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Rat Care

By: Talia Starkey

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Unless you are intent on observing the complete lifecycle of a rat family, breeding your own rats is not necessary. Rat fanciers and pet stores alike have abundant young rats that they are willing to sell to pet owners. If you do want to breed your own rats, know that a pair of rat parents can produce between three and seven litters of six to twelve baby rats (called "kittens") each year. You should never mate your rats unless you have reliable and caring owners lined up for each new little animal.

In Sickness and in Health

You will find that your rat's feeding habits are a good gauge of his general health and well-being. Be sure to monitor how much your rat eats on a regular basis. If his appetite declines, there is likely something wrong with him. Keep an eye out for other signs of illness, including listlessness, difficulty breathing, or changes in the consistency of his feces. If you notice that your rat has diarrhea or a marked lack of appetite for more than one day, contact a small animal specialist veterinarian immediately.

A rat's small size and intolerance of bandages can be obstacles to proper care for basic injuries, including cuts and breaks. It's better to eliminate the conditions that could lead to these injuries before anything bad happens. Never leave a rat unsupervised in a playroom, and make sure that his cage has no raw wire edges where he could scrape himself or get a leg caught.

To reduce the likelihood of respiratory illness, keep your rat's cage clean and well-ventilated. Ammonia vapors from urine residue in cages or aquariums can cause serious damage to his respiratory tract. Be sure to scrub down his cage at least once a week, scooping out heavily soiled bedding in between regular cleanings.

Never administer medicine to your rat without a veterinarian's guidance and approval. If your veterinarian recommends an oral medication for your rat's illness, you can immobilize your pet either by "scruffing" it – by gathering up the loose skin on the back of its neck and holding him firmly with one hand, supporting his weight with another – you will need another person to help you actually feed the rat the medication – or by gently rolling the rat in a towel so that only his head exposed.

It's important for your rat to keep his strength up while he is healing from any sickness or injury, so take this time to tempt him with rich and nutritious foods you might otherwise give him only sparingly. You can give him baby foods, cooked eggs, avocado, yogurt and cooked oatmeal – anything that interests him and gets him to eat while he is not feeling well. If you notice that he is not drinking water, you can try squirting some in his mouth with a small, needleless syringe.

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