Introducing rats to one another

As rats are sociable animals, no matter how much attention you give them, they will be happier if they have a (same sex) friend or two living with them.

Obviously, the best way to do this is to get your rats from the same place at the same time. However, where this is not possible, you certainly can introduce a ratty friend at a later date.

Females are generally easier to introduce than males and the younger the better. While young males up to about 10 weeks age can be introduced easily, older males can be more difficult as it is in built to defend their territory. However, that does not mean it cannot be done – you just need to be extra vigilant when making introductions.

Where you have a young, lone female you should have no problems introducing a friend at all. However, you should always have a spare cage ready in case the pair don’t hit it off immediately. Also, when introducing older rats, it could take up to a couple of weeks so it is a good idea to have a spare cage.

When introducing rats you need to set aside a good chunk of time so that you can supervise the introduction and then see how they get along.

First of all, the introduction will be made easier by reducing or masking the rats’ natural smell. A dab of vanilla essence (the type you use when baking a cake), on both the rats backs will help neutralise and dominant odours.

You then need to introduce them on neutral territory – this should not be somewhere where the resident rat plays. (You can try the bath, or your bed for example). In cases where you are introducing youngsters (ie up to about 10 weeks of age), this may need only one introduction. In the case of older rats – either where you are introducing one to another older rat or an older rat to a youngster or where you are introducing an individual to a group, or where you – this will normally need several introductions before they can live together happily.

If you have two youngsters, you could also try using your lap (seated on the floor) as the neutral ground. This will show the resident rat that you have already accepted the newcomer as well as make both of them feel safe.

The introduction process may be several short ones or one long one – it really depends on the rats and their personalities etc. It may take an hour, or three intros over the course of a day or even an hour playing together every night before they are ready to share a home.

If at any time the rats fight and blood is drawn or fur is pulled out, separate them immediately. Leaving them together could cause serious injury, or even death. And never introduce a youngster under 6 weeks old to an adult as there is a risk that they could be killed.

You can expect a small amount of squabbling as they decide who is ‘the boss’ and also excessive grooming, but this is natural, as well as a few squeaks. If things start to turn serious, spray them with water from a plant mister to break up the fight.

These sort of squabbles tend to resolve themselves over time. However, if there is real aggression, you must split them up (make sure you wear thick gloves). Sometimes the ‘new’ rat will be scared and so strike out at the resident rat without even thinking.

If they get on well straight away (which often happens with youngsters under 10 weeks old), leave them to play for a while. Let them share the same food bowl, ensure that they have plenty of water and also make sure they have somewhere that they can each retreat to (such as an empty wine box) in case they get scared.

Some rat owners make intros easier by putting something like a blob of baby food on to each rat so that they have to get to know each other quickly by grooming and cleaning each other!

If the intro carries on going well (which will involve a lot of sniffing bottoms and play fighting as opposed to ‘real’ fighting and then both of them sitting happily together) then you can move on to the next stage and let them move in together.

Make sure that the cage has been thoroughly cleaned as well as the food bowls, toys etc so that the cage still smells ‘neutral’. Use new bedding and hammocks. Watch how they react to each other and certainly keep checking on them to make sure that they have not started fighting (that is why it is good to do introductions when you are not working so that you can keep a close eye on them).

If they don’t hit it off immediately, then put both the cages next to each other so that they can familiarise themselves with each others smells etc. Then try again the next day. Swap toys, too, to mingle their natural odours which will make them more accepting.

By being patient with the introductions, unless there is real aggression, your rats will soon be happily living together.

Useful links

http://www.ratfanclub.org/newrat.html

http://ratguide.com/care/behavior/introducing_rats.php

http://www.rmca.org/Resources/aintro.txt

http://www.ratz.co.uk/ratintro.html

Fatal food allergies in rats

Running a rat rescue we come across many different illnesses – however, Rosie was a first. When Rosie’s owner telephoned us to say that Rosie (a 15 month old female rescue who we had rehomed had a swollen face, our first thought was that it could be an abscess or even liver problems.

A trip to the vet found nothing wrong and the swelling went down.

Two weeks later Rosie and her two cage mates came to stay with us for a few weeks while their owners went on holiday. We were especially pleased to see Rosie as she was of the few surviving rats from what had turned out to be a sickly bunch of rat kittens that we had taken in when they were just a few days old.

Rosie’s mum, aunt and five sisters had all died prematurely from a whole hot potch of horrible illnesses – respiratory disease, internal tumours, mammary tumours, degenerative disease and two who had died suddenly – foaming from the mouth, swollen tongues – cause unknown.

On the third morning of her stay, Rosie’s face was swollen up really badly – she had huge cheeks that looked like hamster pouches, though seemed fine in her self. The swelling was equal on both sides, so we knew that it was not an abscess. We rushed her to the vets and she was given an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic drug and we racked our brains as to what had caused such a reaction.

