This article is from the Fall 1997 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Nichole Royer
I received a call a couple of nights ago. The lady on the other end of the line had gotten my name from the local pet shop. She had a wonderful pet rat (over a year old) and wanted another. She bred her rat to her friend’s male so that she would have babies to choose from and could make some money selling the rest. It was now 24 days later, the rat was hemorrhaging, and she was wondering if she should do something about it. I told her that yes, she most definitely should do something about it. The rat was having difficulty giving birth and would probably die if she did not get it to a veterinarian. This was late at night so she had to take it to an emergency clinic.
Two hours later, after an emergency c-section and a $200 vet bill, the rat and her entire litter died. When this lady called me back, she was understandably upset. Apparently it never occurred to her that there might be unpleasant consequences to breeding her rat. While I felt very bad for this woman and her rat, I found it shocking that she had not so much as looked up the gestation period or the age at which babies should be weaned. The life of this healthy rat would have been spared if her owner had just taken the time to think about what she was doing, and look into the consequences.
Fairly regularly, the members of the AFRMA Board (who have their phone numbers on most of the club literature) get another type of call. The conversation almost always follows the same line. The person calls and explains that they have a pet rat or mouse which they recently bred. Now they have a litter of babies who are eating them out of house and home. They would like to get rid of them now. The pet store will sell them for snake food, and they don’t want that to happen. “You will take them, won’t you?” is the usual question.
My first response is always, “Why did you breed this litter?” quickly followed by, “Didn’t you think of what you were going to do with the babies?” The answer is always the same. They all say, “Well no, not really. We figured someone would take them.” I always try to help these people if I can, but it is not my job to take responsibility for everyone else’s irresponsible behavior.
This makes me furious!!! To breed an animal without any consideration of where those babies are going to go is unethical and inhumane. I do not think that you have to show rats, or have pedigreed rats, or have fancy colors in order to breed. I do think that anyone who does breed should have the hard core (and often unpleasant) facts before they do it. They should also give some serious thought to the consequences.
Not long ago I came across a flyer at a dog show which I was very taken with, and I have changed it to fit our subject of rats and mice. I cannot credit the original author or the club it came from since the flyer did not include that information.
We think it is extremely important to learn the facts and possible consequences in advance if you are contemplating breeding your rat or mouse. In today’s overcrowded world, we, the wardens of our domestic pets, must make responsible decisions for them and for ourselves. Please consider the following points carefully.
QUALITY: A pedigree is NOT an indication of quality. Most rats and mice should not be bred. Though wonderful pets, many have defects of health, temperament, or structure which should not be perpetuated. Breeding animals should be proven free of these defects BEFORE starting on a reproductive career. Breeding should only be done with the goal of IMPROVEMENT—an honest attempt to create rats and mice better than their parents. Ignorance is no excuse—once you have created a life, you can’t take it back, even if blind, crippled, badly diseased, or a rodent psychopath!
COST: Rat and mouse breeding is NOT a money-making venture, if done correctly. Proper housing, extra food, correct bedding, advertising, possible vet bills, etc., are all costly and must be paid BEFORE the babies can be sold. An unexpected Cesarean may cost several hundred dollars. This would be an impossible amount to recoup even IF the babies lived, and IF you could sell them. Most breeders consider themselves lucky if they can break even on a litter.
SALES: First time breeders have no reputation and no referrals to help them find buyers. Previous promises of “I want a rat just like yours” evaporate. Consider the time and expense of caring for babies that may not sell until they are 4 months old, 6 months old, or more! What WOULD you do if your babies did not sell? Send them to the pound to be euthanized? Dump them in the country to fend for themselves and starve to death? Sell them cheap to a pet store to be used as snake food? Remember, the average litter is 8 to 12 kittens, and can be much more. Where are you going to find homes for a litter of 20?
JOY OF BIRTH: If you’re doing it for the children’s education, remember that the birth may be at 4 A.M., or at the vet’s on the surgery table. Even if the kiddies are present, they may get a chance to see the birth of a stillborn or watch the doe scream and writhe in pain attempting to deliver a baby which is too large. Some does are not natural mothers and either ignore or savage their litter. Does can have severe delivery problems or even die in the process of giving birth. Babies can be born dead or with gross deformities that require euthanasia. Of course there can be joy, but if you can’t deal with the possibility of tragedy, don’t start.
TIME: Many veteran breeders of quality rats spend several minutes a day, every day with EACH baby during the first 2 weeks of its life. This time doubles on the third week. This can mean well over 80 hours of labor in raising an average litter to 6 weeks. Both before and after the delivery, mom needs special care, attention, and feeding. Babies need daily checking, socialization, careful feeding, and their cage needs lots of cleaning. More hours are spent doing paperwork, pedigrees, and interviewing buyers. If you have any abnormal problems such as sick babies, or a doe who can’t or won’t care for her little ones, count on double or triple the time. If you can’t provide the time, you will either have dead kittens or poor ones that are bad tempered, antisocial, dirty and/or sickly—hardly a buyer’s delight.
HUMANE RESPONSIBILITIES: There are MILLIONS of unwanted animals put to death in pounds in this country each year, including many rats and mice. Many more die homeless and unwanted through starvation, disease, abuse, neglect, etc. The breeder who creates a life is responsible for that life. Will you carefully educate potential buyers on the responsibilities and duties entailed in owning a rat or mouse? Or will you just take the money and not worry if the rat is locked in a cramped cage all its life, forgotten and neglected? Will you turn down a sale to irresponsible owners? Or will you say “yes” and not think about the baby you held and loved now having a litter every time she comes into heat in order to create more uncared for statistics? Would you be prepared to take back a grown rat or mouse if the owners could no longer care for it? Or can you live with the thought that the baby you helped bring into the world will be destroyed at the pound?
The views expressed herein are of the author and do not reflect any policy of the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association.