Life with Milo my diabetic rat by Nina Jensen

Milo came to me with his brother as a rescue at only 4 weeks old. They were big boys for their age and I would have guessed at them being 6 weeks not 4. They were lovely friendly boys who would snuggle up in my dressing gown and brux and boggle happily. They were very healthy boys who quickly grew into big cuddly lads.

The first sign that there was a problem was the water bottles going down very quickly and the cage being wetter than normal. I tested a urine sample from a puddle on the shelf and it was very high in glucose and I quickly saw that Milo was at the water bottle a lot. He lived with his friends in a Savic Royal Suite which is a very large cage and I was finding I had to do almost a full cage clean out every day including hammocks. We went to our vets and she did a blood test to see if it was a problem with his kidneys or diabetes and the diabetes was confirmed.

At first we tried to control it by changing his diet following a diabetic diet from the Scuttling Gourmet and the Fancy Rat forum but this was unsuccessful. He was losing weight rapidly despite eating loads, becoming more lethargic and generally looking unwell. He also had a couple of infections with one making us very worried about him as he looked so poorly.

As the diet alone didn’t work we started him on insulin, gradually increasing it each week and doing weekly blood tests at the vets to monitor his progress. At first I was terrified of hurting him but he was so good and after every injection he snuggled up for a cuddle and bruxed away until he went back to rejoin his friends. To inject I just had to pinch the skin up around the back of his neck, push the needle in, pull the plunger back to check there was no blood in the syringe and push the insulin in. Once I got used to it this was very easy to do. He had a bit of baby food after his injection as a reward and if he was on meds at the time they would be hidden in that too. We decided to do the injections in the morning as my vet wanted his blood tested 4 – 6 hours after the injection (so they were open for the blood test) and they all got their dried mix for breakfast. He was so good and always raced to the door in the morning for his insulin, cuddle and I guess for him more importantly his tasty baby food.

A few weeks later I noticed his eyes seemed paler and the vet confirmed the diabetes had caused glaucoma in both of his eyes and he was going blind. Being a pew his eyesight had never been good so apart from not making too many changes that would confuse him it didn’t really seem to affect him at all.

We were going to the vets every week to have his blood tested so I bought a human blood glucose monitor and after testing it against my vets for a couple of weeks I started doing them at home as it was less stressful for him and I could be more accurate with the timing. There was a bit of a difference in the readings so we adjusted the results I got from my monitor so it would correspond with the vets. Eventually we had our first normal blood and we were over the moon. He still drank a lot and I had to do a lot of cage cleaning but he was much more active and looked healthier.

After failing to get a blood reading for him I decided to take him to the vets to do it rather than stress him out by continuing to try at home. I’m glad I did as his result had shot right up again. Of course this was a lot later than the test would have been but it showed that we needed to increase his insulin injections to twice a day.

After that we finally got his diabetes under control and he only had issues when he got a infection as the diabetes made him susceptible. I just had to keep a eye out for any sign of illness and I tried to always change the water bottles at the same time each day so I could keep a eye on the amount of water that had been drunk. Changing the water at the same time each day is useful for all animals and has alerted me when other rats have developed kidney issues so they could get prompt treatment. I had stopped the blood tests by this point as he was stable and any sign of illness I would do a urine test. Later his drinking peaked again and after a test and conferring with my vet we agreed Milos kidneys had started to struggle a bit so we added ipakitine to his baby food and all was fine again. He had a few uti’s, an abscess and a few eye infections but all responded quickly to treatment.

As he got older he slowed down a bit but still seemed well and happy. In September this year he seemed fine in the morning but very ill in the evening. I did a blood test which showed his glucose was very high and raced to the vet. She did an ultrasound which showed a large internal mass and the decision was made that it was kinder to let him go. He went to sleep in one of his cubes and then passed away in my arms.

Milo was amazingly good natured and I am so proud of him. We don’t know why he became diabetic and his brother never developed it. It was hard work to start with but he was one of the most amazing rats who has ever owned me.
RIP Milo, you will always be missed.

Anyone who is facing this at the moment, try not to panic. I found the thought of having to inject him terrifying but once you get into a routine it’s not that bad. My life did revolve a bit around his meds time and there were a lot of vets visits initially but that all settled down. I also became extremely protective much to horror of a cover vet who thankfully forgave my snappiness when I apologised with a tasty box of choccies. Treats for his cage were mainly weetabix and some dog biscuits (packaging checked for no added sugar) and we stayed on the diabetic diet from the Fancy Rats forum. To save some money I bought his needles and later the ipakitine online from reputable stores but the insulin always came from the vets as it doesn’t travel well. I am not a vet so cannot tell you what is for the best but am just sharing my experience of a very special boy.