We assumed it was nuts as we’d given her a brazil nut the night before (which the owner had left with us a part of the normal ratty treats) and went home and sterilised her cage and food bowls etc. We then gave her fresh food as this seemed the safest option for her with the plan of reintroducing her normal food stuffs – minus any nuts – over the next few days.

That night Rosie looked normal again, all the swelling had gone and she was fine in herself. As she ran around on the settee I saw her clock a rat chocolate treat on the sofa – I tried to grab it but she beat me to I and stuffed her face with it.

The next day her face was swollen again in the morning which made us think that nuts (and by products such as nut oils) and the small animal chocolates were a possible cause of Rosie’s allergy.

Having spoken that night to a friend who’d rehomed two of Rosie’s sisters that had both died ‘mysteriously’, it all fell in to place. Rosie had been lucky – so far. The two sisters (Mia and Spot) had both had on and off bouts of swelling around the face and times where they seemed like they had something ‘stuck’ in their mouth throughout their lives. But they never showed these symptoms at the same time which would have possibly made a connection that it was something they’d eaten.

The vet had found nothing wrong and then one day Mia started foaming at the mouth, her tongue swelled up and she was dead – all the space of two hours and with the vet administering drugs, too.

The same thing happened with Spot around 4 months later, but without the foaming at the mouth – she’s collapsed and started gasping and by the time she got to the vet, her swollen tongue had literally choked her to death. All this without any warning.

Suddenly it all made sense what was wrong with Rosie – and just how serious ‘a little swelling’ as the owner had put it, can be. We have never personally experienced his before, but what happens is that the face swells up (as Rosie’s did) and depending on the severity of the reaction, so can her tongue, airways etc and/or she can foam at the mouth and she can literally choke to death.

So, what can you do if your rat has a serious allergy like Rosie and her sisters?

First of all it is imperative that your rat is put on a strictly monitored diet and doesn’t come into contact with any foods that may cause a problem.

This means that he or she must not under any circumstance have these foods or even foods that have ‘touched’ what you believe triggers an allergy. Even food that has rubbed against nuts for example can be dangerous to a rat with a nut allergy. Similarly, before picking up your rats, you should wash your hands thoroughly in case you have something residual on them.

Also, it means that any cage mates cannot have these treats either as they may store it in their cage or get it stolen by the rat with the allergy. It may seem ‘mean’ but it is better than your rat dying.

Monitor your rat constantly and keep him or her on the same rat food (don’t mix and match brands in case a new one triggers off an allergy) and feed fresh food plentifully. I know it will be tempting to give him or her a treat – a piece of bread for example – but if you are not 100% sure what is causing the problem this could be fatal.

If your rat shows any signs of having an allergy – maybe they are foaming at the mouth or their face swells up or you can see that their tongue is swollen, you must get him or her taken to the vet immediately for an injection – no matter what time day or night. Leaving it could be fatal.

Your vet will need to inject an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic drug such as Dexafort which should hopefully calm down any reaction and save your rat’s life.

Whenever your rat has an allergic reaction, to be on the safe side we’d suggest that you completely clean out the cage, change hammocks etc and empty and sterilise the food bowl, water bottle and any toys in case they have come in contact with the substance that is causing the problem.

Line the cage with old towels/t-shirts in case it is something in the bedding (you really have to be strict here as anything could be triggering it off). Feed your rat fresh food only for a few days and then see how they go e goes and gradually reintroduce bedding etc.

I know this sounds all very sombre, but it is so very serious. Rosie has been lucky in that her reactions she has had so far haven’t been bad – however, the next reaction could be the one that kills her.

Finally, if your rat suddenly gets a swollen face but is still acting normally, don’t assume that they are not at risk. Just like children with allergies to nuts, just one brush with the wrong thing and your rat could be dead.

IMPORTANT

Please note that this article is written from our experience only and should not be taken as a medical diagnosis and treatment. It’s aim is to give information and ideas on what could be wrong with your pet and what your vet can try. Always speak to your vet.

Use this technique and your rat will trust you

Is your rattie an adopted rat? Were they either a mistreated lab rat, or picked up from the Rat Shelter? Is your rat an older rat who have been traumatized and are terrified of people? Is your rat an anti-social rat? Then we’ll apply a little Trust Training. With patience and time – you can teach most any rat to trust you with this training method.

Trust training is essential for many reasons. With time and patience, trust training can turn the most anti-social rat into a loving companion – great news for the rat, because it will live out its years knowing it’s loved – one less animal who has to be put down before its time!

Trust training can also ensure your safety, since an anti-social rat can do considerably more damage to you, or even worse small children. Thankfully, the horror stories are rare – but there is evidence of rat bites that cause considerable bleeding, and even permanent damage to fingers or forearms. Why is that?

