Q & A

From the November/December 1999 Rat & Mouse Gazette

I recently got a female rat. What are the early signs of pregnancy?


The earliest sign of pregnancy is a white plug in the vagina of a rat who has conceived within the previous 24 hours. Other than that, there really aren't any clear signs of early pregnancy. Usually, if a female has any contact with a male rat, even for a second or two, you should prepare for a litter.

The first change you will notice is a distinct swelling of the belly. When viewed from above, the female will look pear-shaped.Gestation is 21 to 23 days, and, most often, you wonít be able to tell that a rat is pregnant until a few days before birth when she will get pretty large and uncomfortable looking.

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My rat had a litter of 13 babies two weeks ago. I am curious to know if it is okay for me to handle the babies at this point? Also, the mother has terrible ear mites. I took her to the vet a week after I got her and it cost me a fortune. I tried a medication that a pet shop owner recommended and it helped, but only temporarily. I am thinking about using it again because is was a cheaper way to go to fix this problem. I am concerned, though, about the solution harming the babies and it not being good for them overall. Any solution to this?


To make the best, socialized pets, it is recommended that you handle the babies as soon as possible after birth to imprint upon them. The best time to gently hold the pinkies is when the mother rat is taking a short break from the litter. Some moms become very nervous and will bite if they are not well socialized, and some are just extremely nervous and will protect their litter from anyone, including their beloved owner. Lure these mom rats out of the cage with a treat before attempting to pick up her babies.

It is extremely important to handle them frequently (at least once or twice a day) after their eyes open at 12 to 14 days of age. The more time you spend with them from this point on, the better pets they will become. Be sure to continue to allow them enough time with mom to nurse, though.

The best treatment for almost any kind of rat parasite (except for tapeworms) is Ivermectin. We have successfully treated nursing mothers with babies OVER two weeks of age for mites and lice using this drug. I donít know what drug your vet used, or what drug you managed to acquire from a pet shop, but if the problem keeps recurring, you probably didnít treat for the life cycle of the parasite (which in most cases is about three weeks).

If you canít afford to go back to the vet (which I strongly recommend to get an accurate diagnosis), you can get Ivermectin in the form of horse wormer paste in most feed/tack stores for $12 to $15. Ask for the brand names Rotectin 1, Zimecterin, Equalvan, or Equimectrin. All of these contain 1.87% Ivermectin. If you are just treating one or a few rats, you can order a small amount of Ivermectin from the supplies section on page 32 of this issue for $5.

Administering Ivermectin is very simple. Using the tip of a toothpick, take a small amount, the size of an uncooked grain of white rice, out of the tube and smear it on the inside of the ratís lip. She will lick it off. Repeat this once a week for three weeks.

The Ivermectin will be passed through the mothers milk to the babies which should take care of any parasite problems they may have, but you will need to watch the offspring for a while to be sure. They may need to be treated directly, but wait until they are five or six weeks old before doing so.

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I've seen in many places that rats can't vomit. Someone on the ratslist said it was because they don't have the appropriate control center in the brain for that reflex. Is that true?


There doesnít seem to be a lot of information available regarding this subject, but I will quote the paragraph that addresses the reason why rats do not have the ability to vomit from Laboratory Animal Medicine, Editors James G. Fox, Bennett J. Cohen, and Franklin M. Loew. It is as follows.

ďThe stomach of the rat is divided into two parts; the forestomach (nonglandular) and the corpus (glandular). The two portions are separated by a limiting ridge. The esophagus enters at the lesser curvatrue of the stomach through a fold of the limiting ridge. This fold is responsible for the inability of the rat to vomit.Ē

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My rat is sneezing and has a bloody nose. Can you tell me what might be wrong?

Rats produce a lubricating secretion called porphyrin that is manufactured by the harderian gland which lies behind the eyeball. It is stained red with a pigment called porphyrin. When a rat is stressed or ill, this bloody looking mucus may be produced in an over abundance and stain their nose or eyes. Sometimes it looks like bloody tears coming from their eyes. This is more common in rats than actual bleeding from the nose. However, your rat can have a sinus infection or a problem in the nasal passages and actually be bleeding. It would be best to see a vet to determine what the problem is.

Sneezing is one of the first symptoms of upper respiratory disease in rats. It is also a very normal reaction to air-borne irritants, dust, or the wrong type of bedding(cedar or pine). What you need to do is to be aware of the signs of upper respiratory disease. If your rats is sneezing very often, showing red, porphyrin stains at the eyes and nose, sounding congested, losing weight, or having difficulty breathing--labored breathing, see a vet immediately.

Make sure that you are meeting your ratís physical needs to ensure she is strong enough to get well if she comes down with respiratory disease or any other problem. The following things are very important. Use a dust-free litter/bedding (no cedar or pine!). Keep the litter clean. Do not allow ammonia build-up that can damage your rats lungs. If you can smell urine, it needs to be changed. Make sure that she has plenty of fresh air, but no drafts, with temperatures you would be comfortable with. Feed her a well balanced diet, not too much protein, not too many fatty seeds and treats, give plenty of fresh water, veggies, fresh fruit, rat block. Keep her home cage interesting (safe toys) and make sure she has enough room in her cage so she can get plenty of exercise.

For more information about care and medical problems, you may want to order some of the Gazette back issues.

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