Keep an eye out for a fantastically useful Rat Faction Printable as you read this post!
All tips and opinions expressed in this and any other article on this blog are the opinions, experience, observations and beliefs of the author only. Please read with an open mind and critical thinking cap on, take what makes sense, and discard what you disagree with. Enjoy!
You’ve got rats!
So you got yourself rats and brought them home, and realised there’s so much you don’t know oh my gooooosh!
Lots of people will have lots of tips to help other rat parents, and I’ve been asked to give mine.
Here’s my number one tip about owning rats in general:
You’ll never know or be prepared for everything. Not ever! And that’s ok, we can only do what we can do.
There are great resources on the web that you can acquaint yourself with, and I’ve begun my list in the resources section – go have a squizz!
Rats may be cheap to obtain, small, and be portrayed in the media as fuss-free “who cares” pets, but it’s so far from the truth you’d need to jump dimensions to find an alternate reality where this is the case 🙂
Some tips aren’t nice to think about – and they’re the ones I think are the most important.
From my years of experience, and getting advice from lots of trusted rat parents and experts, these are the tips I give everyone who’s just gotten themselves the most magical (and complicated) companions on earth – if they ask!
Grab a cuppa because here we go!
TIPS FOR NEW RAT PARENTS
NEVER KEEP SINGLE RATS!
There are obviously reasons a rat must be kept alone long-term, but there aren’t many of them.
- In RARE cases a rat may have a contagious illness. The only way to know that for sure is through your vet or specialist for testing (the Rat Guide and Real Rat Lovers Want to Know closed Facebook group posts updates on outbreaks of viruses such as the Seoul Virus in the US so you can keep up to date at those locations if you’re in the States).
- Your rat may be the last rat you are going to have for a while – sadly, there’s always a last rat. That can’t be helped and it’s not easy on anyone!
- You have an unsocialised rat and all attempts to socialise them have failed. I want to vehemently caveat this by saying I have observed a lot of people that are either lazy or just don’t care enough to put in the effort to introduce their rats properly – therefore “my rat hates other rats” is not always a true and satisfactory excuse for keeping lone rats in my opinion.
There are also people that can’t handle the stress, perhaps aren’t getting the right information and just collapse emotionally and give up.
I completely understand, I’ve been on the edge at least a dozen times!
I’ve cried, stressed myself into illness, complained, vented, asked for help and Googled my guts out. But I didn’t give up.
I did have sanity breaks though! Sometimes I needed a few days off trying to introduce and socialise my rats just to take care of myself and I’d always recommend that for anyone that feels hopeless or helpless about the situation with their rats.
Which brings me to number two.
NEVER just chuck a new rat in with resident rats. Ever. Ever.
Horrifyingly I have seen a lot of social media posts from people (children mainly, who don’t know better) who have bought themselves a new baby rat, chucked it in the cage with the resident rats and woken up to a dead baby.
Please don’t ever throw a rat in a cage without knowing (as much as is practicable) that they all get along.
Proper introductions need to happen no matter how friendly your rats have been up until now.
They’re still instinctive and largely territorial animals and they won’t necessarily treat intruders as friends they haven’t met yet.
Rat introductions is a huge topic that would take a series of posts to comprehensively explain.
Luckily there’s one ready for your eyeballs! I recommend Isamu Rats series on introductions.
There’s some other good information out there, but the whole Isamu Rats website is wholly reputable, so have a browse around while you’re there.
Some of the best advice I ever got was from someone on Instagram when I was in my third year of owning rats.
I had adopted a rat off Gumtree that the owner had said was so aggressive she didn’t want him anymore.
I knew that if he didn’t settle in, I’d have him neutered, but of course the introduction process is stressful anyway, so I was on Instagram posting about my stress thinking I was a failure.
Someone said to me:
“I’ve had introductions take seven months, don’t worry about it, give it heaps more time”.
Faction Fam, this is sage advice, heed it!
My two longest introductions took seven and twelve months.
The twelve month one worked via a series of changes including neutering every male that medically could be neutered.
The brutally aggressive rat sadly passed away young, two more rats including one female were added, and then lastly, the cage pain in-the-butt-rat who was erratic about whether he was nice or naughty (and gorgeous wonderful beautiful boy) passed away.
I actively worked at those intros every day and for months had to swap the friendly rat between cages so the bullied rat didn’t sleep alone overnight. Stress multiplied by a million folks!
So I say to you all:
- Be patient.
- Start slowly.
- Be prepared to go back to the beginning of the process many times.
- Be prepared to desex.
Which brings me to my third tip:
Start a vet fund, and never ever stop adding money to it
I recommend a minimum of $500 in that account at all times, but I’ve gone through double that in a week on a few occasions.
You’ll find at least once, that when it rains it pours.
More than one rat will get sick, surgeries may result in pulled stitches or abscesses, a surgery may be unsuccessful and need redoing, and then there’re the medications.
Rats are prey animals, and as such they hide their symptoms.
By the time you know they’re sick, the illness is often advanced, and delaying vet treatment could be fatal.
