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Monday, March 31, 2014

Rats and Rat Fleas Exonerated - Not to Blame for Spreading Black Death

Good news for rat lovers everywhere. Scientists no longer believe the Black Death was spread by rat fleas. First, it was the rats who got the blame for spreading the disease that killed 6 of 10 people in the city of London in the mid-1300's. Then the rats were cleared and their parasitic pest, the rat flea, was blamed instead. Finally, we know that rats are not the dirty, disease-spreading creature that they are often portrayed as because of this historic connection to the plague. Instead, the dirty, disease-spreading creature turns out to be . . . . other humans.

In the article Black Death was not Spread by Rat Fleas, Say Researchers, scientists examined skeletons recovered in the Clerkenwell area of London and have determined that the plague could not have been spread by rat fleas and instead had to have been airborne in order to spread the way it did. They compared the DNA of the plague organism to the DNA of a plague organism that recently killed 60 people in Madagascar. They found it was no more virulent than the modern version. Yet the modern version did not spread the way the older organism did. They concluded this is because modern antibiotics prevent the disease from becoming pneumonic (airborne). Thus, the quick spread of the plague back in the 14th century had to be attributed to it being spread via the air, not via rat fleas. This would mean that the plague was not actually a bubonic plague, but instead a pneumonic plague.

This article just reinforces what we rat owners already know. Rats are not the huge disease threat that people make them out to be. Instead, humans are the biggest disease threat.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Using Rigilene in Your Hammocks

Hammocks Reinforced with Rigilene

Have you ever wanted to make a cube that can stand upright on its own without needing to be hung from the cage bars? Rigilene may be the solution.

Rigilene polyester boning
What is Rigilene? It is a flexible polyester boning used in strapless dresses and swimwear to provide that extra support that keeps everything "up." It is not as firm as some forms of boning, but it can be sewn directly onto fabric and it is machine washable.

I have found that sewing strips of Rigilene into or alongside of the seams in a cube can help it keep that upright shape without sagging or collapsing.

The nice thing about the Rigilene is that it seems to have that perfect balance of support and flexibility. If it is too stiff, it would be hard to work with and difficult to turn the cube right side out when completed. It also would not collapse for easier storage. If it is too flexible, it won't hold the desired shape and will collapse. In my testing of the self-supporting cube, I have found that when placed in the rat's play pen, it maintained its shape as the rats explored it and wrestled inside it. It will support the weight of a rat on top of the cube, but it likely would not allow the rats to climb on top without giving way. However, the rats seemed to sense this and while they put their front feet up against the top, when they felt the boning start to bend a little, they promptly got down and did not attempt to jump on top. So, during out time, the cube held up great without additional support. At the end of the week, when I change out the hammocks, I will leave the cube in the cage to see how it holds up without support.

The cube can be collapsed and stored by pushing in on one corner until it collapses inward, then folding the structure into a square.

The Rigilene comes on a roll and thus has a natural bend to it. You can iron your cut strips to straighten them out. After washing, a little of the curl did return, but it wasn't too bad. Just a slight bowing in some of the sides.

I test washed the cube and it did lose a little of its perfect shape, but still held up structurally (the picture above was taken after it had been washed). I had read that with Rigilene, you need to burn the cut edges of the boning or wrap the ends in scraps of densely woven cotton, or the sharp edges of the boning will prick the garment wearer. Since I was not making a garment, I did not bother to do this, but I should have. After washing, some of the sharper corners started to poke through the fabric. It didn't help that I was using cheap Easter fabric. So, with subsequent projects, I have been burning the tips of the Rigilene with a candle lighter so that they melt slightly and the edges have a smooth finish. I advise you not do this in the same room with the rats as it does briefly emit a chemical burning smell. Or you can just fold a small piece of tough fabric around the edged before sewing.