Dental disease in Exotic Small Mammals

At our Practice we see a large number of small mammals with symptoms of dental disease both as first opinion cases and as referrals from other practices. This article deals specifically with dental disease in Chinchillas (Chinchilla Langier). Degus (Octodon degus) and Guinea Pigs (Cavia porcellus).

The most common presentations include weight loss, anorexia, cachexia (chronic wasting), excess salivation (slobbers), small faeces or absence of faeces. An ocular (eye) discharge or a discharge from the nose may also be evident. The incisions (front teeth) are commonly overgrown and there may be a history of repeated burring or clipping of these teeth as an attempted treatment for the anorexia. On careful palpation the jaw of these presenting animals may be irregular and painful. Sometimes the animal will grind its teeth, a sign of pain in these species. There is often a poor dietary history which will be addressed later.

One of the most important points to stress is that a detailed oral examination of a conscious small mammal is nigh on impossible. This is especially true of the species dealt with in this article. Guinea pigs often have food in their mouths at the time of examination (in fact if they don’t it is a worrying sign), chins and degus resent oral examination vigorously. Anaesthesia is often required to thoroughly examine the oral cavity and this allows the clinician to perform skull radiography, arguably the most informative diagnostic tool in small mammal dentistry. This is because most dental disease processes in exotic small mammals are concerned with the tooth “roots” which are encased in bone and therefore not visible on a dental examination. In fact, many animals with severe dental disease have mouths that look essentially normal on casual examination of the anaesthetised patient.
Dental Anatomy

Guinea pigs, chinchillas and degus have the dental formula of 2 x I 1/1 C 0/0
P 1/1 M 3/3 (where I = incisors, C = canines, P = premolars and M = molars). The premolars and molars act as a functional unit to grind food and the incisors are used for prehension and cutting of fibrous foodstuffs. All teeth grow continuously. There is no true anatomical root. The lower (mandibular) cheek teeth are arched toward the tongue and overgrowth can lead to tongue entrapment. The upper (maxillary) cheek teeth are angled outward (laterally). Angulation of the teeth provides an effective surface for grinding thin fibrous food material and when eating this high silicate foodstuff, rapid tooth wear occurs and new growing tooth replaces the wear caused by grinding. In the wild these animals spend a long time eating low quality grasses which are high in silicates (the precursors of glass). This continual grinding prevents overgrowth of the teeth.

Diet and dental disease

Captive bred specimens are larger than their wild counterparts and it is established that a proportion of cases of dental disease can be attributed to genetic causes. However, by far the most cases of dental disease in Guinea pigs, chinchillas and degus results wholly or in large part from inappropriate diets. Specifically a lack of dietary fibre is implicated. Most modern “complete” diets are complete in that they contain adequate protein, carbohydrates, fats and trace elements. However, their sole use leads not only to problems with obesity but also does not allow these animals to spend the large amount of time chewing and wearing their molar teeth that they require to grind down their continually growing back teeth. This can lead to spur formation and entrapment of the tongue by the diagonally growing lower molars. This can be picked up and treated by a detailed examination of the mouth. All the time however, a more sinister development is occurring which is all together more difficult to treat.

If less time is spent chewing, the exposed parts of the teeth elongate. This puts pressure on the teeth which slows eruption, but tooth growth continues at a slow rate. Essentially what happens next is that the cheek teeth grow backwards, invading the structures of the skull. The teeth can grow into the nasal sinuses causing respiratory infections or towards the eyes causing weepiness. The lower teeth invade the jawbone causing bony changes and sometimes abscess formation (common in rabbits). The net result of this growth is that the mouth is progressively forced open. The front teeth elongate as they do not meet any more and becomes progressively more difficult for these animals to eat (try swallowing with your mouth open!). This leads to the condition known as slobbers where saliva spills onto the skin often causing a fetid smell. Clients often notice this and the fact that the incisors are growing and present these animals for incisor trimming. In fact the incisors are growing because they are not meeting as a result of the mouth being forced open by the overgrown back teeth. Skull radiography is the only way to accurately quantify if this has occurred and to what extent. All too often, animals are referred to this practice with histories of repeated anaesthetics with no radiography performed.

