Frequently asked questions

Diet

What food do you feed/recommend?


I feed & highly recommend Oxbow Adult rat food. In my opinion it is the best brand of food on the market for rats. Oxbow has good high quality ingredients (and yes the quality of ingredients matter!), no carcinogens such as BHA or BHT, it doesn't contain corn or alfalfa, which are just fillers. I do not recommend the young adult formula, as it is not as high quality and many rats do not seem to like it. For growing young rats (under 6 months old) I still recommend feeding the Adult Oxbow and supplementing extra protein by feeding small amounts of other foods several times a week such as - hard boiled eggs, chicken, low protein high quality dog food (never cat food), quinoa, etc...




Where can I buy Oxbow?


I buy my rats food from Chewy.com and highly recommend the site. It is the cheapest price I have found anywhere. And if you add a few things to your cart you can get free 2 day shipping which is awesome. I also suggest you buy the 20lb bag. It is way cheaper to buy in bulk. The oxbow bag is resealable or you can portion it off and freeze part of it. If you only have a couple of rats 20lbs should last you a long time!




What other brands would you suggest?


The ONLY other brands of food I suggest are Envigo/Native Earth (also known as Harlan Teklad) and Mazuri. I am not the biggest fan of either as they both contain corn, Mazuri also contains alfalfa, has very high protein and some of their varieties contain BHA. But they are less expensive than Oxbow and still good options compared to other brands out there.




What about homemade mixes?


A block/kibble diet will always be better than mixes. I am not a fan of mixes at all and do not recommend them. 1. Most popular mix recipes are very bad. You can not just throw together dog food, cereals and seeds/fruit and call it a day! These diets do not contain the proper nutrients and are often way too high in sugars/fats. This is a junk food diet and not healthy. 2. Mixes allow your rat to be picky and pick and choose what they want to eat. If you have more than one rat there is no way to monitor or control what nutrition any one rat is getting with a mix. One rat can eat alot/most of one thing while another eats more of something else and misses out on another. Rats are very small, even small bits like that can play a huge role on their nutrition and health. So even if you have a perfect recipe of nutrition, your rats are very unlikely to be eating it in a helpful proper manner for it to have ANY meaning. And the more items in the mix the more likely each individual rat will miss out on specific items. 3. It encourages rats to be picky, to hoard food and even can cause fights/bickering over the yummiest bits. 4. One of the biggest complaints about a block diet is the lack of variety. To me this is a silly argument as a mix would still involve eating the exact same thing everyday. Is there really much difference if I eat 1 item every day or 3 items? You can add healthy & controlled variety to their diet by feeding fresh foods and treats! I give my rats fresh foods several times a week. These fresh food meals are in small enough portions that they eat them in a single sitting. This allows me to control the amount rats get & make sure everyone is getting their fair balanced share. I can separate rats to feed them it or make different meals for each cage. It puts me in control of their diet.




Things you would avoid?


There are many studies out there suggesting carcinogens being linked to cancer & dangerous. Many of these studies used mice/rats in them. The FDA says that these carcinogens are mostly safe for humans in limited amounts... In my opinion even if one wants to argue that known carcinogens are safe in small amounts, when they are being fed as part of the rats main daily diet it becomes worrisome and risky. Rats are already fairly tumor prone, why take the risk and increase the odds by feeding them carcinogens? Red Dye 40 is often used in some foods. Most colorful processed foods include it. They use it in cheaper pet foods all the time. There are studies suggesting it can be linked to cancer. (as seen in Kaytee brand foods) AVOID. Watch out for it in pet treats and even in many human grade foods! BHA & BHT- a preservative used in some pet foods. It is a carcinogen- http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/red-flag-ingredients/bha-in-dog-food/ (as seen in some formulas of Mazuri, Doggy bag dog food, kent rodent foods and many other brands.) Dried corn- has been linked to deadly mold in some cases. I am also just not a fan of corn in pet food. Corn is high in sugars and has low nutritional value. It is a cheap filler used to bulk up the food while adding no real value. ---- Do not feed cat food. Cats are obligate carnivores. They have far different nutritional needs then rats. Cat food is far far too high in protein, even when mixed with other food. And any brand of cat food that has somewhat lower (but still too high) protein, is a very poor & cheaply made brand. Too much sugars/treats/junk food. Rats are more than happy having a healthy snack. My rats go bonkers for peas and kale. They are not missing out on life by not having a slice of cake. While all things in moderation is fine, rats are tiny and it is very easy for us to misjudge a proper rat sized serving or overdo it.





