Q & A

From the March/April 2000 Rat & Mouse Gazette

My wife and I are mice sitting. The problem we ran into was there were three mice in one cage, but when we woke up this morning and went out to see our little guests, two of them were dead! We are horrified to see that one of the little guys head had been mostly eaten. There was water in the bottle and food in the dish on the bottom of the cage. Now only the white mouse remains alive. There was a little cage on top of the big cage with one mouse in it. They kept the one separate because he/she was trying to fight with the others. I know that nothing could have gotten in with the mice as the cages were all locked down tight with all mice accounted for this morning. They looked happy as could be the previous evening - running on their wheel and taking turns being flipped around as the others kept pace. Was it something we did?

It is not something you did. It is not a behavior that most rodent owners like to talk about, but sometimes mice will kill and occasionally eat their cagemates. It could be the result of aggressive behavior which could have been brought on by the stress of being taken out of their regular environment. It sounds like you don't know if these are male or female mice. Quite often, pet owners have difficulty keeping male mice together. The following are URLs for two very good web pages that talk about mice and their behavior.

http://www.horns.freeserve.co.uk/mouse.htm - Mouse Info
http://members.tripod.com/~Myomorpha/care.htm page down to the article "A Home for a Mouse"

I am very sorry that this happened while you were pet-sitting. It must be very unnerving to feel responsible for the care of someone's pet and have this happen.

~Meg Stephenson

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I recently made the mistake of putting my rat in a wooden cage. It's been about two months and just the other day I noticed lice-like insects all over her body. They stand at the tips of her hairs and when I go to pick her up, they slide down towards her skin. What are they and what can I do about them? Are they harmful to her?

This sounds like it could be lice or mites. Infestations such as these can cause anemia through blood loss, which can ultimately kill your rat, so yes, they are harmful to her and should be treated promptly.

The easiest and most readily available treatment is Ivermectin which can be obtained through RMCA in small quantites, or through your local feed/tack store. It is sold as a horse wormer paste under the names Zimecterin, Rotectin 1, Equimectrin, and Equalvan. Each of these contain 1.87% Ivermectin. Using a toothpick, remove the size of an uncooked grain of white rice from the tube, and administer it to your rat orally. You can normally just wipe it on the inside of the rats lip and he/she will eat it. This dose is safe and effective and should be given once a week for three weeks.

There are rare cases of reactions to this treatment - quite often when too much of the drug is given. You may want to consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns about how your rat may react.

~Meg Stephenson

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I am a thirteen year old girl thinking about buying myself a pet rat. I am not familiar with any ways of choosing a well bred and healthy rat. I was wondering if you could give me some tips on what characteristics I could look for while shopping for a pet rat. I own mice right now and am content with them, but I would like an animal a little larger that can be kept in a cage. Can you help me?

The best thing to do in choosing a healthy pet rat is to take your time and check out the best possible sources. Generally speaking, I think that the best place to start looking for a pet rat is through local rat clubs. You can find a listing of RMCA chapters on page 32 of this issue or you may wish you email RMGazette@aol.com and ask for a listing of breeders in your area. If there is a rat show in your area, this is a great place to find local breeders with available babies, and oftentimes, rescues who are in need of good homes. And by all means, don't rule out looking in your local animal shelters! Many pet owners purchase their pet rats at the local pet shop as well. You need to be very careful as there are good and bad pet shops. Many don't take care to provide disease free stock and you can end up with a pet that is not in the best physical condition that requires constant vet visits.

Look for a rat that has been well socialized. One that has been handled and socialized and used to interacting with humans from birth. They should show interest in you and not shy away from your touch or nip. They should have a full, healthy coat (except for Hairless or Patchwork Hairless), with no signs of nasal or eye discharge. Eyes should be bright and alert. No sneezing - I'm not talking about one little sneeze - but a rat that is congested or sneezing may be in the beginning stages of respiratory disease - a serious problem in pet rodents. They should be active and frisky. A rat that is lethargic may be ill. Look for a rat that is not too thin as weight loss can indicate problems.

Make sure the males and females have been kept separately from the age of five weeks or you may end up with a pregnant female.

Decide if you want to keep male rats or female rats. Male rats, unlike some male mice, will get along very well, especially if you keep siblings or animals who have been together since they were young. Rats need to be housed in same sex groups - groups of at least two.

Wherever you get your rats, make sure they have been kept in clean, spacious cages - not crowded into small, dirty cages which can weaken their immune system.

If you decide to rescue rats from poor conditions, be aware that these rats MAY require more time, effort, and money.

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