At what age to properly wean and separate babies from their mom is always a topic with a ton of different opinions on! This is just alittle bit of info on when and more importantly why I do what I do.
When to wean and why?
First lets discuss what weaning means.
In my opinion weaning should be done naturally whenever possible. There may be a rare situation where you have to wean the babies yourself early but it would be very rare and for the health and wellbeing of the babies or mother.
A rat mother will naturally wean her babies at around 4 weeks old, sometimes a little older, sometimes a little younger. The biggest pro of this is that it is done slowly over time. The mother will nurse them less and less. A sudden cut off cannot be good for the babies.
Rats are good moms. They know what they are doing and do not need us to step in and decide when things should be done.
The problem comes from the fact that babies will start eating solid food on their own much earlier than 4 weeks. Many start to nibble and try food at around 2 weeks, and really begin eating at around 3.
So people think hey they are able to eat food all is well and they do not need to nurse anymore!
Honestly I think any intelligent person would realize that it is not that simple. It is not just a simple on/off switch. Babies need time to adjust and slowly come off the milk and onto solid foods.
On top of it milk is full of goodness that is so beneficial to growing babies. The longer they have access to that the better!
Let mom do her job. The babies will start eating solid foods and mom will stop nursing when she is ready.
There is almost never a reason that the babies should be forced weaned or taken from their moms before 4 weeks of age. Unless mom/babies have a health issue, let mom do her job.
When to separate the babies?
I separate my males from their mom/sisters at 5 weeks old and the girls stay with their mom forever or until they are sold or at an older age they may be moved to other female cages.
This is a hot subject for me as it really breaks my heart to see how some people sell babies much too young.
We run into the same problem mentioned above, people see the babies can eat and they go well they don't need mom anymore so why keep them around?
Do they really believe all mom is good for is milk? How sad for them (and their own moms lol)
A mom's role is so much more then just nutrition. She is teaching them key social skills so they can grow up to be balanced well rounded rats.
Besides that they are still just babies. They have yet to reach the maturity or understanding to be away from her yet.
I have a real judgmental distaste for people who sell babies too early. It is NOT for the babies well being in any way. It is purely selfishness on their part. Those that do so, are doing it to save money/space. Once the babies hit around 3 weeks and begin eating food your food bill grows by alot. You now have a whole litter's worth of growing mouths to feed. Let's say a little is average at 8-12 babies. That is alot of mouths to feed! Then there are those who breed often and want the cage for the next litter. Or those who want to sell before they have to separate the boys so they don't need yet another cage.
All that stuff comes with breeding. If you can not afford the food, cages or space... simply do not breed then. It is not right to give the babies a bad start because of it.
A myth to dispel:
Rats can get pregnant at 4 or 3 weeks old or even 5.
No just no. There are multiple studies done on a rats sexual maturity and growth. It is very very rare for a rat to be able to get pregnant under 6 weeks of age. And nearly impossible under 5 weeks.
Yes there may be a fluke where a rat for whatever reason develops super early, just like every now and then a human girl may be able to get pregnant at young ages like 8 years old. But this is just not common enough to worry about in any way. It would be unbelievably rare.
Plus even being able to doesn't mean they are mature enough to get the job done. Many young males just do not understand right away or even show interest until older. I had one young boy who was like 4 months old just keep trying to hump a females head...
By far most breeders seem to not separate their babies until 5 weeks of age. I don't separate mine until then and I have no females getting pregnant.
Moms: more than just a food source!
They are tiny little babies. They need their mom to teach them how to be a rat, how to speak rat, all the ins and outs of rat social graces and just for comfort still.
Yes it is an animal and yet it is still capable of deep emotions and thoughts. That is what makes a rat such a sweet amazing pet that bonds so deeply with us.
Once a litter for me had turned 5 weeks old and the boys needed to be separated from the girls. I had been building up to this for a while now. They got long periods of time away from mom. They had visited the older boys lots. But the first day after I separated them the two baby boys sat outside the moms cage and wouldn't budge. They missed their mom/sisters. It was really quite heartbreaking. Don't forget that we are taking babies away from their mothers. And how many people go slow and draw out the process so they can adjust or just poof remove them and ship them off to a new home?
