Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some questions I am commonly asked as well as some neat facts sprinkled in. The answers are based on my own personal experience and research. These answers are not a substitute for the advice and expertise of a licensed veterinarian. If you have medical questions, it is always best to consult a veterinarian. If you have a question that isn't listed below, please email me and I will try to help you. Your question may also end up on this very page! Also, if you want a little more information on a topic, or links to good sites to do more research, I can give you that help via email.
Questions about the rattery and my policies
Q: What breed of rats do you sell?
A: There is no such thing as a "breed" of rat. Rats are rats are rats. There are different varieties, which refer to colors and markings as well as coat, ear, and body type. To put it simply, asking about a breed of rat is like asking, "What breed of Miniature Schnauzer is that?" It doesn't break down any further than rat, so when you're talking to a breeder about what kind of rats they produce or specialize in, ask about varieties, not breeds.
Q: You breed rats, so why can't I?
I would never take it upon myself to tell someone that they could or could not breed their rats. Everyone with a male and female rat is perfectly capable of placing them together and getting the end result of a pregnant rat. The question is never if someone could or couldn't, but whether they should or shouldn't. I am a little more lax on new breeders, simply because I was just starting out once.
If I refuse to sell someone a rat for breeding, I am simply looking after the interests of my lines and the lines that have come for other ethical breeders. Breeding shouldn't be taken lightly. Every pairing directly affects what happens to the rats. I can't be a responsible breeder while supporting irresponsible breeding. I fully support someone's desire to learn more about what it takes to breed rats responsibly, and I am more than happy to help such individuals get started, but I reserve the right to say no, and no amount of bullying, badgering, and name calling will bring me to lower my integrity as a breeder.
Q: What makes a good breeder?
Being a good breeder is pretty simple. Firstly, a breeder should have open lines of communication. They should be willing to answer any questions you may have, and do so in a timely manner. They should also remain in contact with you after you bring your rats home. It is important to feel like your breeder is someone you can turn to for help when you need it. If a breeder makes you feel like you are pestering them or that they don't have time for you, you should probably look elsewhere. Secondly, a good breeder should be honest. Nothing makes me angrier than being lied to. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If a breeder tells you their rats never get sick and always die of old age, they're probably not being honest. Even in the best lines, issues crop up occasionally. Always question and do your research. Good breeders are also very knowledgeable about rats and the varieties they are working with. Ask them the goals in their lines and what they hope to achieve with their plans. While no breeder knows everything there is to know about rats, a good breeder has done loads of research before getting started and has a good foundation of knowledge to build on. Lastly, a good breeder truly cares about the rats. This means the rats are raised in a clean environment, are not overbred, are fed a proper diet, and are socialized from an early age. There is a big difference in a baby rat that has been handled daily and a baby rat that has never been picked up, held, or snuggled. There is more to being a good breeder, but for the sake of brevity, these are the basic things to look for.
Q: Can I come see your rats and your setup?
I don't allow anyone to enter my rat room for any reason, period. Sometimes my rattery may be just one stop on a long list of rats being visited that day. Maybe the person wanted to go check out some items at a pet store, or maybe the person plans to visit several ratteries that day. For whatever reason, people think it's ok to do that, and it's definitely not. Even if the person didn't touch any of the rats, by being around the other rats' air space, they have the potential to bring nasty diseases to my rattery that could kill the entire colony. I'm not willing to risk my rats.
If you're interested in seeing my rats and setup, I'm more than happy to provide a virtual rat room tour. I may even eventually add one to the site. I also provide those on my waitlist with lots of updates on babies, so you'll get to see them grow. Your rats will have plenty of time to bond with you once they go home, so there's no real benefit to visiting them before you pick them up.
Q: Why do you charge more than pet stores for your rats?
Pet stores typically charge for rats that will be fed to reptiles. As such, they are not bred for health/temperament/type. I put a lot of time into this project. Keeping track of lineages and their improvements, socializing litters, spending time with my rats, cleaning, making food mixes...it's more time consuming than you can imagine. I also put a lot of money into my rats. Vet bills, cages, enrichment, and their tailored diets are not cheap. Even with prices higher than a pet store, I still don't turn a profit on my rats. I do this as a passion project, not a business, but the adoption fees help me keep things running as well as insuring that Tiger Tail rats aren't on the menu for reptiles. If you feel the adoption fees are too steep, you may not be ready to adopt rats and provide them with the care they deserve. Yes, rats are small pets, but they are not cheap pets by any means when properly cared for.
Q: Why do you always get first pick from the litters?