Once I had the cube figured out, I wanted to see if I could use this material in some of the other hammocks that would benefit from a little support. The most obvious was the tube - using Rigilene to hold the tube open in a circle at either end. Ironically, it was more difficult to use in the tube than I expected. The difficulty comes with using Rigilene in a perfect circle and still being able to sew it into the tube. My first attempt did not work the way I expected, and I ended up just having to sew the circles into the ends by folding the raw edges into the tube and leaving them exposed. I would like to find a more finished way to do this and will continue experimenting. If I just want the tube held open in a tear-drop shape - that is much easier to do. But in my mind, a tube should be circular.

After my experience with the tube, I realized it would be extremely easy to create a tunnel that sits on the ground, with the rigilene keeping the tunnel upright in a half circle shape. The tunnel was the simplest of the projects I tried and came out just as imagined. I used three strips of Rigilene (front, back, and center) to keep the tunnel open, with about six inches between each strip. Down below you can see that Jo really enjoys the tunnel.

Jo Peeks out from the Tunnel
The last project I tackled was an Easter basket. The basket is basically a modified cuddle cup with a Rigilene structure supporting it, a Rigilene handle wrapped in fabric, and no dipped opening. This was by far the hardest of the projects to implement and I swore that I would not attempt it again. The stitching was absolutely atrocious, because it was hard to guide the structure through the sewing maching. However, the final product, despite all the poor craftsmanship was still very nice. I have an alternate idea for constructing it that I will be trying out. I am not sure if that method will end up being harder or easier, but I like the finished product enough, that I am willing to give it a try.
I do not have tutorials for any of these projects yet because I am still working out the kinks. I will add tutorials for the projects that I am able to master when I have things figured out to my satisfaction.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fact Checking "The Doctors"

Recently, the television show The Doctors did a segment on Rat Bite Fever. I don't watch reality news/"expert" commentary TV shows because they tend to run thin on the reality aspect and heavy on the sensationalist aspect, and this episode is no exception.

The segment can be viewed here.

So let's address the things that are said here one by one and check the statements given against researched facts.

1. Headline displayed on the big screen on set (video time stamp: 0:00) : "Pet Rat Kills Boy."


This is a sensationalist headline and nothing more. The statement implies intent on the part of the rat to harm the boy. In fact, the rat did not kill the boy. An infection from the bacteria Streptobacillus moniliformis killed the boy. The rat was carrying the bacteria. It is a resident bacteria that is common in rats, mice, guinnea pigs, weasels, squirrels, and ferrets, among others and can also be carried by dogs and cats. It rarely causes disease, either in the animal or in humans, and when it does, it usually resolves on its own. Cases that require treatment can be easily treated with penicillin, among other antibiotics. It is rarely ever fatal. It is no more true to say the pet rat killed the boy than it would be to say a mother killed a child if she had an infection that unintentionally spread to her child, causing death.


2. "Luckily we haven't [talked about rat bite fever before] because it is not real common" (time stamp: 00:10).


There have only been 200 documented cases of rat bite fever in the US since 2004.


3. "If you get a rodent from the pet store, if you catch them in the alley, however you are doing this to make a pet for your child, you really should get the rodent tested for this" (time stamp: 00:15).


First, pet rats are domesticated and are not caught from an alley or in the wild. Domesticated rats have been selectively bred for generations, selecting for temperament and color/conformation and in the cases of good breeders, for health, since the late 1800's early 1900's. In the US, the early lines of domesticated rats were started from laboratory rat lines in the 1920's.


Second, this bacteria is a resident bacteria. That means it exists commonly in healthy rats and other animals without causing disease. In domesticated rats, the colonization rate is anywhere from 10% to 100%, and in wild rats it is between 50% and 100%. It would not be uncommon to find a healthy domesticated rat is carrying this bacteria, but it is very rare for this bacteria to cause disease in a rat or an exposed human. Rather than spend money to test for the bacteria, assume they are carrying it. Practice good hygiene to reduce risks. Wash your hands after handling the rats or cleaning the cage. Clean and disinfect rat bites or scratches that break the skin. Be aware of the disease so that if you or your children develop flu-like symptoms after a bite, you can inform the doctor of the bite, and if you or your children develop severe symptoms or symptoms that do not resolve in a few days, you can see a doctor and inform them you have pet rats. The key to prevention is not testing rats for a common resident bacteria, but is instead practicing good hygiene and being informed about the potential dangers so that you can inform your physician if needed.