Cages

What brands of cages do you recommend?


The ONLY cages I truly suggest are Critternations, Rat Manor & Martins. You can read more about my cage suggestions HERE




What bar spacing should I choose?


Always choose bar spacing of 1/2" or less. Sometimes people may say 1" is fine for adult/larger rats or that you can wrap the cage in hardware cloth. But just don't. If you are going to spend so much money on a cage, go with the ideal cage. Some adults can still slip out of 1" bar spacing. Even if you have rats in it and they don't slip out right away, that doesn't mean they can't or won't either. If you ever decide to get new rats/babies the cage won't be useable. Wrapping a cage is a major pain in the butt. I will never wrap a cage again, it is so much painful effort. It also makes the cage ugly, way difficult to use and clean. So not worth it.




Metal VS Plastic?


AVOID cages with plastic bases. Rats can be destructive little things. I have seen countless posts in groups where rats have chewed right out of the base. Now you have a worthless cage and loose rats! Don't risk it. The only time plastic is safe is if the base sits outside the bars like with the Martin cages or flat sided bins with no lips/edges.




Can I house rats in a tank/aquarium?


NO. It doesn't matter the size. It doesn't matter if it has a topper. The answer is no. Tanks do not have enough ventilation at all. Keeping rats in a tank is a major health concern.




Are bin cages ok?


If the bin is properly sized and properly made then yes! > Bins should be 105qt or larger, 110qt is ideal. > They need all flat sides; no lips, edges, rims that a rat can "catch" and chew on. > They need ATLEAST the two long sides to have windows cut out and replaced with hardware cloth. This gives a bin proper ventilation as air can freely flow through the cage. The hardware cloth needs to be on the INSIDE of the bin, if put on the outside the window edge can be chewed on leading to escaped rats. Rats are fossorial, meaning they like to dig and live in holes. A tall climbing cage can be fun but floor space is actually far more important than height. Bin cages give that. You can add all types of fun things in bin cages including hammocks, hanging baskets, toys, beds, and even wheels if you are creative. The best part of bin cages are the ease of cleaning. A quick dump of the bedding and a wipe down with cleaner. Bar cages have a serious issue of tiny nooks and spaces where urine (ammonia) can get trapped. These can not be completely cleaned without taking the cage fully apart. So the rats will end up breathing in this ammonia and you will as well with odor issues. In this respect bin cages can be much healthier.




Height vs Floor Space?


Floor Space should always win over height. Rats are fossorial, meaning they like to dig and live in holes. A tall climbing cage can be fun but floor space is actually far more important than height. The biggest issue with tall cages is proper use of space. I would fathom a guess that 95% of people who have tall cages do not properly use the same at all. So the rats sit on the top floor and do not use the rest of the cage at all. Sure put the food on a different floor and they will go down to eat, but are they actually gaining anything from it? If you are going to use a tall cage it needs to have the space filled and be enticing and have good mental stimulation in every part of the cage. Younger rats and females get much more from taller cages than males and older rats as well in my experience. So yes, tall cages can be fun and great if properly cleaned and space is well used but floor space matters more.





Bedding & Cleaning

What bedding do you use & recommend?


I currently am using Kiln Dried Pine from Tractor Supply the Fine variety. I like the fine variety as it is quite soft. Yes Kiln Dried Pine is safe. There is alot of misconnceptions about using pine sadly. The studies that people point trying to say it is unsafe, are quite old and were not proper studies showing the actual affects. They used far too few animals or there were other things going on in the study that gave it skewed results. So alot of the info that gets passed around is misinformation, rumors and out of context bad info. I have had no issues using pine, most by far breeders I know and trust use pine as well. In studies pine was shown to be the very best bedding at controling and neutralizing ammonia which is the most important quality in bedding. But I encourage everyone to do the research themselves and make an informed decision. They are your rats and you should feel confident in what you use, don't just follow opinions blindly. if you are not comfortable using pine then I would suggest using aspen as there is no doubt on its safety and it is IMO the second best choice.




What about paper beddings?


Paper such as carefresh and the like is some of the worst bedding choices. In a study on ammonia levels carefresh did so badly that it had to be removed from the study early because the ammonia was at unsafe levels! It is not IMO safe to use. Carefresh has also been known to add in chemicals and dyes. Some people do like to use paper pelleted bedding. I have never used it myself. I do hear it is better than loose paper, but it is up to you.




What about Fleece/Cloth Bedding?


