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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Anti-pill Fleece Doorbuster Sale Today at JoAnns

Just a heads up for those who make their own hammocks and liners: JoAnn's has anti-pill fleece 70% off, today only (both in store and online). Solids are just $3.00 a yard. And to top it off, remnants are 75% off the sale price (this is not an advertised sale for the remnants, so I am not sure if all stores put their remnants on sale 75% off or not). That means that if you can find any anti-pill fleece in the remnant bin, it will come to just 75 cents a yard. At that price, I buy anything they have available.

My store even has the fleece available in 2 yard precut pieces, so you can skip the cutting table and get directly in line. This is a huge convenience on Black Friday weekend, when cutting counter lines can be very long.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rats in the News: Photographer Anna Turin Sets out to Prove Rats Are Adorable

Source Article: Can Rats Ever Be Cute? One Photographer Tries Her Best to Prove that Rodents Are Actually Adorable

It really goes without saying that rats are, of course, adorable. I mean, how hard can it be to prove the obvious - what we see every day? But even though this is obvious to us, it is not quite so obvious to the rest of the world. As someone who makes an effort to photograph my rats as much as possible, I do know what a challenge it can be to capture that adorable mischief in pixel form. These photographs are a wonderful showcase of the beautiful and loving nature of the domesticated rat and are worthy of being shared.

Check out the entire image gallery at the link above.

Friday, November 14, 2014

BestMassage Gymnastics Mat

Gymnastic mat under the loveseat protects against falls.

The BestMassage gymnastics mat I ordered after Bobo's fall arrived earlier this week. The mat is 4' x 8', large enough to cover the area to the sides and in front of the loveseat. It is 2" thick and very firm, yet provides plenty of cushion in the case of a fall. I am happy with the construction. It appears very durable, although whether or not it will hold up to rat chewing has yet to be seen. It may be that with time, the loveseat legs may tear the cover, but for now, it is holding up extremely well. I did reinforce the area where the legs rest with a piece of duct tape and a scrap piece of furniture pad.
BestMassage Thick Folding Panel Gymnastics Mat
A few reviewers complained about a smell of volatile gases upon opening the box. I made sure to order from an Amazon vendor from which other reviewers reported no smell (Cavalier Wholesale). This mat arrived completely odorless, but I did leave it upstairs for a while to vent just in case.

I really like the protection and peace of mind this mat offers. If it proves to hold up well, I may order a second one to protect the center play area of the rat room. A mat like this would also be nice on the floor of a play pen or free range area to protect the carpeting or hardwood flooring underneath it. Again, I don't know how this will hold up over time, but my first impression is very positive. I just wish I would have thought of this before Bobo had his fall.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Introductions are Over: Sometimes Rats Just Need to Duke It Out

Hammie, Ruby, Jeremy, and Burt enjoy breakfast together.

Hammie, Ruby, Jeremy, and Burt are finally living together in the DCN. The ramp is down and they have access to all levels. We are greatly saddened that Bobo couldn't be here as part of the group. We know he would have loved the company and the space. This successful introduction is bittersweet without Bobo taking part in it. However, it wouldn't be fair to just stop working with the other rats because we are grieving Bobo's loss, so we keep trudging forward.

It was a long journey. Hammie, Jeremy, and Bobo were adopted at the beginning of August. Three months and two neuters later, everyone is finally comfortable enough with each other to be able to share the same cage. There was a lot of supervised play time and, over the last week, a lot of supervised cage intros. Last night, they spent their first night together, and this morning, they all ran to the same shelf to get their breakfast - no longer phased by the company of the other rats.

Sometimes the introduction process is tricky. Rats love the company of other rats, but sometimes, they can't help but think of a new rat as competition, as a threat, or as an intruder to their territory. Hormonal males are especially difficult. Some rats can never be introduced, but sometimes we are tempted to give up too soon.

We learned that neuters can be amazing, but it can take a few weeks for the hormones to die down. Burt and Hammie started intros again one week after their neuters, but that wasn't long enough and both got hurt. Burt's wounds became infected. The healing process took a bit of time, and the experience made Burt extra nervous around the other rats. However, neither Burt nor Hammie has bitten any other rat since their altercation shortly after the neuter. Neither rat has sought out conflict, although Burt will defend himself if provoked. Hammie has actually gone from the most rat-aggressive to the most rat-friendly. Jeremy (the remaining intact rat) has become the biggest trouble maker, loving to provoke a fight. However, he is really just looking to stir things up and he has never caused injury to anyone, so at this time, a neuter isn't necessary. I don't think introductions would have ever been possible without the neuters.

