This article is from the WSSF 2006 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Nichole Royer
Lynn Lehman, Racine, WI
Q Am I feeding the wrong foods to my critters? I have been feeding the Kaytee Fiesta Hamster/Gerbil mix for my mice and rats, along with small pieces of oyster crackers, honey graham crackers, and dried banana chips. Is this too much junk food? Also, I have to break any pumpkin seeds in two so the spoiled little monsters will eat them, they won’t touch them if they’re left whole. Same with some of the mice who will not eat sunflower seeds unless I crack them open.
A It sounds like you are feeding your critters a diet that is very typical of what the pet industry wants you to think your critters need. They can be very misleading. I would recommend you eliminate the Kaytee “Fiesta” mix immediately. Those mixes are put together with one thing in mind, appeal to you (not the health of your rats and mice). Unfortunately, they are much too rich.
We are very fortunate here in Southern California. The food I feed is a laboratory pellet (lab blocks) that comes from a laboratory supply company instead of a pet shop. They are much better than anything available in the pet industry. Naturally, since you most likely do not have a laboratory supply company near you, they will be unavailable. These pellets are a processed complete diet that include everything the critters need. Because they are solid pellets (kind of like 1″ X 2″ pieces of dog food) the animals cannot pick and choose what they want to eat.
The problem with a grain and seed-based diet is that the mice and rats tend to pick out the things they like to eat and fill up on those first. Kind of like giving kids a plate of cookies and a plate of vegetables and telling them to fill up on whichever they want. Unfortunately, those things are about the worst thing for them. Most mice and rats just love the sunflower seeds, peanuts, bits of dog food, dried fruit (particularly banana chips), and all the other high-fat high-protein “goodies” you find in the commercial seed mixes. None of these things are good for them, and they all lead to obesity and an increase in the incidence of tumors and early death. My animals never see any of these things other than dog food at any point during their lives.
Though you cannot get the kind of lab blocks we use, you do have some options that are much healthier than what you are currently using. Kaytee, and all the other companies that make rat and mouse food all produce lab blocks. If your pet shops don’t carry it, ask them to order it for you. It may be sold under the label of rat and mouse chow, rodent chow, rodent diet, rodent blocks, rat and mouse blocks, lab blocks, or a combination thereof.
Naturally, our critters don’t particularly like being changed over to a lab block diet. It’s good for them, so it’s not as tasty as the “junk food.” Often, it is necessary to give them the lab blocks, take away all other food, and wait. It may take as long as 2 or 3 days before some of the mice will eat the new food. This may sound like a long time, but it will not hurt a healthy rat or mouse to go 2 or 3 days without food so long as they have access to water. Once they do start eating the block, they often prefer them over other foods. If you can get your hands on lab blocks made by several different companies, it is a good idea to do so, then see which your critters prefer. Another advantage of lab blocks is that they are huge hard pieces. The rats and mice have to use their teeth to break and chew off bite-size pieces. This provides great exercise for their jaws, good grinding for their teeth, and lots of activity and mental stimulation.
If you cannot find lab blocks, all is not lost. You can still put together a relatively healthy diet for the critters. Go to the pet shop and find the bag of rat and mouse seed mix that looks the most boring (Reggie Rat mix is a good one and has no sunflower seeds or peanuts), one that has virtually no sunflower seeds, peanuts, dried fruit, etc. Also, buy a small bag of high quality “senior” dry dog food (I can highly recommend Science Diet Senior). Take these home and open the bag of seed mix. Sit down and pick out any remaining sunflower seeds, peanuts, etc. Then mix 1 part dog food to 5 parts seed mix. I used this method for years before I moved to southern California, and I liked it almost as well as what I’m currently using.
This diet sounds boring, and I imagine it might be. I also give my critters an assortment of healthy treats. One of their favorites is small pieces of wheat bread, pasta, fresh fruits, vegetables, and occasionally a real treat of a small dog biscuit (veggie is well liked by both rats and mice). Mice love oats (whole, rolled, groats, oatmeal, etc.). Rats really love cooked spaghetti (with the sauce) and little pieces of pizza crust. Just remember, treats should make up no more than 5–10% of their diet; closer to 5% would be the ideal.