Most of the time, the rat is older or has been seriously mistreated. Remember that trust training takes a lot of time – some people who have used this method say it’s taken them upwards of four hours per day over a number of weeks and months, but the rewards can be priceless.

Begin with soft food

Your best assets to begin trust training an anti-social rat are a spoon, and low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese or even baby foods (try feeding your rat a few options in their dish first, to figure out which of the soft foods they love the best).

Reward good behavior

Because you can’t yet trust feeding the rat from your fingers, the spoon and soft food comes in handy to draw your rat out of the cage and hopefully onto your hand, arm or lap. This can take days, even weeks, depending on what the rat has gone through (i.e. a lab rat, or even a young rat that’s just scared and shy). Don’t just thrust the spoon at the rat and expect them to come running.

Talk softly, move with care and be patient. It’s often best to reward bit by bit, and break the trust training into 20-minute spurts over the day, giving your rat time, space and encouragement between sessions for maximum effect. Given time, they should learn to identify you with all the good stuff – and leave their bad past or poor
behavior behind.

Rats “learn by doing”

Keeping a pair of rats is not only preferred, with trust training it’s practically the only way to go. Like most other smart animals, rats learn by watching each other, and a well-socialized rat will help teach its more skittish cage companion to trust you much more quickly and more easily than you can.

Author : Diana Davidson

Operations & Post Operative Care

Is Surgery Necessary?

If you have a rat that needs an operation, try to discuss the surgery with your vet beforehand. Some vets may not have had much experience with small mammals, and may have only had a few hours of ‘exotics’ training, being only familiar with the more common pets and livestock – so it might be worth asking around for one with rodent experience. Talk to your vet about the possible risks of surgery – if you have an overweight rat, or one with extensive respiratory problems or heart disease – the vet may possibly advise you against surgery, unless it is absolutely necessary to save life.

These days, the anaesthetic risks are much lower than they used to be in the past, and operations such as mammary tumour removal are considered fairly routine, very safe and only take a few minutes. It is preferable to get a tumour removed than it is to have to euthanise the rat just because the tumour has grown too large or has ulcerated.

Neutering (other than for health reasons) is not generally considered to be essential operations, but a castration may be necessary in a hormonally aggressive buck. Perhaps you may just want to keep a mixed-sex cage of rats, that is personal choice but not considered a necessary surgery.

If your buck is having a castration, ask your vet if he has performed this operation on a rodent before – not all vets realise that rats have an open inguinal canal which must be closed off afterwards! Some vets will remove the testicles through the abdominal wall, but this is less common than through the scrotum.

If you have a doe that needs spaying, it is extremely important that you ask about post-operative analgesia before your rat has the op. They are given a pain killer whilst under anaesthetic, but this will have worn off by the following morning, and females can
suffer from painful abdominal cramps (visible as the rats sides sucking in and out) for several days after a spay. I recommend 1 drop of oral Metacam (meloxicam – an NSAID) once a day until the cramps stop, which is usually from 3 to 5 days max. If the cramps are really bad, it is possible to give the Metacam twice on the first day after the op, morning and evening.

Anaesthesia & Analgesia

Rats do not need to ‘fast’ before surgery like other mammals do. A rat cannot vomit, so you can provide food and water right up until they are ready for the surgery. Not all vets and their assistants realise this! Some rats will start to eat right after they come round from the anaesthetic too, this can help them to keep warm, as well as comfort themselves.

It would also be a good idea to discuss the method of anaesthesia, and what type of stitches the vet intends to use beforehand. Injectable anaesthetic is too dangerous for such a small animal, and is not generally used anymore. Anaesthesia used to be considered a major problem when operating on rodents, but now in the 21st century, this is no longer the case. Inhalation anaesthesia is now the accepted method. Gaseous anaesthesia is usually given in the form of Isoflurane, Methoxyflurane or Halothane, and is very safe. For analgesia – the usual pain-killers used are Butorphanol or an opiate such as morphine, which is normally administered with before the rat is revived from the anaesthetic. Metacam or Rimadyl are sometimes prescribed post-operatively. If a rat chews at their stitches after surgery, some vets will give another shot of an opiate based drug, which makes the rat sleepy, and this hopefully gives the op site and muscles enough time to knit back together and the inflammation to subside before the rat is alert again.

Types of Sutures

Ask your vet what type of sutures he intends to use. For small incisions subcuticular dissolvable stitches are best – these are hidden under the skin so more difficult to chew. These sutures are usually dissolved away from a week to 10 days later. For larger incisions staples may be better. Vets will assure you staples are not painful, and one vet even stapled his own finger to prove this! Some rats will not worry their wounds and will heal surprisingly well, but it is worth being prepared for the rat who wants to chew its stitches out and worry the wound if it is reachable. I have known vets to add a small gauze pad to the incision for the rat to ‘worry’, thereby leaving the incision alone to heal.

