“They understand. They care. They feel.”
Watch Lee Anne’s experience as a foster mom for the Rat Retreat:
Irene came to live with us on 1/15/12. We had picked up Bernadette from an adopter who wasn’t caring for her properly and we took her cagemate, Irene, too. Irene had been purchased from Petco and was terribly shy and afraid. She could not stand to be picked up for four months. She didn’t bite, but she trembled and frantically escaped from being touched. Within four months of socializing, she reluctantly allowed herself to be picked up, but happily enjoyed petting on her head. She had beautiful, wide eyes and volunteers said she listened when they talked to her.
She had especially soft fur. When she took medicine, she sat on our shoulders and rubbed her little cheek against ours every few bites. She was not ladylike in taking treats though! She grabbed the food as if she was being starved. She lived with Bernadette when she first came, then was nonchalant in being introduced to a cage of boys.
Later when Buddy came, Irene and Bernadette moved in with him. Irene adored Buddy to the point of trying to get as fat as he was. She gained about .5 pounds while the big guy lived, then lost it after he died. Their next roommates were Sammy and Matilda when Bernadette died. Sammy fell instantly in love with Irene and they were inseparable. When Sammy passed, she and Matilda lived peacefully together, usually snuggled in the top shelf.
Irene developed hind leg degeneration about six months before she died. Liquid B vitamin supplement enabled her to keep walking and climbing the four levels of her cage.
Irene was spayed within a couple of weeks of her arrival, but did not need another surgery until two years later, when she developed a tumor. Donors funding her tumor removal gave her an extra month. While she was recovering, Matilda took care of her, staying curled protectively around her to keep her safe and warm.
She never liked being held until Diana Greene came along as a pre-vet volunteer. Irene would sit in Diana’s lap and allow her to massage her for as long as she wanted. She never looked as peaceful as she did then.
She was found lying on her side, only her body left behind, on the morning of 1/28/14. She was estimated to be close to three years old. She lived a good life here….two years of safety, warmth, good food and companionship. Those of us who loved to look into her beautiful eyes will miss her so much as will those of us who felt her soft face against ours and were allowed to rub that sweet body as we cared for her.
Matilda groomed her face one last time before I took her away. Then went to the spot where she died and smelled where she had been.
Good night, Irene. Good night, Irene. We’ll see you in our dreams.
We hope to see you for our big fundraiser tomorrow (May 7th). All donations made tomorrow at this link below…
will help us with our funding to run the rescue throughout the year.
For now, enjoy this story from one of our board members, Sascha Torres, and her affiliate rescue in Wisconsin.
A Rescuer’s Story – The Insatiable Calling
My name is Sascha and I reside in Wisconsin with my fiancé and our many pets. My rat journey began in March 2011. My fiancé, then boyfriend, Adam and I had recently got an apartment together and wanted to get a pet. Adam suggested rats because he had one as a child and knew they were very intelligent. I had a dwarf hamster named Chippy when I was little and still had a love of rodents, so I agreed. We ventured to our local pet store to see the selection (something we no longer do – ADOPT, Don’t Buy!). There was a litter of dumbo male rats in one of the cages. They were very small, cute, and had quite a variety of coat colors. The store clerk asked if I wanted to hold one and I hesitantly agreed. I thought they were cute but I was much more comfortable with dogs. The worker asked which one I wanted to hold and I picked out a very lazy looking boy with brownish grey fur. With shaky hands I took him and rested his chubby body on my chest. My initial reaction was noticing that he stunk like poo because of his cage conditions. I gave him back to the worker. Adam asked me what I thought and my response was, “I didn’t love him like I thought I would.” Adam was irritated to say the least. He was excited for these new pets and I was raining on his parade. After much complaint on Adam’s behalf, we told the worker we would take two, knowing that rats live much happier lives with other cagemates. I chose the lazy, chubby one and Adam chose a little black and white speckled one. We took them home and named mine Hamish and Adam’s Vickus. With the cage set up we had them out for a little playtime and I quickly changed my tune. They were cuddly and inquisitive. Very soon I was in love, very VERY much in love.
After adopting a number of rats, we came across a rat on PetFinder who was living at the Eastshore Humane Society named Mitchell. Little did I know, my love of rescuing was soon to become an insatiable calling. Mitchell was labeled as unhandleable by the animal shelter and had sat in an aquarium tank with nothing but a food dish and water bottle for over a year, which was essentially his whole life. I felt sick to my stomach when I saw him and took him home immediately even though I was warned that he was surely going to bite me and would certainly never be able to be with other rats. He was very frightened and skittish for the first few weeks. I was afraid he would be a solitary rat forever but was relieved knowing he would have a better life with us than at the shelter. My love for Mitchell, who became known as Yeti, was making my heart swell like the Grinch on Christmas morning.