We all see the pretty lined fleece cages and it is hard not to want that image for our pets! But I strongly do NOT recommend using fleece as bedding. First off fleece has zero properties for controlling odor or ammonia. What good is it then as bedding? Bedding should not just be soft/comfy, that is what beds are for! It needs to also be safe and healthy, keeping odor down and most importantly neutralizing ammonia. It fails at the two things bedding is supposed to do! This makes it incredibly dangerous and a health risk for your rats. People often think fleece is good because it wicks away moisture. Sadly getting fleece to wick properly is actually not an easy process. And then you need something absorbent underneath the fleece to catch and hold the urine. Most people skip this part. But even if you get your fleece to wick properly and have safe and great absorbtion underneath... it still is not doing anything for the odor or ammonia. Absorbing it doesn't make it go away. Secondly one big issue many have with fleece is that the moment after you clean the cage, the rats are messing it up and pulling up the fleece. Rats are nesting animals. They want to dig, play, bury and hide in their bedding. Seriously it is adorable when they play in their loose bedding! But take that away and you are trying to change their very nature. A nicely lined fleece cage may look lovely to you but the rat doesn't care how it looks... it needs to WORK for them.

Other types of cloth are even worse and can be even more unsafe as when chewed may fray or allow rats to be stuck and injured. ** Fleece (no other cloths) can be used in hammocks/beds IF changed often. At the most every 2 days depending on how many rats. When washing fleece you need to use a safe detergent that is scent free, I suggest one made for babies that is sensitive and scent free. Detergent scents can actually be very harmful to rats. Never use fabric softeners or dryer sheets ever.




What about Newspaper/cardboard?


No please do not. It is just super super gross. Like other paper beddings it does absolutely nothing for ammonia or odor but it also gets gross way way faster. I get we all want to save a buck, wood based beddings are not only the best but incredibly inexpensive. You can buy a huge bag that will last you atleast a month most likely or longer, for $5-$10.




Bare floors/no bedding?


People are always so worried about bumblefoot with grid/bar floors but bare floors actually can pose a bigger risk! Even if you are superhuman and are always perfectly on the ball with wiping up pee, you can not possibly hover 24/7. Rats will pee and then walk through it. This is really gross and not healthy for them. And again urine just sitting there offers no ammonia or odor control.




Litter Training?


IMO I do not feel most rats can be FULLY litter trained. Many rats can mostly get it but it will not be perfection. I have had great rats that used their litter boxes quite well. I had ones who almost never went potty outside of their cage even. But it is hit or miss. Some rats take to it well, others just do not care at all. All rats are driven to mark, YES even girls, though usually less so. It varies from rat to rat how bad. Just do not go in thinking your rat will be littertrained, for the most part it will not. That being said, I do think trying to litter train and taking steps towards a designated potty area can be helpful. I've found from experience that my rats love to go in corners and often underneath things like the wheel. They also are highly driven to pee on surfaces like a pee rock. You just get a good sized flatish rock like ones for yard decor and put it in their litterbox or a corner. Under a shelf can help too. The rats likely will not only pee there, but will focus in that area. This can help keep the other parts of the cage cleaner. Just make sure to use a really good bedding in that location. Do not just use a bowl full of rocks, I have seen people do this and no again this does not help with the odor/ammonia.




How often should I clean their cage?


There is no magic answer as it really will depend on how many rats you have, what type/size of cage, and what type of bedding you use. In general I suggest every 5-7 days is ideal. It really should not go longer than a week without a cleaning. Ideally clean BEFORE you ever notice a smell. Once you can smell it, the rats have already been dealing with the odor for a while. But don't only trust your nose, some people are more or less sensitive to smells and it is true that we adjust and can get used to odors. When in doubt again never go past a week. Set up a good schedule, make it like taking a shower, brushing your teeth or going to work. It is something you just have to do. If you stay on top of it, then it is not difficult. Put it on your calendar, make an alarm on your phone, put notes up to remind yourself. If you set it up to clean a day or two earlier than needed then if something comes up they won't be sitting in a gross mess. But just make sure it doesn't become a recoccuring issue to just put it off either!




How should I clean and what should I use?


