American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the Winter 2003 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

Beginners’ Corner

Crazy Mice; Flaky Rat
Crazy Mice

Q I have several tanks of mice that are driving me NUTS. It started about 6 weeks ago with me finding their water bottles empty and their cages all wet. My assumption was that I put too many shavings in. I corrected that problem and still kept finding their cages wet every night. I changed the tubes and stoppers on water bottles, swapped in replacements, and changed the height of holders trying to fix the problem. Nothing seemed to work, and I’ve gone through a lot of shavings in the meantime. Finally, last week I discovered one of the mice with its feet up “playing” with the ball on the water bottle. Yep, three cages of mice that are intentionally emptying their bottles. I’m ready to tear my hair out trying to figure out how to stop them. Have you ever run across this? Any thoughts on stopping them? I’ve encountered rats that would play with the trigger style bottles I got from the rabbit and cavy folks, but never mice. I’m sick and tired of changing mouse cages every night!! HELP!!

A Do your mice have “toys” (wheels, tubes, houses, etc.) to play with and to keep them busy? If all the mice are adults and if the toys don’t work, try water bowls (don’t use with moms and nursing babies as the babies can be drug into the water bowl when mom gets a drink) . Make sure the bowls are fairly tall so they don’t get shavings kicked into them and made out of rough material such as stoneware or rough plastic so the animals can climb out easily if they fall in (maybe not purchased at a pet store but at a thrift store). You might also try bottles without the ball. Perhaps they have “learned” this behavior from your rats. Or perhaps it is a new “nervous” trait like the whisker chewer mice. You should make sure there is not a medical condition involved that is making them extra thirsty which in turn would make them urinate more. Helen Pembrook

Flaky Rat

Veneta Tamberg, Michigan City, IN
Q I really enjoy the Rat Health Care book. It helps out a lot. The only thing, it doesn’t mention about Hairless rats. Harry has dry skin. Is there some lotion without perfume in it that I could use to relieve his itching? I use baby shampoo. It does help but it dries his skin out. He still has flaky skin like dandruff.

Do you have a picture of a Hairless rat? Also, can you register them?

Answer from Helen Pembrook
A Stop giving him baths unless he really needs it. Try a little mineral oil (which is what baby oil is only without the fragrance) maybe mixed with a little Lanoline (Pure). Whatever you try it has to be non-toxic so if he licks it off, it won’t hurt him. Also try putting him on aspen bedding if he is on something else. Some of the paper beddings can soak the oils out of their skin and dry it out.

Any rat or mouse may be registered in our Pet Registry. We have the forms on our web page at We also have photos of the different types of rats on our web page at Just click on the type of rat you would like to see.

Answer from Carmen Jane Booth, D.V.M.
A The underlying genetic defects that result in the breakage of the hair shaft and “hairless” appearance in rats (and mice) have other defects in the skin that make the skin appear “dry.” In fact, the skin is not dry, but rather there is abnormal thickening of the upper dead layers of keratinized skin which is called hyperkeratosis. In one of the defects, the cells that make keratin (keratinocytes) are so deranged that they do not turn over normally and the skin is so thick that the hair shaft fiber cannot penetrate to the surface. In another, the mutation severely affects the cells that make the hair shafts. Since normal keratin is not produced, proper hair shafts are not formed and the hair follicle fills up with keratinaceous debris. In either case, the skin is thickened with increased superficial layers of skin (hyperkeratosis) that appears flaky. Without seeing a biopsy of the skin from the affected rat, I cannot make an estimate of which of the known different genetic mutations this rat may have.

As these rats have defective skin, any bedding that is irritating may exacerbate their skin problems.

There really is no cure for the flaky skin as the defect is in the production of the skin itself. I would imagine that bathing with an hypoallergenic shampoo and moisturizing conditioner might be of benefit, but would not be surprised if it does not change anything. *

Back to top

Updated March 7, 2014