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Pet Rats - FAQ

Pet Rats FAQ

Confused about what your rat is doing? Here are some frequently asked questions about rats!

Q. It looks like my rat has a bloody nose and eyes!

Rat spit or mucus is red so when your rat grooms itself it might look like he or she is bleeding around the nose. Don't worry, because this is normal. However, if your rat is sneezing or wheezing they should be taken to the vet (See: Pet Rats Health: Red Discharge Around Eyes and Nose).

Q. Why do my rat's whiskers twitch back and forth?

The rat uses his whiskers to gain information about its surroundings through touch. Using tiny muscles around each whisker, the rat sweeps its whiskers back and forth, brushing them over everything within a few inches of its face, and gleans an image of the world around it. Sometimes whiskers touch the same object several times in a different place, providing a three dimensional picture of the object.

Cute pet rat looking around curiously

Whiskers are extremely sensitive, more sensitive than a human's fingertips. Rats use their whiskers to navigate, balance, find and discriminate food, and in social interactions with other rats. At short distances rats use their whiskers more than their eyes to determine depth.

Q. My rat has been sneezing like crazy! I've only had him a week. I can't afford to take him to the vet. What can I do?

What kind of litter are you using in his cage? If you are using pine shavings, get rid of it and get carefresh or another safe bedding material (See: Recommended Bedding and Litter for Pet Rats). Since you've only had him a week, I would suggest taking him back to the pet store. Pet stores usually offer a health guarantee for a specified time period. If he has a respiratory disease that isn't caused by the cage litter then it will require antibiotics and since you can't afford it I suggest taking him back. If you do take him back, do not get another rat from that same cage. If one has it, they will all have it. Note: Some rats may continue to sneeze even with carefresh. If so, try "Yesterdays News". It is great for rats who can't tolerate carefresh, though it is a little more costly. 

Q. I think my rat has mites. Is there anything I can do to get rid of them?

Read this: Pet Rats Bugs/Mites/Fleas.

Q. Why does my female rat freeze and arch her back?

Female rats freeze, arch their backs downward, push their rumps upwards, and move their tails to one side when they are in heat (every 4 days or so). This position is the female mating posture, called lordosis.

Lordosis makes copulation possible. Lordosis is a reflex that is triggered by a touch on the flanks when the female is in heat. This touch is supposed to come from a male rat as he mounts the female, but a human can trigger lordosis too by touching the female on the lower back when she is in heat.

Q. My rat has a large lump. What is it? 

Lumps (or tumours) are usually seen on female rats and can grow very quickly. Male rats can get them as well but not as often as females. Tumours can be removed, but the earlier the better because the tumours grow very quickly! Read more about Pet Rats Health: Tumours.

Q. My rat keeps grinding his teeth!

Rats grind their teeth in times of stress or contentment. For example, a pet rat may grind its teeth at the vet's office, or during a tense interaction with another rat, or when the rat experiences pain. If your rat isn't in a stressful situation, and yet is still grinding its teeth, then you can safely know that it's feeling very contented!

Q. Why do my rat's eyes bulge in and out?

Sometimes, a rat's eyes may vibrate rapidly in and out of the eye socket, a phenomenon called eye boggling. This odd eyeball movement often occurs at the same time as bruxing, or tooth grinding (See above). The reason bruxing and eye boggling occur together is anatomical: a part of the muscle that pulls up the rat's lower jaw passes through the eye socket, behind the eyeball. When a rat grinds its teeth, it moves its lower jaw rapidly up and down, and the contractions of the jaw muscle vibrate the eyeball in and out of the socket in time with the jaw.

Q. Why does my rat sway from side to side?

Some rats, especially pink eyed albinos, often sway from side to side. Albino rats have extremely poor vision, and this swaying may help them see better. Dark-eyed rats may sway or bob their heads up and down too, though they tend to do so less frequently than albino rats. Head bobbing in dark-eyed rats is usually seen before the rat takes a big jump.

Swaying may help the rat figure out how far away various objects are. When a rat moves its head, the images of the objects around the rat move across its retina. Close objects will move faster than far ones, a phenomenon known as motion parallax. Rats may use such motion marallax cues to judge distance and depth.

Q. How many rats should I get?

Rats need the company of other rats. Please don't get one rat. If you get one rat it will be lonely. If you have two rats they will keep each other company and play with each other while you are away or busy doing something else.

Q. Can I bath my rat?

Some rats like to have a bath, and some don't. If your rat is starting to smell foul or musty, that would be a good time to give him a bath. Here's how I give a bath to my pet rats: Pet Rats Bathing.