Collars are notoriously difficult to attach to a rat and very easy for the rat to remove. I do not recommend them because it can cause the rat to become depressed as it is unable to groom or feed normally, but in some cases it might be the only option to allow the rat to heal. A body sock may work well on a rat determined to chew – if you can get it to stay on! If the incision is on the main body – you can wrap gauze around the torso and hold in place with surgical tape.

I have found that rats are more likely to chew at an operation site if it has skin glue. Internal soluble stitches are preferred, with external stitches holding the wound together until everything has knitted back together underneath. Rarely, a rat can have an allergic reaction to internal stitches, so do keep an eye out for sudden swelling or signs of infection.

Post Operative Care

Your vets should monitor your rat for a couple of hours after the surgery before allowing them to go home, and will know how to give fluid replacement for your rat if necessary, as dehydration is common. Glucose/saline solution is usually warmed to body temperature and given by subcutaneous injection. It is standard practice for some vets to prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection after a surgery, but it is not always deemed necessary, for example a mammary tumour removed with aseptic techniques is very unlikely to have the incision become infected.

It is most important to keep the patient warm after surgery, your vet will normally use a heat-mat or an overhead light source to provide warmth after surgery and until they are ready to go home. When you collect your rat you can ask your vet to fill a latex glove with warm water as a makeshift ‘hot water bottle’ to keep it warm if it is cold outside, or you may already own a microwavable heat-pad which can be taken with you.

At home you should have a ‘hospital’ tank set up, where your rat will recover until well enough to be re-united with cage mate. A one level glass or plastic tank is ideal. You can purchase a heat mat used for tropical animals such as reptiles, or a microwavable heat pad for pets. Place it under a small part of the tank, so your rat can choose whether to sit over it or not. Your rat will probably be groggy after the op and want to sleep so put the hospital tank somewhere quiet.

Check on the rat every hour or so to begin with and ensure they drink. You can offer your rat baby food or other soft foods when awake – it should stimulate the appetite and has a high water content, so will help to avoid dehydration. Offer fluids from a dropper or from the tip of your finger. The dropper from a cleaned empty bottle of Echinacea is good for this. Some rats will go off their food, so try to encourage them every couple of hours to start with. It would be a good idea to add a few drops of Bach’s Rescue Remedy to their water. If they still seem reluctant to move to the water bottle, continue to offer water via dropper, finger or syringe.

A vitamin supplement such as Nutrical or Ferretvite can be offered if appetite seems smaller than usual – only give a pea-sized blob once a day to avoid overdose of the fat-soluble vitamins. Foods rich in antioxidants, such as grapes and broccoli, are believed to help the healing process.

Give your rat plenty of love and attention – this too really helps with the healing process, and get them back with their cage-mates as soon as possible. Most rats can go back in with their cagemates the day following the surgery if they have had minor surgery – but it’s always best to clean out the cage first.

Some vets will try to tell you to isolate them for a week or more – this is unnecessary! A young adult is ready to go back to a cleaned out cage with cagemates the next morning after tumour removals, castrations and even some spays, unless they were very sick before the op and need a few days to recover their strength. If the castration was for aggression or to go into a mixed sex cage, you need to wait at least 3 weeks to ensure any residual sperm and hormones have dissipated!

Author : Joolz

Anti Lump Mix for Rats

It is always best to have mammary tumours removed by an experienced veterinary surgeon – but on rare occasion, you may be told by your vet that the tumour is inoperable for one reason or another.

The initial outlay to buy all the ingredients for the following recipe can cost as much, or sometimes more than a tumour removal surgery, so please do not consider it as a cheap alternative to your rat being seen by a vet!

The following mix has been found to help shrink or slow the growth of benign tumours in pet rats. It has been tried by quite a few people in the UK, USA and Australia with favourable reports in the last few years.

Mix together the following ingredients:-

3 capsules of CLA (Tonalin) (1000mg)
3 capsule shark cartilage (650mg)
1 capsule Co-enzyme Q10 (10mg)
10 drops of echinacea/goldenseal liquid herbal extract
1ml of sublingual B vitamin complex liquid
1 capsule Super antioxidant formula (has vit C, E, beta-carotene and selenium – do not give this if Enervite or any other vitamin supplements are being given)
3 capsule Pau d’arco (500mg)
1 capsule Flaxseed oil (1000mg)
1″ square of miso paste (pure organic, not flavoured)

I buy it all from Holland & Barrett (keep an eye out for their 1/2 price sales!) , except the miso paste which can be bought online. I buy mine here:-
http://www.goodnessdirect.co.uk/cgi-local/frameset/detail/515173.html

It turns out a bit like mud, so I divide it into 14 bits and store in fridge. This will last for 7 to 14 days, depending on whether you give once or twice a day. Start off with one dose per day for a small doe, and increase to twice if the lump continues to grow or once a day for slow-growing lumps. Twice a day for fast growing lumps (and also for larger does).

