However, I think it has shortened the lives of my other girls who caught it.

After Eb and Sav were diagnosed with having the pox virus I was told to separate them from my other girls, which I did. But they had already caught it and it was lying dormant in there systems, because weeks later, I saw similar lumps on them all, one by one.

Rico was about 2 when I noticed her lump, on her back foot, this grew at an alarming rate, and being old, her immune system couldn’t even begin to fight it, she had lymph node tumours come up, 3/4 in one area, then she had a stroke.

My vets said because of the virus, the lymph nodes came up because of infections, then because the tumours caused her blood pressure to fluctuate this caused a stroke.

She was put to sleep two weeks before her 3rd birthday. I have no doubt in my mind if it wasn’t for the virus she might still be here now aged 3 years and 3 months.

Orchid was about a year old when I noticed her lump, this time it was on the middle of her tail. I took her to the vets along with Rico, because I spotted Orchid’s literally days after Rico’s lump came up, and my vets said the pox was back. The lumps were identical to Eb’s and Sav’s.

We could amputate feet and tails to find out for sure but if you are 99% sure why bother with all the stress? Not even a month later and Orchid’s lump had split open presumably from having caught it on something, it was bleeding profusely, not just drips but gushing out.

I phoned the emergency vets and apart from give me tips on how to stop the bleeding they couldn’t do a lot more than I was already doing. Thankfully 3 hours after it started bleeding, it stopped.

But then she started producing thick red blobs from her vagina, losing weight fast, grunting and not eating. I was thinking of spaying because the antibiotics for the bleeding didn’t help but she was a very poorly girl, one night she sat there gasping for breath.

That’s when I knew I had to let her go. The pox virus can cause pneumonia and weight loss (the site called it anorexia). Again, I believe the virus weakened her immune system and she couldn’t fight off everything that was happening.

My other girls all had lumps on their feet, we don’t know if the virus contributed to there nasty deaths (especially Domino) but I will explain what happened.

Domino. One Thursday night she was fine, Friday I woke up and she wasn’t. I rushed her to the vets that afternoon, he gave her an anti-inflammatory and baytril injection. Over the weekend I had to dose her on baytril.

Her symptoms were, retching, gasping, grunting, and weight loss. Over the weekend her breathing improved but every time she tried to take 1 drop of water she would choke, she couldn’t even swallow. She would take it go to swallow but choke and it would all come out her mouth again. I had her put to sleep Monday afternoon.

Lily had a suspected pituitary tumour, which was treated with steroids but she stopped eating after being on them 6 weeks and I let her go.

Fern had a swollen face, x-rays showed a bone tumour in her cheek. She was never woken up from the anaesthetic.

It’s not just poor rodents that can suffer from this rare virus – humans can also catch the virus. I don’t think that I have had any effects from it, although just under 12 months ago, I had a strange rash. I went to the out of hours doctors at the hospital and she said it was shingles (a form of the pox virus-chicken pox etc) but when I asked my mum after I had been to the doctors she said I haven’t had chicken pox (which lays dormant in the system and leads to shingles).

Also a month or so ago, I had the same sort of rash appear and again I went to the doctors, told him I have had it before but I haven’t had chicken pox and he couldn’t really tell me what it was! He prescribed cream which cleared it up. So whether it is all related I don’t know.

Recently we have tried using fuciderm gel. Sav was put on this not that long ago to see if we could shrink the lumps so that we could freeze them off – which would be better than amputation – but it didn’t help anyway.

We cannot freeze them now as the lumps are so big and the foot so small, we are in danger of freezing the nerves in the foot..

So all I can do is leave it – I’ve been there for her when they split open and bleed, and given her antibiotics when it looks like infections may get in.

The only thing I can be thankful for is that my girls who have already left me and one girl who I have here now, 2 year old Dotty, their lumps never got to the size that Sav’s have before they died. I can’t see inside them, to see what damage has been done, but they don’t have any sores on their feet that constantly split open.

When the girls were first diagnosed, at first it did change quite a few things when it came to cleaning them out. I had to clean out more often, use vet bed on all the shelves, and clean that weekly. However, through all of this, the lumps continued to get worse, none of it helping at all.

So now I do the usual routine which I would do with any rats, spot clean the shelves daily (I took off the vet bed), and give it a thorough clean out once a week.

Whether any of the other rats were affected at the pet shop where I got Eb and Sav, I don’t know but I haven’t spread it around myself. My girls don’t go to shows and since I found out about the virus, I haven’t got any more rats. So I hope after this, this is the last I see and hear of the virus. Of course I don’t want to lose my girls but I do want them to be free of it.

I love my girls and pox virus or no pox virus, I wouldn’t change them for the World.

