Monday, December 23, 2013
You will have to learn about and understand the risks and benefits of line breeding. While inbreeding is generally considered bad, once the serious issues are worked out of a line, breeding back to that line will keep your line from becoming contaminated with problem genetics. Test breeding from the same line will help you identify the recessive problems that still exist in that line. But too much or improper inbreeding can lead to weakened strains.
Monday, December 16, 2013
I happened across this video on YouTube this morning, while searching an unrelated topic. Ever wonder why mice and rats are the most commonly used animals for scientific research? The SciShow offers a very quick summary of the history of using rats in laboratories. They even mention the rat pits that were featured in Terry Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
I decided on three different prints - one for each set. The first, a basic red, white, and green pattern that was bright and modern. The second, a red and white candy cane design. The third, a more traditional old-fashioned gingerbread design.
I was worried that I wouldn't get them done on time, but yesterday, I finished off the last of the three sets, and today, both cages are decked out in holiday style.
I didn't do any special cage decorating this year - I just didn't have time to come up with ideas. I was too focused on getting the hammocks made. Hopefully, next year, we can think about some original decorating ideas.
Friday, December 13, 2013
Grade Level: 3-7
I read The Christmas Rat to my boys last Christmas. I read to them every night and much of what I read ends up being less than memorable (for me - not necessarily for them). I try to mix it up with a little bit of the classics to make it more interesting (Old Yeller, Johnny Tremaine, Ender's Game, etc) and some of the new middle grade popular stuff to keep them engaged (Divergent, Michael Vey, Artemis Fowl). But every now and then I throw in an intriguing sounding book with rats in it.
This particular book is difficult to forget. It is really an odd book, and very eerie. It does not follow any common plot formula. I actually found it to be quite disturbing in places. It makes it a hard book to recommend or not recommend - because I myself have conflicted feelings about the book and it can very well produce polar opposite reactions in different people. I happen to like books that are different and memorable even if they are not a completely perfect, polished piece of art, so I have a particular draw to this one. But others may not find it so intriguing.
The main character, Eric, is a boy home for Christmas break. But things don't go according to his plans. His friends are either sick or out of town and his parents leave him alone during the day. He ends up meeting with his apartment building's exterminator, who coerces him to swear an oath to help him hunt down the rat in the building's basement. Eric quickly realizes that what he is doing is wrong and he develops an appreciation for the building's intelligent rat resident. But when he starts to waiver on his oath, the exterminator turns against him.
The exterminator is really one of the most creepy characters in children's fiction. He is portrayed as a violent killer who kills for the love of it. He needs the hunt. The fact that he is also supposed to be a manifestation of the Angel Gabriel is what really stirs things up. It is hard to resolve these two personas and the fact that on the one hand, we absolutely know that the exterminator is the enemy but on the other hand, can an angel really be the enemy in a children's Christmas story? Would an angel turn on a child trying to do what he believes is right? Or is there something more to it?
I think the book worked these issues out in the end - and the rat is definitely portrayed as crafty and as a being worth fighting for. I recommend this book for those who like their plots and conflicts to be a little muddy and not so cut and dry. But it could be disturbing and a little violent for kids who are not used to that sort of thing. My kids like video games and scary movies and so were completely fine with it. I probably was more disturbed than they were - simply because of the use of the Angel Gabriel in the specific role he played.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Rats Weasel Their Way into Hearts of Students (From Scarlet & Black, the Grinnell College Newspaper).
A great positive story about living on campus with pet rats. The piece talks about the misconceptions people have about rats and how they actually make great pets, being both affectionate and smart. Be sure to check it out!
Monday, December 2, 2013
The package was labeled "Lighted Mouse" but this is clearly a labeling error. He is much too big to be a mouse. He is most definitely a Christmas Rat!
Finally, a rat that Loki gets along with!
Friday, November 29, 2013
|Bela enjoys some Thanksgiving turkey|
Granted, it wouldn't be a healthy diet on a regular basis (for them or for us!), but once a year, sharing the goodness won't hurt and it will be greatly appreciated.
