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Friday, November 29, 2013

Turkey Day for the Rats, Too!

Bela enjoys some Thanksgiving turkey
Do you share your Thanksgiving feast with your rats? We do.

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

Rats and Strep Throat

I have been ill with strep throat for the past several days and am much better now that I am on antibiotics - except that the antibiotics are making me a little nauseated.

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

Rat Cage Accessories: Super Pet Natural Tree Trunk Hide

There are a lot of commercially made hides available for pet rats, but the Super Pet Natural Tree Trunk Hide, available from PetSmart and Amazon, is my favorite. It is made from a combination of resin and wood. Mine has never been chewed and doesn't emit a scent, like many wood huts do. It is easily cleaned with soap and water or by wiping down with a vinegar water mix. It is durable and very roomy. The rats love to hide inside it and to sit on top of it, or to use it as a stepping stone to reach the next level without a ramp.

Tree Trunk in a Fall-Themed Cage
It has a nice natural look to it that goes well with forest/nature themes, as well as Halloween and Fall themes, and is available in at least two different colors. It comes in large or small, with the large being the appropriate size for rats. The only drawback is that the large size is quite large and may not fit well in all cages. It fits nicely in Critter Nation cages. I don't use it in the Martin's cage as it is hard to find a good place with enough space that doesn't conflict with a ramp or a litter box - it is just a little too uncomfortably large. It also may not fit through all cage doors - in smaller cages, you may need to position it with the cage removed from the base first.

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

Rats In The News: Elementary School Uses Rats to Teach Nutrition

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

Fall Decorating Ideas

Critter Nation Decorated for Fall
For the first time, we have put together a fall theme for the cage. I love the colors of the trees in fall and this year has been an especially colorful one in our area. I decided to focus on this for our theme.

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.
I reused one of the Halloween pumpkins, turning it around so the circular back door opening was featured instead of the jack-o'-lantern face, then made a new set of fall hammocks as shown below:
Fall Hammock Set
These are mainly my standard hammocks - modifying a few to better fit the fall theme. I modified the web-shaped hammock pattern, using a maple-leaf shape instead. I made the top layer orange and the bottom layer rust, but any fall colors would have worked. The design came out well and in the future I may use more of these hammocks to help simulate the appearance of falling leaves.
Cube with Acorn-Shaped Opening.
Above Is the Falling Leaf Hammock.
The cubes were made with acorn-shaped openings and I added a peek-a-boo hammock with a maple-leaf shaped opening. It came out really nice, but was tedious to sew.
Nothing is so comfy as a sack of fall fleece leaves!
Finally, I embroidered a leaf pattern onto a solid orange cotton fabric and made a snuggle sack out of it, representing a sack of leaves. But what sack of leaves would be complete without a set of colorful leaves to fill it with? So I took the same maple-leaf cookie cutter I used to trace the opening in the peek-a-boo hammock and I traced leaf patterns on scrap fleece pieces, cut them out, and packed them into the snuggle sack. I scattered a few of the extras around the cage and clipped a few to the cage bars to give the appearance of leaves falling everywhere.

An accessory that goes extremely well with this theme is the Super Pet Natural Tree Trunk Hideout. This is my favorite of all the commercially made huts that sit on the ground, and it goes fantastically well with this theme (but may be too large for some cages). It also looks good with a spooky Halloween theme or any kind of nature/woodsy theme.

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

Loki's Meds Get Increased

Poor Loki.

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.