Caring for Your New Pet Rat I
Scoop from Aqualand on Rattus norwegicus

 

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Pet Rat Factoids

Origin

Northern Europe            Asia

Sexual Differences

Males larger.  Testicles on month-old males.

Temperature

Room temperature works great.

Climber

Wants to climb to different levels

Attitude

Alert, inquisitive, very active, climbers

Schedule

Parties at night. 

Exercise

Take out of cage daily.  Add a large wheel.

Substrate

No cedar chips

Security

Prefers a hide box but not a necessity

Strong Chewers

Give any kind of chew toy

Foods

Pet blocks

Supplements

None needed

Treats

Nuts, chicken bones, dog treats

Water

Use a well protected water bottle

Housing

Covered aquarium or sturdy wire

Cleaning Schedule

Weekly suffices.  Their droppings are dry.

Estrus Cycle

Every four or five days. 12 hours at night.

Breeding Age

Females at six weeks.  2 to 4  months better.

Gestation Period

21 to 23 days

Brood Size

10 to 12 average

Keep with Mom

Four to six weeks

Breeding Comments

Use multiple  females for max babies


LA
Hand without fingernails belongs to Chris.  Note cataract in this rat's eye.

Origins:  Rats originated in Europe.  The common wild rat is usually called the Norwegian rat.  Rats are well known sailors.  Of course, they spread all over the world in ships -- just like the Norwegians.  The wild rats that inhabit city dumps (and other sources of food) are the same species we keep as pets -- without good manners.  Our pet rats come in a variety of colors and certainly possess better manners.  Note his clean fingernails.  The rat, not Chris.

Natural Environment:  Any area that provides food, water, and some sort of cover will support rats.  They love those old style, wire grain bins out on the farm.  Red rat snakes (called “corn snakes”) also inhabited these old corn bins and helped control the rat population.  Today, most rats are reared in extremely clean facilities for use in laboratories.  Pet keepers keep just a few.

LA Pic
Combing the rats out of your hair in the morning could be a problem.

 

Temperament:  Rats love people.  That could explain why they move into some peoples houses.  They are the least likely of all the rodents to bite you.  Nocturnal by nature, rats easily adapt to whatever schedule you prefer.

LA
Rats just chillin.'

Activity Level.  Rats like to loaf during the day.  When you turn their lights off, all the rats stand up on their hind legs and begin a rather weird “rat dance.” Check it out.  Females move around a lot more than the males.  Males prefer to loaf more.  Your male will sit on your shoulder and watch TV with you – especially if you share your Tostitos with him. 

LA
Can you stand hairless rats?

Size:  Male rats grow much larger than the females – nearly 50% larger on average. 

LA
Pet blocks work great, but many rat fans like to offer their pets a varied diet.

Foods:  You can’t go wrong by feeding the “pet block” foods specifically designed for rats.  These blocks meet all their nutritional needs and help them keep their teeth gnawed down. Use a heavy, untippable bowl.  As you may well suspect, rats will also eat anything you will eat as well as a great deal of things you will not eat.

LA
Rats like any kind of treat with seeds or grains

Supplements:  You need no added vitamins or mineral supplements.  They do like occasional snacks.  Pizza crusts trip their trigger.  Ditto, peanut butter cookies.

LA
Results of using an unprotected water bottle in a rat cage.

Water:  Since these guys love to chew, you better protect their water bottle from their always gnawing teeth.  The “bell” bottles from Oasis work great, although rats eventually gnaw off their caps.  We prefer Ginger’s full metal jackets.  Position your water bottle at the top of your cage.  Putting it against your lid will reduce gnaw destruction. 

LA
Protect your bottle from rats.  Put it clear to the top of their cage, so they can't get at the top.

Cages.  Wire cages (small mesh) give your rats additional roaming room.  They climb the walls and even clamber across their ceiling -- if the mesh is big enough to get a grip on.  They will also utilize any extra shelves you provide.

