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1. Do I need to separate nursing mothers?
I recommend that you do. In captivity, the success rate for raising a litter to weaning is lower when done communally, versus each female raising her own litter by herself. The females will produce more milk when sharing litters, but not of the same quality, and entirely possible that each pup will actually get less milk than if the females were raising the litters separately. (ratbehavior.org/communal nursing)
There are lots of things that can go wrong with communal nesting: Constant stealing of babies, cannibalism/infanticide, one female leaving all nursing duties to the other female, fighting between the mothers, monopolizing of both litters, high stress environment, competition between two different aged groups for milk, etc etc.
It also appears, according to some texts, that wild females prefer separate nursing chambers, unless the population density is high and doesn't allow for it. Unrelated females are also less likely to have success at communal nursing.
If you feel comfortable with communal nursing, then don't let me stop you.
2. My female ate all her babies, there are parts scattered everywhere!
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why a female will destroy her litter, but there are a few things you can think about and eliminate certain possibilities.
...was a first time mom and didn't understand what the offspring was
...gave birth with other rats present that in turn ate them
...was not in prime health to reproduce
...gave birth to still borns, and took advantage of the nutrients
...accidentally ate offspring instead of only cleaning them off
...did not feel safe enough to raise a litter
...ate offspring to replenish her own body
...had a bad or prolonged birthing
...is not provided with optimal living conditions (food, water, bedding, temps)
3. My breeders are fighting!? What do I do?
Unless you see blood and physical injuries, leave them alone. Female rats, especially virgins, can be very vocal and will squeal and make such a big fuss you'd think they were dying. If it's too much to handle for you, observe who is actually making all the noise and why. If it's fighting between females, best to remove the bossy one. If it's males being too rough and causing extreme stress to the female, give her a good long break for a few days before reintroducing her to the male.
5. I can't find Mazuri anywhere, will cat food work?
No, cat food will kill your rats. It's very simple. Rats are omnivores, feeding on mainly plant matter, insects and some meat when possible. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they eat only meat in the wild. Cat's intestinal tracts are much shorter than rats, being designed for meat, animal proteins and fats. Being so, cat kibble is extremely high in animal protein. Rats do well on a 16-19% protein diet, whereas cat food is often over 30% protein, which is usually all animal protein. Rats fed a cat kibble will experience kidney and liver failure, and die young while living very poor lives. I will discuss alternative kibble diets for rats later.
6. Everyday I lose more pinks, is mom eating them?
Most likely it's the female, unless you have a gnome in the house with a fascination for rat pinks. Look into why the mother would be eating the pinks. Is she provided with a complete lab block diet? Does she have easy access to water and food? Are there any other animals present that could be making a snack of her litter? Do you see milk bands in the bellies of the pinks? Rule out any less than satisfactory conditions in her environment and health to determine why the pinks are going missing.
7. Why does my female mom carry her tail in her mouth and spin?
I'm not sure. Some of my girls do it too! Could be stress release. I've watched females do this dance for very long periods of time. Carry tail, spin spin spin, then quickly push more bedding on top of the babies. I believe they have all grown out of this phase and, according to ratbahavior.org, it could be a sign of misplaced maternal behavior. (ratbehavior.org)
8. When do I wean my baby rats?
You can wean them at 21 days of age. They should weigh between 60-80 grams, and be eating solid food.
9. There is a lot of blood and no babies...
Depending on how long it's been since you've seen the blood, you could just be catching her at the beginning of birth, which I would tell you to leave her alone for a day.
If many hours to days have passed you could be seeing signs of a very difficult birth, in which the female is likely to be in extreme pain and could possibly die. Reasons can't all possibly be explained; ranging from being too old to birth easily, to having a miscarriage, or possibly pinks stuck in her birth canal.
I can't go over what to do in this situation, but please do the humane thing by seeking medical assistance immediately, or put her to sleep via CO2 chamber as soon as possible. No animal needs to suffer like this.
If she does indeed birth the litter, remove them, give her pain medication to ease her pain until she is better and do not breed her again. You can also take her to a vet afterwards for a check up.
10. She's not nursing.
So there is no milk band in the belly. One of the most difficult problems I have seen as my breeders age past a year. If possible, give the pinks to another female that has pups near exactly the same size. Any larger and the orphans will be pushed out of the way by the bigger pinks and wont be able to feed. If not, you can attempt to feed them with a tiny needleless syringe some baby formula with low iron every couple of hours round the clock and keep them with the mother. Please again, do the right thing and do not drag it out to being inhumane treatment.
11. Can I handle the pinks or will mom reject them?
Go ahead, but watch your fingers or mom might get you! Do it too often and she may be too stressed to focus on her mothering duties.
12. Can I take rats away from the female before they wean to feed off? Will she have any side effects?
By all means take them, mom will not notice, and the ones left will get very fat!
13. My rat makes her eyes boggle in her head!
That's a treat to see, when rats gnaw or chatter, their eyes boggle because a muscle that moves their jaw runs right behind the eye ball, making it boggle in and out. Silly rats. 😛 (ratbehavior.org).
14. My rats are scratching and have scabs on their body?
Could be alleriges, could be diet, could be ectoparasites like mites, lice and fleas (Oh my!). Check out this link for ways to diagnose and treat! (ratguide.com) Provide a diet with 18% protein, and 6% fat.
15. When can I put my rats together to breed?
Males hit puberty between 5-6 weeks (39-47 days) of age. Females hit it at 4-5 weeks (34-38 days) of age. (ratbehavior.org) Does that mean they should? Not necessarily. Breed females once they have reached 250-300+ grams, or are at least 5 months of age. (ratguide.com)
16. Are rats teeth supposed to be yellow?
Yes! It's a pigment! No tartar here, their teeth grow and are worn down too quickly for the amount of tartar it would take to turn them that yellow. (ratbehavior.org)
17. My male rat has orange skin!
It's normal, I believe that it's called buck grease, produced by the males hormones; but if there is a lot, you can give him a quick wash with baby shampoo in warmish water. Rinse twice!
18. Can they actually breed doing it... so quickly?
Yep, only takes a few seconds, and they will do it A LOT.
19. They keep chewing out of the tubs!!
Find out who the culprit is, and re-evaluate any gaps the rats may be able to fit a tooth into and chew out. If one rat learns to chew, the rest will too!
20. When is the female done producing? (menopause)
Last updated July of '09.