If I allowed adopters to have first choice from the rats and I just kept what was left over, my goals would not become a reality. I reserve first choice because I know what I am looking for in the next generation of my lines, especially regarding type. I am not trying to keep the best rats away from the public. On the contrary! I'm trying to get to a point where my rats are consistently producing large litters of quality pups. That means the best for everyone. I do not, nor will I ever have the space to keep every exceptional, breeding quality pup from every litter. This is why I like to work with other established breeders, as well as new breeders. It gives me a chance to place pups with others who will work just as hard on my lines as I have. Sometimes top quality pups go to pet homes, and that's great too! Don't think you have to get into the world of breeding in order to get the best pups available. Also, what I find less than desirable for my rattery may be just what you have been looking for.
Q: How do you determine your hold backs?
So many factors come into play when picking my keeper(s) from a litter. Ears, head shape, coat condition, lines, tail, feet, teeth, markings...there are a lot of things to consider when breeding to improve type. Temperament is also important, so babies are judged on how friendly and outgoing they are. Every now and then, though, a rat comes along that doesn't fall into what I'm looking for, but I'll keep it anyhow because I got attached. These rats may never be bred, but they are loved and cared for as treasured pets. Finally, from the rats I keep, I continue to monitor health and temperament. If a rat shows signs of less than optimum health, hormonal aggression, fear, maternal aggression, etc, it is taken out of the breeding program and remains as a pet. If a line consistently shows poor examples of health or temperament, the line is discontinued indefinitely.
Q: Why do you ask your adopters to keep in touch?
By keeping a few rats from each litter, I'm able to see a few puzzle pieces in regards to my lines. But I need to see the whole picture. Since I don't have the space or finances to keep every pup from every litter, my adopters become an integral asset to my breeding program. For example, let's say I keep a buck from a litter of five bucks. That buck grows up as sweet as can be, but his four brothers all exhibit signs of hormonal aggression around six months of age. If I only looked at the buck I kept, I'd have no idea about the potential problems lurking within my lines. By keeping in touch with adopters, I can get the data I need to make more informed decisions for the rats I produce.
Q: What happens if you can't find homes for the rats?
Sometimes it takes longer than usual to find homes for all the pups from a litter. I maintain a waiting list as well as advertise when the babies are two weeks old. Things happen, though, and occasionally adopters back out or there is just not a demand at that moment. Rats that are not adopted into homes remain at the rattery until an appropriate home can be found. If I have several babies from a past litter still available and the rattery space is full, I will stop all breeding projects until all adoptable rats have been placed. I am careful not to overwhelm myself with rats, and there is no point in continuing to produce rats when homes are just not available for them. So far, this has not been an issue, but I am prepared if it ever happens.
Q: A rat is no longer on your site. What happened to it?
There are various reasons why a rat would disappear from the site. Discontinuation of a line, retirement, or the rat has passed away are common reasons. Sometimes I have a rat that I have held back to enter the breeding program, and for whatever reason, that rat did not make the cut. In these instances, the rat is offered for adoption and placed in a loving home or retired and kept as a pet at the rattery. I actually keep a wait list of people who prefer to adopt an adult rat. When one becomes available, I go down the list and let the potential adopters know who is available and why. This is another reason why a rat would disappear from the site and why I don't have an "Available Adults" page. If you are interested in an adult rat, please contact me to go on this specific waiting list.
Questions about rat health in general. The following information is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Always consult your exotics veterinarian for any health concerns regarding your rat.
Q: How long do rats live?
The average lifespan for a rat is two years, with some making it to three. This is one of the downsides to rat ownership. These furry little creatures steal your heart, then pass away far too soon. That is why breeders are focusing on producing rats from long-lived lines. Some rats have been known to live four or five years. It would be wonderful if one day this can be the average age. No rat will live to its potential age, however, if they aren't given quality food, proper housing, a clean environment, proper vetting, and love. If you house a rat in an aquarium, feed it seed mix and stale water, it's not likely to make it to the two year mark.
Q: Why is my rat sneezing?
Sneezing can be caused by lots of things. Some reasons are simple and easily remedied, while others are quite complicated.
Rats have delicate respiratory systems and many things in the home or their cage can irritate them. Air freshener, carpet freshener, strong smelling or heavily scented cleaners, bedding with even minimal dust content, a dusty room, and lots of other things can cause them to sneeze. Avoid using these sorts of products in your rats' airspace and even consider an air purifier for their room, and choose a low-dust bedding for their cage.
If you just brought new rats home and they seem to be sneezy, this can be normal. Stress lowers a rat's immune response, which means they tend to get a little under the weather in a new situation. This should be monitored, however. If you notice lethargy, red discharge from the nose and/or eyes, wheezy breathing, or if the rats don't seem to be eating/drinking, it's time for a vet visit.
Another common issue rats face is an upper respiratory infection, often caused by mycoplasma. Nearly all pet rats harbor this bacteria, and there's nothing you can do to prevent or cure it. Symptoms needs to be managed with antibiotics, which will require a vet visit.
Q: What is that red stuff coming from my rat's nose/eyes?