Slowly but surely we got him to come to the cage door for treats and he even let us pet him a little while he would lay in his hammock. We were, however, always nervous we would be bitten. Finally I had enough waiting. He was laying in his hammock and I stuck my hand in and scooped him up. He shrieked – I shrieked – but he didn’t even try to bite. I was shocked! After doing this a few times I decided that he was indeed harmless, I just needed to be brave. From that point on, my sweet Yeti Man became a part of the colony. He loved his new siblings and they loved him. When he passed my heart broke in a way that I had never imagined possible, but I have found a way to take that hurt and turn it into a commitment to help as many rats as I am able and being a board member of The Rat Retreat allows me to do that.
My fiancé and I now have two dogs, Olive and Wiggums, a chinchilla named Chinny, two degus named Adelaide and Adara. Adelaide and Adara were adopted from K&R Small Animal Sanctuary and Chinny came to us from a co-worker who was going back to school and knew that we had an affinity for small animals. Olive and Wiggums are also shelter animals who we adopted from the Midwest Boston Terrier Rescue. The dogs are very gentle and we have trained them very well – they hardly notice the other animals. Chinny lives in the bottom two levels of a triple level Ferret Nation cage with Adelaide and Adara living in the top level – sectioned off, of course. This is in addition to a myriad of rats!
Our home has become known as the Regal Rat Sanctuary of Wisconsin. Fully furnished with a double-wide, triple level critter nation cage – with other cages available for quarantine, new adoptees and fosters. At present we have 12 permanent residents – Wormlet, Meri, Pippen, Samwise, Leeloo, Michonne, Sadie, Wenby, Carlisle, Supersize-Worm, Marley and Zeusiwitz.
We are currently fostering 13 young rats who are 12 weeks old. Four sweet girls and nine silly boys. This is our first experience with fostering rats. Previously we have only adopted into the sanctuary as permanent residents, making this extremely uncharted territory. We are very fortunate that today as I write this (4/29/2015) the four little girls will be transported to their new furever home in West Bend, WI. These rats were the result of an unplanned pregnancy. The original owners had Zeus, who is now a permanent resident, and for a time had another female rat who came to them pregnant. Once the babies were weaned the female was given to one of their friends who has experience with rats. We are very fortunate that these babies came to us and did not meet a more terrifying fate, as they were advertised on Craigslist.
Over the years we have seen 19 rats cross the Rainbow Bridge. Every rat that I am able to help through The Rat Retreat is a victory towards improving the welfare of rats worldwide and I am proud to be a part of this wonderful team. Each of you reading this can help in your own way – especially with this amazing event, Idaho Gives. Please open your hearts and your pocket books and make a contribution – it will mean life and love for rats in need. Thank you for your support!
-Sascha Torres, The Rat Retreat Board of Directors Secretary and Proprieter of Regal Rat Sanctuary
We got so many entries for our calendar. This post is going to feature the rats that didn’t make it onto the calendar, but are equally cute and wonderful.
This little girl was a rescued rat and lives with 11 other rambunctious girls.
Jane & Bronte
These rescued girls are named after Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.
Venus passed about a year ago, but she was the sweetest little rat and loved her hammock.
Percy acts like an old man and is a very cuddly rat. He enjoys nothing more than cuddling on the couch or being close to your neck. He loves getting dressed up with his human mommy.
Whiskey & Alice
Whiskey is my adopted neutered male and loves his food! He’s the biggest male I’ve ever seen! He also gets called a wombat! He’s a lovely boy and I’m glad my girls accepted him.
Alice is my precious heart rat. She’s the sweetest rat and always comes out for a cuddle or snuggle up your jumper sleeve! She’s my smallest female but loves Whiskey. I often find them cuddling together or grooming each other. I love her to bits! She has two other sisters that she loves as well, Belle and Penelope.
He just turned 4 years old in August of 2014. He found me when I wasn’t even looking. I walked into Petco to buy some food for the rest of my ratties and saw a very beat up fatty being put into a card board box and a worker in tears. I asked her what was going on and because of his teeth being overgrown he was being sent to be put to sleep. I walked up to the man carrying him and removed the box from his hand and said he was coming home with me. I asked Petco for all his records and found out he was born August 4th 2010 in the pet store. He had been bought 18 times and each time returned to the store. First stop on the way home was the emergency vet. She clipped his teeth and gave him a check up. He is now a HUGE part of our family and we can’t have a family photo done without him. We just refuse. If Bill says no we say no. He is the best pet we could ever ask for.