This year, our rats got some turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, all dribbled with gravy, some corn, and a tiny bit of cranberry sauce from the can. It was all very appreciated and their dish was licked clean by morning.
Did you know that you can also give your rats poultry bones? It is something I don't do often - having a difficult time getting past my experience with dogs and knowing that poultry bones are dangerous for them. However, rats do not crunch bones the way dogs do. They gnaw and grind. Thus, they don't have the same concerns about the bones splintering as they eat them.
We saved a few turkey bones in the fridge for the rats. That will be a treat for later. Don't want to make them sick with too much of a good thing!
We hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving holiday - both humans and ratties - with plenty of good food to eat.
Monday, November 18, 2013
I found that while I have been ill, I have been very leery of handling our rats. I outsourced their play time to my boys and I just handled the preparation and serving of breakfast with minimal contact. But in reality, I do not need to be concerned.
I have a book called "Rats: Practical, Accurate Advice From the Expert" by Debbie Ducommun. This was a book I bought when I didn't know much about them and I wanted an introduction to the subject. There is an error in this book, however, that I have seen repeated elsewhere. It explains that a strep infection in rats is usually fatal within 3 days if not treated and says, "A strep infection can be transmitted from people to rats, so anyone with strep throat should stay away from rats."
In fact, while Streptococcus pneumonia can be passed between people and rats, this is not the organism that causes strep throat. Strep throat is caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, and this organism does not affect rats. So my rats are perfectly safe from my nasty bacterial infection - which is more than I can say for the rest of my family.
Monday, November 11, 2013
|Tree Trunk in a Fall-Themed Cage|
However, if your cage has the space, this is a nice looking hide that the rats will love and that will last for quite a long time.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Article: Rats Provide Info About Healthy Eating - From the Goshen News
I like to see rats used in a positive way in schools. I wish the schools in my area were this progressive and enlightened. Of course, I'm not crazy about the idea of rats drinking milk or sugar water, but as far as experimentation with lab rats go - that is probably not too bad a gig. Having edited a veterinary medical research journal, I know what fate lies in store for most lab rats. I am also not happy they didn't keep the rats together when they found homes for them with the students. Still, there is a lot to like about projects like these - as long as the rats are cared for with knowledge and compassion - and hopefully, the students will grow up knowing what great pets rats can be.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
|Critter Nation Decorated for Fall|
I picked out three cotton prints that featured leaves of various colors. However, when put together, the color of brown stood out too much. So I decided to go with bright fleece colors: tomato orange, pumpkin orange, warm yellow, and a lemon/lime green (these pictures are a little overexposed from the flash and so the green looks washed out into a dull yellow, but in real life, the green really pops). I packed away the browns, rusts, and golds that also would have gone nicely with the theme.
|Fall Hammock Set|
|Cube with Acorn-Shaped Opening.|
Above Is the Falling Leaf Hammock.
|Nothing is so comfy as a sack of fall fleece leaves!|
I also reused one of the ceramic pumpkin food dishes for this design. I got them a few years back in the Target dollar section.
So far, I only have the Critter Nation done. Loki's hammocks for the Martin's R-695 are not yet finished, but should be by the end of the week.
One thing I wanted to add is a few walnuts or similar nuts in the shell to scatter in the cage. Nuts on a regular basis are too fatty for the rat diet, but an occasional nut every now and then won't hurt, and the shell can keep them busy and entertained. I haven't seen any yet at my grocery store, so we had to do without.
Check out the photos below for a closer shot of each level of the CN.
|Top Half of the Critter Nation|
|Bottom Half of the Critter Nation|
Monday, November 4, 2013
He just can't catch a break.
He had a lower respiratory infection a few weeks ago and wasn't eating well. We put him on Doxy. He got better for a few days and then worse again.
We put him on Doxy + Baytril. He got better for a week and a half, then he got worse. This time, his lungs were clear, but his lower respiratory infection had migrated into an upper respiratory infection (in his nose/sinuses instead of his lung). He sounded terrible.
We added Theophylline and steam showers to help clear out those sinuses. He didn't show much improvement.
