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Unspoken thoughts in the world of rat rescues – by Francois Schaut
Did you ever hear the expression of “the elephant in the room”? It comes from when everyone knows of a problem, but no one wants to discuss it because it may be embarrassing or reactions to it may be highly emotional, so no one brings it up and everyone avoids the subject. But as it gets no attention, it becomes like an elephant in the room, with everyone awkwardly ignoring it.
We owe it to our supporters and donors to be on the front line of the advocacy of proper rat care and betterment of the lives of pet rats worldwide; with other words, we need to address the elephant in the room…
“I can’t afford to bring my pet to a vet.”
Medical care for rats can be very expensive. Most vets classify them as “exotic animals” and put a price tag on them equally exotic and sometimes outrageous. Having done a small survey across the UK, Ireland and some states in the US, we find that prices for medication and procedures can vary (and some, running rescues/sanctuaries may enjoy a discount), it is not cheap! While a normal check-up may set you back something between $20 and $60, over the lifetime of a rat (let’s take an average life span of 2 years), check-ups alone can cost you $80 to $220, even more if the pet lives longer!
Spaying or neutering the rat is even more costly. We heard anything between $70 to $300. Now, even if you choose not to have check-ups or have the animal neutered/spayed, rats do get sick. And the longer the sickness remains untreated, the more expensive it will be to cure. A respiratory infection will set you back $40 to $60 at best, or can easily run up to $100 or more.
So, the facts show it can expensive to have medical care for your rat, even if you can address half of their ailments with self-medicating (if you are knowledgeable enough or have access to someone who is) at one stage or another, chances are great that your beloved pet will run up a $100 vet bill or more. There are also resources like Debbie Ducommun’s booklet that are designed to help reduce the cost of vet care, such as purchasing bulk medication through online vendors. If you knew that already, you did your research. If not, consider yourself educated.
“I am poor, I cannot afford a vet, poor people are entitled to have pets too!”
We aren’t saying that people of little financial means should be without a pet, but the obligation to take responsible care of your pet is not an optional choice. If you research about the care of any pet, you should know about possible costs involved and you should have a plan on how to deal with that. Mostly we advise people to save for a reserve, a vet fund of at least $100. Does that sound like too much? If your pet gets sick, chances are you spend a lot more than that, but at least you have some reserve. Most vets will work with installment plans if need be.
We know from our own personal experiences how difficult it can be to make ends meet. If responsibility of 2 rats (as rats should not be kept alone) seems like too much, think about the care of 10 rats, 20 rats or even 30 rats or more. Think about rescuers that do this, that will skip meals and borrow and beg to ensure that rescued rats get medical attention. Often enough because of the medical attention they should have gotten in the first place and didn’t get, rescuers are picking up the tab for it and that is for the rats that are lucky enough to be surrendered/rescued. Our founding president went bankrupt at one stage, taking care of over 50 rats. During all of this, being homeless, she managed to get each and every rat everything they needed medically and a proper place to stay. She may have been bankrupt and homeless, but that didn’t stop her taking care of more than 50 rats.
“At least they have a happy life and didn’t end up as snake food.”
If the pet shop sells live rats as snake food, what do you think happens if a snake owner comes in the pet shop and you bought the last living rat? The pet shop will happily breed more rats and probably have the next litter ready when you think you “rescued” the last one, or have the next litter just a phone call away from a back yard breeder. You didn’t save a rat, you merely shifted the fate of one rat to another rat. The next in line will be snake food and a breeding female is one step closer to death, while you have taken charge of an animal that you cannot or are not willing to give the proper care it will need.
So when this “rescued” rat gets sick, will it be a happy death?; struggling to breathe for days, having panic attacks, to finally succumb to a respiratory infection out of weakness, fatigue and stress?
An untreated condition where the teeth grow into their skull until they either die of starvation or pierce their own brain with their teeth? Eaten away inside by cancer and after withering away to succumb to a pituitary tumour, die in their own filth because they cannot clean themselves? If you didn’t have the money for medical treatment, do you have the money to have the animal put to sleep if their suffering becomes too much?
Would the snake not be more merciful?
“I had a reserve, but something happened and I have no money left.”
Yes, that can happen with the best precautions made and most of us have been in that situation. Some of us have faced bankruptcy. How do you think the rescuers manage? Do not have the illusion that they are well off philanthropists with coffers of money stacked up high? A visit to any social media page of a rescue will show you their need for funds, and some way or another they pull through –or go under. Most rescues don’t last a year. The ones that do have had to work hard to stay operational, mostly with the help of volunteers giving their time and people who donate. Donors are no fools either. If they see their donations squandered, they soon stop giving. Take note that these people take care of many rats! You’d be surprised how they can help. A very important thing to remember is not to blatantly ask a rescue organization for funds. They would be quickly “out of business” if they were to be distributing money to whoever asks for it and be in dire need (if not already) themselves.
