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Rats! Love Em Or Hate Em You Can't Live Without Em
Member Name: Lemonlurver
Date: 20/06/03, updated on 20/06/03 (395 review reads)
Advantages: Friendly, fun, Intelligent
Disadvantages: Don't live long enough, Cleaning them out, Prone to tumours
I have been a lifelong fan of rats and I consider it one of my roles in life to educate the world on how wonderful they are. A lot of people disagree but I hope to change a few minds.
I have had fancy rats for many years. Since I was 18 I have had 8 rats. The first two were inherited when they were quite old so I didn't bond with them so well, but the other 6 were just gorgeous.
I bought Scrabble in November 1999. I fell in love with her straight away. She was a beautiful rat from the beginning, a Berkshire Badger, a rare breed. Imagine a brown badger, but all tiny and fluffy. She came to me in the cage, snuggled up to my fingers, then bit my boyfriend when he tried to touch her. You can imagine why I took to her. Until she died from heart and lung congestion at the age of 2 she was my favourite. She never tolerated anyone else, but she used to fall asleep on me, would give me rat kisses and it broke my heart the day she died.
The next day I went back to get her sister, Marbles. She was a common variegated rat, white and greyish brown. From the outset she was very outgoing and extremely intelligent. I bought them a big Hamster Ball thingy (u know the ones I mean) and she figured out how to open it in 15 seconds! This started a competition to see fast she could get out of the ball. The record time was 3.2 seconds. Impressive, huh? She also figured out how to escape from all the cages I ever bought, no matter what I did to block the opening. Yes, Marbles was the reincarnation of Houdini. She also loved going on trips out, her favourite being the video shop as they let her run around. She died at the age of 2 and a half, of cancer.
My next 2 rats actually belonged to my boyfriend, but as they preferred me I inherited them when they were 4 months old. Both were hooded black and white rats. Chop was the funniest animal I have ever met. Her idea of fun was scaling the net curtains and dive bombing the
other rats as they walked past. Her escapades include jumping on a cat, walking the window ledge 8 storeys from the ground and collecting 5 pence pieces. No other coins interested her, bizarre! Sadly, she drowned when 18 months, an accident I still blame myself for, despite knowing it wasn't really my fault. I used to bath them, as rats are great swimmers. Unfortunately, one got overexcited and knocked her under. Despite my best efforts she died. I tried moth to moth, pumping her stomach, everything I could but she still died in my hands. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, and I would never bath my animals again.
Her sister Stix looked nearly identical, but she was HUGE! She didn't have the same personality at all; in fact she hated anyone (except me and my father-in-law). If she had been a dog she would have been put down, as she bit so many people who carelessly tried to stick their fingers in the cage to say hello. She also had a toe fetish! Whenever she was let loose she went straight for peoples toes, hung on as tightly as she could and would run off to eat whatever she managed to pull off. Truly disgusting, but she was my favourite after Scrabble. She died a few months ago over the age of 3, which is impressive, especially considering she had an operation to remove 2 cancerous tumours. It still hurts to talk about her stupidly. The pain of losing her is still pretty raw.
The next 2 were Trivvel and Pikachu. They were unfortunately mortal enemies from the start. Bought a few months separately they both got on very well with the other rats, but they hated each other with a passion, that soon turned into completely ignoring the other. Trivvel was a Chocolate Silver Brown rat and Pika was an Agouti Hooded rat. Pika unfortunately died from congestive heart disease at the age of 18 months, Trivvel made it to 2 and a half but died of respiratory disease. Trivvel had a very lively and independent personality; Pika was very close
to me, maybe because she was the last to arrive in the group. She used to love sitting in my sleeve.
I loved my rats dearly and loved setting all 6 of them free to roam the house. This meant of course rat proofing, and the loss of some ornaments etc (knocked off shelves) but I thought my rats having freedom was worth more than a couple of crappy vases and books. They were also toilet trained and would go back in the cage when they needed to go.
When I was pregnant I was stuck in the house and the only companions I had were the rats. Because of this I became very close to them.
*** HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR RAT***
Of course this applies in part to other animals as well. The first thing to check is the premises. If buying from a pet shop check it is clean, and that all the animals in the shop are well taken care of. If you have any suspicions that the animals haven't had the best start in life walk away. This may be hard to do (and if u have concerns report them) but I lost Scrabble and Pika too early due to the bad start they had in life.
If you are satisfied that the animals are in a healthy environment now is the time to look at the animals. I would suggest choosing at least 2 rats as they are very social animals, and that they are no older than 8 weeks old. A single rat will require more attention, but may also be a better pet if you give it the amount of time it requires. Under stimulated rats can be very violent and bite. A young rat tames quickly and therefore makes a better pet than an old one.
A good choice of rat is one that is relaxed when it is held, or seems curious to examine you. If the rat doesn?t calm down after several minutes of being held choose another one.
Carefully examine the rat/s you are buying for illness. A healthy rat has clear eyes, a smooth shiny coat and it feels solid, instead of floppy and bony. Avoid animals that have dull fluffy coats, bald patches, runny eyes or noses an
d it is VITAL that you listen to the breathing of your rat. If it wheezes or sneezes put it back and leave the shop. If one has a respiratory problem, chances are it?s a genetic problem and all the rats will develop this from the same litter.
If possible you should check the rat?s teeth. They should not be broken or too long and should meet together properly. A rat that has problems with it?s teeth will be a constant source of trouble (and vet bills).
Deciding on the sex of your rat/s can be tricky. Female rats are smaller and sleeker than males, and much more playful. However, male rats are more likely to enjoy being fussed. The downside of males is that they are more likely to be ill, won?t be as funny and intelligent and have a habit of ?marking? their territory.
