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Q & A


From the May/June 2000 Rat & Mouse Gazette


Q. SEEK VETERINARY ADVICE
I've had my rat for about six months and I think she must be close to a year old. In the last week she has started shedding. Her coat doesn't look any thinner, but there is hair all over her cage. She is also urinating a lot more than usual. There have been no changes in diet or bedding. Is something wrong with her?

A.
A visit to the veterinarian is in order. Increased urination can indicate two very serious problems - diabetes or kidney disease. Hair loss can be an indication that your rat is not in good physical condition as well. This is not something that you can diagnose and treat at home without the help of a licensed veterinarian, so please, if you do not already have a vet that you're already using, find a good one immediately and get your rat in for diagnoses and treatment. You can check the RMCA veterinarian listing in the Big Book or online at http://www.rmca.org/Resources/vets.htm or at the Rat Fan Club's web site at http://www.ratfanclub.org/vetref.html. Another possibility is local veterinary colleges - http://www.umd.umich.edu/student/org/pphs/vets.htm.

~Meg Stephenson

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Q. BITING RAT
I ended up with one of those rare rats that actually bites. I've had her a while now and I take her out regularly to work with her. She's sure not shy to jump up on my lap and bite at my clothes and skin. Do you have any suggestions on how to get her to stop biting? I've also noticed lately when I've given her the night ration of lab blocks that after she eats she arches her neck up and squeaks in pain. Could this be a factor in her biting problem?

A.
Your comment about the squeaking after eating makes me think she may be biting out of pain. It is possible that she may have a mouth or tooth problem. I would suggest that you take her to see a vet to see if this is the case. If it is, the vet will be able to treat her and end the biting problem altogether.

However, if there is no physical problem causing the biting, you may have a poorly socialized rat. In this case, retraining is in order. There are a few things that can make this easier. Rats will bite if they are afraid. If you keep a single rat that is poorly socialized, quite often it will take a long time to make them feel comfortable. If you pair them up with a rat that is well socialized, the bitey rat may learn to interact with humans more quickly from their cagemate. Rats are social animals and enjoy living in social units (same sex is best).

Rats depend chiefly on their sense of smell to inform them about their environment. If you have strange animal odors or food odors on your hands or skin your rat might bite at your hands or clothes.

~Meg Stephenson

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Q. PREGNANT RAT
My roommate and I own a male and a female rat. Now that our female is pregnant, I as wondering if there is any information I should have and if there is any way in which we can help her before, during, and after the birth?

A.
First of all, I would strongly suggest that you separate the male fom the female rat before she has her babies. Gestation is only 21 to 23 days. Your female rat could become pregnant again within days of giving birth, and that would not be healthy for her at all.

I'm hoping that your female is of the proper age to be bred. For a first pregnancy the rat should be no younger than 4 months old and no older than 8 months old. You may run into problems with an older rat, as they lose the elasticity in the pelvic girdle and can have difficulty delivering the rat pups. Sometimes moms and pups both die. If your rat is at a risky age, you should make sure you have a good vet lined up - not a bad idea in any case.

Also, no female rat should have more than three litters in her lifetime, so please don't continue to breed her beyond that. You should prepare for a population explosion as well, as litters can range from 1 to 22 babies - 12 or so is the average litter.

Be sure to separate the babies in the litter by the time they are 5 to 6 weeks old, or you can possibly have a pregnant mother by one of her sons, or pregnant female babies by a brother.

Here is a list of a few web pages you may be interested in reading.

Rat Babies and Care http://www.rmca.org/Articles/orphans.htm

Baby rat development pictures http://hometown.aol.com/RistoRat/ratbabies.html

Good advice for feeding http://hometown.aol.com/RistoRat/nutrition.html

~Meg Stephenson

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Q. HAIRLESS BREEDING PROBLEMS
I have a pair of hairless rats and im trying to breed and raise some babies. They bred and she had two babies, but she ate them about two hours after delivery. She is now pregnant again and due in one week. I asked local pet shops and they said to feed her dog food, put a vita-light on her cage, get salt and mineral blocks, and get one of the white things you put in a birds cage. So I did these things. Was this the right thing to do? If not, what should I do?

A.
The advice you received from the pet shop is not helpful at all. Hairless rats may have difficulty in nursing. She may have been unable to nurse her previous litter and they were dying--or it is possible that there was something else wrong with the litter. It is instinctive for some animals to eat their young when the babies are not able to live. It is a good idea to always have a foster mom rat available when you have a litter from a Hairless mom rat. If you are unable to obtain a foster mother and you feel that your mom rat is not producing milk, you may have to feed them yourself. You can read the article "Caring for Orphaned Baby Rats or Mice" in the March/April 1997 issue of Rat & Mouse Gazette for more information. (This article is also available online at the RMCA website.)

It is a good idea to feed a diet higher in protein than usual to the rat mom. A high quality kitten kibble is recommended as an addition to a nursing rat's basic diet. You should be feeding a balanced diet including rat chow (or some other specific rodent diet that is labeled as 100% complete), fruits and veggies and plenty of water. Extra protein could also be from cooked eggs, soy products, chicken, etc.

The rest of the items the pet shop recommended are totally useless for rats. Rats do not have a need for added salt in their diet. The light is also not a good idea. Why they recommend a cuttlebone is also a mystery. Rats enjoy some shady sunlight but are nocturnal creatures. I can't imagine why the vitalight would be recommended, especially for something with skin as sensitive as a Hairless rat.

~Meg Stephenson

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