Some rats will happily eat it neat, others do not like the taste. Disguise it by mixing it with a blob of Enervite, or try stirring it into babyfood or yoghurt.

Note
If you try this mix after a lump removal to try to prevent further growth of tumours, please omit the shark cartilage for the first week after surgery, as it works by preventing growth of new blood vessels.

Author : Joolz

The Rescue Rat

There are many rat books on the market and most of them very good and informative. I have used at lot of their ideas and benefited from the advice in the health sections over the years, but these books are usually aimed at the person who has had a rat from a baby who is a loved and contented creature. However, as with all animals there are many unwanted, abused, abandoned and neglected rats that end up in rescue centres every year and looking after you of these is a whole different kettle of fish!

So, if you are looking for a rat who needs a loving home, or you already have a rescue rat then maybe the following will help…
Finding a rescue rat

Firstly, how do you go about finding a rescue rat?

The Internet is an excellent place to start. Using various search engines you will find a multitude of people who are committed to looking after and re-homing rats. If you cannot find a Rescue local to you, ask your vets as they may know or look in your local paper. Also, check the various online rat forums.

Once you’ve found a rescue, don’t think that it will be like walking into pet shop, selecting your rat and leaving with him or her or her. Some centres may be happy to ask you a few questions regarding your suitability but others may be more stringent about where these poor creatures are going and will ask many question and even book a home check. Don’t take this personally, it is no reflection of you or your skills as being a rat owner! Don’t forget, if an animal has ended up in a rescue centre it has obviously suffered some trauma in its short life so it is paramount that the right home is found.

All rats are unique and like humans they all have different characters, so if you are looking for a rat that’s going to sit on your shoulder while you watch TV then you are likely to be disappointed.

If you’re are lucky enough to rehome a kitten (that is, a baby rat) then you’re in with a chance that it you can bring him or her home, let him or her settle in for a few days then begin bringing up your new friend to fit in with your lifestyle.

But if you are rehoming a frightened individual or one that has had a bad start in life, then be prepared to spend a lot of time – maybe months – getting them to trust you. Also be prepared that he or she never will!

Please don’t be put off at this point, maybe he or her won’t ever sit contentedly on your lap but you will see changes in him or her, as they gradually become more relaxed that will be so rewarding. I found it a good idea to keep a rat diary, where you can put down any significant events, so that when you read back over them you will be reminded how he or she was when he first arrived to how he is say 3 months later. Having said that, a good rescue centre will not send you off with a traumatised rat as your first rescue.
Health

Healthwise, getting a rescue rat is a bit like the lottery – you may or may not come up with a winning ticket – more than likely ‘not’.

Rescue rats may be more susceptible than their pure bred counterparts to health problems such as respiratory disease (either caused by their traumatic past, bad husbandry or genetics), and tumours. Vets bills can be expensive so do bear this in mind when getting a rescue rat. If you are not able to get to a vets easily (due maybe to working long hours) or cannot afford financially frequent visits, then do not get a rescue rat.

Most rescue rats come from poor breeding lines where genetic problems are rife. For example, someone will go to a pet shop and buy two ‘males’ and then find one morning that they have a litter of babies, no doubt fathered by the mum’s brother, making the offspring more susceptible to genetic problems.. Pure bred rats come from breeding lines where, wherever possible, ‘bad’ genetics are bred out. (This does not mean a pure bred rat from a reputable breeder won’t get respiratory disease or tumours , but it is less likely.)

Also, when taking on a rescue rat, do ensure you have a good rat vet lined up just in case (see out Guide to Choosing a Vet).
Building trust

So, you’ve got your rescue rat and got him or her home. Leave them for a few days in their cage to settle in and get to know the noises and smells of their new home. Once they are settled in, then it is time to start handling them! However, when you can’t handle your rat, you need somewhere that you can let them come out of their cage without you worrying where they’re going. My hall is an ideal place with all the doors shut. If it’s practical take the whole cage, it is where they will feel safe and can run to if they get nervous. If not take them in their bed so they have some place they recognise to hide. Open the door of the cage and make sure it is secure then sit down and wait. And wait!

Some respond to gentle calling but if they are still scared of you, just keep quiet. As I say each rat is different so you will have to judge this. With a nervous rat I would not try to interact with them to start with but would manoeuvre myself so that in order for them to get back to their cage or bed they would have to climb over my leg. This gets them used to touching you first.

(I had you rat though, living in 2 storey cage with the door at the front, I had placed my feet either side of the door so she had to climb over me to get back in. It was quite ingenious really, she climbed up the side of the cage, down the front and in the door head first to avoid me).

Gradually as they become more confident I touch them as they walk by. Once I was in the hall with my rescue rat Ruby reading a book (me, not Ruby) when without thinking I put my hand on her as she walked by. Bless her, she must have jumped 2 feet in the air. If everything is done gently eventually they stop trying to avoid you.