In their passion for rats they have found ways to get the care that is needed, even when money is short. Their experience and contacts can help you. If you are in a situation where you can’t give your pet the care it needs, surrendering may be an option. But, it is not the only option for you. Various “Fund Me” sites exist, some rat related social media may allow you to post there, and looking for help (ask first) or contact a vet that will work with an installment plan.
The bottom line
Any pet under your care has the right to proper treatment. When we take charge of them, we have a moral responsibility. Pet rats will give their love unconditionally to you. They live 3 years at best, a few exceptions live longer. We need to commit ourselves to that lifetime, where they look up to us to care for them. As pointed out, when money is short, there are ways to get what is needed for your pet. Yes, it takes effort, but that is the nature of having pets which comes with the territory of the care of an animal. Pet rats don’t exist “to be cool”, to follow a trend, to be with the “in-crowd”. They are living and sentient creatures that need to be cared for and loved.
Everyone is entitled to experience the joy of pet ownership, but with this entitlement comes the responsibility to give the care needed.
When it comes to chocolate and rats I have heard everything from: “it is highly toxic” to “it is the miracle respiratory cure”. I decided to do a literature review, looking at published studies to determine whether or not chocolate is safe for our rats and if it is safe, if it has any medical benefits.
Note that I am not a chemist or a veterinarian.And also note that Fiona and Craig (in these photos) only got to eat very small portions of these chocolate cookies for this photo shoot, much to their dismay.
There are two substances of particular importance in this discussion: theobromine and theophylline. Theobromine is what is usually measured in toxicity studies and is the substance that makes chocolate so dangerous to dogs and other animals.
The LD50 (lethal dose) of theobromine for dogs is 300 mg/kg.
The LD50 for rats is 950 mg/kg. So as you can see, dogs are much more sensitive to chocolate than rats are.
In addition to the lethal dose, we should be concerned about toxicity. Theobromine toxicity targets the thymus and the testes in rodents. The thymus gland is very important to your rat’s immune system. In one study, thymus atrophy was observed at doses of 250-300 mg/kg in rats after being fed a theobromine diet for 4 weeks.
But how much theobromine is in chocolate? These three charts could be helpful for us to determine how much theobromine we are giving our rats.
Chocolate and Theobromine/Caffeine Contents
|Common Household Items||Serving||Theobromine||Caffeine|
|Ice Cream Rich Chocolate||1 cup ( 148g)||178mg||5.9mg|
|Peanut M&M’s||1 cup (170g)||184mg||17mg|
|Ready to Eat Chocolate Pudding||4 oz (108g)||75.6mg||2.2mg|
|Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar||1.55 oz (43g)||64mg||9mg|
|Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup||2 Tbsp (39g)||64mg||5mg|
|Hershey’s KISSES (Milk Chocolate)||9 pieces (41g)||61mg||9mg|
|Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Baking Bar||1 Tbsp (15g)||55mg||7mg|
|Cookies, brownies, commercially prepared||1 Square (2 –3/4” sq x 7/8″) (56g)||43.7mg||1.1mg|
|KIT KAT Wafer Bar||1 bar (42g)||48.7mg||5.9mg|
|REESE’S Peanut Butter Cups (2pk)||2 cups (45g)||32.4mg||3.2mg|
|Doughnut, cake-type, chocolate, sugared or glazed||1 Doughnut (3′ dia) (43g)||12.6mg||0.6mg|
|Chocolate Chip Cookies , made with margarine||1 Cookie Med (2 1/4″ dia) (16g)||20.3mg||2.6mg|
|Milky Way||1 bar (58g)||37.1 mg||3.5mg|
|Generic Hot Fudge Sundae Topping||1 Sundae (158g)||77.4mg||1.6mg|
|REESE’S PIECES Candy||1 package (46g)||0mg||0mg|
The amount of caffeine and theobromine will vary naturally due to growing conditions and cocoa bean sources and variety.
