Q & A

From the July/Aug 1997 Rat & Mouse Gazette


My beloved pet rat, Paco, who is about six months old, has acquired an irritating habit of pushing much of the litter out of his cage. It is very messy and it worries me. Is there something wrong? Why is he doing this? Is there any way I can change this behavior?


Without knowing what kind of bedding material you are using, it is impossible to answer this question definitively. If you're using pine or cedar, it may be irritating him enough that he wants to get it away from himself. If that is the case, try another type of litter and see if the behavior continues.

If his cage is too small and he has nowhere to escape from his own urine and feces, and you're not cleaning it often enough, he may be pushing it out to rid himself of the filth. However, some rats simply don't like the bedding and like to lay on the cool plastic or metal cage bottom. He may just be clearing himself a nice comfortable napping spot and there is really nothing you can do to stop this behavior.

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I've never had a rat before, but have heard they make terrific pets. I was wondering, where should I buy my new rats?

There are lots of places you can look when purchasing or adopting your new pets. First, you need to decide whether you plan to get involved in showing or breeding, or if you just want sweet pets.

If you plan to breed or show, you will want to contact a breeder of the specific color, marking, or variety you desire most. However, be aware that not all breeders are breeding for temperament and health, so ask a lot of questions and ask to see the breeders rattery before making your purchase.

If you are buying from a breeder at a show and cannot see their rattery, talk to some pet people at the show and get their opinion of the breeder before you make your purchase. After you determine that the breeder is responsible and has healthy rats with great temperaments, you can then speak with other breeders at the show to determine whether or not the breeder has show quality rats.

If you decide you don't care about color and just want sweet pets, you can still buy from a responsible breeder of pet rats. There are many who concentrate on health and temperament instead of color, etc. You can normally tell by the way the breeder handles his/her animals if he/she is really breeding for pets. Pet breeders normally handle and kiss almost each and every one of their ratties as they're handing them to you for your inspection.

Healthy sweet rats can also be obtained from pet stores, but be sure to be extra careful and note any sneezing, staining, hunched appearance, or lack of energy. These rats are likely sick, and although they are definitely in need of being rescued and treated for their illness, it may be more than you can handle for your first pets. Be sure to bring the sick rats to the attention of the shop owner. Unfortunately, there are very few pet shops that will make the effort to treat them. You may want to contact some of the more experienced rat owners in your area if you see a situation like this.

Many people place advertisements in the local newspaper or Pennysaver/Recycler type papers when they've had an accidental litter and need to find homes, so this may also be a good way to find your new pet.

Animal shelters quite often get rats turned in from people who can no longer care for their pets. If you have a big heart and would like to take in and give these poor rejected critters a home, these can sometimes be the best of the best. Many of the rats I have connected with and formed the deepest bonds with have been rescued from shelters. I highly recommend checking with your local shelter first when looking for those special pets.

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I've had pet rats and mice for a number of years and have always kept them on pine and now I hear that it is bad for them. What else can I use?


I'm glad you've chosen to heed the warnings about pine and look for healthy alternatives. Unfortunately, many people stubbornly stick with the pine, claiming not to have problems with it, but they cannot see what is happening to the internal organs of their pets.

There are many alternatives; with wood litters, there are several forms of Aspen that are safe. L/M Animal Farms makes Shredded Aspen that is available across the country in most pet shops, Sani-Chips®, small aspen chips (800-631-1926), and pelleted aspen called Gentle TouchTM (402-371-3311).

A few of the paper products available are CareFRESH® and CareFRESH® Ultra (800-242-2287), Bio-Flush (800-482-3130), Yesterday's News® (800-267-5287), and Eco-Bedding (800-726-7257).

Miscellaneous products available are Critter Country, a pelleted wheat grass product (800-752-8864), corn cob beddings which are available in most pet shops, and alfalfa pellets (rabbit food) can safely be used as litter for small animals.

A few of these products are also available mail order through KV Vet Supply (800-423-8211). Ask for their Master Catalog.

Only by trying these litters yourself can you determine what is best for your own situation.

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