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From the September/October 1999 Rat & Mouse Gazette


Q. THIEVING RATS?
I have questions regarding "rat behavior." I recently lost a necklace; it was a piece of ivory carved into a cross attached to a gold chain. I laid the necklace down on a table in plain view and in the morning the necklace was gone. We live in a little cottage along the Hanapepe River and have seen large river rats periodically. Is it possible that a "rat" may have taken the necklace? I don’t believe in ghosts, yet a very dear and trusted friend who is totally straight and forward says it could have been a ghost. I don’t want to lose my mind; I already lost the necklace, and I am a straight, sane person.

A.
If you want an official answer to your question, you should ask an animal behaviorist or biologist. I tried locating a source for you on the Internet, but the closest I could find was the State of Hawaii, Division of Forestry and Wildlife http://www.state.hi.us/dlnr/dfw/.

I realize that it is not the same island, but if you wanted a more informed answer you might be able to track down something through the above link. I can tell you my opinion, concerning your necklace, which is supported by my observation of pet rats.

Pet rats love to collect various odds and ends and place them in a stash pile. They collect things like pencils, bills, papers, food, just about anything that catches their fancy. My pets often take off with my reading glasses. I have no idea what the fascination is with my glasses. I know that river rats are a different species than domestic rats, but I think this collecting behavior is probably common to many rodents. I truly think it is much more likely to have been a rat rather than a ghost. Your necklace sounds beautiful. I hope that you find it.

~Meg Stephenson

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Q. RATTIE RASHES
As a new rat owner, I am a little concerned about what looks like a rash consisting of small lumps at the base of my brown male. I am not refering to the obvious male attriutes, but to what looks like prickley heat. He doesn’t seem to bother with it, but I am wondering if a trip to the vet is in order and what this might be?

A.
Rashes are usually due to an allergic reaction (contact dermatitis) or an infestation of external parasites like lice, mites, or fleas. You can visit the vet and have a skin scraping done to determine if it is some sort of parasite. But, before you visit the vet, correct the environmental factors that might cause a skin problem.

Here are a few areas to consider when dealing with with possible allergic reactions.

A diet too high in protein and fat can cause skin problems. Also, a diet deficient in the essential fatty acids will give the same results - itchy, irritated skin. If you are feeding a seed mix, cut way back. A balanced diet like rodent block (lab block), fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of water, and perhaps a vitamin supplement, or a coat and skin conditioner for pets (pet shops sell a good one for ferrets, but it smells like fish) would be your best bet.

Cedar and pine are not good bedding materials (they are toxic). Use a paper based product like CareFRESH® or a recycled newsprint product like Yesterday’s News. Change the litter often. If the litter is not clean it would be a definite irritant.

Allergies can be due to many items (sometimes food allergies, although these are not common). Your rat may be coming into contact with something else is his environment that is irritating his skin.

An infestation of mites might also be the cause. Refer to the article “What’s Bugging Your Rats and Mice?” in the March/April 1999 Gazette (Volume 5, Issue 2) for more information about treating mites. You can also find the article on the RMCA web page at: http://www.rmca.org/Articles/bugs.htm Refer to the Drug Chart in the May/June 1997 Gazette (Volume 3, Issue 3) for dosage information and the treatment schedule for using ivermectin to treat mites. You can also find it on the web at http://www.rmca.org/Articles/dchart.htm Ivermectin can be purchased in small quantities for pet owners through the RMCA website. It can be purchased in larger quantities through a pet supply mail order catalog or through a rural feed/tack store that sell supplies for livestock. It is sold as a horse wormer paste - brand names are Zimecterin, Rotectin 1, Equalvan, and Equimectrin. All of these contain 1.87% Ivermectin.

~Meg Stephenson

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Q. KISSY RATS
I just got my first rat two weeks ago and we seem to be hitting it off wonderfully. He is a very inquisitive boy, and I just love to let him run around me as I sit on the sofa at night. He has developed a rather strange habit of coming up to my mouth and sniffing at me. He really gets very close, I can feel his whiskers all along my lips. I don't know whether it's my breath or what, but it sure looks like he's giving me a little rat kiss! Is this typical behavior?

A.

There are a range of social grooming behaviors that rats seem to share with humans and other animals that are considered by the rat to be part of the rat's social unit. I don't know that any scientific research has been done on this yet, so I will just share my observations with you.

Some rats will really invade your personal space. I had a male rat who would pry open my lips and proceed to investigate my teeth and mouth. I don't usually spread this around, but he would also lick the inside of my lips if I let him. It may be a way of finding out what I have been eating. He was very persistent. Several of my friendliest rats will also bestow kisses - on the mouth and on hands. Other behaviors involve sticking rat noses in ear canals and up nostrils, nibble grooming, and hair grooming. Most of my rats will groom my hands and nibble on my nails. They act like little manicurists. Some will remove hangnails, band-aids, and nail polish.

I believe this is one of the reasons that rats make such wonderful pets. They are able to interact with humans (through these social behaviors) in a way that benefits both species. Maybe I'm odd, but I get all warm and fuzzy feeling when I have the rats out for their evening playtime and I get a rat kiss. It makes up for some of the less pleasant daily stresses in my life.

~Meg Stephenson

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