Q & A
From the January/February 2001 Rat & Mouse Gazette
Q. FOOD FRESHNESSRegardless or where purchased, bulk or prepackaged, I freeze my rats dry food for (at least) 48 hours as a precaution. Is this effective?
A.Unfortunately, when we purchase food for our pets we have no way of knowing how fresh the food actually is (unless buying from a laboratory supplier who supplies the mill date). Food purchased from some pet stores may have been sitting on the shelf for several months, which in itself will rob the food of vital nutrients. These bags of food may also have bugs in them, which can also rob the food of vital nutrients.
However, the bugs themselves are not harmful to your pet. Freezing for a short period will kill the bugs, but it cannot restore vital nutrients to the food. This is one reason why we always recommend that you give fresh fruits and vegetables in addition to any lab block or grain mixture. The fresh foods, providing they truly are fresh, will make up for the partial nutrient loss in the dry foods fed to your pet. You may also wish to supplement your pets diet with a liquid vitamin for small animals (available in pet stores). Always try to buy the freshest food possible. Don't buy that bag that has obvious bugs in it. Take it to the store counter and point it out. Many stores will place special orders, or will at least tell you when they make trips to the wholesaler to purchase supplies. In either case, you should be able to get the freshest food possible from a pet store.
If you're still not satisfied with the freshness of the food you're buying, you can order fresh lab blocks directly from Harlan Teklad or many of the other laboratory food manufacturers. You may also order small quantities of Harlan Teklad blocks through the RMCA's website.
Once you are satisfied with the freshness of the food you are buying, freezing is an ideal way to keep it fresh. Food left in the closet, even if it is in a Tupperware-type container, will lose nutrients fairly rapidly if kept in a warm area. Of course, you don't want to freeze the food indefinitely, but keeping food in the freezer and only taking out small amounts at a time is the ideal way to be sure what you're feeding your pets is its freshest.
~Mary Ann Isaksen
Q. DRIVING WITH RATSI read your story about moving with a lot of animals. I am moving from New York to Las Vegas sometime in the near future. I have two big dogs, a cat, and two rats. How can I travel with all of the animals in the same van? How can I keep my cat away from my rats? Since I only have two well-behaved rats, can I leave water dishes in the cage instead of using bottles when we stop every few hours?
A.First, if the animals will all be in the same space, you will have to separate them somehow. When I traveled with two large dogs, 26 rats, and a cat in my Toyota 4Runner, the two dogs were put into the back of the 4Runner with the seat back separating them from the rest of the vehicle. (The rats and cat were all caged.) If you cannot separate your dogs in this manner, they will need to be kept in kennels while traveling. Food and water should be provided for them during stops only, and in small amounts so they do not get sick and vomit in the vehicle.
Animals spook easy while traveling, and it is imperative that you keep your cat in a kennel. Not only to keep the cat away from your rats during the drive, but for the cat's own safety. I've heard many cases where cats traveling unrestrained in a vehicle bolted at a stop when the car door was opened and was never seen by its owner again. Food and water should only be provided at stops for cats as well, and again, only in small amounts. No matter how well-behaved your rats are, the roads will work against you if you leave a water dish in the cage. The cage will become soaked which will make the trip miserable for the rats, and could risk their health. Unlike the dogs and the cat, you should leave food in the cage for the rats. The rats' regular dry food, plus bits of table scraps are fine, but fresh fruits are essential for the rats during the long drive, especially if your stops are going to be short and infrequent. The rats can get most of the moisture they need from the fresh fruits, but they will still need fresh water when you stop. Even if you are just making a quick bathroom stop, you should still take the time to put the water bottle on the cage, give the cat and dogs a drink, and take the dogs for a walk. (You should have a small litter box in the kennel with the cat.) Make sure the water in the bottle is kept cool - it can heat up very fast if left in an area of the vehicle with the sun beating on it. Remember to remove the water bottle from the cage each time you begin to drive, however, or you will end up with a wet cage.
When you stop at a motel at night, the cat can come out of the kennel (providing you are very careful not to let it get out of the room), and you can give your rats a little bit of supervised playtime on the bed. During all phases of the trip you need to be extremely aware of what is going on with all of the animals in your care as anything truly can happen on long road trips.
~Mary Ann Isaksen