Guest Post: Meet Nibblet

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First of all, I would like to introduce everyone to Nibblet – my pet rat. Nibblet is approximately 9 months old now and is a female brown and white hooded rat. A hooded rat has a completely colored head. The color continues down the length of the spine in a stripe all the way to the tail. She enjoys eating just about anything, but her favorite snack is green peas. Nibblet likes climbing around and exploring boxes. She loves to sit on my shoulder and cuddle with me.

She is my first pet rat, but hopefully not my last. Most people are intrigued at the thought of keeping a rat as a pet. Others are even disgusted by the thought. The truth is that rats make excellent pets!

Why did I choose a rat as a pet?

I have worked with almost every type of “exotic” animal imaginable as a veterinary technician for an exotic specialist –rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, hamsters, lizards… the list goes on and on. Anyways, out of all of the different kinds of animals I’ve worked with, none of them seemed as intelligent, loyal, or as sweet as rats. Plus, they are relatively easy to care for and keep as pets.

When people brought their rats in to be seen by the vet, they seemed so attached to their people. This is the main reason I decided to get a rat. Their cute factor was another reason of course. Later on, I learned that rats could actually be clicker trained to do tricks just like dogs. I haven’t taught Nibblet any tricks yet, but maybe I will one day.

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There are a couple of myths associated with having rats as pets that I would love to debunk. One is that they are dirty creatures that carry diseases. This may be true for wild rats, but not true for domesticated pet rats. Pet rats are extremely clean animals and groom themselves often. If your pet rat smells, it’s probably because their cage isn’t clean. Also, I can think of less zoonotic diseases that pet rats can carry than dogs. Their exposure to diseases is pretty limited since they are kept indoors.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve handled a lot of types of pets. I cannot think of a time that a rat ever tried to bite me and I have to admit that this is the only animal that I can say this for. Nibblet has never bitten anyone. She did get her name because she likes to nibble on me, but it’s far from biting. It’s actually her way of grooming me.

There are some cons to keeping rats in my opinion. The main thing being that they only live to be about 2 years old and sometimes even as old as 3 years. I wish they lived longer. The other thing I dislike about rats is that it is very common for them to get tumors. Usually the tumors are just fatty, but they grow so large and can make it difficult for an older rat to get around. The tumors can also become ulcerated from rubbing on the ground when the rat walks.

Pet rats may not be for everyone – which is fine – but hopefully more people will understand what great pets they can make.nib1


Rat Facts:

(Taken from: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/small-pet-care/~/media/files/pet-care/images-misc-sizes/rat_edu.pdf)

Also Know as: Domestic rat (a descendant of the wild brown rat)

Weight: Males, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds;
females, 1/2 to 1 pound
Length: 14-18 inches, including tail
Lifespan: 2-3 years
Cost per Year: $300
Good with Kids?: Great for families with children 5 & up, but young caretakers should be supervised by an adult.
Fun fact: When rats are very content, they grind their teeth!
Where to get a rat: There are many pet rats available for adoption at animal shelters and small-animal rescue groups.

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Interesting Rat Facts:

(Taken from http://wererat.net/ratfacts.htm)

  • Rats have poor vision. To compensate for this, a red or pink eyed rat will often weave its head side to side to add “motion” to see better. They also don’t see in color.
  • Rats normally prefer to have cage mates. It is possible to group female or male rats together, though care should be taken when introducing a new rat.
  • While it’s great to have both female and male rats, be wary of letting them play together; rats can complete the courting ritual and the whole romantic relationship in about two seconds.
  • Generally speaking, male rats make better “lap” pets, preferring to sit and have their ears scratched by an attentive human friend. Female rats are very curious, and love to explore and play games. Both genders make great companions.
  • Rats can eat chocolate.
  • Rats can also eat smaller pets. Rats are omnivores, and have enough predatory instinct left in them to consider birds, fish and even some smaller rodents as “snacks.”
  • Rats don’t have canine teeth.
  • Rats don’t have thumbs.
  • The oils in cedar and pine are toxic to rats, and should not be used in their bedding materials.
  • A rat’s temperature is regulated though its tail (assuming it has one). A really hot rat will lay on its back so that it can “sweat” through the soles of its feet.
  • A group of rats is called a mischief.
  • Red discharge from a rat’s nose or eyes is usually porphyrin, not blood. Unlike blood, porphyrin is flourescent under UV light. It is produced in glands behind the rat’s eyes. Overproduction of this discharge can be caused by stress or illness.
  • A happy rat will chatter or grind its teeth. Often, chattering teeth results in “vibrating” eyes, caused by the lower jawbone pressing the backs of the eyes. This is a good sign, regardless of how silly it looks.
  • A rat’s jawbone isn’t fused in the middle like ours, so it can make it looks as though the lower incisors have wiggled apart a bit.
  • Rats can’t vomit. A rat can, however, gag on something if it eats too quickly. The plus side of this is that rats can usually eat and drink before surgery.
  • It is unlikely you will ever catch rabies from a rat.
  • Soda does not make rats explode.
  • Rats bathe themselves, usually six times a day or more. A rat’s saliva has some pink pigmentation, which can cause a light-colored rat to look discolored. A warm washcloth with baby shampoo is great for those trouble spots.
  • PEW stands for “Pink Eyed White” the fancy rat terminology for “albino” or any all-white rat with pink eyes. Conversely, BEW stands for “Black Eyed White” (which is not an albino).
  • Rats have bellybuttons.
  • Rats don’t have gallbladders.
  • Rats don’t have tonsils.
  • A rat’s fur smells like grape soda.
  • Rats can be trained to do simple tricks.
  • Rats can train humans to do simple tricks.