We are trained to look for signs of aggression in our rats during intros, and if we see those signs, to separate the rats, slow down, and back up a step. Signs we look for are arching of the back, shoving their rumps into each other, and getting into loud and angry fights that leave their fur standing up on end. Taking it slow and cautious is the proper way to proceed at first. You don't want to throw them unprepared into a scary situation that will scar them emotionally. You don't want their first impression of the other rats to be an extremely negative one. That is an impression that is hard to erase. But some rats won't ever progress if we are too cautious. Sometimes we have to take risks if we want to see what our rats are capable of and if we want to eventually move forward.

My advice is always to start by taking it slow and easy. No need to rush into anything. However, not every intro is going to go off with our rats being best friends at first sight. If they did go off that way, we wouldn't need intros in the first place. Instead, rats need to establish the rat hierarchy before they can live peacefully together. They need to know who is the top rat (if there even is one), and what kind of behavior to expect from the new rats. This process necessarily involves some risk.

The general rule to follow is no blood, no foul. This is my gospel. It is okay to back off intros a bit when things get a little too heated at first, but if those heated exchanges continue repeatedly, you will never move forward until you let them work through them. This means risking someone getting hurt. Just be sure to be vigilant and not leave them unsupervised. Be ready to intercede if needed. And as soon as someone does get hurt, you absolutely must back off intros or the violence could escalate. With males, this is a sign that a neuter is necessary. It is very hard to proceed with intros if blood is being drawn. It could be the injuries occurred because you rushed intros or skipped some steps. But when that is not the case, more drastic measures may be called for. If neuters are ineffective, it may be that these specific rats just can't live together. You may have a rat who just won't get along with other rats. Or, you might have better luck introducing the rat to a different rat, or a rat of the opposite sex (assuming one is neutered/spayed).

If no blood is being shed, but introductions are still a bit rocky and progress has stalled, then go ahead and put up with more aggressive behavior than you may want to. If they are not actually hurting each other, just posturing, threatening, screeching a little, and/or doing battle without causing injury, then chances are good that with perserverence, they can work their issues out themselves. If they wanted to hurt each other, they could. But they are not. That says a lot. Sometimes, just putting up with the undesirable behavior is not enough. Sometimes you need to move forward despite it. This is true only when it is clear that nothing is going to change if you continue with the status quo.

We moved ahead with cage intros even though Jeremy and Burt were still getting into some fights. Normally, I would want everyone getting along during supervised play time before trying cage intros. However, our intros had been going on for a long time with the same results and we were hitting a wall. The problem is that Burt and Jeremy would get into a fight, then Burt would run away to me or somewhere where Jeremy didn't follow or couldn't get to him. Burt would basically avoid Jeremy. They weren't working out their conflicts, Burt was avoiding them.

Cage intros seemed to be the way to go, because in the cage, there isn't anyone Burt could run to and there isn't anyplace where he could completely get away from Jeremy. He could seek safety in a cube or hut or tube, but Jeremy could always approach him and force him to deal with the situation. They needed to deal with each other head on. Again, I emphasize here that neither rat had ever bitten the other. After several days of supervised cage intros (taking place for a few hours a day), Burt seemed to tolerate Jeremy better and Jeremy stopped harassing Burt so much. We tried a day of cage integration with periodic supervision and periods of being left alone. It went extremely well, so I felt comfortable leaving them together at night. By morning, they were all acting like they had lived together forever.

Basically, we had to force Burt and Jeremy to live together with each other before they would actually try to get along. This is similar to the philosophy of using a carrier and a car ride to further introductions (again, a technique I would only recommend if you know that the rats aren't going to draw blood). The stress of the car ride and being forced close together in a carrier makes the rats forget their animosity and actually potentially take comfort with each other. We employed this method with Ruby and the new rats because we knew no one would hurt her and she was so afraid of them at first that she just wanted to hide. It helped a lot. It might have been very successful with Burt and Jeremy as well, but I didn't feel comfortable forcing them together in such a small space, so I thought the cage was the best way to go.

I am not claiming that there won't be future issues, but it looks like it will be mostly downhill from here. I have no fears about anyone hurting anyone else, and what is more, they all actually seem to like each other now, not just tolerate each other.