Treatment

To sum up, difficult at best. Most presented cases have advanced disease. Aggressive burring of the cheek teeth may be attempted. If abscesses have formed, these need specific treatment. Eye infections require antibiotics. Otherwise force-feeding and anti-inflammatory drugs are required. Quality of life needs to be assessed on a regular basis and weight monitoring with faecal output are useful indicators of appetite. The liquid anti-inflammatory drug meloxicam (Metacam: Boehringer Ingleheim) is well tolerated in these species. It has the advantage of being very palatable (it tastes like honey) so is well accepted also. Often patients require life long treatment. Secondary problems associated with anorexia (e.g. intestinal stasis where the guts shut down and stops moving) also need to be addressed. Often euthanasia is required in patients that fail to respond.

Prevention

As always, better than cure. The diet of these animals needs to resemble their diet in the wild. They are not like dogs and cats that get a bowl of food twice daily and that’s it. Their anatomy and physiology is specifically set up to deal with ingestion of large quantities of lower quality foodstuffs in order to meet their nutritional requirements. This means lots of good quality hay. Timothy hay is usually the beat. The fibre requires lots of chewing and keeps the intestines moving which is essential for health. 1 to 2 tablespoonfuls maximum of concentrate mix is the recommended daily allowance; the rest should be good quality hay with occasional treats. Offer the hay in a hayrack to prevent contamination with faeces. This also provides environmental enrichment, as the animals have to work a little harder for their food. Twice yearly veterinary checkups allow careful palpation of the cheek teeth. Also monitor weight and faecal output on a regular basis so that any symptoms can be managed early in the course of disease.

Pictures courtesy of Mark Rowland

Normal Chinchilla and Degu showing roots of molar (back) teeth
in normal anatomical position :

Chinchilla

Degu

Degu and Chinchilla with elongation of roots of molar teeth forcing mouth open causing the front teeth (incisors) to overgrow as they no longer meet :

Chinchilla

Degu

Slobbers (excess salivation) in a Guinea pig:

References

BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets 4th edition
Hillyer, Quesenberry: Diseases of Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents 2nd edition
O Malley: Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species
Carpenter: Exotic Animal Formulary 3rd edition

About the Author

Mark Rowland BVSc cert Zoomed MRCVS is in practice at: Trinity Vet Centre, Hermitage Walk, Hermitage Lane, Maidstone, Kent, ME16 9NZ. He is an Exotics specialist with a soft spot for chinchillas.

Vet Rat Respiratory Guide

Written by a vet and for vets, the Guide discusses various causes of the disease as well as suggests proven treatments.

Over the last ten years’ one of the most common questions we, as a high profile pet rat rescue, get asked about is the treatment of respiratory disease in rats. This Guide is a combination of our experience and our vet’s expertise.

To date there has been very little information available about respiratory disease, so we felt the need to share our vet’s knowledge in order to help reduce the amount of unnecessary deaths and suffering caused by this sadly very common illness.

You can download a free copy of the guide to print off and give to your vet to give them some other ideas in the treatment of respiratory guide.

DOWNLOAD REPORT
You can download a PDF version of this report to either email or print off for your vet here

For a laymans version of this guide please visit Rat Respiratory Guide

Safe And Healthy Bedding For Rodents

Since we humans have domesticated animals, we owe them a debt of responsibility. Through domestication, we have made them utterly dependent upon us for their health, care, feeding and general living and life-style conditions. It is thus of paramount importance that we afford them the same respect, and care that we would our own kind.

Rodents, by virtue of their size are especially vulnerable. Unlike cats and dogs, who can roam around the house and yard at will, most rodents (pet or laboratory) are kept in confined spaces in cages. Their natural range is thus very restricted. As such, the bedding that they are kept on is the only substrate that they will know for the duration of their short lives. Not only should this bedding be kept clean and changed at very regular and frequent intervals, it should be appropriate for the species concerned.

Most bedding materials are derived from wood shavings. This was acceptable until recent times when it was established that the phenols and resins contained in pine and cedar are especially deleterious to a rodent’s health. These two woods are the most widely used in pet bedding since they are relatively inexpensive and easy to come by.

This discussion intends to give an overview of the most appropriate bedding to use for rodents. It will also give the reasons why the use of pine and cedar woods (except under exceptional circumstances) should be discouraged. It is also intended that this discussion will give recommendations for rodent bedding.

