||The Ratty Fun Pages||
Here you will find a collection of articles about rat care, handy tips, and general information about pet rats.
All articles Copyright Robyn Arthur, 2002-2006.
- Spare Cage - how to make a cheap, simple spare cage for travel, vet visits, quarantine, etc.
- Free ranging rats - tips to prevent problems when free ranging your rats.
- Cool rats - effective and fun ways to keep rats cool in the heat of summer.
- Warm rats - how to keep your rats warm during winter's chill.
- Litter training - Yes! You can train your rat to use a litter tray!
- Our rat diet - what we feed our boys to give you some ideas for feeding yours.
- Care of older rats - some tips to help your rats enjoy their old age.
- Introductions - some tips for introducing rats to new companions.
- Rat bathing - do rats need it? And some tips to help the ordeal go smoothly for both of you.
- The Art of Scritching - some techniques for sending your rat into a state of eye boggling bliss.
- Claw clipping - some tips to help the ordeal go smoothly for both of you.
- Itchy rat - a step-by-step guide to determing the cause of and treating an itchy rat.
- The Rat Diary - a handy way to keep track of your rats' information, health and happiness.
- Fuzzlet World - a simple and fun way to get to know your new rats!
- What Rat Is That? - a photographic guide to the colours and markings of Australian pet rats.
It is always a good idea to have a spare cage on hand just in case... just in case one rat is sick and needs a hospital tank, or needs to be fed medications away from the other rats. Or if you get a new little one who needs quarantining, or even if you're traveling with your rats. "But cages are expensive!" I hear you say. Well... here is a great spare cage you can make for about AUD$10 (US$6).
1. Go to your local
discount department store, like K-mart or Target.
2. Find a transparent plastic tub, the type with the clip-on lids. You can pick up a 25 litre one for under AUD$10.
3. Cut the flat bit of the lid out, leaving a 1/2 inch edge around the sides. You can do this by drilling four large holes in each corner and inserting a hacksaw to cut it out. Smooth any sharp edges with a file.
4. Cut a piece of wire mesh to fit inside the lid so it overlaps the 1/2 inch edges. You can buy wire mesh for only a few dollars from a hardware store.
5. Drill two small holes in each corner of the lid and use cable ties or twisted wire to hold the wire mesh in place.
6. Attach a water bottle. Drill a hole for the nozzle to poke through and use stick-on velcro to attach the bottle to the outside of the tank, or hang it inside from the wire lid.
7. Velcro on a flat backed plastic parrot feeder inside the cage so that the food bowl isn't tossed around in transit.
8. Make it comfy and homey. You can drill 4 small holes and string up a hammock (or use suction cup hooks), or add a shoe box as a handy nest box and shelf in one.
And there you have it... a simple cheap spare cage.
Note: These tubs are also good to have on hand if your need to evacuate your home in an emergency, especially if your rat cages are rather large and cumbersome. Ensure you have enough to house all your rats in same sex groups. They stack easily so don't take up much room.
Free ranging rats
There's not many things more enjoyable than letting your rats free range. Watching them leap and zoom about in excitement, explore dark corners, and sleep in a comfy spot of their choice makes a little bit of effort on your part so worthwhile.
Before letting your rats free range you need to rat proof the area. Obviously the most important thing is to prevent danger to your rats from electrical cords, escape routes and other dangers, etc. Secondly, reducing the potential for other trouble such a chewing, or climbing to places where they shouldn't go.
Some ideas for electrical cords:
With thanks to all on the ratlist who contributed to this article.
Rats are particularly susceptible
to heat and humidity and should be kept in conditions below about 25*C.
In hot weather, it's important to keep an eye on your rats for signs of heat stress. In particular, any of your rats who are overweight or sick as they will be more affected.
Some signs your rat is over-heated:
Some ideas for keeping rats cool:
Fun treats/games to help cool them down:
In general rats best handle temperatures from ~10 - 25*C. Although they can cope with colder temperatures much better than hot. If it is cold in your rat room during winter, there's lots of ways to provide warmth for your rats in their cage:
Rats are highly intelligent creatures and can be trained to do many simple tasks. Litter training is something that is well worth a little effort on your part, as it can save you lots of time in cleaning up and also money in buying bedding.
