Wire spaces cannot be more than ½ inch because they can get out. If their head fits, their rib cage can hinge and they get out.
They need space to climb, potty, sleep, and exercise; therefore, size does matter!
Ventilation is important for their health, so no tanks, hamster cages, reptile cages, or plastic bins.
Absorbent material is needed on surfaces so that they do not walk through or drag their tail through pee.
They need to hone their teeth because their teeth are constantly growing. They will use wood (untreated hobby wood or poplar), plastic, and any cardboard or material in their cage. Anything inside the cage that is not metal will be subject to destruction. Some are worse than others because of individual preferences.
You may want to give them something to stand on in their potty box. This will reduce the mess from their throwing litter and keep them from accidentally stepping in poop. A grate top to stand on or a rock work most often.
Rats like to burrow, but that doesn't mean they need to burrow in their toilet (litter). Easy solution are t-shirts or torn up blankets from Goodwill or Salvation army. Let them have fun and then throw it away. With our design, the floor is a 1/2 x 1/2 inch grid with a litter tray underneath to keep them cleaner, healthier.
Hamster or Rat 'Run-About' exercise balls are a big NO. Rats use their whiskers, nose, and paws to understand their surroundings even more than they use their eyes. We get a lot of colored exercise balls and they are good for only for one thing - if large enough, we use them for sleeping areas; hanging them like a hammock. Both caps get tossed. We cover the bottom with scraps of fleece for them to nest in and the rats love to snuggle there. Keep in mind that they'll need to be regularly washed out and refilled.
The cages shown are our best recommendations. The top cage is our design. The bottom cage is a Critter Nation. Check www.smallpetstore.com for covers and accessories.
GOOD FOOD AND TREATS
Teklad 2014 blocks Protein 14% Fat 4% Globally recognized #1 in supporting health and longevity. Available at https://smallpetstore.com
Oxbow Essentials Regal Adult Rat Food. Protein 15% Fat 4%. Available at Pet Supermarket.
Mazuri Rat blocks 6F #5M30 Protein 16% Fat 6%. Available at many feed store location in LARGE bags.
Food blocks should make up 90% of their diet.
Good treats are: Kale & Lettuce (except iceberg), frozen broccoli flowerets and broccoli fresh chopped, Chex: Rice, Wheat, and Oats type, regular Cheerios, plain Kix, Honey Smacks (limited) animal cookies, natural unsalted sunflower seeds (limit quantity), greek yogurt covered blueberries from Publix, diced apples, pears, and melon (no seeds), sliced strawberries and banana. They can have cooked Kraft-type Mac-n-cheese (limited because of lactose intolerance), cooked pasta and rice, [Chinese takeout? Give them a treat too!], hard boiled eggs (you'll need to crack it, and then you want to watch them work for it), cooked ham, turkey, or chicken. Small meatballs (turkey or beef) are enjoyed, as well. Some say their rats love cooked meatballs with lots of Italian herbs. Turkey leg is a hit at Thanksgiving!
Sprouted mung beans are also a hit. They just require soaking in water for 24-36 hours. We use a colander set inside a bowl. Fill the bowl with water to soak, drain, rinse, repeat. Once you see sprouting, place a small bowl upside down in the large bowl and set the colander of barely sprouted beans on top of the platform to drain. Leave it on the counter and you'll have sprouted the next day that you can store covered in the fridge.
BAD FOOD AND TREATS
Not all treats work for rats, as they have a sensitive digestive system. What can be eaten by guinea pigs and chinchillas can kill a rat. Alfalfa, dried beans and corn, hay, and artichokes can build up in their digestive tract and kill them because they cannot pass the fibrous material. Read ingredients on treats because even if there is a picture of a rat, or it says the treats are for rodents, that does NOT mean it is really okay. Even Oxbow, the maker of the #1 commercial rat food (small flat triangle food pellets) use alfalfa in treats.
Snak Shak are a BIG NO NO. VERY DANGEROUS. Alfalfa and Pine Wood with honey and peanut butter. The sweet makes them mistake it for a treat.