One thing is certain, we wouldn't have made it to this point if I didn't allow a little supervised conflict.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Barn - Fall Cage Accessories

You can easily make a fall barn hide using the House pattern in the
Tutorials for Common Rat Hammocks

It is time to put the Halloween hammocks away and start decorating the rat cages for fall. I created my first fall hammocks last year (see Fall Decorating Ideas), with pumpkin hides, a snuggle sack full of fleece leaves, and maple leaf-shaped flat hammocks.

This year, I spotted a fabric I just knew I had to have. It was available from and it was more than I usually pay for rat hammock fabric (knowing that they will just chew it up). But I fell in love with it and bought it anyway (good thing I did - it is no longer available). The fabric features an apple/pumpkin farm, scarecrows and sunflowers, and lots of fall birds looking for something good to eat. Everything I love about fall in one colorful print. It even had a coordinating leaf print.

I put together a standard DCN hammock set and then realized that what would really bring it to life would be a barn hideaway. Fortunately, I had already created a pattern for a house (used to make haunted houses and gingerbread houses) and it could easily be used to craft a barn without any modifications. You can find the instructions in the Tutorials for Common Rat Hammocks and Accessories PDF.

Using that tutorial, I put together the barn shown above to serve as the centerpiece of the set.

And this is the cage decorated for fall:

There are rats in the barn! Burt and Hammie during in-cage intros.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Breeding Matters: Genes Influence Temperament in Rats

Source Article: Genes Contribute to Behavior Differences Between Fierce and Friendly Rats

A Study dated 11/7/14 from the Genetics Society of America has examined the role that genetics plays in the temperament of rats. The study began nearly 40 years ago and involved two groups of wild rats. One group was selectively bred for aggressive behavior toward humans. The second group was bred for tame behavior toward humans. After 60 generations of rats, the two groups respond to humans in very different ways. The study went on to find gene variants that were responsible for the different temperaments and were able to identify "eight regions of the genome that contributed to the variation in tameness" among rats that were bred from crosses between one tame parent and one aggressive parent.

This study emphasizes the importance of selective breeding, not just for health and for physical characteristics, but for temperament as well. It is easy to think that all we have to do is proper socialization from birth and all of our rats will be sweet and loving. But genetics definitely plays a role. Having the wrong genetic makeup can make the socialization process more difficult, but the right genetics can also make socialization a simple and natural process.

This is something that rat owners familiar with halfies (rat litters born to one domesticated parent [usually female] and one wild rat [usually male]) already know. Despite intense socialization at a very young age, these rats usually remain somewhat wild-like and more difficult to handle, a clear sign of the influence the wild rat genes have on the domesticated rat gene pool, regardless of the best efforts at socialization.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bobo Had a Tragic Fall

Me and Bobo on Halloween
This is the hardest post I think I will ever have to write. I didn't want to write it. I wanted to wait a few days for the pain to deaden, so it would be easier. But somehow I feel like it has to be written now, while it is still real and immediate.

Bobo was out playing with the other rats in the rat room yesterday evening. I was sitting on the loveseat watching television while they played around me. Bobo is a very social boy and always jumps on and off the loveseat to say hello, then rushes off to do rattie things again. He's a flyby greeter, always on the go.

Or, I mean, he was.

Yesterday, he was jumping around on the love seat, when he suddenly got a little too close to the edge and he tumbled off and fell to the floor. It was a very short distance, less than the distance from my knee to my foot. One of the floor mats that I made was on the floor where he landed. I didn't think anything of it, because he jumps on and off that sofa like nothing all the time. But my baby didn't get back up.

I bent over to see what happened and found him curled on his side on the ground. He twitched a tiny bit and then just didn't move again. He was gone. Just like that. I couldn't believe it. I was in shock. I got out my stethoscope to listen for a heartbeat because I thought he couldn't be gone just like that. Maybe he was just in shock. But there was no heartbeat. I had to listen to the other rats' hearts to make sure the stethoscope was working. It was. Bobo was gone. I couldn't understand it. Things like that just don't happen. At least, they shouldn't ever happen.

He had to have landed wrong - on his head or on his back. I don't know how that could have happened, because he was like a cat - always landing on his feet. And he didn't fall very far. It was suggested to me that maybe he had a seizure or something, because rats are very adept, and I would really like to believe that, but Bobo had no history of seizures and I really think he just was over excited and misjudged the edge of the love seat. I want to believe that there was something else wrong and that this couldn't have been prevented, but I just don't believe it. It was one awful, terrible moment in time that I just can't get back to do over.