Disadvantages of Softwoods as Bedding

Pine and cedar woods are generally known as softwoods. They are most often used because they give off a nice smell and have a clean look. However, they contain relatively large amounts of phenols and resins which are volatile (evaporate easily), aromatic (with a pleasant aroma) hydrocarbons (large, ring-like chemical structures with a lot of carbon in them)4,6. They are caustic, poisonous, acidic compounds present in these softwoods and can cause liver and kidney damage in rodents, rabbits, cats, dogs, and humans. They are what make disinfectants cover smells and cedar and pine shavings cover the smell of animal urine12. These phenols interact with the liver and respiratory system in the body, potentially producing unwanted and harmful side-effects9.

The effects of cedar and pine on the respiratory system is clear, and well documented through several years of scientific research: the natural chemicals present in softwoods can damage the respiratory tract, leading to chronic respiratory disease and asthma. Although most of this research describes the effects of wood products in humans, it should be noted that the effects are likely to be more pronounced in small animals, who have a much greater sense of smell, and are therefore more sensitive to respiratory irritants9. They will also be spending all or most of their lives on this bedding, unlike humans whose exposure to these irritants is mostly transitory.

The primary irritant in cedar is plicatic acid, present in highest concentrations in western red cedar. Although the mechanism is not fully understood, plicatic acid has been shown to cause asthma, and inflammatory and allergic reactions after long-term exposures. The natural irritant in pine, called abietic acid, also exhibits allergic responses, though these are much weaker than those induced by plicatic acid. However, the oxidation of abietic acid does form compounds that are rather potent allergens9.

The acids given off by pine and cedar shavings are very damaging to the respiratory tract. These acids can actually destroy cells that line the lungs and trachea1. This has significant implications for rats since the most common diseases in pet rats are respiratory infections. Many owners of pet rats have reported the improvement of respiratory problems when they have switched their pets to a sort of bedding other than pine or cedar shavings4.

Since phenols are caustic, their direct connection to respiratory problems and pneumonia in rats, mice, and guinea pigs is clear. The constant irritation to the nasal passages, throat, and lungs gives harmful bacteria an easy opening. Phenols also affect organs such as the liver and kidneys because these organs are responsible for filtering blood and urine and eliminating toxins from them. While the kidneys and liver can handle a small amount of toxins, when they are presented with a large amount over time, they are unable to filter it all out and begin to fail. In addition, a rat or mouse with a damaged liver will have a depressed immune system, which can lead to more common “old age” symptoms such as respiratory and pulmonary infections11.

Pine and cedar toxins affect more than the respiratory tract4. Several studies5,8,14,15 have shown that rodents kept on softwood beddings have elevated levels of liver enzymes. The liver is the body’s detoxification system, and elevated liver enzymes indicate that the body is working harder to eliminate toxins. In mice these enzymes started rising after only 24 hours exposure to cedar shavings and only returned to normal when the mice were away from the shavings for 12 days14. If pine or cedar shavings are heat-treated or soaked in a solvent, so that some of the phenols are removed, the effects are not as great, but still occur14,15.

One of the early medical studies of softwood beddings and hepatotoxicity found a connection between the use of red cedar, white pine, and ponderosa pine and changes in both barbiturate sleep time and the activity of liver enzymes14. The researchers proved that the length of barbiturate sleep time (the amount of time a mouse or rat stays “out” when under a controlled dose of anaesthesia) was inversely proportional to the level of enzyme activity in the liver (i.e., that sleep time decreased as enzyme activity increased). This inverse ratio occurs because the hepatic enzymes control the metabolism of the barbiturates. In an attempt to deal with the toxin (phenols, in this case), the liver produces more enzymes and hence, wakes the mouse up sooner. This study determined that softwood beddings alter the liver’s activity in response to drugs significantly enough to suggest that such beddings not be used for animals in pharmacological experiments for fear of skewing the results.

Another study goes even further. It concludes that rats and mice kept on four bedding types were affected most by red cedar, but that white pine was the next most hepatotoxic bedding. In fact, “sleep times of C57BL/6J male mice on each bedding were significantly different in the following order: mixed hardwood > white spruce > white pine > red cedar. In both strains, liver:body ratios of mice on red cedar bedding were significantly increased compared to mice on white pine, white spruce, or mixed hardwood beddings”2. Mice kept on mixed hardwood bedding slept an average of 135 minutes, while those on cedar slept an average of 56 minutes. Mice housed on white pine slept an average of 85 minutes—between the other two sleep times, but closer to the sleep time of cedar than that of hardwood. Enzyme activity was significantly increased in cedar and pine mice and their livers were heavier (i.e., more greatly damaged) than those mice kept on hardwood. It is important to realize that the level of hepatotoxicity noted here was induced by only 24 hours to 5 days of exposure to the beddings in question.