I think honestly some personal preference comes into play here. Try different methods/products and see what works best for you. Cages should generally be cleaned every 5-7 days. Weekly
1. Remove all the cage items- food dishes, water bottles, toys, beds. 2. Scoop out the bedding. I use a little mini broom/dustpan and highly recommend one! The dustpan I use as like a bedding shovel lol then sweep the last little bits out. Smaller cages or bins I just dump out. 3. Large cages- wipe down the bars/floors with Natures Miracle, warm water then dry with paper towels.
Small cages/bins- spray down with cleaner then rinse in the bathtub or with the hose. Dry. 4. I wash and dry all the cage items in the bathtub with dawn dish soap and vinegar sometimes. Rinse VERY well and dry. Deep Cleanings should be done usually once a month, though it will depend on many factors as I explained above. This is mostly done for larger cages such as DCN/CN, cages I can not just put in a bathtub. This is important. These cages can get urine inside the little nooks that you can not clean without taking them apart. This will lead to odor and ammonia causing issues. I take them fully apart and wash/scrub down with cleaner/vinegar, rinse and dry very well. Products:
*small broom/dustpan such as this :https://goo.gl/74NmbM something handheld. You can usually find them all over the pet section of stores. If you have a larger cage, alittle bit larger ones can be nice to scoop out bedding. I have both sizes, but I prefer the smaller brooms. *Gloves. Go to the kitchen cleaner aisle of the store and get some big ol rubber gloves. *A safe cleaner, I use nature's miracle. Rinse very well after using any cleaner.
https://goo.gl/G1c7ec You can also use dawn dish soap as well. *Vinegar - it cuts through urine and odor sooo well! Rinse well. *F10 to disenfect https://goo.gl/wmXhYP it is a bit pricey but you mix it with water. Do not use bleach. *a good shop vacuum is nice to have. *if you use fleece hammocks and such then a scent free detergent is great.





Misc

How long do rats live?


On average, rats live 2-3 years. Sadly some rats may only make it a year. Some lucky rats may live up to 4 years or in rare instances even up to 5!




Male or Female?


It is important to note that every single rat is unique and has their own personality. Don't go in expecting one thing only to be disappointed because the rat doesn't behave exactly like you expected. But... in general, Males are often larger and they tend to be lazier. This can make them more prone to weight issues but more chill and easily handled. I do suggest males for younger children for this reason.
Males may mark more often than females, though girls do mark too. (mark means to mark their territory or things they like including you- this is usually peeing on things and then rubbing themselves on it), though it will depend on the individual rat. It is not usually a big issue, in some more rare cases some get really into marking, it is usually a hormonal issue. Males do have the risk of developing hormonal aggression, good breeding helps lower the risk and by far most males do not develop it. But it is a possibility. Males still need to be kept with other males and never alone. Females tend to be smaller and more active. IMO they require more mental stimulation. Because of their great curiosity and active nature they don't often want to sit still. This doesn't mean they do not want to be with you, it just means there is so much other things to do as well! They do often slow down with age and become more relaxed. They can be more prone to mammory tumors but with good breeding, diet & care you can significantly lower the risk. Who smells worse? I've have both ofcourse, and really do not think either are worse smelling. The rats themselves do not have an odor. Both sexes can mark and urine never smells good lol. Proper bedding and cleaning takes care of that though. Who is messier? I feel like boys seem to care less about keeping themselves as clean, they will often be the ones who pee in their beds or on each other lol. But girls have such active minds they can be a bit more destructive and throw out all their bedding one day. One of the funniest things is how lazy most males get. I would let my rats out to play in my rat room and so often I would find the boys just asleep in, on or next to their cage. They really made the most of it! lol On the other hand my girls would explore every inch of everything. I would build fun little cardboard castles and it was so much fun watching them go go go. I'd teach them tricks and play with them. I would sit on the floor and they come and climb all over me then run off, then run back to me, repeat. But it is important to remember all rats are unique!! I can not stress this enough. I've had super chill girls and my most hyper rat ever was actually a standard male. He literally just bounced everywhere. People often mistake the females go go attitude as not being loving but that is far from the truth. many of my most heart rats ever have been females, who adore me and bond greatly to me.




Should I bathe my rats


Unless your rats seriously get into some gunk, no do not bathe them. Rats are like cats who bathe themselves. If a rat is not properly grooming themselves it is often a sign of a health issue. Bathing can be a stressful experience and actually dry out their skin. It will even make buck grease worse. Instead I would suggest using a good scent free baby wipe on them.




Do rats need things to chew on?


Actually no! Rats grind their teeth together on their own (called bruxing) and this keeps them nice and trim. When a rat has overgrown teeth it is called Malocclusion and is caused by either a genetic issue or injury which prevents the teeth from properly aligning. In these case having something to chew on will not help either, they will need their teeth clipped. Read more: http://ratguide.com/health/digestive/malocclusion.php That being said, having things to chew on can be fun and good mental stimulation!




