Lovecraft Rats
About The rats Litters & homing Husbandry
 
 

Husbandry

There is a lot of information on my rats' lives on their main site: www.batrats.co.uk where you can find information and pictures of what kind of cages they live in, freerange arrangements, our feeding regime, enrichment and health issues. My rats live and freerange in their own rat room but are very much part of our everyday life. Below is a brief re-cap of the main points:

Cages

My main cages are a Savic Royal Suite and a Savic Royal Suite XL. They are nice solid cages although I don't really like the fully opening doors, especially in combination with the lack of smaller feeder/access doors, as it makes it very tricky to reach everywhere when fixing perches and other cage furniture. I've replaced the bottom trays (as they are stupidly flimsy and thin and lets lots of substrate fall down the gap) with a 15cm high base tray I made by glueing custom cut transparent perspex pieces together. I also have a Rockford cage, a Marchioro Samo82, and a number of Alaska cages for birthing and various other temporary purposes. Please refer to www.batrats.co.uk/housing.htm for more up-to-date info on my cages.

In-cage enrichment

The layout of the cages generally gets changed every couple weeks in conjunction with cage cleaning, with toys and hammocks swapped for new and interesting ones. It's great to see the gang zooming around, happily exploring every inch. I use ropes, perches, parrot toys, cargo nets, small shelves and ledges, tubes, rope bridges, hammocks, cubes, cardboard boxes, dog rope toys, tree branches...basically anything with ratty fun potential that is safe and interesting to them. They always have at least one wheel; the Silent Spinner (12"), Wodent Wheel ('Wobust' model), or the all-metal TicTac wheel (14"). I always try to make their cage environment (and freerange area) as varied and interesting as possible and use enrichment to allow them to express natural behaviours such as climbing, jumping and digging. This involves creating challenging layouts with lots of things to explore - for example, hanging millet sprays, giving an open water source as well as bottles (they like to wash themselves as well as play and splash about), hiding dry mix in little paper bags, old blankets to burrow and tunnel through, digging box with varying contents, cardboard boxes with lots of holes cut out and filled with crinkly brown paper or shredded paper, etc etc...

Freerange

The rats are lucky enough to have their own rat room so have plenty of safe space to ping around in. I try to give each group at least 30 minutes freerange time every evening, with any young and active groups getting up to 2 hours. During weekends I'm able to let them out much more, sometimes for most of the day. No matter how spacious and interesting their cages may be, I don't like for them to have to spend all their time in there. As the active, intelligent and sociable creatures they are, they absolutely love the chance to pelt around and really raise hell, explore the room and stop by for a quick scritch. Freerange time is mostly supervised; I usually sit on the sofa so they can come and visit me any time - to play, cuddle or otherwise interact with me. There is a glass-panelled door between the rat room and the lounge, so I am also able to have them out without being in the room and still keep an eye on them whilst doing other stuff - but I really enjoy sharing freerange time and fuss with them. The rat room floor is littered with a varying selection of toys and things to investigate - a large cat climbing tree, smaller cat scratching posts, wooden wine racks, cardboard boxes, tunnels, blankets, tubes, corks, little stones and balls, and a deep tray or water bowl as they enjoy playing with it as well as drinking and washing. On occasion they get to go pea-fishing in an old cage base and they very much enjoy climbing up trouser legs and pulling off various daring balancing acts.

Substrate and bedding

I mostly use cardboard squares (Freshbale, Ecobed, FAB, etc) or cardboard strips (Green Mile, Finacard) as the main substrate, and Back2Nature or Papelit paper pellets in the litter trays. On occasion I mix the card with Aubiose (hemp), Bedmax or Megaspread (good quality wood shavings). For bedding, I use shredded paper and the lovely small soft hay bales from Dust Free Hay.

Cleaning

Cages are usually cleaned out around every 2 weeks or as needed. Everything gets removed and the trays are wiped. The bars are usually wiped down every few months. Soft furnishings go in numnah bags in the washing machine and plastic furniture is soaked/scrubbed/rinsed in the bath and thoroughly dried. Wooden and wicker things are lightly rinsed and scrubbed until they have become too impregnated with urine. As part of providing the rats with in-cage enrichment and a stimulating environment, cage furniture is frequently replaced with new and interesting things and the layout completely changed too. If I'm in a rush I will do close like-for-like swaps as the rearranging tends to take me longer than the actual cleaning! Their freerange area gets tidied a few times a week, with worktops wiped and stray cardboard swept up, and I usually mop and clean the floor more thoroughly once a month.