That can indeed be an emotionally jarring experience for a baby. Even when you breed wonderful calm rats that recover very well from stress it is still never an easy change.
Besides genetic and aggression issues that make rats unable to get along with other rats, I feel strongly that removal from mom/siblings too early has a major effect.
Animals need to learn language skills and social graces. How long did it take you to learn to talk in complete sentences and have a well thought out conversation with an adult? It is actually pretty similar for animals. Do you really think they just pop out knowing how to speak rat? While they surely do not have anywhere near the advanced language we have, rats are still very intelligent and it makes sense that they have a structure set up on which to relay information.
The number one thing is how to behave properly with manners.
I see this a lot, people introduce very young babies to adult rats. Babies are hyper little things full Of energy. They will try to play with the adults, while the adults are not quite so interested. So they annoy the adults pretty fast. The adults tell them to stop, giving them a warning. But the babies do not just understand and don’t stop. So then the adults being annoyed attack them or start a fight.
You can compare this to puppies with learning bite inhibition. When they play too rough with their mom/siblings they will yelp and teach them it is not nice! Making them a non biting wonderful pet!
Our goal is to leave babies with mom until they are old enough to learn proper social skills and be mature enough to leave their mother’s side.
If males are separated at 5 weeks, why not sell them then?
There are actually many good reasons not to. To begin with it all goes right back into what I have already mentioned, they are still babies at 5 weeks old. They are not fully mature yet and still need alittle extra care, guidance and not to be rushed off to a new home. They JUST left their mom’s side. It is so much better for their mental wellbeing to slowly adjust to a life away from mom first and then into a new home.
There are also issues of safety. My baby boys go into a group of males that are older but are all beautiful in temperament and are fine having babies around. Here they continue to learn social things as well.
The problem with them going to a new home is that they either go with just one of their baby siblings or into a home with other adult rats.
If it is just them and their sibling(s), they have no more adult interaction at that moment. Which as I have said can really hurt in the long run with them being well socialized rats. If someone wants to add new rats in later it could be problematic. That doesn’t mean they will be aggressive or fight, but if they don’t understand social cues from the other rat that could cause issues between them.
On the other hand if they go to live with adults, sadly many adult rats may not have the best temperament and a 5 week old is just much smaller than a full grown adult. They can easily be injured or even killed. Most normal pet owners may not know how their rats may react to a new baby and there are issues like hormonal aggression. It is just very risky.
You also have some added risk with babies being smaller and it being more difficult to rat proof for them, easier to lose, easier for them to be injured and the possibility of them escaping a cage.
Testing for temperament and breeders hold backs
Responsible breeding is done with a goal in mind, to better the rats & your line. To do so we must hold back the very best of the best! We are looking for health, temperament, shape & structure, color and fitting to standards.
A lot goes into choosing which babies we keep and which we sell. Sometimes this process can be very simple, you know early on which babies you want. Other times it can be more difficult.
Generally many breeders choose their hold backs around 3 weeks old. Sometimes earlier, sometimes much much later. If it is a newer line I may hold them back until 6-12 weeks even to make 100% sure!
The fear of not bonding with an older baby!
This is something I hear far too often and it really makes me sad. First of all rats are amazing social animals, they can bond very easily at any age.
Being older they are not going to have any issues bonding just as deeply to you. And they are STILL babies!!
It also seriously is an awful thing that creates this image of poor older rescue rats that cannot find a home because everyone thinks they can’t be bonded with.
It is all simply not true. No matter your rats age you can still easily bond deeply with them. They will still be an excellent pet. And honestly a little bit older means they are a little bit calmer. More chance for them to actually sit still and want to be handled!
So in conclusion....
I let the rat mother's naturally wean their babies.
I separate my male babies from their moms/sisters at 5 weeks of age.
I do not sell babies under 6 weeks of age and may for some lines hold the babies back until 8-12 weeks even.