The whole training methodology works on the premise that rats are clean creatures and will go to the toilet where they smell that they, or other rats, have already gone. The procedure is as follows:
1. Find the corner
of the cage that your rats usually go to the toilet, then place a tray
filled with litter there. I use flat tupperware containers available
from discount stores for about AUD$2 as a litter tray.
2. Toss in any raisins or wet litter you can find in the cage to make it smell like a rat toilet area.
3. Now this is the most important part... Remove all litter from the rest of the cage, or use a different bedding. It's essential that your rats can distinguish between the toilet area and the living area. e.g. I use Breeders Choice recycled paper pellets in the litter tray, and old towels and fabric strips elsewhere as bedding.
4. Place your rats in the tray to show them it's there. If they go elsewhere in their cage, say "No!" and place the rat (and the raisins) in the litter tray. If they go in the tray, praise them like crazy and give them their favourite treat. They'll soon get the idea.
Often this training method will only work for raisins, not pee... especially with male rats who are determined to keep their cage well scented. You can try removing pee smells by using products like Nilodor or vanilla, but often it just makes them more determined to re-scent it. Of course, there's also those stubborn rats who simply will not use a tray no matter how hard you try. Persist... after all, every raisin in the tray is one less you have to pick up later.
Litter training makes things so much easier on you. It's much simpler to clean out the cage (just scoop out soiled litter and replace as needed) and certainly cheaper. I think the rats much prefer the fabric and towels to live on anyway... it's less dusty, cleaner, softer on ratty feet, more fun to dig in and much quieter during those midnight skirmishes.
It's a good idea to have a litter tray for their use when outside their cage too... either as a separate play area tray, or simply access to their cage. When you get them out to play, place them in the tray so they know where it is. Every half hour or so, place them back in the tray to remind them it's there. If they use it, praise them like crazy and offer them treats.
Our rat diet
Note: I don't suggest that this is a nutritionally perfect rat diet... it's just what we feed our boys and hope it will provide ideas for some variety for your own rats.
Their dry mix:
This is available to them at all times. I also add some soy-based organic rat blocks to the bowl when I dish it out.
One piece of fruit... watermelon, rockmelon, honeydew, banana, grapes, blueberries,
pears, apple, strawberries, peaches, pretty much anything here.
A small bowl of yogurt - they love Fruche the best.
And one of the following (depending on what I'm having):
- bread or pikelet with a little omega ultra (EFA) margarine and jam on it
- weetbix in milk
Their fresh dinner mix:
This is what they get at evening dinner time. I vary the mix each batch so the boys don't get bored.
I also add a special treat to the top of it each night, like a small piece of ham, chicken, oyster, fish, tofu, or something we might be having for dinner. Of course, they all eat straight off our dinner plate too. I offer them a fresh raw vegie each night too, like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, spinach, edamame, corn on the cob, etc... these are foods they prefer raw and this adds more variety to their fresh mix. It's important to offer as wide a variety of foods as possible to ensure they're getting sufficient nutrition.
Treats to offer them occasionally:
These are offered to keep those sharp ratty teeth occupied and healthy:
Caring for older rats
There are several special considerations that may need to be taken into account when you're dealing with an aging rat.
When rats get older, they do slow down and even normally active rats start spending more time sleeping and cuddling when out for exercise with their humans. This is the time you get the squishy cuddly lap rat you've always hoped for... enjoy these bonding moments with your furry old friend.
Older rats are prone to weakness
caused by muscle wasting, degeneration of the spinal cord, pituitary adenoma
or stroke. More information here: Weakness
in older rats: A paralysis primer
Hind leg paralysis is quite common, particularly in male rats. Treatment with anti inflammatory drugs (like prednisone or metacam) or anabolic steroids (like laurabolin) can be of some assistance with this condition. But most paralysed rats get along amazingly well despite their disability.
An elderly rat will usually adapt just fine with some modifications to his environment. Be sure to make his home safe and easy for him to navigate. Some suggestions:
When rats get older, they can have some difficulty grooming sufficiently due to weakness. You may have to help him with this.
