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Rats make great pets.

 

But people have the weirdest prejudices against them, reinforced by hype creating click-bait media.

One stereotype against rats is that they are messy.

 

I’ve lived for over 20 years with pet rats, and find them really well organised.

From diligently even at an old age going to the toilet to tackling obstacles in team work, I’ve seen it all.

 

Still, at a first glance rats can look messy to the untrained eye.

But there’s always a deeper purpose behind the action of a rat.

 

Here for example we have the rattie food bowl – note the handmade touch – which is covered in newspaper strips.

Pretty neat: The ratties covered up their food for safekeeping.

Pretty neat: The ratties covered up their food for safekeeping.

 

There’s a good reason for it: Beneath it the rattie food is protected, against dust and dirt, against flies and bugs, against unwanted preying eyes, or who knows what – it’s a rats! world.

Because there’s nothing else they can use, they tear apart newspaper, bring it up to the bowl and place it carefully over the food, to cover it all.

 

In rattie world this is a neatly done job.

 

I think it says a lot about rats, that they care enough about the state of their food that they make a point to cover it up for the day for safe- and freshkeeping.

So no, rats are not messy. They just make do with what they’ve got.

 

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Tipsy is in good spirits, despite having lost her tail.

Tipsy is in good spirits, despite having lost her tail.

 

In the 20 odd years that I have owned pet rats, I have witnessed several times that a rat can lose their tail.

So be warned that this can happen to your rattie.

 

Rats are quick and nimble, but their tail can get easily caught.

Rats are tough little fellows, but don’t overestimate their tail: It can break!

 

Do not grab your rat by their tail: I’ve seen the skin rip off like in Robbie William’s “Rock DJ”.

 

Luckily rats are great healers and will take good care of any injuries.

But a rat’s tail is really important, for balance, and furthermore for heat release.

 

Always remember that rats are actually quite fragile little creatures.

 

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Peaches is so adorably cute. :)

Peaches is so adorably cute. 🙂

 

I’m happily #RattieSitting and decide to give a round of treats, which also gives me an opportunity to check up on everyone.

 

During the day pet rats sleep most of the time, so they’re all hidden away in their nests.

 

A #RattieTreat is a welcomed addition to a lazy sunny afternoon.

 

I portion the treats and place them in each cage. The ratties smell the new food right away, but some of them only slowly wake up, yawning and stretching their arms.

 

As one by one comes out to take their share, I watch and count: Peaches, where’s Peaches?

 

I look in every box, nest and hammock, which is now possible as they’re all empty. I can’t see Peaches. I look again.

 

A slight panic is starting to creep up as my mind races: When did I last see Peaches? When did I last open the cage? And: Hang on, wouldn’t she be close by anyhow?

 

So I call her: “Peaches!”

 

Behind me, inside the cage, a box rattles that I had forgotten about, it’s a flat cereal box, tucked away right beneath the hammock.

 

Out comes Peaches.

 

🙂

 

 

Follow Rats Make Great Pets on Facebook and on Google+. 🙂

 

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Pet rat Rosie decides the quickest way is straight up the wall. ;-)

Pet rat Rosie decides the quickest way is straight up the wall. 😉

 

Pet rats are clever little munchkins and stubborn, too: There’s hardly a place they can’t get to, especially if they’ve set their mind to it.

A lot of my pet rats particularly like climbing up and sitting on top of the highest piece of furniture. The way to get there varies and can include all sorts of interesting stunts.

One option to get up is simply running up the wall, and as most furniture sits slightly away from the wall, the space in between makes this feat quite possible for rats.

 

One of the most enjoyable pastimes with pet rats is simply watching them:

Their acrobatic skills are impressive, their clever tricks to overcome hurdles inspirational, and their sheer will and determination are humbling.

Rats make great pets! 🙂

 

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It’s important to cover the wire mesh floors in the rattie cage with a solid surface to keep your pet rat’s feet healthy.

So how about bringing some freshness into the cage and providing a change of scenery?

#RattieTip: Cabbage leaves make for a great surface in rattie cages, and it's ok if the rascals nibble on it. :)

#RattieTip: Cabbage leaves make for a great surface in rattie cages, and it’s ok if the rascals nibble on it. 🙂

Cabbage leaves are fun to use: They work well as a surface and can also be nibbled on.

Just make sure you replace them regularly, before they start smelling like, well, cabbage. 🙂

 

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Wild rattie girl Mimi looks a bit dubious about this whole pet rat thing.