Feeding

My rats are fed a grain-based dry mix supplemented with fresh veg and the occasional wet meal. I started out feeding a basic Shunamite-style mix, then moved onto an entirely straights-based mix, and since the latter half of 2012 I combine my own straights-based mix with parts rabbit feed base (mostly Harrison's Banana Brunch), pigeon feed, and mixed micronized flakes. They get their dry mix twice a day, with a smaller portion in the morning and the bulk of it in the evening after returning to the cage after freeranging (as this tends to be when they're the most active). The mix is scattered in the base among the cardboard substrate and hidden all around the cage. They will spend a long time digging and sniffing around to find everything, and always eat all of it - usually in just a few hours, so they automatically get quite long 'lean periods' with no food. With regards to amounts, I largely feed by how they look and feel but have a natural tendency to err on the side of "too little" rather than "too much". The ingredients are mainly from RatRations, supplemented with bits from a couple of local independent health food shops, Holland & Barrett and various supermarkets. The rats clearly enjoy variety and appreciate the added interest in having a range of tastes and textures. Fresh veg is given 2-3 times a week and is usually a combination of kale, carrot or broccoli, sometimes mixed with a bit of flax oil or salmon oil. Fresh herbs, sweetcorn and peas are massive favourites with our rats. They get the vitamin supplement Daily Essentials 1 ("Dr Squiggles") once every 2 weeks or so and Calcivet or Daily Rat 3 on the occasional wet meal. For treats I tend to use seeds like pumpkin, a piece of dry pasta or Denes Natural wholegrain mixer.

Health-checking and general care

Thorough health-checks are done a few times a week during free-range, on the basis that the sooner health problems are noticed, the quicker they can be addressed. Rats are weighed monthly to enable us to keep track of weight loss or gain (which could potentially indicate ill health), and make feeding adjustments as needed. I cut their nails before shows or if they need it, depending on how long they are - some rats grow them much quicker than others, and I have a few who very conveniently trim their own.

Photos

I'm interested in photography and love taking photos of my rats. I use a bounce flash which is nicer on their eyes (and makes for better photos too!). When I take pictures of young kittens I always place them on soft material on top of a warmed heatpad. They get covered over apart from right when I take the photos, and are then returned to the nest very quickly. Whilst I do this mum is usually either having a tasty treat in a carrier, or for a short visit with her cagemates, as I don't want to put her in a situation where she might feel stressed about me messing with her babies.

Kitten-specific husbandry information

Kittens are born in an unfurnished Alaska cage (84x48.5x44cm). Mum is provided with plenty of substrate and bedding material to enable her to construct her nest. I don't clean out the birthing cage for the first 10 days, although after the birth I will remove any particularly soiled bedding. I will usually get mum out briefly every day to make sure she is fine - to date my mums have all been really affectionate and calm, and really keen to come to the front of the cage for a fuss and a treat. Once the babies are a little more resilient I let mum visit her cagemates for short periods instead, which tends to be greatly appreciated, and my mums have always been really good at telling me when they want to go back to their kittens. When the babies start moving around and leaving the nest, I usually provide a couple of radiator hammock resting place for mum so she can take some time-out when needed. I then gradually start furnishing the cage with things to explore and climb, and at around 3 weeks the little family moves to either half a Rockford or SRS cage with progressively challenging layout as their coordination and balance improve. Living next to our lounge, kittens get used to household noises such as hoover, hair dryer, TV, music, people talking (and dropping things!), and general bustle. Mum and kittens get a higher-protein dry mix and high-protein wet meals plus near-daily veg and Dr Squiggles, and DR3 every 2-3 days. Kittens are handled daily, but until they are mobile I never check them over without first removing mum and put her in a carrier with some tasty food, as it could easily be stressful to her if I'm messing with her babies in her presence; I don't feel it's fair to put her in that position. Once they start tottering around they also get supervised daily freerange, on the sofa or table, or in a playpen. Sexes are split at 5 weeks with each group moving into half a Rockford or SRS - depending on what I have free at the time - and kittens usually go to their new homes at some point betwen 6.5-8 weeks (never before 6 weeks of age). For homing information, please see my homing page.

Photos and more information on all the above can be found on my main rat-keeping site: www.batrats.co.uk

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