Don't panic! That red-tinged fluid isn't blood. It's just your rat's tears, which are filled with a substance called porphyrin. I'll save you all the scientific terminology, but it's created by a gland behind a rat's eye. The gland is present in most animals with a third eyelid, but it's much larger in rats in comparison to the actual eye. Older rats secrete more porphyrin than younger rats, but it can also be a sign that your rat is sick. They have excess porphyrin discharge the same way we get a runny nose when we have a cold. Rats are usually great at keeping this cleaned up, so if you see a lot of discharge, it's time to visit the vet.
Q: Why are my rats destroying everything in their cage?
Rats have a natural urge to chew. There is no way to fight it, and it actually serves a purpose. Those four long front teeth are called incisors. They are open rooted, which means they grow throughout the animal's life. If a rat doesn't chew, their lower incisors will eventually curl back and into the roof of the mouth. This can create severe mouth discomfort or pain, eventually causing the rat to refuse food and starve to death. The teeth can also puncture through the gums or roof of the mouth. As a rat owner, it's important to check your rat's teeth periodically to make sure they aren't growing too quickly or in a bad position. The bottom incisors should be nearly twice as long as the top incisors and will be flat across the ends. The bottom incisors are able to move apart from each other slightly, so if you notice a gap, that's probably okay, especially if the rat is at rest. If the teeth look too long, curl, or are creating sores in the mouth, it's time for a visit to your vet for a tooth trim and possibly a round of antibiotics.
Q: Why is my rat constantly scratching and losing hair?
The two most common reasons for itchy, balding rats are allergies and ectoparasites. A vet can determine the cause and help you figure out the best course of action for your rats. Ectoparasites like lice and mites can be brought in on the bedding. Freezing the bedding for several days can kill the little bugs before you bring the bedding into the rat room. This isn't a viable option for everyone, especially if you buy bedding in bulk, so it's always good to check your rats over for scabby skin, tiny crawling specks, or hair loss around the eyes and ears. Luckily, if you do find bugs, they are fairly easy to get rid of. A vet can provide Revolution to kill the parasites on the rats, and you can thoroughly clean the cages, wash all cloth bedding in hot water, and throw away all bedding in the bottom on the cage.
Q: Why is my rat tilting its head?
A constant head tilt is a sign that something isn't quite right with your rat. It can indicate a chronic ear infection or even a pituitary tumor. Only a vet can diagnose and treat the issue. If your rat is tilting its head, you should see a vet as soon as possible. If you leave the cause of head tilt untreated for too long, it can become a permanent issue.
Q: What is this lump on my rat?
Lumps are, in my experience, one of the most common issues a rat will have. They typically have three causes: an abscess, a cyst, or a tumor.
An abscess is a pocket of infection beneath the skin. For example, if a rat gets a scratch, the bacteria may begin to fester under the skin. When the wound closes over, the infection is trapped with nowhere to drain. The pus will build beneath the skin, creating a lump. Sometimes the pressure will build until the skin breaks open, releasing the pressure, infection, and pus. Sometimes the abscess will resolve on its own, but I always advise a vet visit in case the rat needs antibiotics.
A cyst is an encapsulation of fluid or material. They are typically harmless unless their growth interferes with the rat's ability to perform tasks they need to do, like moving, breathing, eating, etc. While they can be lanced to remove the contents, this isn't an effective treatment because the sac will just refill. Surgical removal is the only way to get rid of them.
A tumor is an overgrowth of cells in a place it doesn't belong. A malignant tumor grows and spreads to other parts of the body, while benign tumors do not. Even so, benign tumors can eventually impact a rat's quality of life.
Only a vet can accurately diagnose a lump on your rat. If you find one, schedule an appointment to give your rat (and your anxiety) the best chance at recovery.
Q: Why are my rat's eyes moving in and out of its head?
When rats are really content (or sometimes if they're stressed) they grind their incisors together. This is called bruxing. When they get really into their bruxing, it causes a muscle which runs behind the eye to push the eyes forward, making it seem like they're popping in and out slightly. This is known as boggling. It's completely normal and usually means your rat is really happy!
Q: Why do I need to quarantine my new rats?
If you currently have no rats in your home, there is no need to quarantine new rats. You only quarantine when you are planning to introduce new rats to an existing rat or place rats together from different sources. For example, if you bought a rat from person A and a rat from person B, you should not place these rats together until they have both had a separate quarantine period. This is for the safety of the rats. A seemingly healthy rat could be carrying illness and disease that has not had time to produce symptoms. A quarantine period allows you to make sure you are only introducing healthy rats to your existing pets. Quarantine should be for a period of no less than two weeks, with a longer time of four to five weeks being best. A separate airspace is mandatory for a proper quarantine. If you have central heating and air, this means it is a near impossibility to QT the rats in the same home as the current rats. A ventilated, heated and cooled shed, basement, garage, etc is acceptable as long as none of the vents connect to the home. Also consider housing the rats at a friend or family member's house if they don't have rats. Also, remember that if you have visited the new rats, you shouldn't go near your current rats for about three hours, and always change clothes and wash your hands before handling your current rats after having contact with the new rats. Having the rats in the same room defeats the purpose because some deadly viruses can travel several feet in the air to a new host. It may seem silly, but quarantine is done with the best interests of your rats' health in mind.