I would like to write something about how to cope with an accident like this, but I can't, because I  don't know how to cope with it. I've never lost a rat to an accident. I am devastated. I am heart broken. I am angry at myself that I could allow this to happen. I was supposed to be giving him a better life than the one he was rescued from, and now he is gone . . . way too soon. Naturally, I can't help but feel that this is all my fault. There were a million little things I could have done differently, that wouldn't have ended up with Bobo in that exact position at that exact time. Of course, I couldn't have known before it happened that it would end like this. But the one thing that became clear is the fact that the floor mats weren't enough to protect him and keep him safe. His environment was unsafe, and that was my responsibility and my fault.

I had spent a lot of time thinking about the floor of the rat room in the past. It is concrete, so it is hard. I had thought about putting comforters down, but that carries the risk that the rats will burrow underneath them and then we might step on them by mistake. Also, comforters can be easily chewed and the batting or fiberfill inside can be stringy and dangerous. Cushions get chewed and pushed around and the spongy foam can be dangerous and messy and can absorb urine and be hard to clean (I had tried this and it didn't work out). I thought about the puzzle foam mats that can be interlocked together to cover a floor, but they would be quickly chewed and there are articles on parenting websites about these mats containing dangerous chemicals. So ultimately, I decided to make the floor pads similar to the way I make the cage liners - a layer of fleece and a layer of furniture pad. They are soft and pretty thick but easily washable, and if the rats burrow underneath, they are pretty obvious and easy to avoid stepping on. However, this apparently was not good enough.

To fix this, I am going to try a gymnastics mat to cover the area where the loveseat is. I don't know how well this will work, but it is the best idea I have been able to come up with. If they fall off the loveseat onto the mat, it should provide enough cushion to prevent serious injury (if it can protect a gymnast, it should be able to protect a rat). The cover is vinyl, so it should be easy to wipe clean without rat urine soaking into the padding. There is the risk that it may be chewed, but I am hoping the vinyl will protect it and that supervision will be enough to keep it intact. If it does get damaged, duct tape should patch it up. I did try to find information about the safety of the foam inside the mat. It is a different type of foam than the supposedly dangerous foam used in the puzzle mats, and I couldn't find any websites reporting associated dangers with the gym mats. These gym mats are also used as toddler mats (for children learning to walk), so I am hoping that means they are at least child safe. But just because there is no information out there, doesn't mean it is safe. So I will have to be vigilant and make sure the rats don't chew through the cover and get at the foam.

Anyway, I want to say that, Bobo, I am so sorry. I failed you. I wanted to give you a good life and tragedy took you from me too soon. I feel completely responsible for what happened - for not making your rat room as safe as it should have been; for not moving you off the loveseat before you fell. I always tell people that we learn from our mistakes, but it hurts so bad to learn this way and I am so sorry it was you who had to suffer for it. You were loved and you will be missed. This is a nightmare that I really wish I could wake up from and get a do-over.

I hardly ever post pictures of me (I hardly ever take pictures of me), but I just had to share this one last picture Bobo and I took together on Halloween (above). I can't believe we won't ever take any more. I thought dealing with prolonged illness was hard, but it is no where near as hard as losing a rat to an accident that just shouldn't have happened at all.

Goodbye, Bobo. Play hard over the bridge.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Critter Nation vs Ferret Nation

Midwest Dual Critter Nation
Midwest Dual Ferret Nation
I frequently see posts asking which is a better cage for rats: the Midwest Critter Nation or the Midwest Ferret Nation.

In most circumstances, my answer to this question would be the Critter Nation. There are only three differences between the cages:

1. Bar Spacing

The Critter Nation bar spacing is 1/2" vs the 1" bar spacing of the Ferret Nation. This means that the Critter Nation is safe for young rats and both female and male rats. The wider Ferret Nation bar spacing can allow young rats to escape, along with many female rats and some smaller male rats. Thus, the Critter Nation will be safe for all your present and future rat needs. If you only have large male rats, the Ferret Nation may meet your needs today, but in the future, when you get new rats, it may no longer be appropriate.

Of course, you can always modify the Ferret Nation with some hardware cloth, but this can be a pain and an eyesore. Still, if you are finding one cheap for sale second-hand, it may be worth it to buy it and modify it as needed.

One benefit of the wider bar spacing is that it is easy to pet your rats between the bars without opening the door to the cage. The 1/2" bar spacing of the Critter Nation is just too narrow to comfortably slip a finger into the cage.

