RAT
Rat Hello, rat lovers, wherever you are!

So, you are thinking about getting a rat.


 
LIFE SPAN - 3 years
ADVANTAGES
Like most small pets, they are easy to look after and cheap to feed, but can still give lots of love and companionship to the owner.
DISADVANTAGES
Their short life span, difficult to find if they escape and they can smell a bit if not cleaned out regularly.  They obviously cannot be house trained, although they usually use a certain part of their cage as the toilet area, and some people find it unpleasant when holding them and being given little 'pressies'.
CARE
Like all pets, the larger the cage the better.  As rats have a tendency to gnaw, their cage should be made from hardwood, moulded plastics, metal, glass (fish tank), weld or wire mesh.
Rats can be kept in a single-storey cage with a raised gallery, recommended minimum size being 75cm x 30cm x 30cm high for a pair of rats.  With a little imagination, you can make the rat a lovely home.  It's cage should have at least a nest box with bedding  in which to sleep (this could be made of a wicker plant plot, a small cardboard box, etc., with commercially prepared bedding sold at pet shops, shredded paper or meadow hay), ropes and ladders for climbing, an exercise wheel, a twig or wooden cotton reel for gnawing, lengths of piping for exploring, etc.  The more 'toys' it has, the happier it will be and the more fun to watch.
Rats do not smell if their cages are kept clean..  Their cage should have a layer of wood shavings or dust-free cat litter (sawdust can affect their respiratory tracts) to absorb their urine, which should be replaced at least twice a week, with all areas scrubbed at least once a week with a mild disinfectant which should be rinsed off thoroughly, and the cage allowed to dry before replacing the cage covering. Having a spare cage could be useful to keep the rats secure during this process.  Their food dishes and drinking water should be thoroughly cleaned on a daily basis and refreshed.
Rats are fastidious about their personal hygiene and will adequately groom themselves without the need of our help.
They are easily handled.  Always let your rats see and smell your hands before picking them up and never try to pick them up if they are sleeping. You can undo a lot of good work by having to grab a rat to remove him/her from danger and this is one reason why you need to be sure that the area you let your rats explore is rat-proof. Always pick your rats up by scooping them up with both hands, and supporting them from underneath. Never pick a rat up by the tail."
LITTER TRAINING
Most rats can be litter trained to some extent. A very few rats will use a litter tray for all their waste, but the majority will only at best reliably use it for droppings and will urinate in small quantities all over the cage. This is because rats use urine scent as a territorial marking.
A litter tray can be almost any container that is heavy enough not to be tipped over, and tall enough that the litter doesn't get kicked out too easily. Depending on the size of your cage you could use a tupperware-type container, a ferret corner litter tray (about 5 in pet shops), a seed planting tray or a cat litter tray. If your litter tray is too light try attaching it to the cage mesh with plastic-coated garden wire or putting pebbles in the base to hold it down. If you have a multi-level cage it is best to have a litter tray on each floor as bucks in particular can be too lazy to go to the tray if it is "too far"!
In order for the rats to differentiate between the cage floor and the litter tray you should use a different litter in the tray to what you use elsewhere in the cage. Obviously something odour and moisture absorbing is ideal, such as Carefresh, or 100% paper cat litters e.g. Bio-Catolet or Bob Martin's.
Rats can be litter trained at any age, although kittens may learn quicker than adults, and elderly rats should be given a shallow tray near to their usual sleeping area. Completely clean the cage and save some droppings, preferably fresh and smelly. Fill the litter trays with your chosen litter, add the poop and place them in the cage. If your rats already tend to go mostly in one corner place the tray there. If you see a rat using the litter tray praise them extravagantly! If you see a rat going elsewhere either move them if you can be quick enough, or move their droppings to the tray straight away. You will probably need to be very persistant with this, and when you start out you should clean up non-litter tray areas as often as you can to reinforce the idea, at least twice a day. A few rats will get the hang of it almost immediately, but for most you will have to be patient for a week or two. A bonus is that kittens introduced to cages with litter trained adults tend to litter train themselves, so you do not need to repeat the process for all new arrivals. During time out of the cage you can either allow your rats access to their cage litter trays (if the door is accessible to them) or use a separate litter tray in the corner of the free-range area. This may require a little more encouragement but a rat already used to a tray in their cage should learn to extend this behaviour to the free-range area without too much difficulty.
COMPANION
It is not advisable to keep different sexed rats together unless you want 100s of babies. The best advice is to buy the same sexed rats at the same time out of the same litter.
VACCINATIONS
Non known of.
FEEDING
Rats are omnivorous in captivity.  It is usual to feed two meals a day.  Their diet should consist of a pet shop bought rat food mix, raw fruit and vegetables (carrot, swede, celery, apple and green vegetables in moderation), hay, and, occasionally, boiled egg, ham, cheese.  A salt and mineral block should also be available.
Drinking water is best provided in drip feed containers.
AILMENTS
These small rodents have very poor recuperative powers.  If you suspect it is ill take it to a vet immediately.  However, prevention is better than cure and it is very important that their home is kept clean. Their food should be fresh and replaced daily to avoid INTESTINAL COMPLAINTS.   Avoid sudden changes in temperature, draughts and dampness which could lead to BRONCHITIS or PNEUMONIA
EXTERNAL PARASITES
It is very rare for a rat to get fleas, etc., but should you notice an infestation use a cat flea powder after thorough cleaning the cage and replacing all bedding and sawdust.
NO APPETITE
If your rat seems to be off its food, check its teeth as they may need trimming by a vet.  However, this problem should not occur if you have sufficient gnawing materials in its cage.
LINKS
 
Rat Planet