The following information is not to encourage people to breed. It is simply there for someone who may have adopted a rat who was pregnant without knowing it, or just for the sake of informational reading. There is much more to know about breeding than what is listed below.
Q: How do I get started as a breeder?
For most people, the simple answer to this question is, you don't. But if you're determined to breed rats, at least set out to do things the right way. Begin with research. Lots and lots and lots of research. Start from a basic level and work your way up. Learn what makes a rat a rat. Study up on proper husbandry, common illnesses, and type. Study the varieties you plan to work with and know the risks associated with those rats. For example, some varieties are more prone to malocclusion (misaligned teeth). Others are prone to megacolon. Know what to watch for so you can breed away from these issues.
Make sure you have the space and time for breeding. Making notes, socializing, cleaning, and spending time with and caring for your rats is very time consuming. Do you have a vet lined up for an emergency visit at two in the morning because your rat is experiencing birthing complications? Do you have room in your house to place several large cages and several smaller ones? You'll need lots of room because you'll need to hold back rats from every generation. You aren't breeding for profit. There is no profit in breeding rats. You're breeding to better the species and variety. That means keeping the best rats from each litter.
Find a mentor. Talk to breeders and be honest about your intentions to breed. Some of us will be happy to help you get started if you're doing things the right way and for the right reasons. Finding another rattery to work with is an asset.
Make sure your reasons for wanting to breed are the right reasons. Teaching children about life is not a good reason. There are lots of books and videos that are helpful for explaining sexual reproduction and don't add to a population of unwanted rats. Breeding because you like cute baby animals is not a good reason. If you love cute babies, volunteer at your local humane society. They always have cute kittens and puppies who need cleaning up after and playing with. Breeding because you want to make money is the absolute worst reason to breed. I promise you that breeding for that reason will leave you very frustrated, as you generally put more into the care of the animals than you make when you sell them. Breeding because you want a carbon copy or piece of your current rat is not a good reason. None of the rats that come from your current rat will be like your current rat. In order to get a carbon copy of your current rat, you would need to first clone that rat to make sure all of the genetic information was exactly the same. Then you would need to replicate that rat's entire life, second by second, to recreate the same behaviors and tendencies the current rat learned throughout its impressionable months. That is impossible. The only good reasons to breed rats is because you want to make them better, and because you have the knowledge, passion, and drive to make that happen.
Q: When do rats become sexually mature?
Does have conceived as young as five weeks, which is why it is recommended to separate the sexes no later than this age. This isn't the ideal time to breed your doe or buck, however. They need time to grow and mature, and you need time to evaluate their health, temperament, and type. Does can be bred for the first time around five months. If you know your lines well, you can breed a buck around this time as well. If you aren't familiar with your lines or if you are concerned about hormonal aggression, a buck shouldn't be bred until after nine months of age so he has time to go through his teenage phase. Don't breed from bucks that show hormonal aggression. This is passed to their offspring. It creates temperamental rats that do not make good pets.
Q: What happens when a female rat is in heat?
Rats come into season about every four to five days. Her heats may stop during the very cold and very hot months because it is not the ideal time to bring new babies into the world. There are always exceptions, though. Signs of a female in heat vary from rat to rat. Some will wiggle their ears, arch their backs when you pet them near their tail (this position is known as lordosis), mount the other rats in her cage, squeak more when handled, or become slightly aggressive. Some rats give no indication of heat. Rats will typically come into heat during the night time hours. It is NEVER a good idea to allow male and female interactions, even if supervised. Rat copulation takes less than two seconds, literally in the blink of an eye. There is no time to separate them, so the only logical thing to do is make sure your rats are only allowed to be housed and to play with rats of their same sex. You can also allow them to be with rats of the opposite sex if the opposite sex has been spayed/neutered.
Q: What does mating look like?
When you first introduce a doe and buck, you'll probably see a lot of sniffing. If the doe is receptive to the buck, she'll dart around the cage and entice him to mate. The buck will mount her and the doe will curve her back, raising her rear in a position known as lordosis. Mating only takes a second, sometimes two. A doe remains receptive for about twelve hours, so if you leave them together overnight, they will likely mate all night long. If the doe is not receptive, she may kick at the buck, squeak, or rear up on her hind legs. She may not be in heat or she may not be a fan of this particular buck. Does can be choosy.
Q: How do I know if my rat is pregnant?