How should I introduce new rats?


Ideally when rats have good temperament they should be very easy to introduce together. I put rats together of all ages and sexes all of the time with zero issues or introductions needed. But if you do not 100% know how your rat will act it is always best to do a good safe introduction first. The best way to do it IMO, 1. Always Quarantine new rats first, no matter the source! 2. Deep clean the cage. Really scrub it out, take it apart if possible and get into every little nook. Clean every single item that goes back into the cage as well including food dishes and water bottles. The idea is that the cage will now be neutral territory and not smell like any one rat. 3. Deep clean the area around the cage as well or even better move it to another room all together. It only needs to be moved for maybe a week or two and then it can go back. Truthfully the area around the cage probably smells like rats as well. 4. Keep the cage slightly empty so if there is an issue or a fight there is less likely to be any injuries. Do not add any beds/igloos with only one entrance this can cause an issue if a rat feels trapped. 5. I suggest added two+ food dishes and water bottles. Ideally on different levels/sides of the cage. 6. Take the rats to a neutral location such as your bed or an empty bathtub. Give them space and let them explore each other and do things on their own time. Supervise the entire time. Have a towel ready to toss on one if things go bad. Do not reach between two fighting rats. Good things to look for: Ignoring each other Sniffing Grooming themselves or each other Bad signs: Poofing of fur Sideways walking/stances where they turned slightly sideways or putting their rear towards the other rat Noises that may sound something like a hiss or growl or lots of squeaking. They may stand up and "box" or look like a boxing like stance, they may have a few squabbles and that is ok. But if it turns into a fight end it. An injury could mean death or infection or an abcess. And it is stressful for all rats involved. Do not push it. If things go well, put them together in the cage. Do not: Put the rats into a very small/tight space. This does not help the introduction process or show you any real information on how they will do in the cage. This could lead to alot of stress and if one rat does attack could be very dangerous. Do not rotate cages or put the cages next to each other. If the rats are ok enough to handle this well, they are ok enough to be together. If not all it will do is stress them out. Do not give an aggressive rat who has injured a rat a second chance. It is not worth it.




Do they need salt/mineral block or vitamins?


NO. Do not give your rats a salt or mineral block, it is unneeded and can be harmful. Do not give them vitamins or put anything in their water. To begin with you can'r properly dose a water bottle. Once in the water bottle it begins to lose its potency quickly anyways making it fairly useless. but most importantly, it is not needed. They should be fed a proper diet and not need any type of vitamins.




Are wheels safe?


Yes as long as they are a proper design and size. Wheels need to be large, atleast 12 inches or higher. Use wheels with solid floors. Barred wheels are not safe. It adds stress to their feet running on it, a misstep could lead to serious injury as well. Never use sandpaper on the wheel, this is not likely to help the nails but it will cause serious wear on their feet leading to infection and bumblefoot. Wheels I like: Silent Spinner (it is not really silent but a good wheel) Comfort wheel (it is cheaper but the middle part can wear down over time and come loose. Wodent wheels (kindof a pain to clean well IMO) What about wheeltail or spine issues? A proper sized wheel will not cause any harm or issues. Wheel tail is actually believed to be a genetic issue and not caused by wheels. My rats love their wheel alot, I've never had a rat develop it or any problems.




Are plastic exercise balls safe?


No. Do not use these. 1. It does not provide proper or safe ventilation even for the short amount of time they are in there. 2. The tiny holes have been known to catch toes causing serious injury. 3. It is gross, the rat will potty in the ball and just have it all thrown around all over them as they run. 4. Rats have very poor eye sight and rely mostly on their other senses. The plastic ball makes their vision even worse and cuts off their other senses. 5. Bumping into walls/furniture is not fun. Rats may appear to like it because they willingly crawl into it but that is not the case. They like freedom and they think/hope they will get it, they think they can escape. It is stressful and not safe. If you want your rats to come out set up a rat proof area and/or get a rat playpen.




Can rats be kept alone?


Rats are highly social animals who should not be kept alone. There are only a very few reasons a rat should ever be on their own: A doe who is about to give birth A rat with a major health related issue or recovering in a manner where they can't be around other rats. Quarantine- but not ideally. Their cagemate passed away and you are actively seeking a new one. You can read more about why you should not keep single rats on my blog post here:
http://www.onceuponamischief.com/single-post/2017/03/10/Single-Rats-Why-I-dont-sell-them





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