We suggest staying away from uncooked: Flax seed, barley, oats, pasta, corn, rice, millet, kamut, sweet potato, peas, beans, groats. You can find a lot of home mixes with these items, but if you think about it - would YOU eat hard seeds that hurt your teeth or pasta that gives way to sharp edges when broken? Also, rat food variety packs from the pet store like Kaytee have alfalfa, dried corn, and seeds. None of which is supporting a healthy diet for your fur babies. Finally, rats can not vomit. When something becomes lodged in the throat, it take a lot of time and energy to dislodge it.
CANCER, ABSCESS, OR HERNIA?
Mammary tumors and cysts are the most common and only happen with does as bucks do not have nipples. Does have 12 nipples, that's 12 possibilities. Mammary tumors are not hard,but soft. If they tumor is hard, it's usually aggressive, and non-recurring once removed. No matter what sex your rat is, before 18 months old, it's best to have the tumor removed ASAP. The smaller it is, the less expensive it is to remove. After 18 months, surgery is still possible, but you need to consider their respiratory health because of the anesthesia.
Rats are also prone to inguinal hernias, which a weakening of the abdomen wall near their groin. They start out looking like tumors down near the anus and pee area. Because of a rat's internal structure, hernias can't be operated on. If this happens, it won't slow them down for months. If they are eating and drinking and still being their happy selves, you need to only make their cage and sleeping area comfortable and easy to get to.
Not every bump is cancer. Often, it will be an abscess. An abscess will show at any age and anywhere on the body - even the tail. They are bacterial infections that need cleaned out because the rat's system is generating a lot of white blood cells to fight the infection. Not everyone can take wound care into their own hands. If you are squeamish, go to the vet or come to us. You'll have to start your companion on antibiotics to aid in healing and preventing further infection. The only time an abscess is life threatening is if it is allowed to grow too large.
The photo is the aftermath of a small abscess after cleaning.
STROKES AND HEAD TILT
Strokes are sudden. There is no planning or prevention. Sometimes a stroke is severe enough that your companion passes away. Sometimes they have mini-strokes. They can lose the function of one or more of their feet, start to tilt their head to the side, or tilt their head and start walking in circles incessantly.
The head tilt can also be caused by an inner ear infection. Since the vet can't see the inner ear, there's no way to know unless you give them antibiotics for an infection and they get better. They may not completely stop tilting their head, but if they are running and steady on their feet, then it was an ear infection and they are fine. If they don't show improvement within a week of antibiotic care, it's neurological. You can't fix neurological aliments. What you can do is arrange their cage to be safer for them - no big drops where they can fall. The other mischief members will help them.
MITES AND LICE
Mites are dormant under the rats' epidermis. When they are stressed, or even for no reason at all, they can get a breakout. The sign of mites is the scabs left on their shoulders, cheeks, and legs (or all over if not attended to). You won't see the mites and they won't hurt you. They cause your rat to inch so much that they dig trying to get the itching to stop. Lice is something you can see. They are tiny, tinier than the lice we get, but they are not the same as the lice we deal with. They do lay eggs that look clear to brown on your rats' fur.
Fortunately, the solution to both lice and mites is the same. They are parasites and Ivermectin kills parasites. For rats, because they are so small, you don't need much, but they do need dosed over the period of 3-weeks. We suggest you dose them every 5 days for three weeks (that will be 4 doses) with .1ml of Invermectin 1.87% paste. To administer the paste, ask for a small 1-ml oral syringe from your vet. We also have it here and it's an OTC medication, so no prescription required. The brand we use is VetOne Vetrimec Paste . The other option is a drop of Revolution for puppies, but you'll need a prescription.
In conjunction, you can ease the itching with MicroTek shampoo. Giving a rat a bath can be easy or a total freak-out, so please watch our You Tube video on giving a rat a bath.