Old rats will not eat as much as they used to, so it's important that you provide them with highly nutritious foods.
As rats age their immune system declines and they can become more prone to respiratory illnesses. They also take longer to recover from such ailments than younger rats. Other health issues associated with limited mobility include bladder infections, skin problems and fall injuries.
The sad farewell
We all wish our beloved old
rats will pass away quietly in their sleep of extreme old age. However,
there may come a time when you need to decide whether your old rat is still
enjoying good quality of life. As difficult a decision as this may
be for you, you should be prepared for this in advance. Contact a
good rat vet in your area and ensure s/he uses a humane method of euthanasia
and that you are permitted to be present during the procedure (if you wish).
More information on humane euthanasia here: Humanely
Being prepared in advance will ensure you and your rat get through this emotional time without additional stress.
For more information, see these articles:
Before you consider introductions... have you quarantined your new rat? Details here: Quarantine
There are times when you need to introduce a new rat to your existing group.. whether it's ratlets, an older rat, or even cagemates that have been separated for a time. Adding a new rat to an established group can sometimes cause problems as the new rat finds it's place in the social structure.
Any new rat arriving is going to be investigated by all the residents... whether that be a half-hearted butt sniff, a power groom or an outright attack from the alpha. But there are ways to help the introduction process go smoothly, as outlined in the following articles:
Watch out for the signs of
serious aggression: puffed up fur, sidling up to the other rat (to appear
larger), biting and hissing. Also look for signs that the new or
submissive rat might be scared or being injured, like screeching or screaming
and cowering. If this happens, have a towel ready to throw on top
of them, some heavy work gloves, or a piece of cardboard or book to separate
them. Don't get yourself bitten by accident.
For your best chance of acceptance into an established group (or to an old lonely rat), consider adding several young rats (6-10 weeks of age). This is recommended for several reasons:
1. The older rats will not consider them a threat to their dominance
2. The ratlets will enjoy their rampant youthful play with each other rather than annoying the older lazier rats too much
3. The alpha rat is less likely to pick on just one of them
4. Once your old rats pass on the babies will grow up together and you're not left with another introduction process.
Keep in mind that, like humans, rats have personality clashes and some rats will simply not get along together. If despite trying all these tips your introductions don't go well, you may need to consider keeping those rats in separate cages.
Do rats need to be bathed regularly?
Rats don't actually need baths as they groom pretty much all day to keep themselves clean. But there are times you might need to bath them, like:
There's lots of different methods for bathing rats, and you need to work with your rat's personality to find out which works best for them. Here's what I do:
1. Prepare the area:
3. Grab unsuspecting rat and quickly dunk him up to the neck in the water, holding him there until he is wet through. Ensure you keep his head and ears free of water. Let him leap out of the sink onto the towel on the bench, he will probably shake and spray you with water. Placate him with soothing words of love... he won't believe a word of it, but it makes you feel not quite so mean.
4. Using a small amount of shampoo, lather your rat up using your nails to get down through to the base of the fur. This is also a handy time to clean his tail with a toothbrush (brush towards the tip). Your rat will either scream bloody murder at the indignity of this or squeak plaintively and shiver miserably while giving you the "Don't you love me anymore?" mope. Be strong.
5. Dunk your rat back into the water to remove all trace of the shampoo. Let him leap out onto the towel on the bench (he will probably shake and spray you with water again).
6. Bundle him up in a dry towel and rub rub rub... he'll like this part. A groom with a bristled brush helps to smooth and separate the wet fur and thus dry his coat faster naturally. If it's a cold day, ensure you dry him completely so he doesn't get chilled afterwards. Perhaps use a hairdryer on low setting if he'll tolerate it, or place him in a warm room to dry naturally.
7. Offer copious treats, which he'll take willingly and eat while glaring at you. Forgiveness will come with time.
Contrary to this, some rats do actually enjoy a bath and will swim about in the sink. In fact, it gets easier each time as your rat learns it's not actually going to kill him after all.
Some more bathing tips:
The Art of Scritching
Scritching is the collective term for petting, rubbing, massaging, scratching, kissing, cuddling, grooming, fondling, tickling and otherwise showing your rat just how much you love him/her.