2. Bar Direction

The Critter Nation bars are horizontal. This is an ideal setup for rats, as it makes climbing the cage walls easier. The Ferret Nation bars are vertical and so a little more difficult to climb.

3. Price

The Ferret Nation is often cheaper than the Critter Nation. However, especially when on sale, I have been noticing more and more that the price difference between the two is shrinking. For example, today, has the Ferret Nation on sale for $195.49 and the Critter Nation on sale for $203.99. That is less than a $10 difference. Of course, prices on these cages fluxuates greatly from moment to moment. If there is a big price difference between the two, rather than going with the cheaper Ferret Nation cage, I recommend waiting and monitoring prices. There is a good chance the Critter Nation price will come down to something closer to the Ferret Nation with time. Even if it does not, the Critter Nation is worth the price difference just for the fact that it will meet all of your needs today and in the future.

There is actually one other potential difference between the two - but only if buying used. The older Ferret Nation cage used to have a flat shelf/level rather than the ridged pan that they come with today. Some people really love the old style, whereas others like the lip on the new style for keeping raisins and debris inside the cage. Liners designed for the new style may not work on the old style levels and shelves. All Critter Nation cages have always been made in the new style.

Despite my affection for the Critter Nation, the Ferret Nation is still a really good cage. If you have the option to get one or the other, I recommend the Critter Nation. However, if you have the opportunity to get a good deal on the Ferret Nation and are aware of its limitations, it is still a really nice cage and your rats will love it, as long as you make sure they cannot escape from it.

The Fiesty Ferret

There is another cage that many often confuse with the Ferret Nation. It is the Preview Hendryx Feisty Ferret, pictured to the left.

The Feisty Ferret is similar to the Dual Ferret Nation in that it has two main levels and two shelves. It also has vertical bar spacing that is 7/8" (a little smaller than the Ferret Nation, but significantly wider than the Critter Nation).

The Feisty Ferret looks like it has fully opening doors, like the Ferret Nation and Critter Nation. However, in actuality, only the right hand door opens. The left side is not a door and is permanently closed. This means that cleaning will be a little more difficult.

The Feisty Ferret is also a little smaller than the Ferret Nation. It's shelves are not full 1/2 cage width shelves, like the Ferret Nation, but instead are slimmer and they have a hole cut out. This means that it will not have as much space for accessorizing. The shelf ramps are solid plastic instead of a metal ramp with bar rungs, which I believe are easier for rattie feet to grab on to. Finally, the middle level is not solid, but wire, and will need to be covered for safety reasons.The bottom tray actually slides out (not my favorite setup for rats, but nice for bird cages), which means there is another metal grid above the bottom tray that will need to be covered for safety. Finally, the construction on the Feisty Ferret seems to be weaker than the durable Ferret Nation cage.

Of course, the Feisty Ferret is quite a bit cheaper than the Ferret Nation, but I always recommend saving for the cage you really want, rather than saving a few bucks and then being frustrated by the limitations later. When buying used, be sure to know the difference between the Feisty Ferret and the Ferret Nation. I have heard of people passing off Feisty Ferrets for Ferret Nations on Craigslist (either intentionally or out of ignorance), and the Feisty Ferret is just not worth as much as the Ferret Nation - so make sure you know what you are getting when you buy used.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fall Pumpkins are Fun for Rats, Too!

At our house, after the kids are done with Trick or Treating, it is pumpkin time for the ratties. Rats love a fresh pumpkin, especially the slimy guts and the yummy seeds. We use a pie pumpkin and cut a hole in the front to get them started, but many people like to use a full-sized carving pumpkin and let them crawl inside.

Just be warned, pumpkins make messy play. We put down large sheets of Kraft paper on the floor in preparation for pumpkin time, to make clean up afterwards much easier. Some pics of the yummy fall pumpkin action:

Hammie drags the pumpkin shell out through the castle door . . .

. . . and proceeds to abscond with it behind the garbage can.
Hammie clearly loves pumpkin.
Ruby is wondering why this thing only has one hole. 

Jeremy tells Hammie to quit hogging the pumpkin.

These pumpkin guts are delicious!

Finally, a turn for everyone.

Bobo likes the seeds.

Burt prefers to sit on the couch and be served by his humans.

Pumpkin? What Pumpkin? I was always this color!

Ruby licks pumpkin juice off my son's hand.