Several people have claimed that their pet rodents have always been kept on pine or cedar with no adverse effects. However, animals with elevated liver enzymes do not show any symptoms, and unless these animals received full autopsies at death with no sign of enlarged livers or liver dysfunction, respiratory infection, or altered immune system, how can they claim that the pine or cedar did not affect them?4

Recommendations for Alternative Beddings

In the light of the above, it is recommended that rodents are housed on alternative bedding materials. However, this is not always possible due to availability. At the University of Cape Town Medical School Animal Unit in South Africa, South African pine wood shavings were used. The Pinus spp. used were either of the P. elliottii, P. patula and P. taeda species. These were untreated with pesticides and obtained directly from a factory. Upon arrival at the university, these shavings were autoclaved at 121°C for 15 to 20 minutes. After this, the wood was thoroughly dried in a hot air oven at about 100є C for up to an hour. This was said to both sterilise the bedding as well as to remove any phenols and resins it might contain.

Some claim that pine shavings which are heat-treated are safe because the heat drives off the toxins. There are currently products being sold, notably All-Pet Pine, Feline Pine, and Pine Fresh, in the United States that claim to be free of toxins. However, the studies in references 14 and 15 found that heat treatment did not remove all the toxins from the wood. Heat-treated shavings still caused a rise in liver enzymes in rats and mice4.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) specifically states in their Foster Volunteer Handbook7, that cedar wood should never be used. They further recommend that bedding should be clean, dry, non allergenic and absorbent, non-abrasive, non-allergenic, dust-free, non-toxic and at least three inches deep. Bedding should also be inedible, free of pathogenic organisms, and be able to control odour3,6.

As far as woods are concerned, it appears to be unanimous that the most appropriate wood is Aspen. Aspen is one of the most widely distributed tree species in the British Isles13. It is present over most of the mainland and on the main offshore island groups such as the Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands. Aspen is also well distributed in Ireland. In England, aspen is generally a tree which is associated with heavy clay soils, often in conditions where water-logging occurs. In places it forms dense stands up to about 60m in diameter but generally it is present in smaller isolated thickets12. There is thus no reason why Aspen woods should not be used in the UK.

Failing that, spruce may be used. This is a relative of pine but with lower phenol content.

Shredded cardboard seems to be one of the cleanest and easiest to use beddings and is also the most environmentally friendly as it breaks down nicely in the compost. Shredded cardboard is dust free, absorbent and cheap to use. It can be bought from a number of companies. EcoPetbed® may be bought by the pallet load or Finacard.
Paper-based cat litters may also be used. The main ones are Yesterdays News® and Biocatolet® paper based cat litter. All are recycled paper and are dust extracted and state on the packaging that they are suitable for small animal bedding. If rats are kept in a “living room” environment, they are cleaner and less aromatic than shavings. These are apparently the only safe paper-based beddings that should be used for rodents.
Other alternatives are Megazorb®, which is made from virgin wood pulp and is deemed to be safe for rats and Hemcore® which is hemp bedding10.

Conclusion

This author would not recommend that newspaper ever be used for rodent bedding under any circumstances. First and foremost, the inks used in the printing are toxic to rodents. Secondly, the colours will stain the coat which will be licked, thus internalising the poisons. It is suggested that their bedding should comply with the recommendations set out above. It is further recommended that the rodent housing is not left bare, but that additional nesting materials are provided. Materials such as hay, alfalfa, Safebed Paper Wool® should be included in the housing in order to supply the rodent with a semblance of environmental enrichment as well as a means whereby to follow the natural instincts of nest-building. Whatever the bedding used, it must follow the guidelines in this report, so as to ensure longevity, health and a sense of well-being in the rodents that will be housed on it.

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to thank Debbie Ducommun of the Rat Fan Club and R.A.T.S, Chico, California, United States of America for her permission to use her materials and for the work she has done in promoting the welfare of domesticated rats.
References