Unfortunately, there are no tiny home pregnancy tests for rats. It's really a waiting game for the first two weeks after pairing. During the first week of gestation, you may notice a slight but constant weight increase. During the second week, females may begin to clean the hair away from their nipples. This is so that when the babies arrive, they will have easy access to her teats. The weight gain becomes increased during this week as well. During the third week in medium to large litters, you will notice her belly begin to protrude out from her sides. Most of my girls end up looking like they have swallowed a tennis ball by the end of gestation. The final week is the only week that you can really tell just by looking at a rat if she is pregnant. Some rats, however, will not appear pregnant at all. While weighing a rat is a good indicator for pregnancy, it can also cause the female to abort the litter if she becomes stressed.
Q: How long is gestation?
A rat's gestation period is between 21-24 days, though most rats give birth on day 22 or 23.
Q: What do rats do when they give birth?
In my experience, they will become really quiet with spurts of restlessness a few hours to a day before birth. She may also squint in the corner of the cage and brux. This is probably due to the discomfort from the changes her body must go through to prepare for delivery. Nesting usually begins around this time too. My girls tend to build pretty elaborate nests that they tear down and rebuild until birth finally begins. There will be a little bit of spotting shortly before the first baby is delivered, but usually this will go unnoticed because the new mom will keep her genital area very clean. When strong contractions begin, the rat may seem to press herself to the floor of the cage as her sides seem to squeeze in. Then she will sit up, reach to her genitals, and pull her new baby out. Finally, she will remove the birthing sac, clean the baby, and eat the placenta. You should allow her to do all of this and not interrupt unless there is an emergency situation. Cleaning the baby is the first form of bonding for mother and baby, and the placenta contains important proteins and nutrients that help her maintain her strength after birth. Don't panic if a newborn takes a moment to start breathing. Some will need their mother's stimulation to get going, but trust that she will provide it. If she ignores a baby in distress, it is best to let nature take its course. Disrupting her during labor can stop labor completely or stress her out, resulting in the loss of the entire litter or the mother if she becomes septic.
Q: Do rats ever have trouble giving birth?
Rats are pretty good about delivering without a problem, but never say never. It can happen to anyone and any rat. Even rats that have previously delivered without complications can need emergency care. Every time you breed your doe, you're putting her life at risk. One reason to see a vet is if you notice excessive amounts of blood. There will be blood with the delivery, but it shouldn't be dripping out constantly and shouldn't be pooling up around the cage. If that is the case, a placenta could have separated early and the female could be hemorrhaging. Another cause for concern is if a rat seems to be straining without producing a baby for over an hour, especially if there have already been pups born without an issue. This could mean a pup is stuck, or her contractions are not strong enough to move a baby down the birthing canal. If you see feet or tail sticking out, don't start pulling on the small appendages. For all of these situations, call your vet immediately and get her and the living babies to the vet ASAP. If you don't have an emergency vet or a vet knowledgeable in rats, then it would be best to not breed until you do have one.
Q: How many babies do rats have?
There is no definitive answer to this question. Females can have anywhere from one to twenty four pups in a single litter, though six to twelve is average. This is something to consider if you're thinking of breeding rats. Young rats eat a lot of food, need a lot of time, and make a lot of poop. As a rat breeder, you have to be prepared to house all of those babies in the event that they are not adopted. You make the commitment to these animals the moment they are conceived. You are pledging to care for them until they have found a proper home of their own, and for their lifetime if need be. You are pledging to give them the best housing, food, vet care, and playtime that you can possibly provide.
Q: Can I watch my rat give birth?
That all depends on the rat. Most rats have their babies late at night or in the wee hours of the morning while we are fast asleep. Some rats will have their babies during the day, though. I usually watch my rats give birth, as long as I am not stressing them out. If I observe the rats becoming agitated at my presence, I will leave them to their privacy and just check in periodically to make sure everything is going well. It is never ok to disturb her in the middle of labor, though. If you find you can't stop yourself from trying to move her to count babies, or if you can't sit still or quietly for long stretches of time, it would be best to just walk away.
Information on rats from birth to adulthood
Q: What do newborn rats look like?
When rats are born, they have no fur and their eyes and ears are still sealed closed. Their skin is somewhat transparent, and many of their major organs can be observed. In fact, the way breeders tell if their mother rats are doing a good job with newborn pups is by looking for what is known as a milk band, which is a yellowish-white band that goes across the stomach. After twelve days, the ears open, and around two weeks, the eyes open.
Q: If you handle newborn rats, will the mother abandon them?
Rats do not abandon their babies because they have been handled, however, it's always best to leave mom and babies alone for about 24 hours after birth. This is so that mom doesn't become too agitated. If a mother rat gets stressed, it can cause her to abandon or kill her babies. The only time you should reach into the cage during that period is to remove any dead babies, and even that should be done with caution. It's best to try and get mom off the nest by offering her a yummy treat, or just waiting until she moves on her own. There will be plenty of time later for counting babies and socialization.
Q: When do varieties start to appear?
