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 little rat building but are very much part of my everyday life. Below is a brief re-cap of the main points:

Cages

My three main cages are a Little Zoo Venturer, a Savic Royal Suite and a Savic Royal Suite XL. I have tall perspex trays in the SRSs. I also have a Rockford cage, and a number of Alaska cages for birthing and various other temporary purposes.

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; having used Silent Spinners (12") and Wodent Wheels ('Wobust' model) for many years, I am now a total TicTac convert - all-metal super quiet wheels, 16" and 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 purpose-built rat house so have plenty of safe space to ping around in. I try to give each group freerange time every other evening, with young and active groups getting up to 2 hours. During weekends I'm able to let them out 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 often supervised, where I sit on the sofa so they can come and visit me any time - to play, cuddle or otherwise interact with me, but as the room is safe for them they also get independent unsupervised time out. 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

For main substrate I currently use Bedmax horse shavings and sometimes Littlemax (both are kiln dried and dust extracted). I also use cardboard squares (FAB, as I can often get this locally) or cardboard strips (Green Mile, Finacard). I use Back2Nature/Breeder Celect paper pellets in the litter trays. For bedding, I use shredded paper and the gorgeous soft hay bales from Dust Free Hay.

Cleaning

Cages are usually cleaned out around every 1-2 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, and if it's sunny I like to stick them outside for a few days. 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 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 when needed, with worktops wiped and stray substrate swept up, and I occasionally mop and clean the floor more thoroughly.

Feeding

My rats are fed a grain-based dry mix supplemented with fresh veg and occasional wet meals. I started out feeding a basic Shunamite-style mix, then moved onto an entirely straights-based mix, and since 2012 I combine my own straights-based mix with parts rabbit/horse feed base (mostly Harrison's Banana Brunch and Dodson & Horrells Conditioning Mix), pigeon feed, micronized flakes, and seeds. They get their dry mix twice a day. The mix is scattered in the base among the 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. The ingredients are mainly from RatRations and Superpet Warehouse, supplemented with bits from local health food shops 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 during free-range, on the basis that the sooner health problems are noticed, the quicker they can be addressed. In an ideal world I would consistently weigh my rats monthly (to enable me to keep track of weight loss or gain, which could potentially indicate ill health, and make feeding adjustments as needed) but this does not always happen now that I keep larger numbers. I trim 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 used to be very interested in photography and love taking photos of my rats, however over the past couple of years I rarely get round to it, unfortunately. Hence why there are many more photos of earlier litters! My current camera phone is also not particularly good and it is quite frustrating when pics don't come out very well. When I use my DSLR I use a bounce flash which is nicer on their eyes than direct flash. When I take pictures of young kittens I 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 having a tasty treat in a carrier, or goes 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 (84x48x44cm). 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 10-12 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 - generally my mums are affectionate and calm, and keen to come to the front of the cage for a fuss and a treat. I let mum visit her cagemates for short periods, which tends to be greatly appreciated, and my mums are usually 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 3.5 weeks the little family moves to half an SRS or LZV cage with progressively challenging layout as their coordination and balance improve. As the rats now do not live inside the house, they don't get used to general household noises such as the hoover and hair dryer, but I try to bring them into the house a few times before homing. However, they get plenty of noise in terms of music, people talking (and I'm very prone to dropping things!). Mum and kittens get a higher-protein dry mix and high-protein wet meals plus frequent veg, daily 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. Sexes are split at 5 weeks with each group moving into half an SRS or LZV - depending on what I have free at the time - and mum may live with the baby girls for a few days and go back to her usual group at some point after this. Kittens generally go to their new homes at some point betwen 7-8 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

© 2011-19 Lovecraft Rats