Toys: Rats love climbing on wooden bird ladders and clambering on large link chains as well as the mooring lines of ships.  They are as agile as the tree rats (which some people call squirrels).  A large chain with a piece of wood attached makes a good toy.   Most rats like larger wheels (larger than hamster wheels).  Rats will play with most bird toys but wind up chewing the plastic ones to shreds. 

 

The Nay Votes:   Blondie climbs atop her kitchen table and shrieks when she sees a mouse or rat.  The movie makers always put rats in any film where the hero goes thru a tunnel, sewer, or basement.  Lotsa people just plain hate rats.  (These people should not keep pet rats or read this information.)

The Yay Votes.  In 2002, a Viet Nam veteran in Billings, Montana (where pet rats are illegal) barricaded himself in his hotel room and shot at police who were attempting to confiscate his pet rats.  After 30 hours of tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons, and concussion grenades, he finally surrendered his rats.

The Middle Ground?  Most people find themselves somewhere in the middle of these two opposing ends of the “rat appreciation spectrum.”    
 

Jen Lasoski, July 14, 2006
I just got finished reading through your rat care sheets and I'm horrified that you posted such information. I have owned rats for many years and so many things that you list are just plain wrong. Also looking at the pictures it seems that you are not giving those rats nearly enough room.  10 gallon tanks do not suffice for 1 rat let alone multiple rats!
Cleaning should be done more than once a week, and water should be replaced daily -- even if the bottle holds enough for a week. Food should be a mix of grains, fruits, veggies and lab blocks.
And finally I'm truly disgusted that you even consider telling people that it is ok to pick up a rat by its tail. That could cause damage to the tail or even break the rat's back, causing serious pain and even death.
I feel that you should remove this information and do some research.

A:  Thanks for your input, kiddo.  I've been picking rats up by the tail for four decades.  I've never broken a rat's tail much less a rat's back in that time.  You are welcome to your opinion.  You haven't read Hans Zinnser's book, have you?  LA

Lauren Purdy, July 16, 2006
Hi. I'm a rat-lover,
I visit net rat sites every day and have been doing so for years. I've picked up a lot of good info on them, but I know there is also a lot of conflicting info out there. And a lot of different valid opinions too. I rely on my own pet ratties to help me sort out fact from fiction (smile).....
I see there is some dispute at your site about picking up a rat by its tail. I think you have provided some great information, and done it in a fun way. It's not my intention to knock you at all, I'd just like to provide you with a few thoughts...

About picking a rat up by its tail:
(Perhaps you could stress base of tail, only if necessary on your site.
--- Picking up a rat by its tail will not always cause injury, but it has the potential to cause injury.    Especially if it is done by someone who does not know that it can.                    
-- The tail skin is fragile and can be torn off, perhaps necessitating an amputation.                                                                                                  
-- The rat's tail is important to it, it is used for balance and to regulate body temperature..                                                                                      
-- You may not injure the rat but if it whips itself around it could injure itself. It might possibly even dislocate a vertebra..                      
---So it is not recommended to pick it up by its tail. If you must, then pick it up gently only at the base of the tail.

Pet Rats Canada     http://petratscanada.com/tail.htm  
The tail is a strong but somewhat fragile feature of rats. A rat must never be picked up by the tail. If a rat is picked up by the end of his or her tail, the skin can be pulled off. Since the tail has a large supply of blood vessels, any injury to the tail can result in significant bleeding.

Rat & Mouse Club of America      http://www.rmca.org/Articles/qna2_99.htm 
As far as picking her up, it’s not a good idea to pick her up by the tail. In an emergency it’s okay to carefully lift her by the base of the tail, but it’s not recommended. It makes the rat feel very insecure. Never pick up either species by any other part of the tail or you may pull off the delicate tail skin resulting in necessary surgery to amputate the affected part of the tail.