4.  "It's not just a bite or a scratch." (time stamp: 00:25)


While most cases result from a bite or a scratch, it is possible for the bacteria to enter the body in other ways, for example, via contaminated food or water. Yet another reason why the show should have been promoted good hygiene rather than fear mongering.


5. "Most rodents are carrying these bacteria normally and they don't appear sick." (time stamp: 00:33)


As cited above, the colonization rate is between 10% and 100%. That is a huge range. "Most" would have to mean more than 50%. That is possible, but not established. Responsible rat owners provide vet care for their pet rats and commonly treat respiratory infections (common in rats) with the same antibiotics that are effective against this bacteria (eg, Doxycycline). It has been suggested that because of this, many of our pet rats no longer are carriers of the bacteria.

It is true that almost all rodents carrying the bacteria not only "don't appear sick," they are not in fact sick. As cited above, it is a resident bacteria that normally does not cause disease.


6. "To be clear, any animal can carry infection and disease." (time stamp: 00:45)


This is the most accurate and helpful statement in the entire program. Too bad they immediately contradict themselves, recommending that rodents not be kept as pets. In fact, the CDC website has a list of zoonoses (diseases that can be spread from animals to humans) on their website, organized by animal. The list for dogs and cats far outweighs the list for pocket pets, which include rats and other small mammals. Domesticated rats are no greater risk than any other animal and are actually much less of a risk than most other pet choices. There are very few illnesses that can be spread from rat to human and the CDC doesn't even consider rat bite fever to be a disease needing reporting.


7. "If you have a pet in the house, and there is any one, especially your child, who gets bit, and a fever develops, you do not just hang around and see what happens." (time stamp: 01:25)


Another helpful and informative statement. Do your research before jumping into pet ownership. Know what diseases can be spread by your animals. Tell your physician about your pets. Getting proper treatment is key and knowledge and communication is the way to do that.

8. "I would take it a step further and recommend that you not get rodents as pets." (time stamp: 01:52).


This is bad advice that they countered on their own show in this very segment just a few seconds ago, when they said that all animals carry bacteria. Rodents are no more dangerous than dogs and cats, and in fact, there are fewer zoonoses that can be spread from rats than from dogs and cats. In this very segment, they already established that this disease is rare and that all animals can potentially spread disease, so there is no reason that they should be singling out rodents now.

Reference: (and their own show segment)

9. "You know what they are really selling them for is to feed to snakes." (time stamp: 02:05)


Petco does sell feeder rats, but they also sell rats as pets. From Petco's own website:

"Rats are highly intelligent, loyal and one of the most under-rated small animal pets. Unlike the common misconception, rats are incredibly clean and docile animals. Rats are easily tamed pets that thrive on interaction and bond with their pet parent. They are social and are best kept in same-sex pairs. Rats are playful and enjoy a variety of toys and activities such as exercise wheels and anything that encourages climbing and exploration. Like other small animals, a rat's teeth grow continuously throughout their life, so they should be provided with chew sticks to prevent them from becoming over-grown. The types of rats available include Dumbo, Hairless, Hooded, Albino, Siamese and endless other color variations. There's sure to be a rat suited to meet your physical preferences, and its personality is sure to win your heart!"


They are clearly not just selling them to be snake food. In fact, while Petco does sell feeder rats, Petsmart refuses to sell feeder rats and mice and only sells their rats and mice as pets. If you walk in to a Petsmart and tell them you want to buy a rat to feed to your snake, they will not sell you one.

There is in fact a rat fancier organization that has created show standards for breeding rats, including documentation of the desired physical form and desired marking for all the recognized marking and coat types. You do not develop show standards for an animal that is meant only to be fed to a snake.


