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Preventative Care in Rats

Rats may not be on your radar when looking into adopting a Pocket Pet into your family, but they should definitely be considered. They are incredibly smart, gentle and loving and can be trained to use a litter box, or even perform some basic tricks. Just like any other pet, preventative care is one of the biggest services that we provide here at the Kamloops Veterinary Clinic. Knowing how to properly care for your Rat will help it live the longest and healthiest life possible.

Here is a list of things that can help you give your pet Rat the best possible care:

Diet

There are commercially available rat pellet diets that most rats do quite well on. They are hard enough that they help promote proper teeth wear, but should not be the only source of chew toys. Rats are notorious for having overgrown incisors. Rats can also be quite picky, and sometimes the pellet diet alone can get boring for them and can also be quite fattening. Incorporating healthy food options such
as fruit, vegetables and grains can give your rat a variation and keep him/her in a good body condition.

Examples of acceptable foods:

  • Fruit- Watermelon, honeydew, banana, grapes, blueberries etc…
  • Vegetables- peas, corn, broccoli, sweet potato
  • Beans- red kidney, soy, butter beans
  • If interested in feeding grains, brown rice (cooked) and whole wheat pasta (cooked) are great options

Treat ideas:

  • Low-fat muesli bars
  • Yogurt drops
  • Avocado
  • Sushi rolls(certain ones, they like the avocado ones)

Great ideas to help tooth wear:

  • Nuts in a shell (they seem to like macadamias, pecans, and hazelnuts)
  • Baby teething rusks(vegetable flavoured)
  • Dog Greenies
  • When feeding non-pellet food, be sure to check the cage daily to see what your rat does or does not like. This will also prevent any leftover food from going mouldy and potentially be getting your rat sick!

Housing

Good housing options:

    • Wire cages(solid bottom)
    • Aquariums
    • Homemade residence

When choosing a house it is important to take into account your surroundings. (i.e. if you are in an apartment with no access to an outdoor hose, you will want it to fit in your bathroom tub to make cleaning easier). Be sure to place your rats’ house in an area that isn’t in direct sunlight and is free of drafts. Rats require complete darkness overnight or they can experience health and even reproductive issues. The recommended temperature for your rats home is between 20-26 degrees Celsius. When temperatures get too high or too low it can cause your rat stress that may lead to health problems. When deciding where to place the home it is best to have it on a raised surface as opposed to the floor. This allows your rat to see you and interact with you which can help them warm up to you faster. The last consideration to think about, though there are many, is ventilation. Rat urine has high ammonia levels and there for ventilation is really important in order to reduce respiratory problems.

Environmental Enrichment

As with most pets, rats can get bored if not enough correct stimulation is provided. Making sure your rat has lots to do and is kept busy will ensure he/she is kept in not only good physical health but mental health as well. Adding little hideouts (i.e.: cardboard boxes, plastic igloos) help you rat get away and hide if they feel unsafe. It also gives them a place to hide their food as they naturally like to store it. Rats love to climb so having a multi-level cage for them is a great idea. This will also give them more room to run around get the exercise they need. Some enjoy hammocks and PVC tubing to play in. It is also important to include materials like paper towel rolls and other things they can use to make nests out of. Rats are very social creatures so it is usually recommended to keep them in pairs.

To Fix or Not To Fix?

There is no definitive yes or no answer as to whether you should spay or neuter your Rat. Neutering is a much less invasive procedure than a spay and occurs more often. When making this decision all potential health benefits and risks should be discussed with your veterinarian. Keep in mind all rats are different and what may be good for one rat may not be good for another. If keeping opposite sex rats in the same kennel it is important to spay or neuter at least one of the rats to prevent unwanted breeding. In most cases, due to it being less invasive, neutering of the male is recommended more often than not. As always if you are unsure, consult your veterinarian.

Internal and External Parasites

An external parasite is a very common problem for most pocket pets. Even if the pet never leaves your house, it is likely that little bugs, such as lice and mites, can come from commercially available bedding and other such products. The preventative medicine similar to what is used in dogs and cats is available through your veterinarian and is very easy to apply. It is not recommended to wait until your pet has an infection before treating, just like with dogs and cats, we want to apply for the medicine as a prevention before it is needed as a treatment.

Internal parasites are slightly different. For the most part, prevention comes from being diligent about cleanliness, using pre-packaged processed litter, quarantining new rats (for at least 3 weeks is the recommendation) etc. It also helps to prevent contact with excrement from outdoor pets.

What to watch for:

      • External Parasite signs to watch for:
      • Intense itching and scratching
      • Loss of hair
      • Ulcerated skin
      • Abrasions or scabs
      • Internal Parasite signs to watch for:
      • Diarrhea, blood tinged stool
      • Difficulty urinating
      • Distended abdomen
      • Weight loss
      • Listlessness
      • Pruritus(itching) in and around the rectum (e.g. pinworms)
      • Rectal prolapse

Respiratory Disease

Though rats can have many different medical problems, one of the most common is a respiratory disease. These problems can be caused by a number of things such as environmentally caused, bacteria, fungus and viruses. Knowing your rat’s normal behaviour will be important in noticing signs of illness early.

Signs to watch for:

      • Sniffling
      • Sneezing
      • Difficult or laboured breathing
      • Reddish staining around eyes and nose
      • No interest in food or water
      • Lethargic

If you have a concern at any time, it is always recommended to see a veterinarian.

Written by Kamloops Veterinary Clinic 

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