Q. Why does my rat poop and pee when I pick it up?

A rat that poops and urinates copiously when picked up is frightened and stressed. Urination and defecation are common signs of stress, and may function to:

  1. Get rid of excess weight in preparation for flight
  2. In a prey animal, such sudden excretion may surprise or disgust a predator enough to drop the animal.

Humans do this too when extremely stressed or scared.

Q. Can I take my rat outside?

About Pet Rats Info behaviour and care

Of course you can, but only in the summer and early fall! And ONLY if your rat has been bonded with you.

Rats love the outdoors, but if you bring them outside, be sure your rat is in a shady area, not where the sun is shining on them (they don't like the heat). Once you have found a good place, sit down and let your rat roam free.

At first your rat will go a few feet, then come back to you. He or she will go a little farther next time but will always come back to you. Your rat thinks you are his/hers home base (safe place). You can get up and walk slowly and he/she will follow you. Don't run ahead. This will cause them to worry and become afraid, and you don't want that!

Q. My rat is ill, what is wrong with him/her?

This is commonly found on older rats as older rats have a higher risk of falling ill. Here are some of the diseases and ailments: Pet Rats Health

Q. Why does my rat dribble pee all over the place?

Rats may dab or smear drops of urine on the surfaces and objects they walk on, including yourself. This is called urine marking, or scent marking. Adult socially dominant males mark the most, but all adult rats, both males and females, scent mark to some extent. Females tend to scent mark most right before they come into heat.

Scent marking is a complex form of chemical communication that has several functions. It is a sexual signal that advertises the rat's presence to other rats of the opposite sex. Rats also use their own scent marks to denote areas that they have visited and are familiar with. Scent marking may help them navigate, too.

It is unclear whether scent marking serves a territorial function. If scent marking were territorial, then male urine should deter strange male rats from entering a marked area. However, this is not always the case: sometimes male urine attracts male rats. Therefore, it is unclear whether scent marking has a territorial function in rats or not.

Q. Can I feed my rat peanut butter?

Yes, but because of the sticky nature of peanut butter, feeding your rats peanut butter directly may cause your rat to choke. Rats love peanut butter so if you are going to feed it to them, put a little bit on a celery stick or a cracker first. Try not to give peanut butter to your rats without spreading it on some other food first.

Q. Why are my baby rats chasing and jumping on each other?

Young rats play fight by chasing each other, jumping on each other, and pinning each other to the ground. Rats start play fighting at around 18 days of age. Play fighting peaks at around 30-36 days of age, then declines. In play fighting, the goal appears to be contact and defense of the rat's nape. If a rat succeeds in contacting an opponent's nape, he nuzzles it gently with his snout.

Play fighting is not a good predictor of adult dominance hierarchies: the winner of play fights may or may not become turn into the winner of real fights. Nor is play fighting necessarily "practice" for adult fighting, because the goals and tactics of adult fighting are different from play fighting. Therefore, play fighting and adult fighting are related but separate activities.

Q. Why are my adult rats chasing each other, boxing, sidling, rolling on their backs and squeaking?

Rats reach puberty at around 5-6 weeks of age, but they reach social maturity at around 5-6 months of age. At this age, male rats in particular start to behave more aggressively toward each other. They shift from harmless play fighting into more serious adult fighting.

The consistent winner of such interactions imposes himself on the other members of the colony. Humans describe this as as "becoming socially dominant." Once a dominance hierarchy is established, it may remain stable for a long period of time.

Adult fighting involves contact and defense of the rump. If a rat manages to contact an opponent's rump, he may try to nip or bite it. A rat tries to hide his rump from attack by running away. He may also stand and face the aggressor and maintain whisker-to-whisker contact with him (called boxing ), or by laying on the back to hide his rump. As long as a rat keeps distance, or his whiskers, teeth or body between the attacker and his own rump, he has a higher chance of preventing an attack.

To counter the defensive boxing strategy, the attacker may drop to all fours and sidle forwards, and thus reach around and inflict a bite from the side. To counter the belly-up strategy, the attacker may lay perpendicularly on top of the supine rat and try to dig under him to gain access to the rump.

Both domestic rats and wild rats fight using these strategies. However, because domestic rats are often confined to a cage, fights between domestic rats may escalate more because fleeing is impossible.

Fights may also occur between resident rats and a strange rat introduced in their colony. The resident dominant males presses most of these attacks, especially on male intruders. Females may also attack intruders. Aggression toward a stranger can be severe and sometimes fatal.

Q. My rat suddenly died. What happened?

It's hard to say but a good guess would be that your rat may have died from pneumonia or mycoplasmia. Read up more on both diseases here: Pet Rats Health last updated 1 Oct, 2017


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