One place you should never get your animals from is SHIRLEY PET CENTRE in Solihull, West Midlands. 3 of my rats from there developed the same condition, which eventually killed them. I believe they are over breeding their animals and have not responded to my letter concerning this matter. I have spoken to animal welfare about them and an investigation is underway.
Of course you can get your rat from animal shelters, as there are always unwanted rats there. However, these are usually older animals and may not be so easy to tame.
***HOUSING YOUR RAT***
Rats will do better in the largest cage possible, with lots of activity for them. A wheel is ideal, and it is hysterical to watch them gallop away. If the cage is in your room though you may wish to disconnect the wheel. The sleepless nights I have had are innumerous! If you buy a wire frame cage ensure the bars are no larger than half an inch wide. Rats can easily get out of anything bigger (Trust me on this!). Also, I would advise getting cages that have solid bases and shelves, as rats can get their feet caught.
I would suggest buying wire cages as you can interact better than if you rat is
in an aquarium. Fill it with toys, but don?t be confined to the limited things available for rats. Bird swings, mirrors and even tree branches are great fun for rats.
I would suggest getting your rat a nesting box. As they are nocturnal they like some privacy when the sun is high. Unless it is necessary leave this as your rat?s private haven. It helps them feel more secure.
For bedding I would suggest plain wood shavings. Scented shavings only work for a very limited time and can aggravate your rat?s breathing. Avoid completely cedar shavings, as these can cause liver damage and infertility in rats. They smell great, but your ratty?s health is more important.
Change the bedding often as the ammonia in urine can affect you rat?s heath.
Never put rats in cages with other small animals. A rat is perfectly capable of killing a guinea pig or hamster, and is quite likely to do this.
***FEEDING YOUR RAT***
Rats are of course omnivorous. Your rat will probably eat almost anything you give it (even pickled onions!!!!!) but nutrition is a key factor in promoting good health and a long life. I am convinced that my rats held off their diseases so long as I fed them properly.
Keep the food fresh, changing it every day. Give your rat a balanced diet of dried rat food and fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. Save the junk food for treats, especially when you are training them.
I would suggest giving your rat a salt/mineral wheel as they like playing with them, and they instinctively know when they need more minerals. My rats used to spin theirs with their paws then bite it savagely. Very funny!
Your rat will live longer if it is fed a high fibre, low fat and low protein diet. Studies have shown these diets can hold off the tumours that rats are so prone to.
Prevention is the best way to keep your rat healthy. First start with a health rat! Keep cages and accessories clean.
Feed your rat a variety of health fresh food. Always have fresh clean water available. Most importantly is to observe your rat, get to know them and you will see when they are ill. I could tell when my rats were unwell very quickly, as I knew them so well.
Rats are very hardy animals and rarely get unwell but two things affect them severely. The first is tumours, which rats are very prone to. Although they are usually benign they can grow very quickly. It is usually best to leave the tumours, although Stix had 2 tumours removed as they would have impeded her movement and she would have to be put down. I decided her quality of life was more important, and she had the op. I was extremely worried as rats are very resistant to anything medical (due to years of testing!) and need a high dose of anaesthetic. Fortunately, she pulled through and the tumours didn?t reappear until just before her death. For the reason of the anaesthetic I would suggest you never put your animal under surgery unless ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. I can?t stress this enough, as I know several people who have lost their rat this way.
The second problem is called Murine Respiratory Mycoplasmosis. (MRM) This is the most common ailment seen in rats and is a disease of the upper respiratory tract. The clinical onset is usually slow but acute episodes can occur in young and susceptible animals. It is highly contagious. A rat may have MRM without showing any symptoms, and then be ill for 2 days, then die. The progression can be that fast. However, you may find your rat will never show any symptoms of this. The symptoms of MRM include sniffling, sneezing and rough hair. If you see any signs of this contact your vet immediately. Usually rats don?t die of MRM, but a secondary illness which MRM has made them more susceptible to.
There are lots more illness, but I would suggest looking for a decent book to list these.
Find a decent vet, whatever you do. Most vets know very littl
e about small animals, as they are less profitable then dogs, etc. I actually knew more about them than my vet, and I used to diagnose them, and take them to him for confirmation and medicine. We actually had a good rapport after a while, and he has called me on occasion to ask my advice on rats. This may sound bizarre, but educate yourself through books and the net and you will soon pick it up. Small animal vets are hard to find, trust me. The only one I found was a sadist.
Loads of people hate rats because of their tails but they are in fact a marvel. They are used for balance and gripping, AND they are a rat?s temperature system. When the rat is too hot the scales on the tail lift. This is much more convenient than sweating.
Rats communicate through body language and through pheromones.
Rats can swim as far as half a mile in the open sea, can hold their breath for 15 minutes and tread water for three days.
Rats can't vomit or burp. This is another great evolutionary skill. It means they can eat any old crap, and keep it down. Unfortunately, it also means they can't be saved if they choke, or if they drown (like my poor little Chop).
Rats can run at a top speed of 6 miles an hour (although I?m sure my Chop was faster than that!) and can jump upward 3 feet.
It has been estimated that if rats died out, the human race would die within 15 years from either massive pollution problems or from a huge growth of insects.
I hope that this op has convinced you that rats are wonderful animals, much maligned. They make great pets for any age, are more intelligent than most other animals and will give you great pleasure for their all too short lives. Hopefully, if you are choosing a rat in the future this will help you to decide what type you want, and how to care for it.
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