Rats are so much more than food. The very same rats we keep as pets and use in laboratories are being used in Colombia and other drug-torn countries to sniff out landmines. APOPO trains their HeroRats to detect landmines in Africa and Asia and to detect tuberculosis much more quickly and cheaply than standard laboratory tests, saving many, many lives.


In Holland, rats are being used by the police force to quickly detect and identify gunshot residue, explosives, and drugs at crime scenes.


It is clear that this statement was just pulled out of thin air with absolutely no research to back it up.

10. "Because they ARE disease carriers." (time stamp: 02:12)


This is true, but they have already established that all animals are disease carriers (see statement number 5 above). In fact, rats carry fewer zoonotic illnesses (can be spread to humans) than most other types of pets, including cats and dogs. If you are going to recommend that rats not be kept as pets because they carry bacteria, then you must advocate that no animals be kept as pets. Rats are actually one of the safest pets to own by this logic.


10a. (ADDED 3/19/14) "Use protective gloves, use even protective eyewear if you need to." (time stamp: 02:22)


This was brought up in the comments and I had initially left it out because it is both true and false at the same time. However, in retrospect, all of the statements made should be addressed, so I am adding it back in for the sake of completeness.

First, the TRUE portion of the statement. The CDC does recommend wearing protective gloves when handling rodents to reduce the risk of exposure. I could not find a reference to protective eyewear on the CDC site, but since touching the eyes is a common way of infecting the body with bacteria, eyewear could go hand and hand with gloves (although the CDC seems to be more concerned with hand to mouth exposure rather than hand to eye exposure). Reference:

That said, rat bite fever occurs most often in people who work in laboratory settings handling lab rats and in people who live in poor conditions with rodent infestation. In this context, the CDC recommendations make perfect sense. (Reference: Any time you work with animals in a professional setting, especially when that is a laboratory environment, wearing protective gloves is a no-brainer. Likewise, any time you have intentional contact with a wild rat or its environment, wearing protective gear is common sense.

Now, the FALSE side of the coin.

A pet environment is a completely different thing. It is true that wearing protective gloves would reduce the already extremely low risk of contracting rat bite fever, but wearing protective gear around tame domesticated household pets for fear of a very rare (and treatable) condition, is extremely excessive. Once again, emphasis should be made on good hygiene, clean conditions, and being informed about the risks. Protective gloves are no more necessary when handling pet rats than they are when handling any other pet. If you wouldn't recommend someone wear protective gloves around their cat, then you needn't recommend it around a rat. I have no reference for this. It is simply common sense.

11. "But sometimes it can be in the air also" (time stamp: 02:25)


Rat bite fever is spread by contact, not via the air. According to the CDC, it can be spread by bites and scratches from infected rodents, handling rodents with the disease even without a bite or scratch, consuming food or drink contaminated with the bacteria.


12. "If anyone can take [something] away [from this], it's what you said. It's not that the rat necessarily came from Petco or any other pet store, rats, rodents carry disease." (time stamp: 03:08)


That is not what should be taken away from this story. What should be taken away is that all animals carry disease, not just rats and rodents. Rats are actually less likely to carry diseases that can be spread to humans than other animals. But all animals carry disease and everyone should do proper research before getting a pet, should be aware of such illnesses and know what to look for, should practice proper hygiene and keep clean cages and environments, should treat sick animals with veterinary care and guidance, and should report any pets and bites to their physician if they become ill.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Seamless Cube Added to Tutorials

Seamless has never been my thing. Not that I don't appreciate the polished, finished look to a completely seamless project, but it just seems kind of pointless when our rats just chew up the lining within days of getting a newly sewn item. So much for polished and finished.

Recently, I made some hammocks for a friend's chinchilla. I learned that chinchillas can only use fleece (not cotton) and that everything must be seamless or they may become impacted. That meant I had to go revisit the instructions for the seamless cube.