Most coat types can be determined within the first 48 hours. Standard coated pups will have straight whiskers, while rex, hairless, and patchwork rats will have curly whiskers, and velveteen rats will have wavy whiskers. Ear type can be determined by many breeders within the first 48 hours as well, but I usually wait until the babies are around a week old to say for certain. Markings appear when the babies are around five days old. The coats begin to come in around a week old, but some color dilutes are difficult to determine until the pups are closer to two weeks old. Look at the page on this website titled "growth journal" under the "more" tab to see birth and growth of a litter of pups.
Q: When do rats start eating solid food?
Around three weeks of age, rats will start to venture outside of their nest. They'll often start trying to nibble mom's food at this time too. Rats are usually mostly on solids by four weeks and will completely wean at five weeks.
Q: Why can't rats go to their new homes as soon as they're weaned?
Even though the rat pups don't need mom at five weeks, they still need each other. Rats learn a lot about being a rat from same-age siblings. A secondary reason is that I need time to assess temperament and type. This helps me ensure I'm holding back the best rats and continuing to provide happy, healthy, beautiful rats for the next generation. I also don't adopt out rats that have temperament issues. If a rat doesn't pass temperament tests, it won't be offered for adoption.
Q: How do you determine the gender of a young rat?
Before three weeks of age, it can be difficult for most people to determine gender. Both sexes have a little nub and an anus, and that's about it. The distance between the nub and the anus holds the answer. The male penis is further from the anus than the female urethra. Around four to five weeks of age, the male's testicles will begin to drop and the female's vaginal depression will be more obvious beneath her urethra, making sexing much easier. Rat testicles are very large, so it's pretty hard to mix them up once they descend.
Q: Do young rats need a special diet?
Until they are around 12 weeks of age, rats will need a higher protein diet. This is why I use the Shunamite mix. It gives me the control I need to make sure my rats have the right nutrition for every stage of life.
Information for the aging rat
Q: When is my rat considered old?
This varies from rat to rat, but old age usually sets in between 18-24 months of age. Your rat will start to slow down and sleep a lot more than usual. I notice my rats tend to sleep a lot harder as they age as well. They may not keep their coat as clean as they used to, and they won't be nearly as active. Old age isn't determined by a specific milestone, such as actual age. Rather, it's a culmination of signs that tell you your rat is aging.
Q: Why is my rat wobbling on its hind legs?
A somewhat common occurrence in aging rats is a condition known as hind leg degeneration. It seems to happen more frequently and sooner with bucks than does. It begins with an unsteady gait and progresses to wobbling and finally no use of the hind legs. If this occurs with your rat, you'll need to modify your cage to make food, water, and comfortable sleeping spots accessible for your rat. You can also help your rat by keeping them at a healthy weight throughout their life.
Q: Should I change my cage for my older rats?
That depends on your rat. If your rat is having trouble getting around the cage, it's best to restructure it to make it safer for your rat. If you've removed the middle floor from your cage, consider replacing it so your rat has a shorter distance to fall. Also put in fall breakers around the cage. If you scatter feed, you may need to start using a dish or feeding your mature rats in a separate place so they have a chance to access food. Also put things like litter boxes or hides down low so they can get to them easily.
Q: Should I have my rat put to sleep?
Euthanasia is a very personal choice, be it for a mature rat or a younger rat. It is a decision you should discuss with your exotics veterinarian. Some people prefer to say goodbye before their rat goes downhill. Some prefer to wait until the disease or issue progresses to a point where the rat is no longer able to live comfortably. You have to choose what is best for you and your rat. There is no wrong answer, though I don't believe in allowing them to suffer. If your rat can no longer enjoy the things it used to, if you can't mitigate your rat's pain without causing stress, or if your rat is suffering in any way, it's probably time.
Q: Do older rats need a special diet?
When your rats are below twelve weeks of age, they should be on a diet with higher protein. When your rats are older than twelve weeks, they need a lower protein diet. This puts less work on their kidneys. If they have kidney disease, it's best to put them on a low protein diet. This is why I prefer the Shunamite diet. It gives you the control over ingredients and balanced nutrition for your rat in all life stages.
Random bits of ratty information
Q: Are male or female rats better?
This is really based on personal preference. Both genders have pros and cons. Female rats are more active and cleaner than males. They don't normally scent mark as much and they don't have grease like the bucks do. Males are more laid back, and plain out lazy once they mature. Neither sex is completely laid back, however. Rats are active animals. Males are a bit smellier, as they have glands that secrete a greasy substance that helps them scent mark. They also drop little bits of pee everywhere as a way to mark what belongs to them. There are exceptions to every rule, however.
Q: Can my rat live in a cage with a ferret?