It could take weeks or months – or as I said before, never – until your rat trusts you, so do be patient. Treat your rat like they are a small, frightened child, let them make the first move – let them take the lead. Never shout at them – or have lots of noise going on around them such as crying babies, screaming kids or loud music – and don’t try when you are feeling stressed as the rats will pick up on your anxiety and then get even more anxious themselves!

A friend once took in a very aggressive rat (the previous owner had used him as a place to stub out his cigarettes and as something to taunt). She named the rat Brian and was scared witless by him! However, one day she took a large shot of whisky to calm her nerves and bravely let Brian walk out of his cage on to her arm. Normally by now he would have bitten her – because he would pick up on my friend’s fear – but this time he didn’t. After a week of doing this, no drink beforehand was taken and still no biting! A mutual respect and trust had been built up between the two of them and within two months, Brian was handable!
Summary

There are thousands of rescue rats needing homes nationwide. If after reading this and despite all the traumas and worries – as well as the upsides of having a rescue rat – have made you even more determined, then why not contact a rescue local to you? If you can give an abandoned, unwanted or abused rat a second chance at life, then the rewards in having a new furry family member will be relentless.

Author : Kerry May : Additional words by Stella Hulott

Dealing with pet rats who bite

As any rat lover will tell you, rats make wonderful pets – they are extremely friendly, intelligent, funny and loyal and having a rat is like having a very special best friend. However, like all species, there will be occasions where you get a rat that bites.

This may be because they have not had much handling since birth or just that they are very nervous. If the rat is an albino rat or has pink eyes, their eyesight is worse than their counterparts. In this instance and like any animal with bad eyesight, if they see a shape come out of nowhere at them (in this instance, your hand) they will bite first, thinking that you are a predator.

If, however, your normally loving and friendly pet rat suddenly starts to nip you (as opposed to the odd one-off that can happen when you inadvertently wake up a grumpy rat or when they mistake your fingers for food), then this means that they are probably not well. Get them to a vet straight away to be checked over.

At the rescue we get a lot of ‘phone calls and emails from people saying the same thing: I’ve just got a rat and she bites. Now I’m frightened to handle her..what should I do?

If you have recently got a new rat and she bites, you are bound to feel disappointed and, if you are a new to having rats, even a little frightened. At the rescue, we have lots of rats that come to us as they are no longer wanted due to them being so-called “aggressive” etc. However, the good news is that in nine cases out of ten, with time and patience, they can be turned around into loving little ratties.

The first thing you need to do is to build up your rat’s trust. Sit near to the cage (with the cage door open) and read a book, relax and let her come out of the cage in her own good time. Keep the room quiet, with no loud noises, other animals or distractions.

Your rat will be wary and may well go in and out of her cage several times before feeling brave enough to venture further – this is quite normal. Do not move the cage away or shut the cage door when your rat ventures out – this will make things worse as she will panic without having the security of her cage to run back to.

Once your rat is out and about, let her be in control. Speak gently to her but do not try and touch her (remember that loud noises and even a ‘tut’ can be ear piercing to a rat, so try go softly, softly.)

As an aside, if your rat hisses at you, then whatever you do, so not hiss back – this is a sign of aggression. Also, do not blow on your rat – again, this is seen by the rat as you being an aggressor and you want her to trust and eventually love you.

You may need to do this for a few days or even weeks until your rat feels confident enough to come out and start to investigate, probably including climbing over you.

Let her climb over and after a few sessions like this, gently brush your hand against her, but do not pick her up. If you don’t get bitten, then reward her with a treat (such a piece of sweetcorn). If you don’t manage to touch her before she runs off or if she nips you, then do not give her any food.

If she gets a bit nippy, say a firm “No” (do not tap her on the nose or anything, the tone of voice will be enough) and put her back into the cage.

She will learn that ‘good’ behaviour is rewarded, ‘bad’ behaviour means being put back in the cage.

(If you are worried about handling her, get a big, clean coffee jar..she will climb into it and you can lift her back to her cage. Use this method ONLY if she tries to bite you when you pick her up. IT should never be used as a substitute to one-to-one contact).

Also, do not show your rat any fear (even if you are scared of being bitten, which is quite understandable!) Rats, like most other animals, can pick up on the vibes and will react accordingly – if you are ‘feeling fear’, the rat will think there is something to fear and be on her guard, which usually means, bite first, ask questions later!

Once she has got used to being brushed against, try going one step further and gently pick her up, cupping your hands (you can always wear gardening gloves if you are still fearful) and scooping her towards your body. Cuddle her then put her down and reward her with a treat.

Start to pick her up regularly so that she gets used to you, but not all the time. For example, when he is out, brush your hand against three of four times, then pick her up – this way she gets used to the contact gradually.

You may see progress in as little as 2 weeks and up to 3 months (though we once had a rat who it took 6 months to be able to pick and cuddle – and it was worth the wait as he turned in to such a cuddly, lovely boy).