He was my heart rat. He had type 1 insulin dependent diabetes and loved wearing hats!
Preparing and setting up your rats’ cage is very important. Your rats will spend most of their life inside this cage and so you need to make sure it is a safe and fun place to live. We will go over each aspect of setting up your rats’ cage.
(Source links at bottom of page.)
6-Filling the Cage
8-Free Range Time
Each rat should have at least 2 cubic feet of cage space. To find cubic measurements you multiply the cage length x height x width. There are 1,728 cubic inches in a cubic foot. I will call this our magic number. To make a cage more interesting, I recommend it having multiple levels and ramps. For senior rats that may have difficulty using ramps or for rats that have balance issues or hind-end degeneration, I suggest a one-level cage.
How can you determine how many rats will fit in the cage you want to buy? If you enjoy math, it is pretty simple.
For those who hate math, there is a great rat cage calculator here: http://www.rattycorner.com/odds/calc.shtml
Just enter your cage’s dimensions and it will tell you how many rats will comfortably fit in your cage.
Here are some examples:
Example #1 : Petco Rat Manor Habitat
This cage measures 16.5″ x 22.5″ x 32″
Multiply those numbers together: 16.5” x 22.5” x 32” = 11,880 cubic inches
Then divide the cubic inches by our magic number: 11,880 / 1,728 = 6.875 cubic feet (3 rats)
Example #2 : Critter Nation Single Unit
This cage measures 36” x 25” x 39”
Multiply those numbers together: 36” x 25” x 39” = 35,100 cubic inches
Then divide the cubic inches by our magic number: 35,100 / 1,728 = 20.3125 cubic feet (10 rats)
There are basically three types of cages people use for rats: aquariums, wire cages, and homemade cages. We do not recommend the use of aquariums for the following reasons:
We do recommend wire cages, or nicely homemade cages with adequate ventilation.
Here are some of my personal favorites:
Martin’s Cages : http://www.martinscages.com/products/cages/rat/
Critter Nation : http://www.ferret.com/cages/cages/887/
The use of wire floored cages, including wire shelves or balconies, has been implicated as a cause of bumblefoot. Many decent rat cages have upper levels made from wire mesh. Owners should consider covering wire balconies with a solid surface (e.g. wood, vinyl, plexiglass, plastic needlepoint canvas, blankets, towels, fleece). However, even rats kept on solid flooring can get bumblefoot, and a new theory has developed that exposure to urine pooled on solid floors (especially plastic) may also contribute to the problem. Therefore, it is important to keep all cage surfaces clean and dry. No matter the cage materials, frequent and thorough cage cleaning appears to be the best defense.
B) Escaping Rats
One potential problem with wire cages is their bar spacing. Some of the best rat cages are actually designed for ferrets and can have quite widely spaced bars. This can be a problem for young rats and small females, who may be able to squeeze through the bars, leaving them free to get into all kinds of rattie trouble when no one is watching.
One solution is to have different cages for the age of your rats. Young rats can start off with a smaller home, with more suitable bars and grow into their adult home. This has the added benefit of being less overwhelming if your new rats are particularly young and may find moving into a large home daunting. It may be a costly solution, but if you find a lovely large cage that is not suitable for the size of your rats and you don’t mind the expense then it is an option. You will still need to choose a cage that has plenty of room for your young rats as they have large amounts of energy to burn and cramping them into a small hamster cage will stunt their development.
I have also seen people cover the cage with a layer of chicken wire to keep small rats in, and then removing the wire once the rats can no longer fit through the bars. Be careful to keep sharp edges away from rats and your hands as well!
Many people are unaware of which types of bedding should/should not be used.
Do not use cedar or pine.
The use of aromatic pine or cedar may affect your rat’s health in several ways. Long term inhalation of these chemicals may compromise the rat’s immune system making it more prone to the development of respiratory problems resulting from mycoplasma. It has also been shown in the laboratory that the phenols in these softwoods can alter the levels of the liver enzymes in laboratory rats.
It is okay to use aspen, careFRESH, pellets, or cloth.
Aspen is a good choice for bedding. Being a hardwood, there are no toxic phenols in it making it a safe choice for your rat. The only problem with aspen is that it can be messy and difficult to vacuum.
CareFRESH is made from paper pulp. It has the appearance of shredded gray egg carton material. Rats seem to like this product although some owners complain about its odor being unpleasant, especially when wet. It also tends to be dusty.