01. Ayars, G.H., Altman, L.C., Frazier, C.E., and Chi, EY.;1989; The toxicity of constituents of cedar and pine woods to pulmonary epithelium; Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology; 83: 610-18
02. Cunliffe-Beamer, T., Freeman, L.C. and Myers, D.D.;1981; Barbituate sleeptime in mice exposed to autoclaved or unautoclaved wood beddings; Laboratory Animal Science; 31 (6): 672-675.
03. Daly, C.H. (DVM); 2002; Rats A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual; Barrons; New York.
04. Ducommun, D.; ©1999-2002; The Toxicity of Pine and Cedar Shavings; The Rat Report; http://www.ratfanclub.org/litters.html; Retrieved on 28 Apr 2007
05. Ferguson, H.C. (1966) Effect of red cedar chip bedding on hexobarbital and pentobarbital sleep time. Journal of Pharm. Science, 55 p.1142-8
06. Harkness, J.F. and Wagner, J.; 1995; The Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents, fourth edition; Lea and Febiger; Philadelphia.
07. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS); Foster Volunteer Handbook, A Reference Guide for Rabbit/Small Mammal Foster Care Volunteers; http://www.petfoster.org/Documents/Rabbit_small_mammal_manual.doc; Retrieved on 4 May 2007
08. Jori, A. et al.;1969; Effect of essential oils on drug metabolism; Biochemical Pharmacology; 18: 2081-5
09. Safe Pet Bedding (FAQ); Originally created and posted by Emily Rocke;
http://www.aracnet.com/~seagull/faq/beddingfaq.shtml; Retrieved on 4 May 2007
10.
11. TeSelle, E.R.; 1993; The Problem with pine: a discussion of softwood beddings;
AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales News-Magazine, July–October 1993; American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association;
http://www.afrma.org/rminfo2a.htm; Retrieved 8 September 2007
12. Trees for Life;
http://www.treesforlife.org.uk/tfl.aspen_entomological.html; Retrieved 9 September
2007
13. Perring, F.H. and WALTERS, S.M.; 1976; Atlas of the British Flora. Botanical
Society of the British Isles. Second Edition; Wakefield
14. Vesell, Elliot S. (1967) Induction of Drug-Metabolizing Enzymes in Liver
Microsomes of Mice and Rats by Softwood Bedding. Science, 157:1057-8
15. Weichbrod, Robert H. et al, (1988) Effects of cage beddings on microsomal oxidative enzymes in rat liver; Laboratory Animal Science; 38 (3): 296-8

Author : Colleen McDuling, B.Sc(Med.Hons), MSc(Med.Sc.), Animal Behaviourist

Scientific Representative of the South African Rat Fan Club.

Signs of illness in rats

Most people are aware that red staining around a rat’s eyes or nose (which, although it looks like blood, isn’t) are a sign of stress and / or illness.

However, just because a rat doesn’t have these tell-tale signs that all is not well, it doesn’t mean that he is 100% fit and healthy.

You may be surprised to learn that rats can be quite stressy creatures and, like humans, stress can lower their resistance to disease and make them more susceptible to infections. Baby rats, in particular, can get stressed as they go from the warm confines of Mum in to a strange tank with their siblings. As you can imagine, it can be quite frightening for them!

This means that some can develop respiratory infections as the stress takes hols. Left untreated, these infections can cause permanent damage to the rat’s respiratory system, especially their lungs, meaning that they will more than likely become very ill as time goes on and eventually die from a painful death.

An infection caught early and treated appropriately – a rat normally responds well to medication – means that he should go on to live a long life.

So what other signs do you need to look out for?

First of all, the red staining (which is called porphyrin):a little bit first thing in the morning is okay – it’s a bit like us when we get up and have sleep in our eyes. However, a lot of staining and ongoing is a cause for concern.

Secondly, look at the rat’s fur. His fur should be smooth and soft. If it is “staring” (which is the posh word for fur that is sticking up), then this means that he really isn’t well.

Look at their breathing. When he breathes, just his sides should go in and out (rats do breathe quite rapidly by the way). If his whole body moves – you may see his head move as he breathes – this means that he is struggling to breathe, a bit like when you or I have a heavy cold.

When holding him, listen to him. Rats shouldn’t make any noise that is audible to a human unless he is playing / fighting with another rat when you’ll hear a succession of loud squeaks! If you can hear a slight noise, a gurgle or a little squeak as he breathes, then he needs veterinary treatment as this is indicative of respiratory problems.

As another point, rats don’t ‘hiccup’. So if you see a rat ‘hicupping’, he isn’t. This is also a sign of a respiratory infection.

Finally, do check that any rat in your care is playful. Rats that sit hunched in a corner or don’t socialise with their friends and are very ‘quiet’ aren’t right. As example, four years ago we got Kolin from a local branch. He was listless and didn’t seem as boisterous as his cage mates. However, to someone who hasn’t seen thousands of rats over the years like we have, he would have looked well.