On Friday, we upped him to the max Baytril dosage. On Saturday, he was much better. Sunday morning, he sounded terrible again. Sunday evening, he was better. This morning, sneezy again. It has been a real roller coaster with him.
The good news is that the upper respiratory infection isn't as debilitating as the lower respiratory infection. He is eating fine and behaving normally, he just sounds terrible. And he is having some good spells where his breathing is clear, so maybe the increased dosage is just taking its time. I have hope, but I worry about what will happen if this doesn't clear it up. I fear trying other antibiotics. Loki hasn't responded well to Clavamox in the past (it caused bad diarrhea and made him extremely irritable and unhappy). I just have to keep my fingers crossed that he will get over this.
I like to post these kinds of updates not because I think the world is waiting to hear how Loki is doing - but because I think it is important to illustrate the kind of day-to-day health problems that will pop up if you own rats.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Article: Pet Rats Star in RatsPacNW Show at the Washington County Fairgrounds
If you happen to live in the northwestern states, you might be interested in attending this rat show this weekend. But even if you don't, this is a quality informative article about keeping rats that gets the facts right for a change.
When I see good press for rats, I like to share it. Wish I were closer so I could go.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
I will eventually do a step-by-step tutorial and add it to the hammock tutorial pdf, but for the most part, these instructions are simple (the same premise as a flat hammock) and the hardest part is figuring out the dimensions - especially for levels that have a cut-out for the ramp.
A Dual Critter Nation will require one bottom liner, one top liner, and two shelf liners. Each liner will need one piece of fleece and one piece of furniture cloth, cut to the following dimensions:
A Martin's R695 will also require one bottom liner, one top liner, and two shelf liners. Each liner will need one piece of fleece and one piece of furniture pad, cut to the following dimensions:
|The Martin's Bottom Liner is sized a little long so the|
cage sits on top and secures the liner to the floor.
Note that when the liner is not a perfect rectangle, but has a notch cut out, you will need to make sure to cut the fleece piece as shown with the right side up. This should match the layout of the shelf or level. (The furniture pad has no right and wrong side, but if it did, you would cut it as shown with the wrong side up.)
To sew the liner, pin the fleece to the furniture pad, right sides together, wrong side out. If it is a notched liner, the layout will look wrong with respect to the layout of the actual level, but after it is sewn and turned right side out, it will look right again.
Sew along all edges of the liner with a 1/2" seam allowance, leaving an opening large enough to turn the liner right side out. Trim the excess seam allowances, and turn the liner right side out. Push out the corners and flatten to the proper shape.
Slip stitch the opening closed by hand (or machine stitch it closed very near the edge), then top stitch around the entire liner to hold the proper shape.
|One Set of Dual Critter Nation Liners|
|One Set of Martins R-695 Liners|
|Using Large Binder Clips to|
Secure CN Liners
The Martin's bottom liner sits in the bottom pan. Because it is a little longer than the cage itself, the weight of the cage on top of the liner will hold it securely in place. The Martin's top level liner should stay in place by itself, being held in place by the surrounding cage walls. However, if you would like, a large binder clip can secure the liner in place at the ramp opening. Shelf liners can also be held in place with a large binder clip. Alternatively, you can install grommets in the corners of the top level and shelf liners, place a split ring through each grommet, and a lanyard hook in the split ring. The lanyard hooks can then be clipped to the cage wall to secure the liner in place.
The one thing I might try a little differently with the Critter Nation liners, since the corners of the pans are slightly curved, in the outer four corners, instead of doing an angular corner, sew a slight arc, so the corner point doesn't stick up as much.
Using U-Haul Furniture Pads with Rat Cage Liners - Part 1: Construction
U-Haul Furniture Pads with Rat Cage Liners - Part 2: Early Review
Monday, October 28, 2013
Jo's picture from the 4th of July earned a spot in the 2014 Rats Rule Calendar. Her pic was the top vote getter for July/August on the GooseMoose Pet Portal forums. Be sure to check out the other finalists here: http://www.goosemoose.com/rfc/index.php?topic=4091412.0
Friday, October 25, 2013
JoAnn's fleece falls into three categories (not including micro-fleece):
- Anti-Pill Fleece
This is the most expensive of the choices, but in general, also the nicest. My JoAnn's usually has more color options available in the anti-pill variety. Anti-pill comes in both solid colors and prints, with prints regularly priced at $12.99 a yard and solids at $9.99 a yard.
