American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the Jan./Feb. 1988 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

Helpful Hints

Bottle Watching

By Liz Fucci

I think it is safe to say that most of us who keep rats and mice use water bottles which have the ball spout. Depending on the manufacturer, these spouts have either one ball or two; most have two (the better ones), but it isn’t always easy to tell unless the bottle’s original packaging has a cutaway diagram.

It is important to be aware of a two-ball spout, because, from time to time, any ball-spout will get hung up. In a two-ball spout, that hang-up may not be readily apparent. For example, if the spout has only one ball, and it is stuck somewhere inside, you can see right away that the ball isn’t at the tip where it belongs, and you can then clean it so that the ball floats freely again. In a two-ball spout, one ball can be where it belongs, while the other is jammed at the opposite end, effectively preventing the water from getting into the spout. Anyone who isn’t aware that this can happen can end up with some very thirsty animals before the problem is discovered. I know because it happened to me twice this week.

A few guidelines are in order:

  1. Be aware of how much water a cage uses in a given time span. If the water level doesn’t drop appreciably all of a sudden, do not assume your animals simply weren’t very thirsty. Check the spout.
  2. Watch your animals drink from the bottle as soon as the bottle is filled. Signs of struggle are obvious; they will pull at the spout with their teeth, and some will even jerk at the bottle in order to shake water down.
  3. At the first sign of a problem, remove the spout and tip it up and down. A ball stuck in the wrong end will be visible. A ball stuck in the middle, out of sight, will not appear in the wrong end at all, so it’s important to observe carefully.
  4. Routine cleaning of the spouts (and bottles) is necessary, anyway, and can be done with a small brush or cotton swabs; however, in the case of my two “stickers” this week, the problem wasn’t dirt (I clean my spouts religiously, which is why I was caught off guard); the problem was that the “wrong” end of the spout was “out-of-round”, meaning oval or egg-shaped. In both cases, a pair of pliers solved the problem neatly. I merely fixed the shape so that the ball could no longer lodge there.

A few other things I’ve learned over the years is that you simply cannot put some things in a ball-tip bottle, foremost among these is milk. It tends to dry out at the tip, effectively jamming it. When trying any liquid, other than pure water, it is a good idea to check the spout frequently to be sure it hasn’t hung up as the solids in the liquid settle out and dry.

In hard-water areas, mineral deposits build up rapidly in the spout, and when the build-up is substantial enough, it can cause the ball to hang up. That is one reason it is essential to include a regular spout cleaning in your routine. The mineral build-up will not harm the animals, and some say it is good for them, but it does cause hang-ups.

Other causes of hang-ups are food particles and wood shavings, and these will not only cause hang-ups, but if they keep the ball away from the very tip of the spout, they can cause all the water to drain out into the cage.

Beware cheap bottles! I had one such cheapie that rusted inside the spout. The spout wasn’t stainless steel, and the spout was not repairable. Fortunately, the pet shop had a whole box of spouts, left over from bottles that had been chewed, and Manny gave me one of those spouts. Thus, I salvaged the bottle.

On occasion, you may find that some rats seem to drink an inordinate amount of water. This happened to me recently, and I couldn’t figure it out until I caught the little monsters in the act of playing with the bottle! They had a grand time shaking it, pulling it, and, in general, taking a nice, tidy little shower with it! The bottle was of the 16-ounce size, and I just knew that three smallish rats couldn’t drink that much water in twenty-four hours. As the bottle was one of my “top-loaders”, there was no way they could have piled shavings into the spout. I solved the problem quite easily: I gave them a smaller bottle. Now, after twenty-four hours, a quarter of a bottle is left, which is just about right for three rats!

I had a similar problem, about a year ago, with one of the smaller bottles, and I solved that by fixing it to the top of the cage in such a way that the rats couldn’t wiggle it, push it up and down, or jostle it in any way. I know I spoiled their fun, but their cage stayed dry!

I might add that those three rats were the ones who led me to invent the top- loading bottle-holder. First, they chewed the unprotected plastic bottom of the bottle. I repaired it, put it back in the cage with a tin can over the re- paired bottom, and the little rascals chewed the middle right out of the bottle, making it un-fixable. Desperation is the mother of invention, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise! But these same rats, having been thwarted in their chewing efforts, got even by jerking the bottle around so that it shook all the water out. I got the last word with them, but they darned-near ended up as snake food before I fixed their little wagons! I don’t think they ever forgave me, but they don’t know how close they came to a one-way trip to the pet shop!

Finally, for those of you who adopted my top-loading bottle holder, you can easily make a little ladder out of a coat-hanger for babies, and mice, to use to reach the bottle. Furthermore, rats and mice both love the ladder, and have fun playing on it. Simply follow the instructions with the illustration.

Figs. 8 & 8-A

The ladder can rest on the bottom of the cage or swing freely, but be sure that, if it touches the bottom, the ends which go through the screen top can move up and down enough so that if you put the cage lid on, and the bottom of the ladder comes to rest on an animal, the ladder will give. When the animal moves, the ladder will drop, and be caught by the hooks. *

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Updated April 21, 2014