The biggest drawback for me was that the design I learned from for the seamless cube requires you to hand cut and hand sew the opening. My hand sewing is atrocious and my hand cut and sewn openings look terrible. I would much rather have visible seams on the inside and nice finished openings on the outside than a sloppy lopsided hand-sewn opening leading to a finished interior.

After studying the design for a while, I finally figured out how to add a single machine sewn opening, as long as I was content with only one doorway. So I worked with that and made a seamless all fleece chinchilla cube.

But for our rats, I need front and back doors. If they don't get a back door, they don't waste any time creating their own, and quite frankly, their openings leave a lot to be desired. What good is a seamless cube with a rat chewed hole for a back door?

I let the issue fester in my mind for a while, every now and then revisiting the design to see if I could wrap my head around a solution. And then it came to me. It was actually pretty simple and obvious once I figured it out, and no one was more surprised than me to figure out that it worked. It made me wonder what took me so long to figure it out. As long as the opening panels were across from each other and not next to each other, and as long as I did certain steps in a specific order, I had solved the problem.

I made a couple seamless cubes in my St Patrick's Day hammock sets and got the method down pretty well (my rats have already done their own interior decorating and ripped out some of the fleece "wallpaper" and "carpeting" I worked to hard to make seamless). It took me a few tries to get my corners aligned properly. I tweaked things that I didn't like and improved my techniques, and I now feel pretty comfortable making seamless cubes. The process is not that hard - it is learning the process and visualizing the steps that is hard.

Of course, once I figure something like this out, the next step for me is sharing what I have learned so the next person doesn't need to struggle with the same issues. This tutorial was the most difficult tutorial I have ever written. As hard as it was to learn how to do a seamless cube, it is much harder to try to explain it in words and pictures once you have learned it. Once you know the method, it is not that much more difficult than a regular cube, but it does involve some non-intuitive ways of manipulating the layers of fabric that are really hard to explain and somehow just as hard to demonstrate with pictures. Given that a cube consists of six identical square panels, it becomes even more difficult to tell exactly what you are looking at in a picture.

View from inside a Seamless Cube
To make the pictures as clear as possible, I labeled every side of the cube with a name and then used a different color fabric with a matching color of fleece for each panel: Front Panel (Yellow), Back Panel (Mint), Left Panel (Pink), Right Panel (Purple), Top Panel (Blue), and Bottom Panel (Green). At least that way you could always tell exactly which cube panel you were looking at from the color. When you are pinning together four layers of fabric from two different panels, it is clear at least which fabric belongs to which panel. In the text, I used these panel names extensively. Unfortunately, the colored fabric I used was a cheap broadcloth, since I bought it specifically to do this tutorial and didn't want to spend the money on good fabric. Broadcloth tends to bunch and gather around the stitching and is not as stiff as woven cotton. Any defects of this nature in the finished product are because of the cheap fabric used and not a flaw in the method.

Despite these efforts, this is a more advanced tutorial. It is not one that I would recommend to a beginner. You have to really want a seamless cube to bother with it. The tutorial includes almost 60 pictures because this is one case where it is best not to lump any two actions into one picture, even if they are simple steps.

It is also a tutorial that you just need to work along with. Because it is so hard to visualize, it will be easier to follow along if you are working as you go. If you are trying to picture everything in your head, it can drive you crazy; but if you have the project in front of you, the next step becomes more obvious, even if the words to describe that steps are confusing.

It is my hope that those who really want a seamless cube tutorial will find this helpful. I will gladly take feedback from anyone who has suggestions that might make the tutorial more clear. I think I have done as much as I can with it on my own and it needs a fresh set of eyes to re-evaluate it.