By Kaz Smith

Pictures

Domino. When she was poorly that weekend.

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/dotty%20and%20domino/?action=view¤t=poorlydom003.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/dotty%20and%20domino/?action=view¤t=poorlydom001.jpg

Savannahs amputated toe.

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/ebony%20and%20savannah/?action=view¤t=savtoe.jpg

Savs lumps don’t have time to scab over and form a warty type cover because they are constantly having pressure on them.

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/ebony%20and%20savannah/?action=view¤t=poxlumps013.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/ebony%20and%20savannah/?action=view¤t=feetpox009.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/ebony%20and%20savannah/?action=view¤t=feetpox010.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/ebony%20and%20savannah/?action=view¤t=51205022.jpg

Ricos lymph node tumours

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/spot%20and%20rico/?action=view¤t=rico301105003.jpg

You can see her foot in this one

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/spot%20and%20rico/?action=view¤t=rico301105001.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/spot%20and%20rico/?action=view¤t=141105005.jpg

This is what the lumps look like when they are just forming

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/spot%20and%20rico/?action=view¤t=rats031.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/fern%20orchid%20and%20lily/?action=view¤t=feetpox002.jpg

Both feet affected

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/fern%20orchid%20and%20lily/?action=view¤t=51205020.jpg

Orchids lump

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/fern%20orchid%20and%20lily/?action=view¤t=100_2616.jpg

http://photobucket.com/albums/v174/rattylover0099/fern%20orchid%20and%20lily/?action=view¤t=100_2715.jpg

This is the site that tells you a bit about the virus,

http://fermat.nap.edu/books/0309063329/html/171.html#pagetop

The Story of Smartie the Rat

This is the story of Smartie – a black and white hooded female who I was so lucky to rescue.

A friend of a friend was sharing a house with a girl that had a rat.

I heard that the girl had moved out of the house and had left the rat behind to be looked after by another tenant. I was worried that she wouldn’t be looked after her properly so when I received a phone call asking me if I wanted her, I went straight round to the house to pick her up. It was 16 October 2001.

I suppose she was about 6-8 months old. She had a nice clean glass tank and although she was quite skinny I realised that she had been well looked after.

I was told that she wasn’t very friendly, which was hardly surprising when I discovered that I was to be her 4th owner. I decided to call her Smartie.

Smartie had respiratory problems, her previous owner had lived in one room and was a heavy smoker so I don’t suppose that helped her at all. Also the glass tank must have restricted any fresh air circulating.

When I let her out in the hall she was quite nippy and tore around. She was quite happy to climb over me as an object but if I put my hand out to her she would try to go around it. Eventually she realised that she could use my hand as a stepping stone and began to wait for me to put my hand up to her so she could climb on.

I eventually started letting her play on the bed, as I also had 3 male rats who also played in the hall and the girly smell was becoming too much for them!

Smartie soon became a lovely little pet. She really loved a cuddle and having her head scratched. She would lie in my arms for ages while I stroked her. I noticed also that although she still breathed really fast, she didn’t wheeze quite as much. I supposed that the smoky atmosphere must have really affected her.

Smartie had been with me for around 5 months when I realised that she had stopped tearing around. She would just come out for a cuddle for maybe an hour then she would run across the living room floor and climb on the bookcase and stay perched on a book until I put her away.

Her eating was always quite erratic and she seemed to go for days without eating or even drinking. I tried her with everything I could think of but eventually discovered that she liked Farley’s rusks. She had about 1/4 of a rusk every morning and night with milk and that was all she ever ate apart from the occasional yoghurt. It certainly wasn’t a healthy diet and not one I’d recommend for rats, but she did start to put on some weight.

She was a lovely clean girl and never weed in her bed, but she was quite happy to wee on me though. So when I called her to let her out in the evening, I would say ‘have a wee first’ and she would squat then climb up to come out! She smelt lovely too. I’ve never had a rat since that smelled as delicious as Smartie.

She had been with me almost a year when one Sunday I was feeling particularly lazy so I spent the day lazing on the settee watching TV. Smartie lay in the crook of my arm with me and had stretched herself out making contented little noises all day. As I say she would have no problem having a nice big piddle on my lap. So every couple of hours I put her back in her house and told her to have a wee, which she did, then I got her out again.

I eventually put her away about 10pm and began to get ready for bed. But about 15 minutes later my boyfriend Phil shouted that she had collapsed in her cage, I picked her up but she was dead! I breathed into her nose and massaged her chest hoping she’d come back but no such luck. What a shock!

Obviously I was sad, but what a lovely day we’d had, just cuddling. I was just grateful that I had been given the chance to know such a precious thing.

By Kerry May