Q & A
From the September/October 2000 Rat & Mouse Gazette
Q. STERILITYOne of my female rats (she is one year old) had an abscess on her back near her hip. One day it disappeared and I believe she may have gotten rid of it herself. Ever since then, she has not gotten pregnant. Why?
A.You didn't state whether or not your rat had had a litter of babies prior to this incident. The best time for a rat to have babies is between four months and eight months of age. It is possible that her apparent sterility has nothing at all to do with the abscess, although it could have. The only way to even guess on that would have been a vet visit at the time of the infection. Many bacterial infections, such as genital mycoplasmosis and viruses can cause sterility. Also, nutritional deficiencies and non-optimal living conditions can lead to infertility. What sort of diet are you feeding--what is her weight? Is she healthy? All of these may be a factor in her apparent infertility.
If she hasn't had a litter before she may have difficulty conceiving, and breeding a rat that has not had a previous litter at the age of one year can lead to birthing problems and possibly even death. The pelvic canal is often fused into a narrow position and the litter can only be delivered by means of caesarian section by a veterinarian. Most often, owners are unaware of this and do not see the vet until it is too late to save the litter or the mom rat.
Q. PARENTAL CONCERNSI have a friend who is worried about us getting pet rats because we have young children (18 months and 3 1/2 years). I haven't heard or read anything about this, but she was really concerned. Do I have anything to be worried about?
A.If you are concerned that pet rats would transmit disease to your children, then no, you really have nothing to worry about. That is no more likely than with having a dog or cat as a pet. Of course, it is possible, but not likely, in any case. Your friend must be buying into the prejudices that most people have concerning rats.
Zoonoses are diseases that can infect humans and be transmitted by an animal host. Most of these that list a rodent host are diseases in the wild rat population - not in pet rats. The only problem I have heard of between pet rats and humans is Strep or Staph infections, which can be a problem with any pet.
The other problem would be allowing a child of that young age to play unsupervised with any pet. Animals will protect themselves from being hurt and young children don't always have good sense when handling animals. They can get hurt by poking fingers in cages or squeezing too hard when handling, resulting in a possible bite. (Young children can be a threat to the health and safety of the pet rat, as well.)
Honestly, it is a judgement call. Pets and young children are not always a good mix. It is probably best to wait until the children are a bit older and can understand the responsibility of pets, particularly with pet rats since they are so small and vulnerable to the squeezing of a young child.
Q. AQUARIUM SILICONE CAULKINGI keep my pet rat in an aquarium, and every once in awhile, she scratches and chews at the silicone seams of the tank. She is my first rat, but my fiance and his mother have both had rats in the past. His mother suggested that she may need a salt lick. She has chew sticks and all sorts of goodies in there, and while this isn't a constant thing, it does concern me. I really don't want her to get sick! I tried putting some hot sauce on the silicone, but it had no impact. I'm clueless! Any help or suggestions would really be appreciated.
A.This seems to be more prevalent in female rats - especially pregnant female rats. Although the silicone caulking used in the corners of aquariums cannot possibly be good for rats, there is no evidence that it will cause illness. There is a long history of female rats eating the silicone from aquarium seams, but to date, I have not heard of one connection with it and sickness of any kind. Therefore, I wouldn't worry too much about it, but, you may want to consider moving her from an aquarium to a wire cage. Aquariums don't allow for much airflow, nor do they allow for much excitement in the rat's life. Wire cages, on the other hand, as long as they are large enough, allow you to create a much more interesting environment for your pet, and allows for climbing, etc., that will provide her with the exercise that is needed for good health. She could be chewing at the silicone out of boredom, however, it does appear that female rats just love the taste of silicon caulking.
Also, rats are very social animals and do best is same sex pairs. If she is a single rat, you may want to consider getting her a cagemate to keep her company. However, if she is already one year old and has never had a cagemate, she may not take to one at this age. It is possible that she could severely injure or kill a new introduction if the new addition is not big enough to defend herself, so use good judgement if you decide to introduce her to a pal.
Regarding the salt lick: some small animals do require a salt lick, but rats are not one of them.
~Mary Ann Isaksen
Q. SARCOPTES MITESOur pet rat has developed little bumps on her ears and tail. The rest of her skin is fine and she appears to be healthy otherwise. I think she has been scratching some, but not excessively. What could it be?
A.Without a trip to the veterinarian for a true diagnosis, I can only guess, but it sounds like it could be sarcoptes mites. This isn't a problem that we have seen often, but there was a case reported by the late Lisa Westplate of the Netherlands.
Lisa's male rat Sunny had, as she described them, "little papillome-like irregularities on both ears." She also reported that, upon his first visit to the veterinarian, he was not bothered by itching. The rest of his body was not effected at all. Upon the second visit to the veterinarian a little over three weeks later, the condition had worsened and Sunny was experiencing itching. His ears were also crusty. Three days later, she visited the University of Utrecht with Sunny, who was then anesthetized. The irregularities were examined under the microscope. They discovered that sarcoptes mites had taken up residence in his ear tissue, which they determined to be fairly unique among rats. The therapy prescribed was treatment with Ivermectin which cleared up the problem within a few weeks.
~Mary Ann Isaksen