Please be patient, treat your rat like you would a scared child..she’ll come round eventually and you can both enjoy a wonderful friendship.

How to hear your Rats speak

Did you know that your rat makes an amazing array of sounds that range in interpretation from “Well hi there, how are you doing?” (usually a male-female conversation) to “Mum/Dad, any chance of some food please?”.

You may smile, but many of us have never had the amazing experience of actually hearing our rats speak. Yes, that’s right, you can actually hear your rats speak to each other and to you.

Of course, we’ve all heard the odd squeak out of them – usually when play fight with a cage mate – and we can communicate as such with our rats by interpreting their moods via watching their body language.

However, with a simple piece of equipment which picks up sounds normally inaudible to the human ear, you can hear your rats speak – and it is an amazing experience!

To experience a taster of rats speaking, click on our Radio 4 interview recorded in 2003 – and hear Grammar Rat flirting with Rigby Rat!

To listen to your rats, all you need is a simple bat detector to hear them conversing. Bat detectors are electronic gadgets that can translate the high-pitched sounds that bats use when flying in the dark into sounds within our range of hearing and it picks up rat sounds too!

The detector works well if you have groups of rats – twos and threes of the same sex aren’t as chatty as groups of does and a bucks. You’ll get the very best results if you put a doe near a buck (we hold one up to another’s cage so that they cannot get close to each other and add to the rat population!).

You’ll hear the difference in sounds – a doe will make sweet little squeaky, chirruping noises while the buck will make a deeper, more pronounced series of sounds, almost like coins being dropped from a great height into water.

Through our experience, the buck is saying something along the lines of “Hello darling, fancy going for a drink sometime?” while the doe is going “Hi there nice boy, you are cute!”

When it comes to feeding time, both the sexes make a similar sound to each other – a squeaky, high pitched chirrup. It is fascinating to experience these different conversations and different tones – all which are rally pleasing to the human ear.

Recent research shows that mice make melodic sounds to attract a mate and if you listen to your rats conversing, you’ll hear melodic tones too.

And if that isn’t enough, when it comes to hearing us speak, rats can tell the difference between languages! Now how clever is that? The article states that scientists in Spain did an experiment using 16 rats that showed that they were able to pick up enough cues from the rhythm and intonation of human speech to tell spoken Dutch from spoken Japanese!

Rats Get Heatstroke Too

It’s well known that dogs should not be left in cars on hot days as they can die from the heat, but it’s less well known that rats are very prone to heat stroke. Every year pet rats are killed by the heat and last year was no exception.

Rats can only regulate their temperature in a very limited way, in that their only method of losing heat is through their tails and paw pads. Their only other option to stop themselves overheating, is to get somewhere cooler and if they’re confined to a cage or travel carrier they can’t do this.

I was caught in a tricky situation last summer when a 10 minute car journey to the vets with a rat, turned into three quarters of an hour in a traffic jam. Luckily the car had air conditioning so I could keep the rat cool. Without air conditioning cars can become ovens even with the windows open. I really feel that if the temperatures are forecast to go up, rats should be left in the cool at home unless the trip is essential, such as getting them to the vet.

Of course car journeys aren’t the only time rats can overheat. Any rat left in full sun or a hot place even for only a short time is at risk of heat stroke. They can overheat and die incredibly quickly. Rats in glass tanks are at even higher risk, as are rats kept in sheds which can get stiflingly hot even at night. Another place where it can get unbearably hot is tents at agricultural shows where sometimes classes for rat shows are held.

The temperature at which a rats starts to overheat varies. Humid conditions increase the risk. A rat with respiratory problems or which is overweight will succumb to heatstroke sooner.

Early symptoms of heat stroke are variable but one sure sign is a warm or even hot tail. Rat’s tails should be cool to the touch. The rat may also be lethargic and depressed. Their breathing will be far more noticeable as unlike dogs, rats can’t pant to help cool themselves down. They may drool saliva from their mouths. In under half an hour a rat can have passed into a coma and died.

Obviously a rat with heat stroke needs to get to a vet fast. First aid measures should aim to bring the rats temperature down. It’s sometimes suggested to submerge the rat in cool water up to it’s neck. However the rat can die of shock or become very stressed by this so you’re better to sponge cold water over the rat particularly where main blood vessels come close to the skin; round the rats neck, it’s limbs and put the tail in cold water. The rat will be very dehydrated, so encourage it to drink and give electrolytes such as ‘Dioralyte’ or add pinches of sugar/salt to the water.

Clearly it’s far better to prevent the rat getting heat stroke in the first place. So do keep a close eye on your rats and the weather forecast this summer, put their cages in the coolest place and consider providing fans if necessary.

