This article is from the Winter 1997 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
Daniel Cochran, NY
QMy rat is biting his forepaws until they bleed. Is this an allergy or diet or other problem?
AMost rats that I’ve seen chew on their front legs, do this from boredom. Although, one rat that I know that does this is kept in a huge cage with lots of toys and has playmates, but she is very active. So in her case it probably is more of a personality or genetic condition rather than boredom. Other rats I’ve seen, do this only when they have babies (it is almost always females that chew on their legs) and once the babies are weaned, they stop. So, it is hard to say why your rat is now doing this. As long as you are giving him a balanced diet of lab blocks along with fresh fruits, veggies, whole wheat bread, etc., giving him playtime with you, he is in a proper sized cage (10-gallon tank or equivalent sized wire cage or larger), has fresh water, is on a healthy bedding such as an aspen product or paper bedding (Sani-Chips®, Shredded Aspen, CareFRESH™, etc.), he doesn’t have any kind of mites or lice (he would be scratching himself a lot and maybe losing his hair—you could also see the mites in some cases and the nits of lice), then the only other suggestion is to have a vet look at him for a possible fungus or other type of condition that he may have. Most rats that have an allergy to diet (in most cases the males are allergic to the high fat and protein in seed mixes and dog food) will break out in scabs on their head and shoulder area. Changing the diet to lab blocks, clipping their nails, and shampooing with a cat flea shampoo have shown improvement in these cases. Also, treatment with Ivomec (from your vet) has cleared up some rats with chronic cases of scabs that the diet/clipping nails/shampooing have helped, but not totally gotten rid of the problem. Hope this is of some help. Let us know how he does. Karen Robbins
Rachel Knowles, Los Alamitos, CA
QIs it okay to use shredded newspaper for bedding? If not, what are some cheaper alternatives to aspen chips?
AWe do not recommend using newspaper as a bedding. The ink is supposed to be non-toxic, but the animal ends up ingesting something it does not need to. The ink constantly comes off on the animal and you end up with a rat or mouse which always looks and feels dirty. Being extremely clean animals, rats and mice will constantly try to wash off the ink, which can lead to overgrooming and behavior problems. In addition to all of this, newspaper does nothing to eliminate the natural ammonia smell from your pet’s urine. Besides the fact that this is unpleasant for the owner, it also is extremely unhealthy for the animal. One of the leading causes of respiratory problems in rats and mice is lung damage from exposure to ammonia, so if kept on newspaper, cages would have to be cleaned at least once a day.
There are a number of relatively inexpensive bedding alternatives. The one preferred by most fanciers is Sani-Chips®. This is a hardwood product. If no other inexpensive alternatives can be found, plain rabbit pellets (yes, the stuff you feed rabbits) makes a satisfactory bedding. Karen Robbins
QI’ve been told rabbit pellets shouldn’t be used for bedding as they are too dusty; newspaper can be used if you let it sit for 5—7 days, the ink will not come off on the rat’s coat. What is your response?
AThe ink coming off the newspaper is irrelevant, not the reason that newspaper is not recommended. The ink is toxic and they will eat it if they get the chance. There are so many chemicals in newspaper and with the short life span of rodents, the fewer toxins that they are exposed to the better. In regards to rabbit pellets being used, they are okay to use. Rabbit pellets won’t hurt them if they eat any. You can make a “sift screen” to sift the dust out of rabbit pellets. Also, don’t use old, moldy pellets. Carmen Jane Booth, D.V.M.
Sarah Bowman, Kingwood, TX
QI am writing on behalf of the organization, Friends of Texas Wildlife, which would like some information on mouse cages. Friends of Texas Wildlife breeds their own mice and would like to expand, but unfortunately the cages they use are too expensive to buy more (the rack and cages were donated to them). The cages they would like are used for lab mice, are made of a very heavy plastic, with strong wire mesh lid, and can sit on a counter top. Any information you can give me will be greatly appreciated. Also, is there a catalog where you can order things like this?
AWe recommend contacting Maryland Plastics for lab cages. They have “seconds” (they are from first line production with slight imperfections), and they sell cheaper than the first rate ones. Their address is: Maryland Plastics, Inc., Pet Products Division, P.O. Box 472, Federalsburg, MD 21632, (410) 754-5566. You might also try laboratories—they replace their cages every so often and sell the old ones at very reasonable prices, or find a mouse breeder going out of business that is selling off their cages. Sometimes you can get lucky and find used cages in the want ads. Another suggestion would be to get in contact with a local herpetological society and contact some of their large mouse breeders and find out where they get their cages. Karen Robbins