Q & A

From the March/April 1997 Rat & Mouse Gazette

I have never had any of my males neutered, but I now have a litter and in case any of the baby boys will not be sold, I will want to neuter him so he can live with his mother, aunt, and sister. What is the earliest age you can neuter a male rat?

Eight to ten weeks is the earliest recommended age to safely neuter a rat. In fact, the procedure is easier to perform while the rat is young.

RMCA member, Dr. Daryl Mabley, D.V.M., who has been working on perfecting neutering, feels that the main reason rats are experiencing abscesses after being neutered is because some of the fat which normally surrounds the testicles is being left in the scrotal sac which then becomes necrotic, causing an abscess. Older males have much more fat surrounding their testicles than young rats do, thereby making the older rats surgery more difficult and time consuming which also makes the procedure harder on the poor fellow.

As a general rule, neutering can be performed at any age, providing the rat is in good enough health not to be considered a major risk for general anesthesia. There are always exceptions to every rule, however, so please don't make the decision to have any elective surgery done lightly.

In addition, no matter what the age of the rat, always request post surgical antibiotics to fight off any possible infection. I realize that many people do not like to use antibiotics as a precautionary measure, but considering the fact that your rat will not be going through surgery every month or even every six months, the risk of having an organism become immune to the antibiotic is extremely low and it may just save your rats life.

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There was a photo of an African Giant Pouched Rat in the RMCA Gallery (photo by Sue Smythe) in the last issue of the Gazette. I didn't know they were held as pets. Could you tell something about them--are they usual as pets? How are they as pets compared to our usual rats?

African Pouched Rat


We will be publishing an article in the "Exotic Relations" section of an upcoming issue of the Gazette about these beautiful giants that will have much more information than can be printed in this section, but for now, I'll try to answer your specific questions.

African Giant Pouched rats (Cricetomys gambianus) are not usual in the pet world. They are not domesticated animals and are illegal to keep in many places in North America, although they are becoming more popular due to increased exposure.

Wild caught rats imported here are not normally easy to handle, are high strung, and may bite, or threaten to bite, but captive bred rats are usually much more docile. It is said that these rats can be taken from the wild and completely domesticated in five generations, which is unheard of for any species. I do not know of anyone who has been successful in breeding five generations, yet. First generation offspring can be handled, but do not like to be held. They will tolerate it for about a minute at a time, if you're lucky. Second generation offspring are a bit more relaxed, but still do not like to be held. Beyond that I have no firsthand knowledge.

African Giant Pouched Rat
Photo by Grove Pashley

These rats prefer to run and play and are indeed friendly and even frisky, exhibiting some very endearing traits. One of those traits is licking. They will give you a bath with their tongue if you let them! They are also very vocal which can be very cute when they "talk back" to you. Despite the cuteness of their chirping, in the middle of the night when they're screaming at each other it is not endearing!

It is difficult to compare them to our regular rats, because they aren't domesticated and most often must be approached with care, but they have many of the same mannerisms as our domesticated rattus norvegicus pets. They can frequently be found curled up in a ball sleeping like our rats and they grind their teeth and pop their eyes in contentment just like our rats do, too. They also love to run on a wheel, although they need a rather large one to be able to do so (15 to 17 inches in diameter!).

All in all, a captive bred African Giant Pouched rat can be just as loving and wonderful as our usual pet rats, and have a much longer lifespan of approximately seven years.

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Do you have any ideas on what can cause a male rat to become aggressive?

Perfect timing! Check out Caryl Hilscher-Conklin's "Rattus Biologicus" article on aggression in this issue on page five.

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