Pellet bedding is also popular. A common brand is Yesterday’s News. It is manufactured from recycled newspaper and was originally intended to be an alternative cat litter. Many pet owners use it satisfactorily. The one problem with Yesterday’s News is that it does tend to crumble and get dusty after it has been wet and then dried out. Other pellet bedding products on the market are made from different materials such as compressed aspen, wheat grass, and cellulose fiber (Cell-sorb Plus).
Cloth is a useful alternative to conventional cage bedding especially if the rats, or their owners, have allergies. Old clothing, fabric diapers, fleece, and pillowcases or sheets make good choices. Be sure to use cloth that does not unravel easily. Long strings can get caught around the rat’s appendages and cause injury. This is particularly a concern with babies and young rats.
Wash the fabric bedding with a hypoallergenic laundry detergent using warm or hot water. Occasional washing with a small amount of bleach is fine as long as the load of laundry is washed again using detergent only or put through two rinse cycles. If you can detect any bleach odor after washing then please run them through another complete cycle. Refrain from using perfumed fabric softeners which can irritate a rat’s respiratory tract.
If your floors are made from wire mesh you should cover most, if not all, of the floor with something to protect your rats’ feet. Too often rats get sprains or breaks from getting their feet caught in the cage floor. Having a floor that wire spacing is ½” x ½” will help to reduce injury. The other problem with wire floors is that it can aggravate bumblefoot if your rat is predisposed to it.
There are many good options for making the cage floors safe. One very good one is linoleum (non-glued for easy cleaning) cut to the size of the floor. It cleans easily and looks attractive. Other floor covering options are placemats (cloth, fleece, plastic, needlepoint canvas, and non-stick rubber shelf liner).
Cardboard, plywood, and carpet are all poor flooring choices. These are too hard to keep clean and cannot be wiped down.
Rats enjoy multiple levels in their cages. A few products that can add levels are movable bird platforms, hanging baskets, and hammocks. Ferret tubes connected together can be attached to the side (both inside and out) or top of the cage and used as a way to get from one platform to the next. You can also cut coated wire shelving to size and attach it to the cage using wire ties.
Keeping litter boxes in your cages will help with maintaining overall cage cleanliness. Rats are, for the most part, easily trained to use a litter box. Using a different material in the litter box from the normal bedding in the cage will help the rat differentiate between its floor and its toilet area. Remember to not use pine or cedar. Find the corner or spot in the cage where your rats usually go to the bathroom and place the litter box there. Rats can further be encouraged to use the litter box if you leave a bit of soiled litter and a few droppings with which to scent while training. Place your rat(s) in the litter box to show them it’s there, and offer them praise and healthy treats when they use the litter box. During those times when they do not use the litter box remind them by saying “No” and gently sit the rat in the litter box along with the droppings you picked up and placed in there.
Unfortunately most rats will not urinate in their litter boxes regularly. But even if it only catches the feces it is still a great aide in helping your rat’s environment stay cleaner.
6-Filling the Cage
A) The House
You will need to provide your rats with a nest box or a “house” that they can hide in to sleep. You can find items at the pet store such as large igloos, chinchilla bathhouses, roll-a-nest beds, ferret ball connectors, roll-a-nest balls, and log cabin homes among others. On a more creative side you can use plastic bowls turned upside down with a large hole drilled in it, 4” PVC pipe, sturdy cardboard boxes, and even plastic storage boxes with holes notched into them. There are many possibilities.
Once you have the bed/s, provide your rats materials that they can make a nest with. Some rats are very avid nest builders and will enjoy setting up their beds. Some good suggestions are non-stringy fabric, CareFRESH bedding, shredded paper, paper towels, tissues, pillowcases, etc…
Be sure to change the nesting material often. Ammonia resulting from urine can be harmful to the rat especially in a small confined area such as a nesting bed.
Rats love to get up high off the ground. This is one of the reasons that so many companies and individuals are offering hammocks, soft sleeping tubes, and hanging hideaways. Hammocks are a must for a rat cage. They come in many sizes and styles. You can purchase cozy fleece lined hammocks, ones with pockets, or lightweight lounge hammocks. Many pet stores offer ferret cage accessories, these can be used and are particularly good for larger rats. One of the advantages to having a wire cage is that it provides a good place where you can hang these versatile beds.
I have loved the hammocks I have ordered from Janis Stern at RatAttackTeam Hammocks.
Making your own hammocks and soft tubes is easy. If you sew it is possible to really go all out and design fancy ones. If you aren’t able to sew you can fashion hammocks out of towels, scrap fabric, cloth place mats, cloth diapers, or old clothes. Tubes can be fashioned from pant legs cut off and hung within the cage.
Homemade hammocks and soft tubes can be hung with safety pins, diaper pins, grommets, chains, hooks, or any other method that holds them secure. Lining the hammock or soft tube with a towel after it is hung will allow you to change the surface without having to change out the hammock in-between cleanings.