In those circumstances you will need money today. Not next payday, not when your tax cheque comes, not next week.
Here are some of the most common issues you’ll need to dip into the fund for, and their average approximate prices here in Australia:
- Male neuter – $250-$450
- Female spay – $300-$500
- Tumour removal – $250-$1000 (if you spot a lump, get it off, they’re cheaper when they’re smaller)
- Respiratory infection consult + Baytril (Enrotril) and doxy (Vibravet) – $180-$250
- Prescription refills – $100 – $250 + $25 dispensing fee
- Nebuliser – $120-$350 (plus you have to buy the paraphernalia to make a little rat nebulising room like a lunch box and piping/connectors, extra $$$)
- Vet consultation standard – $100 first visit + $50-$60 subsequent visits per rat
- Specialist consultation, just to walk in the door – $180
Respiratory infections and tumours are so common, you can expect that these expenses will arise multiple times (if not stay indefinitely) over a rat’s lifetime.
Don’t forget, you’ll have more than one rat. Expense x number of rats = yikes!
At one point I had four rats on different medications and every four to six weeks I spent $250-$350 on their medications alone. For twelve months straight.
Rat illness is no joke. I whinged a lot.
I also couldn’t go anywhere because it wasn’t fair to ask someone to medicate four rats twice a day (if anyone would even be willing to do/learn/be able to manage it).
Most of you will have seen (or will in the future) or received pleas for help from people who can’t afford their vet care.
Don’t let that be you.
I’ve definitely been in situations where life has thrown me curve balls and I’ve seen those GoFundMe’s, and I’ve donated to those causes.
I would never judge a person just having a shitty time in life, and I’m not judging you if that happens to you, we do the best we can.
But please, be responsible, save your money and look after your pets. You’re all they have and they count on you for their literal survival.
call around to local vets
Don’t go another day without knowing:
- Where an emergency 24 hour vet is located and how to get there.
- Where you can get your rat put to sleep on short notice.
- What method they will use to put your babe to sleep.
- Whether you can be in the room with them (if you’d like to be).
- Do they stock Baytril (Enrotril) and Doxycycline (Vibravet)?
- Do they see many rats?
- Can they recommend a vet practice that does see a lot of rats?
- How much is a spay/neuter?
- Is that something any of their vets have done much in the past?
- Do they know where an exotic animal specialist is in the area?
- Which one of their vets has the most experience with rats?
I have created two really handy PRINTABLES that you can download once and use forever, to keep all of the information you need to give to your vet, and track your rat’s health!
If you’ve had rats for a while and still don’t have this information, download the printable and get started so you have everything in the moment when time critical.
To celebrate Rat Faction’s first ever printables, we’re giving you a 20% discount!
Be sure to download yours quickly, as this sale ends soon!
You may think either “jeez, those are great questions” or “why would I want to know all that?” and if you’re in the latter group, I promise, at midnight when you can hear your rats wheezing and see them sucking their sides in trying to get air in their lungs…you’ll want to know where the 24 hour vet is.
When you know it’s time to put your gorgeous fancy rat to sleep, and time is short, TRUST ME you don’t want to show up unannounced at a new vet who jams your rat in a lunchbox with some anaesthetic swabs that burn their eyes and noses until they fall asleep.
Despite vets being there to help, not all of them are equipped to deal with rats, and most of them don’t have the knowledge; you can ensure your rat has a wonderful life and a peaceful end by simply doing twenty minutes of homework (on your lovely new printable of course!).
We can’t know everything and pre-empt everything, and while you’ll know that intellectually, emotionally it can be hard to forgive yourself, even for things you couldn’t reasonably have known.
So just gather all the information you can and keep it handy.
put together a ratty first aid kit
There’s nothing like the relief you’ll feel knowing that if something happens to your babe, you can provide first aid.
Sometimes it’s just to get them through the night or weekend until they can see a vet, or it’s to tend to a wound or fall injury that can easily be done without veterinary intervention.
You can put a basic kit together immediately or over time, and keep adding to it (not to mention do checks every few months to ensure everything is still in date and safe to use).
I’ll list below the contents I kept in my first aid kit.
You can find medication dosages and recommendations immediately at the Rat Guide, and instructions on dosages and administering on the closed Facebook group Real Rat Lovers Want to Know, where the dosage-for-rat-weight maths has been done for you if you’re a member and have access to their files.
Find links to both of these wonderful sites in the Resources section of this website.
Some of the contents of my kit are prescription items in some countries – the internet is a great place to Google and shop for what you need if you can’t get it for some reason.
I’m not advocating you break your country’s laws, I’m just sharing this info with ya 😉
My first aid kit contained:
- Enrotril (Baytril).
- Vibravet (Doxycycline).
- Theophylline – a human bronchodilator that requires a script and is safe for rodent use indefinitely. Great for chronic wufflers and rats in respiratory stress.
- A pill cutter and crusher.
- 1ml syringes galore.
- Larger syringes for flushing abcesses.