Rats Rule        http://www.ratsrule.com/ratcare.html        
HOW TO PICK UP A RAT   When picking a rat up, you should never grab him or her by the tail. This is very uncomfortable to them, makes them feel unsafe, and does not help in their socialization. Tails have also been known to break off or lose skin with improper handling. Skin that has come off the tail cannot be reattached, nor will the tail grow back. Amputation of the tail tip is often required. You should always pick up a rat around its middle, and then support their feet with your other hand or your body. This makes them feel very secure, and reduces the chance of someone dropping them if they squirm. Rats that are regularly lifted by their tails tend to harbor a distrust of humans, and may not make the best pets.

Ship Rats Maintenance site     http://cj_whitehound.madasafish.com/Rats_Nest/Ship_Rats/Maintenance.htm 
You can restrain a fidgety ship rat by holding the base of the tail, or even lift it briefly by the tail-root. They are so much lighter than Norway rats that the strain on the tail is less. However, you must never attempt to restrain them by gripping the end of the tail. Any grip on the tail should be used only as a last resort, and you must let go if the animal starts to twist about very violently: the skin on a ship rat's tail is delicate and sheds easily.

This is the result of tail de-gloving (from RatGuide:                           http://ratguide.com/health/wounds/degloving_injury.php     http://ratguide.com/health/figures/degloving_injury_figure_1.php

Rats are (as you mentioned on your site) extremely prone to respiratory problems. Ammonia is very bad for rat's respiratory health.  So cages might need cleaning more frequently than once a week, it will depend on how many rats you have in your cage of course. But if you can smell it, then it is bad for them.  In an aquarium the ammonia tends to build up quickly as there is little ventilation.. So aquariums are not as good as wire cages, and should certainly be cleaned more often.
Also, I believe the pine bedding is just as bad as the cedar. Both contain phenols that are bad for their respiratory systems.

Bruxing -- as you mentioned, they do it to grind down their teeth. I don't think you mentioned the fun fact that they may also do it when they are extremely happy, just as a cat purrs. And the sad fact that they may also do it when they are ill or in pain, just as a cat purrs.

I hope you understand I am only trying to be informative, not critical.  I admire the efforts you've gone to to provide pet owners with helpful information to care for their pets well-being properly

A:  Thank you for your information.  I've added it to my Rat Page also. LA
 

Shawna B, July 20, 2010
As I have gone through the information on your rats, especially the breeding, I have seen that your information is not accurate. It does not take long to get correct information for happy, healthy rats. For instance, you do NOT EVER pick up a rat by the tail. It can damage their spine and damage their tail, which is their main source for heating and cooling their bodies. The misinformation can cause readers to seriously harm their little friend and I would like it if you changed it. I saw your Q and A and I personally think that if so many people are complaining that your info is wrong, then you should probably change it. This is your business and you are losing many customers by fighting with them instead of listening to them. You are not the most knowledgeable by any means and as a business person you should be willing to listen to concerned animal lovers who have been there. Please consider reading up on your rat information and see if any other info on your other animals could be wrong. Depending on how bad the info is, you could be completely shut down. Please take better care of these creatures or someone will be forced to take action.

A:  While I appreciate your concern for rats, I can assure you that In the five decades (way back to when I took care of the rats for the Drake University Psychology Department) that I've been taking care of rats, I've never injured one accidently.  Exactly whom do you think will be forced to take action?  LA

Brian Skinner, November14, 2010
You said rats originate from Europe. I have read multiple sites that say that rats are actually from Asia and traveled to Europe on boats or other forms of transportation. Then, as we all know, wild rats traveled to America via boat. I just thought that you might want to correct it before someone uses that against you.

A:  My mistake.  The various Eurpean words for rat are:  rat, ratto, ratte, rata, råatta, rotte, and rattus.  The mandarin word is pinyin shu.  That's where I went wrong.  I've added your correction to my page.  LA

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