Foods Highest in Theobromine
|Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened, processed with alkali [Dutch cocoa]||1 cup (86g)||2266 mg||67.1mg|
|Baking chocolate, unsweetened, squares||1 cup, grated (132g)||1712 mg||106mg|
|Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened||1 cup (86g)||1769 mg||198mg|
|Baking chocolate, unsweetened, liquid||1 oz (28g)||447 mg||13.2mg|
|Puddings, chocolate flavor, low calorie, regular, dry mix||1 Package (40g)||238 mg||7.2mg|
|Desserts, rennin, chocolate, dry mix||1 Package, 2 oz (57g)||242 mg||7.4mg|
|Puddings, chocolate flavor, low calorie, instant, dry mix||1 Package, 1.4oz box (40g)||189 mg||5.6mg|
|Syrups, chocolate, HERSHEY’S Genuine Chocolate Flavored Lite Syrup||2 tbsp (35g)||68.3 mg||2.1mg|
|Cocoa, dry powder, hi-fat or breakfast, processed with alkali||1 oz (28g)||685 mg||20.2mg|
|Candies, chocolate, dark, 70-85% cacao solids||I bar (101g)||810 mg||80.8mg|
|Cocoa, dry powder, hi-fat or breakfast, plain||1 Tbsp (5g)||92.6 mg||10.3mg|
As an example, let’s look at my rat Fiona, who weighs 375 grams. 375 grams is 0.375 kilograms. Now remember,
The lethal dose for rats is 950 mg/kg.
The toxic dose for rats is 250 mg/kg.
To find Fiona’s lethal dose: 950 mg*0.375 kg =356.25 mg. 356.25 mg of theobromine is the lethal dose for Fiona. So according to the chart above, if Fiona ate 1 oz of liquid baking chocolate, it would be lethal.
Now let’s find Fiona’s toxic dose. To find Fiona’s toxic dose: 250 mg*0.375 kg = 93.75 mg. 93.75 mg of theobromine eaten regularly could lead to changes in the thymus and toxicity in Fiona. So if Fiona ate a 1.5 ounce chocolate bar, she would be getting close to a dose that would lead to toxicity.
According to this information, small amounts of chocolate is okay for rats. I tend to follow everything on the safe side – I would say maybe a chocolate chip or two each day for your rat should be safe and not lead to toxicity.
What are signs of toxicity or chocolate “poisoning”?
(http://www.petmd.com/dog/chocolate-toxicity) *NOTE: these are symptoms specific to dogs but rats should have similar symptoms with toxicity minus vomiting.
Here is where theophylline comes in. Theophylline is an isomer (chemically related) to theobromine. Both are found in chocolate – specifically in the cocoa plant. Theobromine is what leads to toxicity and “chocolate poisoning” and has more of a cough-suppressant effect. Theophylline is the substance that is found to have bronchodilator effects, which may help a rat with respiratory issues.
I could not find any studies regarding theophylline for rats. In humans, theophylline was used as a bronchodilator in the treatment of airway disease but, to achieve significant bronchodilatation, relatively high plasma concentrations are needed (10–20 mg/l). Most people were not able to tolerate a high enough dose of theophylline to get therapeutic levels of this drug due to the side effects.
Caffeine could also play a role in the claim that chocolate helps rats breathe. In one study, humans were given 5 mg/kg caffeine and their asthma symptoms improved for 2 hours after consumption. There have been some studies regarding premature rats and caffeine administration, but no studies on older rats with respiratory issues.
I have also not found much information regarding how much theophylline is in chocolate, in addition to finding out what therapeutic theophylline levels would be for a rat. In regards to humans, “the amount of theophylline in cocoa powder is much less than what’s administered for therapy, so the risks of a negative reaction from drinking hot cocoa is very small. Furthermore, many brands of hot chocolate are not very high in pure cocoa powder. Instead, they are higher in powdered dairy products and refined sugar in order to make the beverage sweeter and more appealing to children. If you are concerned about theophylline levels, buy hot chocolate powder low in pure cocoa.”
So in regards to rats, the science shows that chocolate has a much lower dose of theophylline than what would be clinically prescribed. And in humans, in order to be therapeutic, theophylline dosing tends to be higher to achieve therapeutic plasma levels.
Perhaps it is the combination of theobromine, theophylline and caffeine in chocolate that causes people to claim that chocolate helps their rats breathe easier.
Chocolate may have some benefit for the respiratory system, but the benefit may be none to small and has limited scientific research to back it up.
If your rat is suffering from chronic respiratory issues, a chocolate chip a day won’t hurt and it may help; however, you should really take your rat to the vet and if needed they can prescribe bronchodilators for your rat that will have the correct dosing and will be much more effective.
THE APPETIZING DINNER FIT FOR A RAT
Jordan Walker loves furry animals like pet rats. He devotes most of his time writing about animals in general at Coops And Cages and in pet blogs like this one. In here, he will be discussing about rat blocks in comparison to human food diet.
