Keeping pet rats and micegrey-rat-with-cheese-1322331

Rats and mice make great pets, especially for young children. When raised from a young age they rarely bite, love human interaction and can provide hours of entertainment.

They are an inexpensive pet choice, easily cared for and children tend to become very attached to these little guys very quickly.

Rats in particular are very loyal, affectionate and can be trained to come for a treat or to a command, they are very intelligent.

Many people are ‘grossed out’ by their tails, however if you can get past this then you can find yourself a very loveable friend in a pet rat or mouse.

Housing

The two most important factors for choosing appropriate living quarters for your pet mouse or rat is ventilation and ease of cleaning.

Enclosures must allow good ventilation, open cages with wire sides allowing constant air flow are ideal as opposed to solid sided cages or enclosures. Appropriate rat and mouse enclosures can be readily obtained from any reputable pet shop.

Rats and mice require absorbent material such as shredded newspaper or cat litter (best one for rodents is kitty litter made from recycled newspaper) and so an ample amount of material should be laid at the bottom of the cage to serve two functions; 1. Absorbency and 2. Nesting

The enclosure should be cleaned every 1 – 2 days and be in a cool place out of direct sunlight, especially in the warmer summer months as these little critters are prone to heat stress!

Rats are best housed in groups or pairs and fighting seldom develops provided there is ample room, food and water and the cage is kept clean and ventilated. It is not recommended however to introduce two adult males together as fighting can develop.

With mice on the other hand it is not recommended to have adult males together, especially in the presence of females.

Feeding

A good quality rat or mouse pellet is recommended with a fresh supply of fruit and vegetables readily accessible. Rats and mice are omnivores meaning they can eat both plant material and meat.

Fresh water must be on hand at all times and is supplied via a sipper bottle which can also be obtained from a pet shop and often comes with the purchase of a cage. When filling the sipper bottle it is important to get rid of air bubbles as they can stop the flow of water.

These little guys are prone to obesity and so treats should be avoided and care with seed mixes as they will pick out their favourite seeds (usually the fattening ones) and leave the rest.

Food and water should be changed fresh on a day to day basis.

Handling

It’s important with these little guys to handle them as much as possible when young as this will minimise the chance of bites down the track and get your rat (or mouse) used to being handled.

They can be scooped up in the hand or mice can also be picked up by the base of the tail, a rat shouldn’t be lifted by the tail due to their larger size.

Be gentle with them as they readily take fright and are easily hurt if dropped.

Breeding Rats and Mice

It’s best to have your pet mice and rats genders determined by a veterinarian, it can save unwanted surprises down the track and will also enable people wishing to breed to develop appropriate breeding plans.

Female mice become sexually mature at 50 days of age and cycle every 5 days, they are very fertile. Pregnancy lasts 3 weeks and litters are large with each female mouse capable of giving birth to up to 12 young. Wean at 3 weeks of age.

Rat cycles are very similar, although sexual maturity isn’t until 65 days of age and litter sizes are generally smaller (6 – 8).

Two important facts;

  • Do not disturb the mother and young in the first 4 – 5 days after birth as this can result in stress to the mother and either abandonment or destruction of the litter.
  • Male rats must be separated prior to birth as they can become aggressive towards the young.

Did you know?

Rats and mice can fall pregnant as early as 24 – 48 hours after giving birth!

Important Health Considerations

Rats and mice are very susceptible to stress and so readily become ill if conditions are not favourable.

Possible stressors include;

  • Temperature fluctuations – too hot or too cold, cage in direct sunlight. Heat is a big stressor.
  • New cage mates
  • Male interactions
  • Food – warm drinking water, stale food, lack of variety of food offered.
  • Cage – Changed location, unclean, near excessive noise.
  • Presence of other animals eg cats and dogs in the house or in the vicinity of the cage.
  • Disease

Some of the more common health considerations affecting mice and rats are listed below.

  • Mammary tumours – most common tumour type. They appear as lumps that can appear anywhere on the body as well as around the nipples.
  • Obesity – Common nutritional problem. More common on seed mixes and in rats or mice fed treats or snacks. A good quality diet is recommended to reduce the chance of obesity which can drastically reduce the life expectancy by up to a half.
  • Skin parasites – Fur mites are common and can result in severe skin irritation and self trauma. Veterinary treatment is curative.
  • Dental disease – Incisor overgrowth is common and can result in problems eating and therefore malnutrition.
  • Respiratory Disease – Very common, sneezing and respiratory noise as well as nasal discharge is common, however signs can vary between animals. Lifelong treatment is often required.
  • Diarrhoea – Common and usually secondary to stress.
  • Barbering – Rat and mice bullying. It’s the removal of whiskers and hairs of submissive individuals by more dominant cage mates. Barbered animals should be separated from the main group.

‘Crying’ Blood – Often we see rats that owners report are crying tears of blood. When rats or mice are stressed a red pigment is secreted in the tears and may be seen coming from either the eyes or the nose. It isn’t a problem in itself, rather a sign that the individual is stressed. A veterinary exam should be performed to help identify underlying problems or disease.

Did you know?

1) Annual vaccination and worming aren’t required for mice and rats. However we advise six monthly health checks for the ongoing monitoring of their health.

2) Life expectancy of a rat is 2 – 3 years, while mice can be expected to live for 1 – 2 years.

At Dr. Jana’s, we see and treat a wide variety of health complaints in mice and rats and are always available for advice on owning these pets.

If you have any other queries or seek further information on any aspect of owning and caring for pet mice and rats, please don’t hesitate to contact us at the clinic on 60 409 099.