Some rats will happily relax for hours at the mercy of your hands, bruxing their little furry hearts out in delight or falling asleep peacefully in your lap. But don't be upset if your rat won't endure extensive scritching sessions... specifically girls and young rats, who typically are constantly on the go, having things to do, places to see, stuff to chew, etc. But they'll still enjoy a quick scritch before powering off, and will most likely be more amenable to long scritching sessions as they mellow with age.
Here's some tried and true techniques for sending your rats into a state of eye boggling bliss:
With thanks to the ratlist for inspiration and contributions from Missy, Moca and Claire.
Rat claws are designed for digging and climbing and thus are naturally long and sharp. This is great for a wild rat, but not so good if you like cuddling with your favourite pet. Rat claws, like human fingernails, grow continuously during their lives. Usually they are kept short by normal wearing away on abrasive surfaces like rocks, branches, digging in soil, etc. As these are often not available to a pet rat, claw clipping is an option you may choose to do regularly.
Is it necessary?
Claw clipping is not essential, unless the claws grow so long that they are causing trouble for the rat (e.g. getting caught in cage wire and torn out, or causing cuts on their skin during normal grooming). It's also wise to clip your rat's claws during treatment for external parasites, as this can prevent skin injury during excessive scratching. But, usually we choose to clip their claws to prevent us from getting scratched when they play on us... human skin has poor traction.
As to how often to clip them...
well, that will depend a lot on the rat's environment. If they have
lots of rough things to climb on
(branches, rocks, brick under their water bottle, etc.) then they will keep the claws down continually and you may never need to
clip them yourself (see Prevention below). On the other hand, if they wallow in the plush luxury of fabric strips and soft hammocks you may have to clip their claws every few weeks. If you have an allergy to rat scratches, regular claw clipping is essential.
How do you do it?
There's many techniques to choose from, depending on the personality of your rat. I use a regular small human nail clipper. We use two big strong people for one itty bitty little ratty. One holds the rat's body still, the other holds the foot and does the clipping. It helps to bundle the rat up in a towel if you have a particularly squirmy and/or troublesome rat. Others have had better luck by placing the rat on a shoulder, so that their toes splay out while trying to grip, and distracting the rat with a yogurt drop. If you're doing this alone, try placing your rat's nose in your elbow, holding him in place with your forearm and stretching his foot out behind him to clip the claws. See what works best for your rat, but keep a few of these tips in mind:
To keep your rat's claws down continuously, you can try some preventative measures. Place a rough brick in their cage, preferably somewhere they have to go a lot, like under the water bottle. Other options are including a rock in their cage (perhaps as a step to a higher shelf), a climbing branch, or offer them an occasional digging box, etc.
There's quite a few excellent articles on the internet that provide information on treatment of specific skin problems in rats (relevant links are included below). But more often than not, you're uncertain as to exactly what's causing the problem. This article provides a step-by-step guide to dealing with an itchy rat when you're uncertain of the cause. If at any time you're unsure of your diagnosis or treatment, or if the skin problem is causing your rat excessive stress, you should consult a qualified vet.
Itching and/or scabs (and often resulting hair loss) is the most common skin problem in rats. This can be caused by a number of factors:
Skin problems in rats are quite common, so you should inspect your rat's skin regularly. Some things you might find and what they indicate:
2. Clip your rat's claws
If your rat has long, sharp claws, they can cause cuts and scratches to their skin during normal grooming. Likewise, if your rat is being barbered (over groomed) by a cagemate or fighting often, he may end up with scratches. In turn, the scratches will become inflamed and itchy, causing subsequent injury.
Clipping your rats claws regularly can prevent further injury. See Claw Clipping (previous article) for information and tips. You can apply antiseptic cream (preferably also containing anaesthetic) to any cuts to help with healing.
This may well solve your rat's itching problem, but if he continues to scratch then you need to move on to the next step. Even if it doesn't solve the problem, clipped claws will prevent further injury while you determine the underlying cause.