Rats are the bomb! Who says that Lassie is the only one who successfully made it to the big screen? If animals could be made into spies, rats would be more fitting for the role. Equipped with a sense of smell that can pinpoint the exact location of the best goodies in the house coupled with the stealth abilities of reconnaissance aircrafts, these are considered James Bond character materials. Babe the pig may have impressed viewers with its herding abilities but the Ratatouille showed how rats have a sense of taste when it comes to food and a voracious appetite at that. In here, the main rat character, Remy, was drawn into cooking food worthy of a prestigious restaurant. In comparison to the book Who Moved My Cheese written by Spencer Johnson, the main characters that included two rats only fed on cheese. In real life, there is also what is called rat blocks for pet rodents. Which of these are considered the best food for rats?
Rat blocks are just like cat or dog kibbles, only that these are pre-mixed according to rats’ nutritional needs. These are also called lab blocks because this is the common food staple of rats kept in laboratories. Why blocks? As its name implies, these usually take the shape of uniform small blocks. Consider rat blocks as feeds for chickens and birds. Unlike cats and dogs though, rats are only popular in laboratory research. That may be the reason why there is not much news circulating about rat blocks. However, manufacturing processes used in commercial rat pet food is similar to other types of dry pet foods, which are not considered generally safe.
Dry pet foods such as lab blocks are made through high heat baking. Although baking is thought to be a better option than frying, this may not be true when the food being cooked contains starch. This may be found in carbohydrate foods such as corn, an ingredient commonly used in most commercial pet foods. Baking starch in very high heat over boiling point creates a reaction that produces acrylamides, the same carcinogen that also present in cigarette smoke. Carcinogens such as acrylamides are one of the reasons why processed foods are not popular with medical health experts. Aside from the cooking process itself, there is also the question regarding the safety of the raw ingredients being used. For example, grains may have been exposed to harmful contaminants such as fungus, bacteria, and pesticides depending on how these were harvested or stored.
For those who are wondering how foods are graded according to a rat’s view, they may be tasting these just like humans do. Now this might explain why unwelcome rats love to sneak into the goody basket every time homeowners are not around. Through evolution, these have come to survive feeding on a wide variety of food diets. Considered as omnivores, rats could eat the things that humans are willing to eat. In short, they too have been endowed with expensive taste and this is what makes rat blocks a poor choice for pet rats. Although claimed to be loaded with essential nutrients, their taste leaves nothing left to be desired even for the very tiny rat. There are some that do come in loose mixes. These are rat blocks that contain several colored or have different shapes, each of which is made up of a particular ingredient. Yes, these have the added benefit of a balanced meal. But rats would only usually end up eating their preferred ingredient, leaving the least favorite untouched.
Many rat pet owners are now coming up with their own rat pet food recipes. Why? Pets munch on these without any form of resistance. Just like if people were given a choice between being able to eat in a high class restaurant or just eat popcorn for dinner, expect that most would choose the former. This is what human foods offer that rat blocks can’t. Human foods are an assortment of everything that satisfies sweet, sour, bitter, meaty and spicy cravings.
What types of foods can be added to a rat’s diet? Excess food are often given to pets such as rats. The rule of thumb is, what’s considered unhealthy for humans is also considered unhealthy for pets. For rats, it is okay to give them some table scraps provided that these can be classified as healthy options. For example, meat should be lean, fruits should not be spoiled, and pits are removed from fruits. Aside from this, one may also need to consider some of the foods that are specifically not recommended for rat consumption. Such foods would include the likes of cabbage, green potatoes, carbonated drinks and chocolates.
From a rat’s standpoint, human food will always be the better option. From an expert’s point of view, lab blocks may be the only way that pet rats will get their needed dose of daily nutrients. But judging how processed foods are frowned upon for human consumption, then this may not be doing pet rats anything good. As mentioned earlier, rat pet food are just like cat and dog kibbles. So far, these have been very popular until recent product recalls were imposed due to food contamination. Aside from these, there are claims that their nutritional values will never compare to natural foods such as those consumed by people.
In the wild, rats are just ordinary rodents trying to survive in the world. They eat human scraps found in garbage bins, sometimes even living a not-so-decent life, stealing food from someone else. For the lucky few that are being raised by human companions, rate care would include pet owners taking into consideration what will be included in their diet. The picky eaters will most probably get a red strawberry while the can-eat-anything rats might be served with rat blocks.
Jordan is the lead content curator for Coops And Cages as well as a couple of other pet related blogs. His passion for animals is only matched by his love for ‘attempting’ to play the guitar. If you would like to catch him, you can via Google+ or Twitter: @CoopsAndCages