An x-ray revealed that Kolin had a tumour in his immune system. Of course, no-one would have known this as he looked so well, but by watching young rats’ behaviour and learning what is normal and what isn’t can go a long way to seeing when a rat is suffering.

Luckily, an amazing combination of medication kept Kolin well and happy and he lived to the grand old age of 2 and half years old, meaning that caught early enough, illnesses can, in a lot of cases, be successfully treated or controlled.

Short Notes on Reproduction in Rattus norvegicus

Rats are known for their prolific breeding. Young rats are normally weaned by their mothers when they are 21 days old. However, they usually remain in the family group for a short while later until they are fully independent and are able to cope socially in the environment on their own. Rats are considered to be pups or juveniles until around 60 days of age (two months or eight weeks old). It appears that the complete dispersion of the young does not occur before 60 days of age (Meaney and Stewart, 1981). This is under normal circumstances in the wild, and such circumstances may be applicable to domesticated rats if they were given the opportunity to behave in the social manner that their wild counterparts do.

Rats start to become sexually mature at between 40 to 65 days old (Rowett, 1957; Weihe, 1989; Harkness and Wagner, 1995; Wolfensohn and Lloyd, 1989; Daly, 2002). This means that they are going through puberty. It is during this pubertal stage that the first oestrus occurs. However sexual attraction occurs long before puberty, at around 36 to 45 days old (Meaney and Stewart, 1981). The vagina of the female opens at 35 to 90 days (n = 72), and the testes descend at 20 to 50 days (n = 40) (Donaldson, 1924; Harkness and Wagner, 1995). There is thus great variability on the reproductive time-line of rats of the species that we are dealing with. However one thing is quite clear cut and that is oestrus (the time that a rat can conceive) occurs every four to five days. Once fertilisation has taken place, gestation is between 21 and 23 days in length.

This species of rat, although capable of reproducing at a very young age, very rarely does this in the wild. Domesticated rats are also capable of reproducing at a young age. However it is inadvisable to allow them to do so. First mating should be delayed until the female rat is at least 100 to 120 days old when the females weigh approximately 250 g and the males 300 g (Rowett, 1957, Weihe, 1989; Harkness and Wagner, 1995; Warren, 1995). Young females bred at too early an age give rise to small litters and the babies will be small and weak. Breeding at an early age will also shorten the reproductive life of the female. At 120 days, the mother is strong enough and mature enough to raise a litter successfully (Warren, 1995). Leaving the first mating to this later age of around 110 days also gives rise to strong, healthy, vigorous young (Harkness and Wagner, 1995). No female older than 12 months of age should be mated. After 12 months of age, litter size decreases, the litter interval increases and the young are not strong (Harkness and Wagner, 1995). Menopause occurs at between 450 and 500 days (Weihe, 1989; Harkness and Wagner, 1995).

Like most rodents, these rats display a post-partum oestrus. This means that very shortly (within 48 hours) after having given birth, she is able to be impregnated again. However, the use of the post-partum oestrus to breed rats is not advised. Although one maximises the amount of young born, they are not strong, and mortality is increased. In addition to which, if the post-partum oestrus is not used, the mother provides more milk, and larger young and litters (Harkness and Wagner, 1995; Wolfensohn and Lloyd, 1998). The use of the post-partum oestrus for breeding puts an enormous strain on the mother’s body, since she now must not only support her own tissues and organs, but she must also produce sufficient milk for her pups who have been born while she is gestating another litter at the same time (Daly, 2002). If a female rat has been mated in the post-partum oestrus, and is lactating at the same time, there will be a delayed implantation of the new foetuses leading to an increase in the length of gestation by three to seven days (Wolfensohn and Lloyd, 1998). In addition to this, it was found that female rats who conceived in the post-partum oestrus, and then lost their suckling litter, bias the sex ratio of the new litter towards females. This means that more females will be born. It appears that male embryos are less successful in implanting in a uterus immediately after a previous birth and are lost (Bacon and McClintock, 1999).

This post-partum oestrus occurs only when conditions are favourable (Meehan, 1984). This would mean that there would have to be sufficient food available, that the environmental conditions are at best, and that the mother rat is in peak health. In the wild, females rarely produce more than five litters per year (Corbet and Harris, 1991). As far back as 1950, Farris stated that at the Rowett Research Institute, no stock female was permitted to have more than seven litters during her reproductive life, and that the female was rested for seven days after her litter had been weaned. Rowett (1957) recommended that the mother should be isolated until she has weaned her young and then rested for a further two weeks until the next mating. Many 21st Century animal laboratory breeding systems favour this rest period as well.