Anti-pill is special because there is a slightly noticeable difference between the right side of the fabric and the wrong side. The right side is generally shinier and a little fuzzier and softer. The right side of the fabric is also supposed to resist pilling (having the fuzz sort of ball up into small clumps) when washed. I believe this to be true, although if you mistakenly sew with the wrong side of the fleece out, you will likely notice significant pilling after several washes.
The right side of anti-pill fleece is shinier and fuzzier.
When you pull on the selvage edge, it will curl toward the right side.
Note that if you find it hard to tell the difference between the right side and the wrong side of the fleece, you can always check by stretching across the selvage edge. The selvage edge will curl toward the right side of the fabric when released. Conversely, if you stretch the cut edge (perpendicular to the selvage edge, it will curl toward the wrong side of the fabric). This holds true for all types of fleece.
Anti-pill is my favorite of the fleece varieties, but it took me a while before I could tell the difference. However, it is also more costly, so for rat hammocks, if there is a suitable color available in blizzard fleece, I will often opt for the less expensive option - unless there is a really good sale on anti-pill. However, often the specific color I want is only available in anti-pill, so in that case I pay more for the good stuff.
- Blizzard Fleece
Blizzard fleece is JoAnn's name for polar fleece. Blizzard fleece is a little less expensive than anti-pill fleece, and also comes in both solids ($8.99 a yard) and prints ($9.99 a yard). My JoAnn's has a decent selection of basic colors, but often the specific shade I need can only be found in anti-pill.
Blizzard fleece has the potential to pill after several washings. However, I haven't noticed this to really be a problem in any but the most used hammocks and liners. Perhaps this is because most of my hammocks will usually be chewed before they ever reach this stage.
Blizzard fleece doesn't have the same nice sheen that you get from anti-pill fleece, but you can only really notice this close up. From a distance, I can't tell the two apart. I am sure the rats don't care much about this.
It can be difficult to tell the right side of the fabric from the wrong side of the fabric, but for the most part, it is not going to matter. If you can't tell and the rats can't tell, it doesn't make much difference. However, if you want to check, you can stretch the selvage edge as described above.
- Fleece Essentials
Fleece Essentials is the new offering of budget blizzard fleece, coming it at a regular price of $5.99 a yard. It comes only in eight basic colors and only in solids. The first thing I noticed about this fleece is that it appears to be very thin. It was marketed in my flyer as for "crafters," so I am guessing it may not hold up well after repeated washings - although that still remains to be seen.
I was not too impressed with the thickness or softness of this fabric, but I decided to pick up a half yard that I found in the remnants bin (the sale price was $2.99 a yard - remnant are half the current price, so $1.50 a yard, resulting in a whopping 75 cents for the half yard of fabric). The remnant available was the orange peel color. It is not as bright and vibrant as the neon orange I have for some of my Halloween hammocks or the warmer toned orange I am using for my fall hammocks. It was a duller and more salmon tinged color. I am trying it out on a shelf liner as that will be the true test of its durability.
I have heard people talk about the cheap Walmart fleece. I suspect this budget fleece is probably on caliber with that fleece - although my Walmart does not sell fabric, so I have never bought fleece from them
Which Fleece Should I Choose?
I usually put color above everything when I am making a specific set of hammocks and liners. I look for the colors that best blend with the cotton fabric I have chosen. While I prefer the anti-pill fleece to the blizzard, I care more about finding the right color. The rats don't make any distinction between the two types that I can tell and both are nice and thick and soft.
I never buy fleece that isn't on sale. If there is a color that is close enough in the type that is on sale, I will choose that. Or, I will wait until the other type goes on sale. If I have a coupon for a regularly priced fabric, I will use that as well. I go through way too much fleece to pay regular price.