Hard tubes can be bought in the ferret section. These tubes connect and hang with chains. They come in different colors and are transparent so that you can view the rat. Large PVC pipe and drainage pipe will also work and can be drilled and hung.
Rats just want to have fun so provide them with things to play with. The best toy they will have, of course, is you. Interaction, hand wrestling, training and play time out of their cage with you are the most important activities that your rats can have. During the times that you are not around though, other toys will make the rat’s life more fun.
An exercise wheel is a great cage accessory if your rat will use it. Typically females are more inclined to be wheel runners, but that isn’t always the case. Some males will use them, too. Be sure to provide only a non-wire large wheel to prevent injury such as the plastic Wodent Wheel or one of the solid metal type wheels.
Treat toys are always a big hit. For a simple homemade treat toy you can put treats in a small cardboard box and watch as your rats busily demolish it to get their treat. You can also attach fruit or hard treats with holes drilled into them to a large binder ring and attach it to the side of the cage.
Rats love to climb. You can outfit your cage with such things as ladders, ropes, wooden bird branches, and climbing tubes. You will find many good climbing toys in the ferret and bird department of the pet store. Take care to not use climbing toys in the cages of elderly or ill rats. For multiple level cages I like to make sure there are ramps for older rats to use.
Here is a photo of a ramp I made for our rat room: 2 wrapping paper tubes with a pillowcase and some string. The rats love using it to get on and off the futon.
7-Food and Water
Rats are free feeders and require a constant supply of food. Food dishes need to be heavy and low so that they cannot be spilled. If you have rats that stash their food be sure to not overfeed them and remove any perishable food before they begin to decompose. The best food option for rats are lab blocks. I recommend Harlan Teklad, Oxbow or Mazuri.
Water is the most important thing your rat needs. Always make sure that clean water is available. My rats enjoy using a water bottle and a water bowl. Be sure to change water frequently (I change it daily) and clean the water bottles/bowls with soap and water at least once a week. Do not use a water bowl with baby rats as drowning can be a risk. There are several good types of water bottles. Most mount on the outside of the cage with a sipper tube that fits in-between the bars. If your rats have an open cage it may be necessary to protect the top of the plastic water bottles from chewers. You can do this by putting an empty can or a small plastic bowl over the top of it.
Multiple water bottles are a good idea so that if one bottle leaks or is empty they will still have another to drink from. Always make sure that the bottle’s seal or gasket is in place and that the bottle does not drip. Be sure to clean and sanitize the bottle thoroughly each week. Make sure you have the water bottle on the lowest level of the cage. As the rats, age, they may be unable to climb ramps and need to have access to the water bottle.
Flouride and chlorine in water are not good for rats. I use filtered water from the grocery store and do not use tap water.
Just like a dog, a rat needs time out of the house (or in this case, the cage) to exercise, explore and have some fun. How would you like being cooped up in your house all day, and only being allowed out when some giant came and picked you up? Not very much, I am assuming. Rats need to be let out of their cage to explore and stretch their legs at least once or twice a day for about an hour or two. I find a rat room to be the best way to go about free ranging, this way the area can be always 100% rat-proof and you don’t have to set it up with proofing and toys every time. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the extra space for this kind of thing. The second best way to do this is to have a room that is rat safe:
– No cords or anything sharp exposed
– Nothing bad that the rats could eat
– Nothing that would scare them (other pets, loud, active people, etc)
– No holes exposed into walls or furniture where the rats could get stuck or lost
– Nothing for the rats to hide under or behind out of your reach
Most dangers are quite obvious, though there are things you may not have thought about. Many houseplants are toxic to rats. Either remove them or ensure the rats cannot chew on them. Always be careful where you sit, especially if you have a rocking chair or sofa bed… rats love to explore dark hidden places. Remove shoes before walking in a rat zone and learn the “ratty shuffle” so you don’t accidentally tread on anyone. Ensure all other household pets are locked elsewhere. No matter how much you trust them with the rats, instinct can overwhelm them and accidents can happen. Taping some cardboard so that it projects over the edge of bookshelves will prevent your rat from climbing up too high. Smaller rats are good at squeezing under doors so be mindful of that and block the gap beforehand if needed.
We are lucky to have an extra room and so my rats free-range 100% of the time. The next three photos show how I have rat-proofed their room and given them some fun exploring/hiding places. I used firm plastic/rubber sheets to cover the carpet and used carpet runner to cover the baseboard from chewing temptation.
Central Texas Rat Rescue has wonderful cages for their rats.
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