Should a mother rat have her first litter with her when the litter from the post-partum oestrus conception is born, both litters will suckle from her (Gilbert et al, 1983). This suggests that even more of a strain is exerted on the body of the mother. It also suggests that each one of the pups will not obtain the necessary volume of milk required for optimal nourishment, growth and development, thus leaving them deprived.

In conclusion, this author is of the opinion that breeding rats at the extremes of their reproductive life is highly deleterious to both mother and the young. Similarly, to use the post-partum oestrus for mating is equally injurious to both mother and young. Not only are such practises cruel through the unnatural imposition of continuous breeding on the mother rat, they are also physiologically demanding to both parties. Such practises serve only to maximise the numbers of young rats born. The mother rats suffer as a continuous strain is put on their bodies. The young are not healthy and strong, and mortality is increased. In addition to which, such rats usually have a shortened life-span, and have a greater susceptibility to developing disease.

It is hoped that constant monitoring is undertaken of any facility where rodents are bred, especially where they are bred for the pet trade. Apropos which, it is hoped that ultimately the breeding and sale of live animals as pets is prohibited. It is further hoped that laws will immediately be put in place to make the sale of live animals illegal, and a prosecutable offence. We have to protect all living creatures, who are utterly dependent upon us as humans for their well-being and welfare.

References

Bacon, S.J. and McClintock, M.K.; 1999; Sex ratio bias in postpartum-conceived Norway rat litters is produced by embryonic loss in midpregnancy; Journal of Reproduction and Fertility; 117: (2), 403 – 411

Corbet, G.B. and Harris, S. (Eds.); 1991; The Handbook of British Mammals, Third Edition; Blackwell Scientific Publications; Oxford; p253

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

Donaldson, H.H.; 1924; The Rat Date and Reference Tables, 2nd Edition; The Weston Institute; Philadelphia

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

Gilbert, A.N., Burgdoon, D.A., Sullivan, K.A. and Adler, N.T.; 1983; Mother-weanling interactions in Norway rats in the presence of a successive litter produced by postpartum mating; Physiology and Behaviour; 30: 267 – 271

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

Meaney, M.J. and Stewart, J.; 1981; A descriptive study of social development in the rat (Rattus norvegicus); Animal Behaviour; 29 34 – 45

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.

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.

Wolfensohn, S. and Lloyd, M.; 1998; Handbook of Laboratory Animal Management and Welfare, Second Edition; Blackwell Science; Oxford

Author : Colleen McDuling, B.Sc(Med.Hons), MSc(Med.Sc.), Animal Behaviourist

Scientific Representative of the South African Rat Fan Club.

Ratty Health Tips

  • Rats like a constant temperature – 21 degrees is ideal. Excessive cold or heat can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems
  • Keep their cage away from draughts and direct sunlight. If their cage is on the floor, raise it up from the floor
  • Put draught excluders on the bottom of the door of the room they are in
  • If their cage is near a window, watch out for draughts coming through and move the cage if necessary
  • In the winter, central heating can dry out a rats lungs exacerbating respiratory problems – put a bowl of water in the room near to their cage to humidify the room or buy one of those containers that you can hang over the radiator and keep topped up with water
  • In cold room, put a towel over half the cage at night time to keep your ratty warm
  • In the Summer, fans and dry air can dry out a rats lungs exacerbating respiratory problems – put a bowl of water in the room near to their cage to humidify the room or buy one of those containers that you can hang over the radiator and keep topped up with water
  • Wash hammocks and beds at least once a week. (Keep tow sets so that your rat always has a clean, dry bed). Urine soaked beds release ammonia which can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems
  • Do not spray air fresheners in the room where the ratty is kept, nor smoke or use the plug in air fresheners. These can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems. If you want to freshen up the room, buy a product called Tap-a-drop which is animal friendly.
  • Always give your rat a ‘hidey-hole’ in his cage when he can sleep or retreat to when he wants a bit of privacy. Fill this with clean fresh bedding every day such as ‘Safebed’ made by Petlife international. Or use unbleached, white kitchen towel. Remember to change it every day
  • Clean their cage out as often as it needs it. If it starts to smell, you have left it too long. Don’t forget to clean the bars as well as the base as these can get dirty
  • Do not use sawdust or wood chip to line the cage as this can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems. Use cardboard bedding such as EcoPetbed or Finacard or paper based cat litter such as Biocatolet
  • If your vet gives you medicine for your rat, always make sure that you finish the course.

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

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.