That said, I personally would avoid the new budget fleece. It just doesn't feel as soft or durable to me. The exception would be if you have voracious chewers that destroy your hammocks in no time or you want to make a set of hammocks on the cheap because your budget is very tight. My current rats are not so bad about chewing their hammocks and if the hammocks are going to be around a while, I prefer to use a more durable and nicer fleece. However, if the rats are going to demolish the hammocks in a few days/weeks time, you don't want to be investing in the good stuff just to have to pitch it right away. In that case, it would be much more affordable to go the cheap route (especially when the cheap fleece is on sale) - if they are going to destroy it anyway, no use investing in durability.
For the budget conscious who don't want to sacrifice quality, always check out the remnants bin when there is a really good sale. Blizzard fleece sometimes goes on sale for under $4 a yard, and remnants at that time will be 50% off that price - so under $2 a yard. You won't necessarily be able to pick and choose your colors and you can't choose the size of the cut and sometimes there is nothing there, but standard colors always come in handy - and if you find them in the remnants bin - it is a great time to grab them up. If there are some good deals in the remnants bin, that might be a better option than the budget fleece essentials.
Solids Vs. Prints
I also recommend avoiding the fleece prints except for those most have ones that you just can't resist. Prints are more expensive than solids and their use is not as flexible. Sometimes I think I want to buy up some Christmas patterned fleece and make some nice Christmas liners. However, if I stick to basic red, green, and white solid liners, I can re-use them for other themes (red is also good for Valentine's day and 4th of July and also went well with a Pirate theme I did once). Liners use a lot of fleece and are not as exciting to make, so anytime I can reuse a liner I already have, it is a bonus. Fleece prints also don't always blend well with cotton prints, even when the theme is similar.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
|Halloween Cage with Furniture Pad Liners|
I have to say that I was cautiously optimistic about these new liners. They are inexpensive to make and nice looking. They are softer than the Zilla liners and can be made in any color combination that works with your cage décor. They are heavy enough to feel durable and absorbant. They require less than half the amount of fleece I would have to purchase to make a pillowcase liner and no towels to go underneath. They are easier to change than pillow case liners.
But the key questions were (1) would they hold up to chewing and (2) would they control odor well enough?
|Furniture Pad Liner with the Corner|
Pulled Back by the Rats
I fully expect that they will eventually start chewing on the corners/edges or maybe at the fleece in the center. However, with the pillowcase liners, they had already made huge holes in the corners and sometimes the center after only a day or two in use. There is no temptation to burrow underneath these liners, so there is much less need to chew a hole and dive in.
I have the two large level liners clamped down with a few large binder clips. But the liners on the shelves just rest there unsecured and the rats have not cared to bother with them. While I don't think that they are indestructible (how many things really are?), I am hopeful that they will be durable enough to last longer than the pillowcase liners with towels and maybe even longer than the Zilla liners. They definitely control odors better than the Zilla liners.
I am so optimistic at this point, that I have started working on liners for fall and Christmas themes as well as liners for Loki's Martins R-695. The Zilla liners have really worked fine for Loki, but I prefer the bright colors of these homemade liners and the softness of the fleece and the machine washability. Also, with Loki potentially having had a urinary tract infection, I want to be able to easily check for blood on the liners, so I will know if his infection has returned. The dark green of the Zilla liners made it hard to detect blood.
The furniture pad is quite large. I used two pads and was able to cut the backing for the following liners: 2 sets of Dual Critter Nation liners plus two extra Critter Nation shelf liners, 2 sets of Martins R-695 cage liners with extra long bottom liners so that the weight of the cage will secure the liner in place plus one extra Martins bottom liner. Note that one of the Martin's shelf liners was made using two fragments of furniture pad pieced together to make one piece. Based on that, the average cost for the furniture pad for one set of liners comes in at about 4 dollars a set (less for Martins cage liners). Add that to the cost of the fleece, assuming 1.5 yards at about $5 a yard on sale, and a set of Dual Critter Nation liners comes to about $11.50 a set plus tax. You can't do better than that (unless you buy your fleece from the remnant bin at JoAnn's while it is on sale and get 1/2 off the sale price!).