UPPER RESPIRATORY INFECTIONS AND EYE INFECTIONS
Rats are born with Mycoplasma Pulmonis. It means they are susceptible to respiratory infections. Now, not every singular sneeze means infection, so make sure you access their environment and what may have been added that will cause sneezing and if not remedied will lead to an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) because a sneeze does warn you of an intruder. They can worsen quickly, so it's very important not to ignore the sneezing and if there is nothing causing it in their environment, they need help. If it's mild most vets will give you Amoxicillin or Baytril, but make sure they give you enough and that it's suspended in something sweet. We use organic cold press honey. If you are unsure, you can make a health check appointment with us.
Rat "tears" are red, not clear. If there is an overabundance of secretion, it will leave a red crusting around the eyes. Best bet is to keep Zoetis Terramycin Ophthalimic Ointment (Amazon) on hand. It treats conjunctivitis and secondary bacterial inflammatory conditions of the eye. It is a broad-spectrum antibiotic that does not require a prescription. As for the nose, if you see red around the nostrils, then your rat is probably sneezing and wheezing and requires medical attention. If for some reason you cannot take your furr baby to a vet for antibiotics, you can make your own mix with organic non-heated pressed honey and Fish Mox (amoxicillin).
YOUR PET'S ENVIRONMENT
What cannot be in a rat's environment?
Dust: House dust, food dust, littler dust. Their noses are close to the ground, so it becomes very important to buy dust free, dye free, perfume free litter.
Ammonia: Ammonia-based cleaning product or their own urine in their cage linens. They need plenty of air circulation in their cage (i.e. no tanks) and you need to clean their linens regularly (fleece covers, hammocks, sheets, anything they play, sleep, and can pee on.)
Baking soda: Baking soda is toxic to their system - breathed or ingested. In fact, baking soda and white vinegar create carbon dioxide. Some litter comes with baking soda to kill the smell, but you can't use it without risk of an URI.
Perfumes and fragrances: If you're wearing perfume, wash it off before taking out your pets and playing with them. Do not use detergent or dryer sheets with fragrance to clean their linens and really don't use it to clean your T-Shirts you wear when you are holding them or to clean your bed sheets if that's where you let them run around. We use Woolite and Bounces Free & Gentle dryer sheets for everything.
Pine & Cedar: These softwood chips have phenols (aromatic hydrocarbons) that may adversely affect the liver of rats as well as their respiratory system.
Clay: Clay is out too - meaning no cat litter. It's dusty and if your rat chews and swallows, it will clog their system and they will die.
Rusting of the cage. If they hone their teeth on the powder coating, allowing the metal underneath to be exposed, it will rust. This will happen to any cage, so be sure to give them plenty to do and play with for a longer lasting safe environment.
For litter, stick with aspen, shredded paper, or linens like cotton, fleece, and flannel.
Rats create a hierarchy within the mischief. If you have two vying for alpha (male and female mischiefs do this) then we suggest getting in the bathtub with them. You need somewhere they and you can be, so you can signal to them that you are alpha and love them equally. Part of this is just them figuring out who is alpha, and you'll have to let them, but you can calm the tension by putting them in a situation where they don't want to hurt you, the ultra-dominant. If they start fighting in the tub with you there, don't try to pull them apart you'll startle them. When you can safely pick them both up, hold them on each side of you so they see each other, while being held by you. Take a hand towel with you because if they calm down, you can cuddle them together in the towel.
During their first year, males can develop a hormonal imbalance. The best option is to have the male neutered to remove the testosterone from his system. It will take time for the remaining testosterone to work its way out. (1 - 2 months) Keep the male separated from the pack while he heals. He needs time to chill out. Take the opportunity to re-bond him to you.
When reintroducing, they will have to work out their hierarchy, so keep an eye on them but don't be surprised if they posture. When a rat is signaling they submit to another rat, they will go up on their hind feet and be very, very still. They are showing their belly to the dominant rat. If you see one of the rats puff out his/her fur and start hip bumping other rats, it's best to pull them out before a fight starts. This hip bumping is them egging on who they see as competition for alpha. While we don't know why some rats are instant friends while others can never be housed together, their opinions are important and forcing them to be together not only stresses them, but you as their caretaker.