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Housing

(Taken from: http://www.quite.co.uk/rats/#Handling rats)

Unlike rabbits and guinea pigs, domesticated rats are not hardy in cold weather. They must live indoors, preferably in your home, although an enclosed outbuilding could also suffice. For this reason they need a cage rather than just a hutch. Rats kept in an outdoor hutch are at risk of coming into contact with wild rats, and would be lucky to survive a British winter without illness or death from cold. The temperature should not fall below around 45 Degrees F/7Degrees C, and ideally should not rise beyond around 75 Degrees F/ 24 Degrees C. If the cage is sited in a busy part of the home, the rats will enjoy watching their humans passing by, and if part of the cage is at eye-level, you will find that you interact with them more.

Your rats will spend most of their lives in their cage, and because they are such intelligent, active animals, it is a shame to keep them in a small space. There is no such thing as a cage that is ‘too big’ for pet rats — giving your animals more space is an easy way to make their lives more interesting. As a bare minimum, the floor-space should be at least 24″ long and 12″ wide, but we would stress that this is the minimum acceptable cage size and most pet owners want to give their pets more than the minimum. It is really important to check the dimensions of any cage before you buy; it can be hard to guess accurately, and a few inches of space can make a lot of difference to animals as small as rats.

Food:

(Taken from: http://www.afrma.org/rminfo1.htm)

You can find them in pet shops or feed stores bagged in small quantities. There are now many places on the Internet that sell the lab-quality formulas, e.g. the Harlan Teklad 2018 formula is sold online as “Native Earth 4018.” Also, AFRMA sells lab blocks at our shows and on our online Sales Catalog. If you are unable to get lab pellets (you may have to ask the store owner or manager if they can get them if not normally stocked), then a high quality dog food (not over 8% fat content) from the pet shop/feed store such as Nutro, Science Diet, Iams, etc., fed equally with a rat/mouse grain mixture is a good substitute. Complement either diet with small amounts of salad greens (clean, freshly washed, non-contaminated or sprayed; rats love kale, and dandelion leaves can be a treat for mice), fresh fruits (rats love bananas, also avocado given in small amounts) and vegetables (raw broccoli and corn-on-the-cob are a favorite with rats) (NOTE: any fresh foods should be washed when necessary), and whole wheat bread. Be sure to clean out any uneaten fresh foods the next day. Be sparing with oily seeds, nuts, and grain mixes. Dry cat food should only be given to growing youngsters or nursing mothers because of the high fat and protein content. DO NOT give your pet treats such as candy (chocolate can’t be digested by rats), cookies, potato chips, or other junk food. Treats such as dry, healthy, low-sugar cereals (Cheerios, puffed wheat/rice/millet, spoon-size shredded wheat, etc.), plain popcorn, wild bird seed, dry oatmeal, occasional table scraps such as veggies, salad, spaghetti, etc., are okay and will be eagerly devoured by your pet. Do not feed your pet through the screen top of the cage (if the screen is large enough to do this), or if you use wire rat cages, through the bars of the cages, as they will learn that things poked in are food and grab anything poked in including your finger.

Toys:

(Taken from: http://www.rat-care.com/toys.html)

Shop bought cage toys

Hamster toys are good for baby rats. Some rats will run on wheels, but most aren’t interested in them — probably because they are too intelligent. If you do get a wheel, do not buy one with spokes. Rats can easily be hurt in them. Toys aimed at ferrets and parrots are generally ok for rats.

Home made toys.

A fun (and green) way to keep your rats entertained is make toys and cage furniture from ordinary household objects. You just need to keep an eye on safety. Don’t use glues (which will be eaten) and check that there is no way the rats can get toes, legs or other body parts stuck.

Milk bottle lair: Cut the end off a large plastic milk bottle (making sure there are no sharp edges) and stuff it with paper.

Toilet roll challenge: Fill a toilet roll tube with a mixtue of treats and stuff wadded paper at both ends. Hang it with string from the cage for an added challenge.

Egg box delights: Fill each compartment of a clean empty egg box with food (e..g. pieces of fruit, cooked pasta, left over mash potato) and close the lid before giving to the rats.

For Additional care and information please go to: http://www.wikihow.com/Care-for-a-Pet-Rat

(Click to enlarge image)

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Author’s Thanks: Many thanks to my guest poster Miss Ann from Pawisitively Pets, she has a wonderful blog, please check her out. Here’s a mini bio on Miss Ann:

My name is Ann “Paws” Staub and I’m a 28 year old stay at home mom. I have lived in central Texas my entire life. I graduated from college to be a Veterinary Technician in 2007. Immediately afterwards, I went to work at a small practice that treated cats and dogs for 3 years. I learned so much after working with 2 fabulous veterinarians during this time.I own a 9 year old pit bull named “Shiner”. Shiner enjoys sunbathing, laying on my bed, and eating stuff she’s not supposed to. I also own a rat named “Nibblet” who is awesome! She is my first pet rat. Nibblet enjoys hiding things behind my computer and eating treats. 

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