Accident Prevention

Ingrid Brucato
From the September/October 1997 Rat & Mouse Gazette

"An ounce of prevention...". Let me start by telling of a few near accidents which could have hurt my rats, even though the rats were in their cages. First, as a brand new rat owner, I gave baby Nellie a toy, a child's rubber ball the size of a ping-pong ball. The next morning, to my horror, there was only half a ball left. I was sure she was going to die, even though I found little rubber pieces all over. She must have eaten some. I was lucky nothing happened. Warning: although rats have iron stomachs, watch out for playthings or materials you rats have access to that could cause an intestinal impactation if eaten. I am not sure whether we can depend on the rats' intelligence not to eat harmful materials.

Next, still new, but by now having two rats, they were housed in a 20-gallon tank, but without a proper clip-on cover. So, I used a piece of screen and a wooden board on top to weigh it down. One day, while cleaning the cage, the board slipped and fell and hit one the rats on its tail. A board like that could have killed a rat if it had hit it on its head. Warning: watch what you use to cover your tanks.


A few months later, by now having many rats, when I went into the rat room to say "hello", I noticed that one cage had no water. The bottle hung with the spout outside. Someone passing by, or perhaps the rats themselves, must have nudged the water bottle so that the spout slipped out of the cage. No big deal, but it could have been serious if not noticed soon enough. Lesson: check the rats water first thing in the morning and the last thing at night before going to bed. At the same time, you can make sure the ratties are all right. When you fill the water bottle, don't fill it all the way to the top. You must leave a little air space there and, with your finger, check whether the ball bearing in the sipper tube is working.


When rats are in cages that are constructed of wire or metal rods, make sure there are no sharp rod ends on the cage that have not been properly deburred. When you put your rats back into the cages, if they are at all like mine, they want to come out again, so they sit in the doorway. As you lock them in, please be very careful that you don't catch a toe, foot, or tail, or worse yet, a little head, when you close the cage door. Always remember to cover wire cage bottoms or shelves so your ratties' feet don't get stuck and break a leg.


One of my very close near tragic accidents happened when I had a mother and eight babies in a tank on a coffee table. I was fussing in the ratroom when the doorbell rang and a neighbor came to chat. For one minute, I had not closed the door to the ratroom and my dog sneaked in there. He pushed the tank almost over the edge of the table while trying to catch some rats. This threatened to make the tank crash down onto the floor. For everyone with dogs and cats, be super watchful. I now have a toddler's gate in addition to the regular door to ensure that the dog can't get in. There have been many sad cases where pet rats were killed by other household pets. Don't let that happen in your home.


Let's talk about the danger of free-range rats. Mine are not free-range, but they all have time out of their cages on a large play-counter with boxes and toys. The counter is three feet off of the ground. Several times I found a rat that had jumped or fallen to the floor. At first, I could not figure out how, but every time a rat had fallen to the floor, I found something else on the floor as well - a toy, a paper dish, a cookie box, etc... Then, one day a rat fell down right in front of me and I saw how it happened. She had built her usual stack of emergency rations and was carrying an ear of corn along the counter to contribute to it. As she ran close to the edge, the corn pulled her down and both plummeted to the floor. The floor was carpeted, thank goodness, but it could have been bad. So far, with quite a few falls, there have been no broken bones. I watched them carry heavy stuff along and almost fall over the edge again. So now, I am very careful not to leave any food dish or light toy near the edge, but put it close to the wall and weigh down light cardboard boxes. Warning: watch that your rat does not play on a high place with something heavy like a book that may fall on top of him.

There are so many dangers for free-range ratties, especially on the floor, I cannot possibly list them all here, but you have to be paranoid and anticipate what could happen. Let me tell you of a few tragic accidents that I am aware of. Rocking chairs, recliners, and sofa-beds: Rats have been crushed under or in these deadly contraptions, so always be aware of where your rats are when using one of these pieces of furniture. Rats running on the floor? I don't know whether there is any great danger of them being stepped on with their propensity for running along walls and staying away from large open spaces (Editor's Note: I can assure you it is a great danger.), but I, who have stepped on my dog many times, would not want a rat underfoot. I know of two sad instances where a rat was crushed in a door being shut, the owner being unaware that the rat was quickly following. I have heard of rats being lost for good while investigating holes, windows or open doors...


A lot has been written already about electrical wires and how to safeguard your rat from being electrocuted, so I will not go over this again, other than to say that Radio Shack sells a protective sheath specifically made to protect electrical wires. Buy it if you have free-range ratties!

Other dangers are fireplaces, woodburning stoves, gas or electric ranges with stuff boiling or cooking on them, toilets, refrigerators, washing machines, and electric fans. You must also think about all of the chemicals, cleaners, and drugs we have around the house. Again, one shouldn't depend on the rats not eating what is not supposed to be eaten. Just this week, I put some Aloe Vera Vet Cream on a ratties back and while doing this, two other rats descended upon the container which I hadn't closed yet, and took big mouthfuls of that cream. They are still alive, so the cream must be pretty harmless, but still, it reinforces the warning to be watchful of what the rats have access to.


Please don't ever leave rats in a car with the windows rolled up at any time of the year, but when going to a show in the hot summer months, take extra precautions to keep the rats cool.


Poisonous ornamental plants are in many households. Know the plants you bring into your home if you have free-range rats. Even the Poinsettia we all have in our homes at Christmas is poisonous.


Another accident warning: Children! Not all children are little angels. Some are too young to be allowed to handle rats. I know of one case where a boy choked a rat to death or broke its neck - not intentionally, but by handling it incorrectly. A small girl threw her sister's rat against a wall, killing it instantly, and in yet another case, some children, after catching two loose rats and putting them back in the cage, then left the cage standing in the blazing hot summer sun. Those rats must have died a terrible death! Do not ever leave your rats outside in the sun.


The accident prevention here amounts to parents teaching kids how to handle rats gently, and familiarizing them with safety rules. Toddlers need constant supervision.

Yes, accidents happen, but they don't have to happen. Accidents are preventable - all it takes is proper care and forethought!