The tutorial is now a part of the Tutorials for Common Rat Hammocks and Accessories. It is saved as a PDF that can be downloaded to your computer from the page linked above.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A DIY Mount for the Lixit Recycled Water Bottle Kit

Snapple Bottle with Lixit Stoppered Tube
in a Home-Made Mount

We recently installed a Do-It-Yourself mount for the Snapple water bottle with Lixit stoppered tube watering system to our Martin's Rat Play Pen and may do the same on the travel cage and/or carrier. You may want to consider this if you are using these Lixit kits as your main water system and want to add a few mounts to cages you don't use often without purchasing another complete kit. Or, if you have a the hardware on hand, you might want to skip the kit altogether, and just purchase the stoppered tube. Or perhaps you have a lot of cages and need a lot of water bottles - skipping the kit and building a mount yourself may save you some money.

For the most part, if you only have one or two cages, you are probably best off buying the kit. If you don't have the hardware parts on hand, you may have to buy small things like washers and screws and wingnuts in larger quantities than you need, making the initial investment close to the cost of the kit. However, if you have the hardware on hand or if you need to outfit many cages and thus can afford to buy the initial hardware in quantity, you may want to go this route instead of the kit.

This is what you will need, along with the costs of each item at Menards:

  • 1 Extension Spring (5/16" x 4 13/16"): $1.69
  • 2 Corner Braces (2" x 5/8"): ($1.97 for a pack of 4): $.99 for 2
  • 1 Mending Brace (2" x 1/2"): $.57
  • 2 Wingnuts  (8-32): ($.89 for a pack of 5): $.36
  • 2 Machine Screws (flat ends) (8-32 x 3/4"): ($1.59 for a pack of 7): $.45
  • 4 Washers (1/4" x 1"): ($.99 for a pack of 7): $.56
  • 2 Lanyard Hooks (if purchased in bulk, cost is negligible - I have many on hand from making hammocks)
  • 1 Zip Tie (cost is negligible)
The total cost for one mount comes to $4.34. The stoppered tube usually runs about $5-$6 plus shipping, making the total cost around $10 plus shipping. The kit itself usually runs about $14, so that is a savings of about $4. Like I said, not really worth it unless you are investing in many kits or you already have some of the parts on hand or you just want to add a mount and don't need another stoppered tube.

To assemble the mount, follow these steps:

1. Pass the screws through the holes in the mending brace.

2. Add a washer to each of the screws. I used 1" washers, which work fine on the Critter Nation and Martin's Cages (1/2" bar spacing), but you may need larger washers if your cage has a wider bar spacing.
3. Place this piece through the cage bars from the inside of the cage, with the screws passing through the bars and sticking outside the cage.

4. Add two more washers to the screws on the outside of the cage.

5. Add a corner brace to each screw, passing the screw through the top-most hole in the brace.

6. Add wing nuts to each screw and tighten to hold the corner braces firmly in place. (Note: you can use regular nuts as well. I used wingnuts so I could hand tighten and loosen easily.)
7. Pass a cable tie through the outer holes in the corner braces and secure in place. The zip tie will prevent the bottle tube from slipping out of the mount.
 NOTE: You can attach another mending brace to the outer holes instead, securing it in place with two more screws and two more wingnuts. This would add about $1.38 to the cost of the mount. I think the cable tie will work fine, since the mount is on the outside of the cage where the rats cannot chew it.
8.Attach a lanyard hook to each end of the spring. (Note: you can also use springs from other water bottles if you have extras. You may need to make them longer - attaching a split ring to the ends of the spring may achieve the desired effect. The spring accounts for more than 1/3 of the total cost of the mount, so if you already have one or can borrow one from one of your other kits, you will cut the total cost down to $2.65.)
UPDATE 3/12/14: An alternative to a spring would be to sew split rings to a piece of elastic and attach lanyard hooks to the split rings. This would not be as durable as a spring, but as long as the bottle is mounted to the outside of the cage and the rats do not have access to it for chewing, it should work sufficiently well.

9. Attach spring to cage bars at desired height.

10. Insert water bottle with the tube between the corner braces and then passing between the cage bars, with the stopper resting on the corner braces. Pull the spring around the bottle to hold in place.

