Q & A
From the January/February 2000 Rat & Mouse Gazette
Q. JITTERY RATS
My new rats seem to be jittery around me. They won't let me pick them up and they get nervous when I pet them. Can you help?
Rats that are not very well socialized can go through an initial getting used-to-you period in which they may nip out of fear or act shy and jittery. You need to teach your pets that time spent with you is fun and not scary. The easiest way to do this is to allow your rats to spend time with you in a secure area (I use my rat-proofed bathroom with no place for shy rats to hide). I bring along food treats, a good book, my oldest clothes, and my rats. At first, your rats will be shy, but they should warm up pretty quickly unless they were badly treated.
Make sure that you wash your hands before you handle your rats. Sometimes strange odors can cause nipping or fear reactions. If you have other pets and smell like them, your rat may perceive you as a threat.
Q. TORN TOENAIL
My rat accidentally tore out his whole toenail on his back foot. The blood flow was bad. We did the cinnamon and corn starch and it slowed down. Is there any possible worry of infection?
As long as you have stopped the bleeding he should be fine. You should keep the toe clean and apply an antibiotic ointment or something like Betadine solution on a daily basis until it heals. If you notice swelling, discoloration, a bad smell, or continued heavy bleeding, you should consult a vet.
I had a similar problem when one of my rats tore off most of one toe trying to steal a huge piece of corn on the cob. Other than the bleeding, which stopped after an hour, my rat never seemed to mind. His toe healed up very easily, too. I would suggest that you keep your rat on a soft white bedding like Ultra CareFRESH or white paper towels (paper towels changed twice a day) to ensure that the toe stays as clean as possible and to be able to monitor the bleeding. It doesn't happen often, but rats have died from loss off blood due to ripping off a toenail.
Q. BREEDING RATS
I have two female rats and one male in a large aquarium. The male is the youngest of the three. The younger female has given birth to a large litter. They seem to all be very relaxed with the babies, with the mother leaving her babies and showing no concern when one of the others sniffs them. Do I need to remove the other female and the male? Are the babies safe?
If the cage is large enough (and not a small 20-gallon aquarium) you might be able to leave female and neutered male rats in the same cage, providing they are all getting along. However, a sexually intact male rat will breed the nursing mother again as she will be at a receptive stage in her estrus cycle soon after birth. It is very hard on female rats to have two litters so close together, not to mention how difficult it is to find good homes for so many babies.
Female rats can usually remain without problems, unless they are also pregnant, but occasionally, you will get a female rat that will steal the babies away from the real mom, not allowing her to nurse, which can result in the babies starving to death. Very rarely, another female in the cage will go crazy and kill all of the babies. For all of these possible reasons, in my opinion, it is just best to remove other rats from the cage to allow the mother the peace she will need to rear her young.
Q. EAR BITING/URINE MARKING
I've had my pet rat for about two and a half months now and she has bitten my brother on the ear and drawn blood twice. She has also nibbled on my ear before. She doesn't bite anywhere else and she is a friendly rat. I play with her every day. What should I do about the ear biting problem? She has also recently started leaving little drops of urine on my arm when she crawls on me. How do I stop this behavior?
I'm not sure why your rat finds ears so appealing. I have found that I can't wear socks around my boys - they seem to think socks are a signal to bite my toes - really hard. I would let your rat know that you don't like being bitten by squeaking really loud when she nibbles at your ear. Did you happen to notice what was happening when your brother was bitten? Does your rat get along with your brother at other times? I suppose the best advice would be to keep her away from tender ears.
The urine drops are scent markings. This behavior probably happens more when your rat is at a sexually receptive stage in her estrus cycle. The only way to decrease this behavior is by having your rat spayed or to wait until she goes through menopause later in life.
Q. PICKY EATER
A couple of weeks ago I heard that rats can get addicted to sunflower seeds. I was feeding my rat a food that contained these and I noticed that while she rejected some parts of the food, there were always piles and piles of sunflower seed husks littered 'round her food bowl. I wondered if her addiction was such a good thing and switched to a food that doesn't contain them. Now, she seems to be going through some kind of cold turkey thing. It has been two weeks and she's still snappy and obsessed with food. I don't know what to do. I thought she'd be healthier weaned off of her addiction, but now I wonder if it's such a bad addiction. Could you give me some advice?
Rats can become very picky about the food they are willing to eat. As long as your rat seems to be a healthy weight and doesn't have itchy skin or scabs around the neck and shoulders, there really is no problem allowing her to eat some sunflower seeds. In fact, I would never cut a favorite food off cold turkey anyway. I guess I enjoy eating too much myself.
Make her work for her sunflower seed treats. Hide them inside boxes. I've seen suggestions of rat toys that are constructed of smaller and smaller cardboard boxes that act like a maze (you cut doors in the boxes with little stashes or treats in off corners). Or, you could bake them into a health bread for rats. I make one in which the main ingredient is ground rat block (rodent diet which should be the base diet for rats). I add mashed bananas, applesauce, vegetables, an egg, enough water to make a batter and a bit of vanilla. I'm sure you can think of other ways to make her work for her treats.