It is never wise to mix interspecies living arrangements. Even more so when the two may be mortal enemies like the ferret and rat. Ferrets were used as ratters many years ago, and this instinct is still strong with many ferrets. Sure, there are rare examples of two animals being friends that shouldn't be, but why would you want to take that chance? For the safety of all pets involved, keep them housed with their own species. You also shouldn't allow your rats to interact with other pets. Even with supervision, accidents can happen.
Q: Do rats vomit?
Rats are completely incapable of vomiting for several reasons. The first reason is that the barrier between their stomach and esophagus is too thick to open the way it would need to to permit food to come back up. Second, when vomiting occurs, it is caused by the muscles of the diaphragm contracting separately and forcefully onto the stomach. Rats lack the ability to work their diaphragm this way. Rats may not be able to vomit, but they can regurgitate. Regurgitation is different from vomiting in that vomiting is a forceful burst of undigested stomach contents into the esophagus. Regurgitation is effortless.
Q: How are rats and humans alike/different?
Well...rats have bellybuttons, are omnivorous, form strong social bonds, experience grief as well as several other emotions, and can eat chocolate! On the flip side, they don't have gallbladders or thumbs, will happily nosh on a deceased cagemate, and they lack tonsils.
Q: Can rats laugh?
Yes! Well, it's assumed that it's laughter, anyhow. A study proved that when rats were flipped onto their backs and "tickled," they emitted a high frequency sound that was similar to laughter. The sound is of such a high pitch that it can't be heard by the human ear.
Q: Can I give soda to my rats?
A neat random fact about rats is they cannot burp. This means if you give a carbonated drink to your rat, it will cause severe gastrointestinal distress. Imagine the worst gas pains of your life, and that is what your poor rat would go through. It's best to just stick to fresh water for your rat's hydration needs.
Q: Do rats bond with humans?
They absolutely can! Rats can forge a close bond with their humans. This is not to say that every rat will do so, as some rats have poor temperaments or have experienced abuse in their past that makes bonding closely with a person difficult or impossible. This is why responsible breeders choose to breed the most outgoing and friendly rats, as these traits will pass to their offspring. Sometimes, a rat has bonded with you and you may not even notice. For example, I once had a rat named Fifi. I got her when she was a little baby, and I had high hopes for her breeding career. After her first litter, Fifi had difficulty regaining the weight, and I decided there was no good reason to breed her. I didn't feel that she had bonded with me, so I decided to find her a home where she could just be a pet. I had interest from an adopter, and I took her to meet him to see if it would be a good match. When we arrived, it was a nice place and the mood was very calm and relaxed. We talked for a bit, and then I handed Fifi to him to see if they would get along. He put her on his shoulder and we kept talking. We were standing up in the middle of the room with no furniture near us. I began to walk back to the table to get some paper and a pen, when out of nowhere, Fifi made a three foot jump from his shoulder to mine. I don't know how she did it, but I thought I knew why. Fifi had bonded with me, and she wasn't going to let me walk away without her. I decided that I could not let her go, and she returned home with me. She remained at the rattery as a pet only. She didn't show it often, but she loved me like only a rat can.
Q: I don't think my rat likes me. Why aren't we bonding?
This is a common feeling for new rat owners. You get online, you see all these cute rat videos of rats coming to their owners, doing tricks, grooming their owner's hair while riding on their shoulders etc., and you go out and buy a rat. You get home, put your rat in his new home, and watch with a broken heart as he scurries to the nearest wooden house or igloo to hide for hours. When you try and get him out of the cage, he runs. You offer him treats, and he stares blankly ahead.
The common misconception is that rats will immediately bond with you and do cute little tricks on the first day. This is rarely the case. Rats need a lot of time and patience to adjust to their new surroundings. Try doing things like sitting by the cage with your hand inside. Don't touch the rat or chase him. Let him check you out in his own time. Bond with your rat by placing him on your shoulder and letting him ride around while you do some housework (the kind of housework that does not involve chemical cleaners, please). Sit on the couch with him and watch some tv. After a while, the rat will associate you with getting to explore new places and smells.
The rat may still run when you go to pick him up, but that doesn't mean he doesn't want to come with you. Sometimes rats will not take a treat because it's a new food. Rats instinctively try new foods in small amounts because they need to make sure the food won't hurt them. If they don't become sick, they know the food is okay, and they'll begin to take it from you. Leave treats around the cage so that the rat can try them on his own time, and when he knows it's safe, you can offer them to him from your hand. Again, this takes time.
Earning the rat's trust and bonding with him may take longer than you expected, but to bond with a rat is well worth it. Lastly, get your rats from a reputable breeder. While this isn't a guarantee that your rats will bond with you, it ups your chances significantly. Breeders play with the pups daily and get them used to being held and experiencing noises and other stimuli. Tiger Tail pups don't go to new homes until they pass temperament testing and show an interest in being handled. Some rats don't come around to handling, especially when gotten from unethical sources. Part of being a rat owner is doing what's best for your rat. Sometimes that's accepting that they are happier if you're watching them instead of handling them.