Here is a picture of the mount and the whole bottle affixed to a Martin's cage (Martin's Play Pen with Pan):

Note: the stoppered tubes can be purchased from many bird supply retailers. Here are a few that I found via a web search:
Related Posts:
Installation Instructions for the Lixit Glass Bottle Recycle Kit
Lixit Glass Bottle Recycle Kit: Tube Update
Lixit Glass Bottle Recycle Kit - 7/16" Tube Size (Medium)


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary: Ratastrophe!

Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary is a 501c3 non-profit exotic animal sanctuary in German Valley, IL. They are not a rescue, per se, but rather a sanctuary that takes in unadoptable (because of temperament or health issues) exotic animals and provides them with a home and proper care for life. Occasionally, they take in animals from hoarder situations or other extreme situations and if they are adoptable, will adopt them out to qualified homes as pets.

On February 12th, they took in a group of rats from, a well-meaning couple who rescued a domesticated white rat from the jaws of a dog. After doing research, the couple learned that rats require company, and they found a female companion for the rat whom they believed to also be female. They must have overlooked the dragging no-no's, because the next thing they knew, they had a litter of baby rattums. Apparently, they didn't separate them from mama fast enough, because then there was another litter. And another.

All rescues within hundreds of miles turned them down, but Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary agreed to take them in. They were told there were about 20 rats in all, but when they got them, they were shocked to find 69! Not only that, but four of the girls were pregnant. The current count is somewhere around 110 rats.

I can't imagine the strain of trying to care for 110 rats - especially once the youngest are all furred, open-eyed, and active. These rats really need good homes. If you are in the vicinity of Northern Illinois and looking to adopt, I strongly encourage you to help them out over at Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary. They are on Petfinder and on Facebook and they have a website. They are also the Travelling Rat's Rescue of the Month.

If you are not looking to adopt right now, but can help them with a donation, that would also be appreciated. And don't forget to spread the word.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Need for Companionship

Burt napping in a hammock with the three girls. He looks content!

Rats are extremely social animals and they love company: both human company and rattie company. I have heard for some animals that if they have a friend of their own type, they are less likely to bond to people. I am not sure how true that is as I don't have experience with those animals. However, I do know people who have hand fed baby finches and in the process, the finch has bonded with them. This is very rare in finches, but it does happen. However, if you return the hand-fed finch to a flock of its own kind, it will often quickly forget that bond with its human and return to its more wild nature. Rats are not like this. If someone tells you otherwise, they are mistaken.

Rats are very intelligent animals and are fully capable of forming relationships with their own kind and with their humans without sacrificing anything from either bond. In fact, other rats can help teach a new rat that you are a safe person and fun to be around and can help timid rats bond more quickly with humans.

Rats are much more fun and interesting when they have other rats to play with. They will quickly get bored when by themselves, and therefore, become more boring as pets. But there is nothing more interesting than watching rats interact: cuddling together for naps, chasing each other for play, wrestling/boxing, stealing food from each other when there is a full bowl for the taking right there, grooming each other, and comforting each other when ill.

Here is a very nice video that someone put together illustrating why rats should always be kept in groups of 2 or more:


I am so happy that Burt's introduction to the girls went so well. He seems so happy now with both rat friends and his new human family to play with. While he seemed just fine during quarantine, the company of rats has made him seem truly content.

Sometimes introductions can be more difficult - especially when introducing adult intact males to each other. In those cases, introductions will take much more time as the two rats get used to each other. In some cases, neuters may be necessary to keep the hormones in check. But in the end, it is definitely worth it. To avoid these problems, when getting your first rats, you should try to find two babies from the same litter or two rats that have already been living together and are bonded. That way, you do not have to go through the introduction process. When adding to our mischief, I like to add rats in pairs. That way, if there are problems with introductions, the new pair still has each other for company when going through the transition. When we took in Burt, I felt certain that our current three girls would quickly adapt to him the way they did with Pirate, so I was not concerned about adding a single male to our group of three spayed females. That combination is usually one of the easier introductions.