Using U-Haul Furniture Pads with Rat Cage Liners - Part 1: Construction
Liner Instructions for Critter Nations and Martins R695 Cages
Furniture Pad Liners - Update
Monday, October 21, 2013
Thursday, October 17, 2013
|U-Haul Furniture Pad|
Zilla Terrarium Liners - Part 1
Zilla Terrarium Liners - Part 2 (Martins R695)
Update on the Zilla Liners
While they worked fine in the R695 with just Loki in residence, they didn't work as well in the Dual Critter Nation with the three girls and Pirate. The cage started to smell after only a couple days and while they held up better than fleece, they still suffered some chewing damage. Switching the Critter Nation back to fleece was the best option for us.
While the pillowcase style fleece liners + towel combination handles odor well (we only have to change the liners and towels once a week with the four rats in the DCN), it still has some serious drawbacks:
- It is a wasteful when it comes to the fleece. The fleece layer on the bottom of the pan is never used. Plus, the pillowcase design requires the fleece pieces to be longer than the shelf itself, with extra length included for folding under the shelf.
- The young girl rats love to chew the fleece and burrow underneath it. I am repairing or replacing liners every week.
- The rats, once under the fleece, start chewing on the towels, leaving them in tatters. Replacing towels at this rate, even if they come from the thrift store, is expensive. Leaving them chewed is a hazard because loose threads could eventually get tangled around rattie feet and cause them injury.
We have read about a material that Guinea pig owners have been using for a while now as an absorbant layer in their cage liners. That material is a Furniture Pad sold by U-Haul. It is about 1/8" thick and measures 68" x 85", is made out of recycled denim (although the pad itself does not resemble jeans fabric in any way - it is much thicker and softer), costs about $8, and it is supposed to be very absorbant.
I have reservations about how well this material will work in a rat cage, however. To my knowledge, Guinea pigs are not extensive chewers. This material may not hold up as well with rats. And I don't know how rats compare with Guinea pigs regarding odor and urine production. Rats are notorious markers - I am not sure if the same is true about piggies.
Before using the furniture pads, I washed them in hot water 3 times (the water drained a slight blue color and I was hoping that repeated washes would rinse out any dyes that may run - but no luck). I then dried it in the dryer to preshrink it. For this first set of liners, I started cheap and simple - constructing them from a top layer of fleece to wick away moisture and a bottom layer of furniture pad to absorb it.
|Dual Critter Nation Liners Made from Fleece and Furniture Pad|
The pad is designed to sit on the tray, similar to the way the Zilla liners do. I can clip them in place with large binder clips, or, if that doesn't work, add grommets and clip the liners to the cage bars so that they cannot be completely tossed aside by the rats.
I cut my fabric to the following dimensions for a Critter Nation:
|Dimensions for the Top Level of the Critter Nation|
- Shelf (top and bottom): 16 1/2" x 22 1/2" (15 1/2" x 21 1/2" finished size).
- Bottom Level: 23" x 34 1/2" rectangle (22" x 33 1/2" finished).
- Top Level: Same as the bottom level but with a notch cut out in the corner that extends 5 1/2" into the long end and 9 1/2" into the short end.
It may turn out that we need an extra layer of furniture pad in order to control odors well. It may also turn out that the exposed layer of furniture pad is a temptation to chew and that I need to add a layer of fleece to the bottom to keep the pad from being exposed.
My hope is that the rats will be less likely to chew these liners because they can more easily burrow underneath them without chewing. That may be wishful thinking. We will have to see.
Supposedly, the furniture pad can also be used instead of batting for things like cuddle cups. I haven't tried this, but given its heft and thickness, I can see this working well. Many people do not like to use batting because it is hard to work with and it's fibers can be hazardous to little feet, so keeping excess furniture pad material for these projects may be worthwhile.
I will be installing these new liners with a new set of Halloween hammocks in a few days when I do the big cage clean. I am curious to see how they will hold up.
U-Haul Furniture Pads with Rat Cage Liners - Part 2: Early Review
Liner Instructions for Critter Nations and Martins R695 Cages