Q: Should I get a powder coated, galvanized, or wooden cage?
I always get powder coated cages, and I suggest all new adopters do so as well. The powder coating over the wire protects the wire from urine. Urine on galvanized wire wears down quickly and cage replacements need to be done too frequently. It's not cost effective. Also, galvanized only wires will hold in the smell of urine, even with frequent cleaning, so you end up with a stinky room. Wooden cages are always a no no. They absorb urine and create ammonia build up. Your rats can also chew through them, and not all woods are safe for rats. Spend the extra money to get powder coated, and it will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
Q: Sometimes my rat makes funny noises and his eyes move in and out of his face...is he okay?
This is called bruxing and eye boggling, and it's perfectly normal. Bruxing is when a rat grinds his incisors together, and there are several causes for this. Sometimes rats will brux when they're nervous, in pain, or agitated. Some rats brux when they're really happy! The eye boggling happens when a rat is bruxing really enthusiastically. It's caused by muscles in the face that control the jaw. These muscles run behind the eyes, so when a rat bruxes really hard, his eyes will "boggle" in and out of their sockets. It can be kind of creepy the first time you see it, but after a while, it becomes really cute and comical!
Q: Why does my rat sway its head from side to side?
This behavior is usually seen in pink-eyed or red-eyed rats. Rats have poor vision to begin with, but rats with pink and red eyes have worse vision than a black-eyed rat. By swaying side to side, the rat is trying to focus his vision and see an object more clearly. It's perfectly normal, and doesn't indicate a problem. It's also kind of cute.
Q: Rat tails are so gross! Can't you cut them off when they're young?
No, you can't just cut off a rat's tail. A rat has a use for their tail, and cutting it off can be quite deadly in the long run. Rats use their tails for regulating their body temperatures. In the summer months, a rat lacking a tail is in great danger. If you're that repulsed by the tail of a rat, then rats are probably not for you.
Q: Do rats grieve?
Yes. Rats can go through a grieving process after the loss of a cage mate. It is not uncommon for a rat to stop eating and drinking, become less active, experience depression, and other symptoms after a death in the colony. I've personally watched a rat grieve, and it's heartbreaking. Many years ago, I had two brothers named Master Splinter and Nicodemus. Master Splinter passed away one night, and when I found him in the morning, Nico was snuggled next to him and wouldn't let me take him out. Every time I would reach my hand in, he would come at me aggressively. When I did remove the body, Nico refused to eat, drink, or leave the spot where Splinter had been. He eventually passed away a few days later. So yes, grief is sometimes visibly experienced when a rat loses a friend.
Q: Why do rats stick to the walls of a room?
It's instinctual and helps them feel safe. Rats have terrible eyesight. They use their whiskers and body to help them sense where they are and what possible dangers may be nearby. They stay away from the center of the room because there is far less tactile feedback for their other senses. Plus, there are usually lots of good hiding spots against the walls because that's where a lot of furniture sits.
Q: Why do rat breeder dislike snake owners?
I think this is a common misconception between reptile enthusiasts and rat folk. As a rat breeder, I don't dislike reptiles or the people who own them, but a lot of time, money, and love goes into producing a litter of rats, and most lines take years to perfect. No rat breeder wants to see something they've worked hard to produce become reptile poop at the end of the day. Reptiles are beautiful and mysterious creatures. I have a lot of respect for the animals, as well as the people who care for them, but there are a lot of reasons to not feed a reptile live prey. For one, there is a great risk to the reptile. An angry, hurt, or scared rat is nothing to play with. For another reason, while reptiles in the wild would use various methods to incapacitate their prey, captive reptiles have their prey dropped right into their tanks, eliminating the need to put the prey animal through being crushed, having their nervous systems stopped to the point of death, or being swallowed alive. It's more humane for both animals to feed frozen prey from a reputable source that humanely euthanized the prey animals before they are frozen. I do understand that some snakes refuse to eat anything but live prey. They just won't be eating any of my rats.
Q: Was I born in the year of the rat?
The Chinese zodiac cycles every twelve years, beginning with the rat and ending with the pig. You're in the year of the rat if your birthday falls in one of the following years: 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, or 2020. The next year of the rat will be in 2032. People born in the year of the rat are crafty, attractive, and successful and are considered most compatible with those born in the year of the ox, dragon, and monkey.
Q: Is it true that rats are important in some cultures?
In India, there's a place known as the Karni Mata Temple. It's a holy spot and the rats in and around the temple are considered sacred. There are high penalties for killing a rat from the temple. The Hindu god, Ganesh, is sometimes shown in pictures with a rat companion named Vahana. At the temple, visitors are supposed to bring offerings to the rats. The rats are thought to be reincarnations of children by some, and reincarnations of those hiding from Yama, the Hindu god of death, by others. Either way, these rats are special to those who practice the Hindu religion and visit this temple.