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Rat Health and Maintenance

    Rats Are a Big Commitment

    Compared to many other types of pets, rats are relatively easy to care for.  That doesn't mean, however, that they are simple or trouble free pets to own.  Rats require a dedicated daily caregiver willing to prepare and serve food for them, wash water bottles and dishes, and spot check cages daily.  They must also thoroughly clean cages often, and keep their environment safe, hygienic, and mentally stimulating.  Pet rats also need to come out of their cage each day to interact with their human companions.  If a rat becomes ill, they will need to be taken to a vet, which can be quite costly.  When considering a rat as a pet be sure you are prepared to deal with any situation that may arise.  Make sure you have a vet fund to use for vet care before you adopt any pet rats.  Rats can be prone to specific health problems just like any other pet, so do your research and be sure you are prepared to deal with any such issues as they arise.  Choosing rats from known lineages and from breeders actively working to eliminate health issues can greatly lower the risk of health problems, but it is important to remember any rat from any source can become ill or develop a health issue.  Its the owner's duty to be diligent in all aspects of care and to do everything they possibly can to prevent health issues from developing in their pet.  Owners and breeders working together towards this common goal can achieve greater quality of life for our tiny friends.

    Vet Care is Essential

    Many health issues can be avoided by following strict high standards of care and concern for your rats.  However, even with the best care rats do sometimes get sick.  Check your rats over carefully each day, inspecting them for any signs of ill health.  A sick rat can go downhill quickly, so always get potential problems checked out right away.  Its never a good idea to adopt a "wait and see" attitude when dealing with a sick rat.

    If you are a new rat owner, or do not have an established vet that you bring your rats to, one of the best things you can do for your pet rat to ensure quality health care is to make an appointment for your rats to see their vet for a wellness check up.  This establishes a relationship with the vet and allows the vet to meet your rats when they are healthy.  That gives them a "baseline" to determine the rats normal behavior and get to know them when they are not ill or in pain.  It also gives you time to decide if you feel comfortable with that vet treating your rats.  Also, many vets will not treat your rat on an emergency basis if you are a new client.

    When choosing a vet, try to find one that has as much experience as possible treating rats.  Just because a vet *will* see your rat, doesn't mean they really know a whole lot about treating rats.  Ask them how many rats they see per week or month, how many and what types of surgeries they have done.  Observe the manner they handle your rat in, and how your rat reacts to them.  If anything about the experience makes you uneasy, you may want to find another vet.  A great vet will really be worth all the trouble in the long run.


    Quarantine is Key

    Another essential part of keeping your rats healthy is to avoid exposing them to disease.  In the simple act of going into a pet store that sells rodents, buying some food, and going right home to feed your rats could introduce a devastating illness.  SDA and Sendai are two such viruses which are found in rats in pet stores all over America.  I already advocate boycotting stores which sell live rodents due to the inhumane methods used in raising them.  This is just one more reason to avoid these kinds of places.

    By observing a proper quarantine at all times, you will greatly reduce the chance of a contagious disease breaking out among your rats.  If you do go somewhere that there are live rodents present, be sure to allow 3+ hours between being around those rodents, and entering your home.  Once you arrive there, jump right into the shower.  When acquiring new rats, always take care to go to the safest source.  A pet store is the last place you would want to look for a pet rat.  Your safest bet is with a closed rescue or rattery, who follows all the proper quarantine procedures.  If you already have rats at home, the incoming rats must go through a full 3 week quarantine!  This must be done at a location with a separate air source from where your resident rats are kept.  Most people do this at a friend's house or in a climate controlled outbuilding.  If you spend time with your pets while they are in quarantine, be sure to follow the 3+hour/shower rule!  Please see the Rat Health Guide article on Quarantine for more detailed information on proper quarantine procedure. 


    Rats Need Rats

    Companionship is absolutely essential when it comes to your rat being healthy, both physically and mentally!  Norway rats in nature live in large colonies alongside their family members.  Being alone is very stressful for a rat.  However, I have heard of many situations where pet rats are kept alone.  No amount of human interaction can make up for the need for another rat companion!  Rats are highly social animals and they must live in pairs at the very minimum. 


    Nail Trimming

    This is an essential part of your rat's care.  Wild rats trim down their nails naturally, but our pets need our help to do this.  Practice this task from a very young age with your rat, and by the time they are adult they will be so used to it they may not even notice you doing it.  Most of mine will groom my hand while I trim their nails.  I use toddler sized human nail clippers.  Simply trim off the tip of the nail and avoid cutting into the quick.  Some people wrap their rats in towels, or have another person feed the rat treats while they trim.  My method is to put my rat in my lap.  I pet and calm them beforehand and slowly go through and trim each nail.

  

    Bathing

    Bathing is not really a necessity for rats, since they bath themselves quite constantly.  As long as their cage environment is kept clean, the rats themselves should stay pretty clean.  However, you can bath your rats if you feel they need it.  Do not bath them too often or you can strip their coat of its natural oils.  As long as the rat is introduced to bathing from a young age, they shouldn't have any stress about taking a bath, and some seem to greatly enjoy this time.  Even older ratties can be introduced to bathing, just take it slow.  When first introducing your rats to the bath, use just an inch of water, very gradually you can increase the depth to a couple of inches.  I usually fill my big tub up with 3-4" of water, put in a couple large, clean plastic igloos to make "islands" where the rats can get out of the water.  I add a couple plastic balls and other bath toys.  My guys like to swim and play in the water and will often spend quite a while in the tub.  I keep the heater on in the bathroom so that everyone stays nice and warm.  If I am bathing only 1 rat, I usually just fill up my sink instead of using the entire tub.  I also keep a small fish net on hand to scoop "floaters" from the water.  I use an organic, mild goat milk soap to wash my rats.  When choosing a shampoo or soap, make sure that it is gentle and non toxic and free from ingredients that could be harmful if the rats ingest them.  Always be sure rats are thoroughly rinsed after their bath, and then dried well.  I let mine roam the bathroom and burrow in nice dry towels (with a few treats hidden inside!) while I wait for them to dry completely.


Links to More Information on Health and Care of Pet Rats

http://ratguide.com <--- Rat Guide (Health, Care Medication, and Breeding Guides)

http://www.ratz.co.uk/ <--- Rat Health Care and Information

http://www.ratfanclub.org/helpinfo.html <--- Rat Fan Club Links



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