Finally do speak up if you see an animal left in the heat. You may save it’s life. Last summer one local pet shop had rats and mice in glass tanks with a strip light in the roof of each tank. The rats were so hot they had draped themselves over their water bottle. Some of the mice looked very ill indeed. I and several other customers couldn’t persuade the shop to at least switch the strip lights off. I came home and rang the RSPCA, who said they’d send an inspector round. By the next day the strip lights were off and one glass panel of each tank had been replaced by mesh.

So let’s try and make it a cool summer for us and our rats.

Web sites giving information on heat stroke include:

www.ratfanclub.org/cool.html

www.fancy-rats.co.uk/information/health/ni4.php

Author: Sally Clark 2005

What are the best foods for giving antibiotics to my rattie?

If you have a rat who needs to have medicine, it can be a nightmare trying to get them to eat the crushed up tablet disguised in food or if it is a liquid medication, to syringe it down them. Here are some tried and tested tips from members of the Fancy Rats forum at: www.fancy-rats.co.uk with some or our own added too..

If you have any tried and tested foods that you hide your rats’ medications in, please email jason@cavyrescue.co.uk

  • I’ve bought some soya milk and choc pudding to try and bribe him as I read its best not to put it in a bottle. I thought I might put it on small piece of wholemeal bread as it soaks it up?
  • Mine don’t like it soaked onto bread or anything like that as they can still taste it. Stirred into 1/2 teaspoon of the choc pudding works well, you need to keep cage mates away of course.
  • My failsafe method is put the baytril onto the teaspoon, add a few biscuit crumbs, cake or scone crumbs to it and mush it in with the handle of another teaspoon until it makes a little dough ball and then hand that to your patient who will take it from you and munch on it happily
  • I always use a blob of EMP
  • The trick I’ve found is to vary it – a bit of cookie one day, blob of jam the next and so on otherwise they get suspicious.
  • I make ratty jam sandwiches. A blob of jam on the baytril soaked bread has always worked. Peanut butter works even better, they go mad for it!
  • I used to put it on bread and then dunk the bread in chocolate powder
  • When Jess was very ill we ended up melting a few chocolate or yogurt drops over a boiling kettle in a teaspoon adding medicine and then freezing it.
  • Babyfood was foolproof for Ping and her concoction of meds. Hot chocolate powder (sprinkle a pinch over the meds, add a drop of water if necessary) 99.9% effectily. Half a malteser worked well but not in big groups. Kiwi, banana mush, porridge were other successes with Ping when she fancied a change. Ribena worked with some, but was foiled quite quickly.
  • Gravy Bones, with one end snapped off and the meds (watered down a bit to make the biscuit soak it up better) syringed inside (though no good for stashers)
  • Peachy porridge baby food works time after time and rat after rat for me – to have a rat jumping up and down desperate to take his meds is a relief
  • My two never fail to take their baytril on a small piece of digestive biscuit, it’s so successful that I’ve never tried anything else.
  • Melted mint choc chip ice cream they cant resist it
  • I use biscuits. Mocha refuses anything ‘on a spoon’, despite usually being so greedy. In fact, he was so ‘flippin fussy that I *attempted* syringing it, but he spat it out.
  • I’ve had ratties do that before, so no more syringing for me (or the rats, lol!). Biscuits work best for me, though have to give the other rattie unbaytrilled bits of biscuit to stop fights…..
  • Soya yoghurt with crumbled digestive and a blob of jam on top. Add the drugs and you have a ratty cheesecake!
  • Smooth apple sauce on a teaspoon with the meds mixed in really well works for me. Or chocolate soya milk in a little bowl if they are caged alone whilst ill, that way they can have a little at a time over a few hours.
  • If appetite is really too poor to eat, maybe mix with a sweet liquid such a blackcurrent first before syringing? You’ll need to get the syringe in the back of the mouth and quickly squirt to avoid side dribble. Trouble is, no matter how ill they are they always have enough energy to wriggle, so maybe someone else can do the rat holding whilst you syringe?
  • I just wanted to add that loose porridge (made with soya milk) and a bit of maple syrup is an easy way to get medicine like Baytrill into a rattie. Rats do love porridge with maple syrup and the maple syrup helps hide the taste of the baytrill.
  • Also a hob-nob (or similar) biscuit soaked in some coffee (again with soya milk), add the baytrill or crushed tablet. The coffee is a bit naughty but if they are sick enough to need medicine then being a bit naughty and offering coffee is worthwhile if it gets it into them without a fight.
  • Another tip I have found to get a rattie to ingest medicine in a soft boiled egg, the favourite part for a rat is the yellow so the soft boiled yellow with the medicine for the sick rat, this has the bonus that you can give the egg white to the healthy sibling rats.

Foods to buy and try:

  • Digestive biscuits
  • Soya yogurt
  • Baby food
  • Farley’s rusk (break up into a bowl, pour hot water over the top and mash until it makes a mush). Add complan to the mix for sick ratties
  • Porridge
  • Swiss roll or any other spongey / absorbent cake