Q & A

From the November/December 2000 Rat & Mouse Gazette

Can you tell me where I can purchase lab blocks? I've called all the pet stores and they don't even know what I am asking for. Do you possibly have an outlet that I can order online with express delivery?

Lab blocks, also known as rodent pellets, are commonly sold in most larger pet stores. Many different companies are now making them - Kaytee, L/M Animal Farms, 8-In-1, and Hagen are the most popular brands available. However, the first ingredient in many of the blocks available in pet stores is corn, which isn't the best, so be sure to check the label before you decide on which brand to buy for your rat.

The best lab block we have found is made for laboratory rodents by Harlan Teklad. The #8604 formula has soybean meal as the first ingredient and is a fantastic low-fat diet for rats and mice. You can order directly from Harlan Teklad and have them shipped to you, but you will be forced to buy at least a 33 pound bag. If you have enough animals that you will go through that amount in about a month you don't have to worry about storing it, but if not, you will need to freeze the food in air-tight containers to be sure it retains its nutritional value. (Thaw as needed.) Harlan's contact information is as follows:

Harlan Teklad
PO Box 44220
Madison, WI 53744-4220
Telephone (608) 277-2070
FAX (608) 277-2066
Email: teklad@teklan.com
Website http://www.harlan.com.

If you don't want to order that much at one time, you can order in small quantities through RMCA's website (http://www.rmca.org). It is sold in two pound bags for $7 (including shipping in the United States), or $13 for a 5 pound bag. Shipping outside of the United States would add quite a bit of cost to the price.

~Mary Ann Isaksen

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In Vol. 5, issue 4 (July/August 1999) you state: "Rats, like humans, are omnivores." Well, there are those that take exception to that generalized statement about humans. Shall we go into some (not all) facts. 1) A human's disgestive tract does not resemble an omnivores in the least. Human's are about 25-30 feet long; omni's about 3-10 feet long. 2) A human's teeth do not resemble omnivores. 3) Humans have more in common with primates. Primates (e.g., gorillas) eat mostly fruits, nuts, grasses, and roots - not other animals. Then, there is the issue of health. It would be more correct to say that humans are vegetarian - some choose to be omnivore. On a similar vein, our two rats are mostly vegetarian. They are given an occasional treat of Nutrical. They are approximately 1-1/2 years old, and healthy. One had a tumor at about six months. We had it removed. We were giving her too much dairy, cheese and hot cocoa, but that has stopped. Now they both love tofu, tempeh, along with other soy products, grains, fruits, nuts, and steamed vegetables. They are healthy and energetic. Just wanted to offer another perception of what humans are.

I believe that you need to do a little more investigation into the meaning of the word omnivore. In the Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary omnivora is the group classification of animals - b: man and swine--used when it is desired to stress fundamental similarities of habits and physiology. In Neil Carlson's classic text Physiology of Behavior, 5th edition, page 401 - "It is probably not a coincidence that two of the most successful species on earth, humans and rats, are omnivores. (Please excuse the comparison.) Ominvores ("all devoring creatures") are liberated from dependency on a particular type of food."

I did not say that the human and rat digestive tract is identical - in fact, rats do not have gall bladders, and they are not capable of vomiting due to the construction of their stomach and esophagus. But, rats and mice have been used in countless food related experiments because of their similarities to humans. (No, I do not support animal research.)

If humans aren't omnivores, are they carnivores, herbivores or insectivores? These are the only other biological groups that animals are broken into. From a scientific standpoint, vegetarianism is not an evolved eating classification, it is a cultural, learned behavior. I believe you must be thinking of carnivores when you mention the length of digestive tract. Naturally, a rat's system would be a trifle shorter than a humans. Human teeth are typical of omnivores (within the differences of species). They are a combination of the flat crushing molars of the herbivore, and the tearing cutting teeth of the carnivore. Primates are omnivores (for instance the meat eating showed by Jane Goodall's chimps). Some will choose a vegetarian diet (humans, gorillas, and rats), however, it would be difficult to call your rats voluntary vegetarians. They would have had to have been given a choice at an early age, grouped with rats that ate vegetarian diets and rats that obtained their protein from mixed sources. Rats learn food selection behavior in a group context. Humans have a bit more cortex than rats and make the choice concerning what to eat based on information.

I do believe that a a well-balanced vegetarian diet is a very healthy diet. My rats eat a lab block that contains no animal protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and well... yogurt drops.

You are welcome to your opinion concerning what humans are, as am I. I have been trained in a scientific manner and I believe that this is the best way to approach something like eating behavior -scientifically. I save my discussions of humanity for publications other than Rat & Mouse Gazette. The opinions expressed in my Q & A column and in this letter are not necessarily those of the Editor or other writers for the Gazette. I am just one contributor. Please doen't take my statements out of context.

~Meg Stephenson

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