3. Treat for external parasites
Rats can get mites, lice and fleas, all of which can cause itching and scabs on the skin, particularly around the neck and shoulders. Information on identifying and treating these can be found here:
No matter what the bugs are, ivermectin is usually prescribed. You can either take your rat to the vet for an injection (Ivomec), or better yet, dose him and all his cagemates orally with ivermectin yourself. You can get it from most pet or tack shops, sold as horse worming paste. [Equimec in Australia, Equimectrin in the U.S., active ingredient ivermectin - 18.7g/kg or 1.87%]. Adult rats (300-500g) get a small amount equivalent to a grain of uncooked rice. You should split the dose for younger rats, depending on their weight. Dose once a week, for at least 3 weeks. The paste isn't mixed well, and since you're giving such a small dose, it's safest to decant all the paste into a small container (like a film canister or baby food jar) and mix it well before taking the rat dose out.
I recommend Fido's Concentrate used along with ivermectin. Diluted to the strength used for birds, you can bathe your rat in it to kill the bugs and immediately ease itching while the ivermectin breaks the parasite life cycle. You can also make this up in a spray bottle for use in their cage and areas your rats are permitted in your home (carpet, furniture, etc), and add some when washing your rat's bedding. If Fido's is not available in your area, choose a lice spray containing pyrethrin (with no more than 0.15% pyrethrin)... one sold for birds is often a suitable concentration for rats.
Be sure to continue the complete 3 week ivermectin treatment as you still have to protect the rats from hatching eggs. You should strip down their cage and give it and any toys, hammocks, areas they play in, etc. a thorough disinfecting several times during the dosing. Also consider the possible sources of the bugs, like infested bedding and food, wild rat access to your pet's area, new rats introduced, cross contamination from your clothes, friends rats, pet shop, etc.
If your rat continues to scratch after one week, then the itching and scabs are probably not the result of parasites, so you should continue to the next step.
4. Consider your rat's diet
A diet too high in protein and fat can cause itching and scabs, in particular around the chin and face. Cut back on high fat and protein foods (like sunflower seeds, nuts, dairy products, meat scraps, etc.). Feed a balanced rat diet, like a rodent block and fresh vegetables and fruit. A vitamin supplement may also help. Information on a healthy rat diet here:
Rats, like humans, can have food allergies. Some problem foods include dairy products, corn and soy proteins. You will need to use trial and error to determine which, if any, foods are causing the problem. Remove one food each week, recording your rat's diet and skin response in a diary. Food allergies are not common in rats, and determining the problem food can take a long time to figure out, so consider all the other possible causes of itching first.
5. Consider your rat's living environment
Although uncommon, rats can have allergic reactions (like contact dermatitis) to products used in their cage or living room. It would be unusual for your rat to suddenly start to react to the bedding he's been on for awhile, but if you have recently changed your brand of bedding, this may be the cause of his itching. If so, changing back to the previous bedding, or using fabric strips and paper towels for awhile, would be a good idea to see if this is the cause.
Likewise, consider any other new products you may be using in your rat's area... cage cleaning products, washing liquid, fabric softener, deodorant, even your own perfume, scented candles, etc. As with food allergies, remove one product each week and record your rat's response in a diary.
Rat skin can become dry and flaky, and subsequently itchy, if they are kept constantly in dry conditions such as air conditioning and central heating. If this becomes a problem you can provide a humidifier, keep a water spray bottle on hand to dampen the air and/or your rat, or bring your rats into the bathroom with you when you shower.
6. Still itching?
If your rat doesn't respond
to any of these treatments, you may be dealing with a skin infection (such
as a bacterial infection, ringworm or other fungal infection, excema, etc.).
These are usually identified by redness, lesions or a rash and should be
(usually by skin scraping and microscopic examination) and treated by a qualified vet.
For more information, see Skin Problems.
The Rat Diary
No matter how many rats you have, it's always a good idea to keep a rat diary. This is for recording all kinds of information about your rats, from their birth dates to their health. Here's some of the information you might consider including in a rat diary.
These articles by no means cover all aspects of rat care. If you require further information, see the Rat Care Links.
you have further rat care questions, you can direct them to the Rat Info
where informed volunteers will help you as soon as possible.
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