American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the WSSF 2011 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

Beginners’ Corner

What is the Best Rat Food?; Rat Won’t Take Treats
What is the Best Rat Food?

Robin Solis, facebook
Q What is the recommended commercial food now that Exact quit making hamster-gerbil food? Is Oxbow our only choice? Are there any new developments regarding nutrition?

My baby developed PICA and the beginnings of a mammary tumor. The vet said the tumor could have caused an iron deficiency or the diet could have. Don’t know, but I couldn’t stop the free-range ratty from eating the wall plaster and over-dosing on calcium carbonate that caused nerve damage/limb/organ paralysis. That was our guess, anyway. Free-range rules, but there are risks!

Oh, “Baby” was a “natural” color ratty. I thought it was cool because she looked like the common roof rat! I have had the best experience with the orange-hooded ratties. The worst with the “blue” Hooded.

Answer by Amy, Camarattery
A I personally feed Harlan. I feel that their labs have the latest science. I have been using it for 2 years now and love it. It’s also extremely easy to get no matter where you live since they have a distributor that ships anywhere in the world. It’s also guaranteed fresh which you cannot get with most of the other blocks.

Answer by Karen Robbins
A Lab blocks are the best diet for rats and mice as this is a balanced diet and has everything your rats need. They are formulated specifically for rats and mice and have had years of research done to determine what our pets need in nutrition, vitamins, and minerals. The animals can’t pick and choose items out of the food thus causing an unbalanced diet and all kinds of problems from obesity to health issues. We have an article “Diet & Tumors in Rats” you can read on the web site. I have been feeding lab blocks since 1975 and recommending them to others since that time.

There are several companies making lab blocks for the pet trade so you should be able to find them in your local pet shop. I recommend the lab-quality rather than the pet-quality lab blocks as we have found the animals like them better when “taste tests” have been done.

Teklad is my favorite lab-quality brand and the one I’ve always gone back to after trying other brands. Purina is the other well-known lab-quality diet and Mazuri (made by Purina and available in most pet shops) makes a very good lab block that a lot of breeders use. Zeigler is another company that makes lab blocks for the lab/research field, but I have not tried them. We did have a critique done by one of our members on the Zeigler food. Also, local feed mills would be a place to look for lab blocks. They may not have both maintenance and breeder formulas, instead they usually just have a breeder diet. You can see if your local pet shop/feed store can get one of these higher quality lab blocks. They may only come in large bags, but if you have a large freezer or friends to share the food and cost, this would be a more economical way to go.

Each company makes several formulas of lab blocks from maintenance diets to breeder diets, so if you only have pet rats, you would choose one of the maintenance (lower protein and fat) diets. However, babies and young rats and mice need to be on a breeder formula since their dietary needs of protein and fat are much higher than adults (see “Nutritional Requirements in Rats” and for mice “Mineral & Protein Requirements in Mice”.

There are now many places online to purchase the high-quality lab blocks from in various quantities, so it is just a matter of which brand you prefer to use and which formula you need. Harlan Teklad brand 2018 formula is found online as “Native Earth 4018” in 40 pound bags at AFRMA sells the 8604 Harlan Teklad formula on our web site (two 12-cup ziplock bags [approx. 10 pounds]).

You can give treats to supplement and give some variety, but treats need to be no more than 10% of the diet. Additional articles that include feeding and treats:

Yes, allowing your rats to run loose in the house has many risks as you found out. I’ve heard of too many times where a rat was injured or killed while they were out. A better alternative would be to have a table or play area where you control where they can go and what they can get into. The most common is to set up a kiddie wading pool on a table and fill with toys or take a counter and make a playground area. If you allow free-range time in your house, then limit it to one room or area where they can’t get stepped on, kicked, shut in doors, sat on, squished in furniture, chew dangerous cords, get stuck behind or in something, or fall from a high area.

Agouti is the natural wild coloring you are referring to. Show agoutis are bred to have a really rich, bright coloring and a good one is quite pretty.

Rats Won’t Take Treats

Jon Ancowitz, facebook
Q I just got two baby Hooded girl rats yesterday—one of them is a Dumbo. Neither one of them is accepting treats even though I play with them for about 1–2 hours everyday. What should I do? Their cage is relatively small as it is just a temporary one till we get the big one in the mail. Names would help because they are still nameless.

A Rats need anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks to get adjusted to their new surroundings and people. Going from the breeder’s home to your home is very stressful and you need to give them time to get used to things. I always recommend for the first few days to not give any kind of house or hidey place so they will adjust to their new surroundings quicker. Having them in a smaller cage for the first week while they get adjusted to their new surroundings and people is also good. Then, once they are used to things, moving them into a bigger cage will just be more fun for them with more things to explore and play with.

Most rats won’t eat out of their cage unless they are very comfortable with the surroundings so the best thing right now is to just give them a treat after you put them back after playing with them and give a treat when you go by the cage and talk to them. They will quickly learn that you have yummy things for them. Some treats are better liked than others so try different types of fresh washed veggies, fruits, healthy cereals/breads, leftovers from your dinner (remember to only feed healthy things—no sugary, fried, or junk foods—it’s your responsibility to feed your rats a healthy, balanced diet), dog biscuits, etc. You can find more ideas in the “Choosing Your New Pet Rats . . .” article.

Naming can be anything that you like. Some people name their rats after foods, TV shows, movies, fictional characters, cities, holidays, music, famous people, cartoon characters, cultural/ethnic names, mythological names, etc. You can also check out a baby naming book for ideas. There are also web sites with pages on rat names. Karen Robbins *

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Updated May 9, 2020