- Infant Ibuprofen – for pain and inflammation, great for injuries and may help inflammation of lungs when a respiratory infection is present.
- Adult Benadryl – may help nasal congestion and contains an antihistamine which can be helpful when your rat has mites/lice (obviously you must treat the mites/lice immediately).
- Revolution – (known in the UK so presumably in other countries as something different, simply Google the active ingredient Selamectin). One treatment once to kill lice and mites. It takes only a drop on skin on the back of the neck and that’s it. Many people choose the cheaper, more easily available Ivermectin but it’s imprecise and requires multiple doses and doesn’t always work. Revolution is available from pet shops in Australia without a prescription, but sadly not in all countries. Many of our pet stores ship internationally and I personally use Budget Pet Products because they’re usually the cheapest.
- Arnica – a homeopathic cream (I use the vegan versions without Lanolin in them) that is fantastic for pain, swelling, and in my experience, is great for softening the area of an abcess that hasn’t burst. It’s certainly helped my pain and swelling each of the 20 times (probably) I’ve rolled my ankles and ended up on crutches.
- Betadine – good for sterilising wounds.
- Fixomull stretch bandage – adhesive bandages to use on rats that are unrelentingly trying to get at their stitches post-surgery.
- Asthma puffer – good to have in a respiratory emergency, best used through a toilet roll or child-sized spacer.
- Spare glass bottles to decant small amounts of medications from larger bottles so as not to contaminate the larger quantity accidentally.
- Gastrolyte/Pedialyte/Hydrolite – to hydrate rats in the heat and when unwell.
- Kitchen scales – ESSENTIAL to ensure that dosages of all medications are correct, and to keep track of the weight of rats as they’re growing if you’re curious, and to monitor rats that are gaining or losing weight when they shouldn’t be.
- Nebuliser and kit of rat attachments – to nebulise rats with respiratory infections (the ones that aren’t caused more distress by nebulising than not nebulising).
- Human saline nasal spray – for chronic nasal congestion, a symptom of chronic respiratory infection for some rats.
- A humidifier – I personally think this is an essential. Wuffling and nasal congestion as well as dry noses can all be greatly relieved by using a humidifer. Pronlonged exposure to dry air isn’t great for humans and so it’s certainly not great for any of your animals. A humidifier on the go each evening in winter, and especially if the air conditioning is running most of the day, will do everyone good. It’s fantastic for helping your ratties breathe easier when they have respiratory infections as well.
There you have it, my basic kit! If you’d like a super comprehensive kit that covers off on all possibilities, check out the recommended first aid kit from the Rat Guide, it’ll blow your mind! (And is an important read in my opinion).
read up/print out the signs of illnesses and signs of pain in rats
As previously mentioned, rats are prey animals who hide their illnesses and conditions to preserve their safety.
The longer you have rats the more in tune you become (or is it, the more obsessive and stressed you become?) to each rat, but things still slip through the net, believe me.
Your best chance of learning, especially when you’re new to rats, is to do regular (weekly) health checks, and learn by heart what the signs and stages of pain and illness are:
Here are some valuable links that give you all the information you need to get started:
- Basic health check.
- Advanced health check.
- Signs and symptoms of pain.
- Signs and symptoms of illness.
I can’t recommend these enough.
adopt “a pair and a spare”
Sadly rats cross the rainbow bridge too soon too often.
Introductions can be difficult, especially with males, and there’s also the grief that rats can feel very deeply when they lose their cage mate and best friend.
“Building” a third rat into your startup mischief is a wonderful way to do the best you can to ensure that you don’t end up with a lonely and devastated, grieving rat, and to minimise stress for them AND you.
If you have elderly rats and introduce babies, I’d again recommend introducing three babies, so in the future, if you decide they’re your last rats, one won’t potentially be left alone for a very long time if a young’un passes on early.
And this isn’t a tip, but a conclusion I have drawn for myself after seven years of having rats, introducing rats, and losing rats: I will stagger their ages.
I was stuck in a cycle of adopting companions around the same age as my rats – especially once I knew I was going to go on a break and not adopt more once the last one ran free over the rainbow bridge.
I was losing multiple rats a year due to old age and illness and the heartbreak undoubtedly contributed to my decision to have a break (finances were the main reason!).
I’d rather lose one to three rats a year than five or more, so from now on I will be staggering their ages, so I don’t have more than three of the same age where possible.
I’ll have babies, teens, middle-aged and old rats all together like a proper dysfunctional family 😀
I’d adopt a rat in need no matter what the age though! It’s a loose guide to protect myself from year after year of seemingly endless grief.
CHECK OUT THE RESOURCES SECTION OF THIS WEBSITE!
The resources section contains a growing list of sites that I believe to be the most reputable.
Click through, check out the websites and bookmark the sites and articles that seem interesting and/or useful.
If you have a suggestion for a site you think would make a great addition, feel free to let me know via the contact page, and I’ll check it out!
Don’t forget to check out the Rat Faction Printables & download yours while they’re still 20% off!
Melanie shares her flat with two female ginger cats and occasionally some ants.