Wild rattie girl Mimi looks a bit dubious about this whole pet rat thing.

Today I couldn’t resist: I had to touch her.

What was supposed to be a gentle touch turned more into a poke, but she didn’t flinch or move. She just sits still like a statue.

As I moved on to stroke her back, she let it go until all of a sudden she turned, lifted her head and nipped me. It was not a bite, just a very well measured squeeze. It didn’t hurt, but it gave a good idea of the power behind it: Rats teeth are so sharp, they can grind through flesh in a flash.

Instead she chose to tell me when enough is enough. I just hadn’t regarded the warning signs.

A rat bite should not draw blood. They have such sensitive incisors they can feel when their teeth split skin and should stop beforehand.

Rats learn how to control their jaws as babies:
Bite inhibition is typically learned as part of juvenile play behaviors, when the animal is still in the company of its mother and siblings: by biting each other during play, the young animals learn that biting a companion too strongly leads to the abrupt termination of play activities.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bite_inhibition)
In case of rats, this is accompanied by a high pitched eek! of pain.

My experience is that the rat bite intensity increases according to the amount of times you disregard the warning signs.

But in general, pet rats should not bite. If they do, it can be an accident as in mistaking your finger for food or during play when it gets a bit rough or because of a slip of their teeth while grooming you.

You should then experience a rat’s natural bite inhibition as described on JoinRats
(http://www.joinrats.com/EarningTrust/RatsUsingTeeth/15630450_hH8bsw):
Chomp-stop-checks: This is my term for when the rat accidentally begins to bite human skin for some reason, and then suddenly, in mid-chomp, realizes that she was mistaken and didn’t mean to bite, and is able to stop in mid-Chomp. The “Stop” seems to be instinctual, as if she stops before she even has time to think about why, and then afterward Checks out the situation. This amazing skill shows just how much micro-level control pet rats have over their teeth pressure. Chomp-Stop-Checks can also be described as accidental teeth activity, “Oops, sorry, I didn’t realize it was you.” “Hey, I thought you were a green bean. Sorry! And by the way, could I have a green bean now?”

If you do encounter a rat that is biting, you can try to train them bite inhibition. But if that doesn’t take effect, such biting behaviour renders the rat unmanageable. Separation might then be the only option.

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My pet rat Tiga sleeps in my hand.

My rattie girl Tiga is sleeping in my hand.

Any wild animal you come in touch with has the potential to pass on an illness. Rats are commonly perceived as carriers of diseases. However, it is very unlikely to catch an illness from a rat.

An animal disease that can be transmitted to humans is called a zoonotic disease.

No matter if you handle pet rats or wild rats, their ability to carry infectious bacteria is the same. It is just far less likely for a pet rat to come in contact with such diseases. The best way to avoid getting sick is to keep pet rats healthy and clean.

Some zoonotic diseases that can occur in rats and their effect on people:

The Plague

For centuries rats have been blamed for spreading the Black Death, helping to consign millions of people to an agonising death.

But, according to one archaeologist, the rodents are innocent. Instead, the blame for passing on the disease that wiped out a third of the population of Europe could lie with the victims themselves.

The Black Death is widely thought to have been an outbreak of bubonic plague caused by bacteria carried by fleas that lived on black rats. The rodents spread the plague from China to Europe and it hit Britain in 1348.

However, according to historian Barney Sloane, the disease spread so quickly that the rats could not be to blame.

Dr Sloane said the increased spread of Black Death over the winter of 1348 coincided with a seasonal decrease in the number of both rats and fleas, which are susceptible to cold.

He also pointed out that rats are also killed by bubonic plague, but said there were no large deposits of rat bones from the 14th century.

The epidemic, which is reckoned to have claimed 75million lives worldwide, spread from person to person in crowded medieval cities, Dr Sloane said.

(http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2027347/Black-Death-backtrack-Dont-blame-rats-plague-spread-PEOPLE.html#ixzz2efJ50ztK)

Weil’s Disease (Leptospirosis)

Weil’s disease is a secondary phase of a form of a bacterial infection also known as Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis can infect almost any animal where it is harboured in the kidneys, but most commonly it is found in rats and cattle, and is spread by their urine. It is not known to cause any noticeable illness in rats, so populations are unaffected by high levels of infection. It is one of the most widespread zoonosis (disease spread from animals to humans) in the world, where it is most common in tropical and subtropical environments. Those who participate in water sports, come into contact with untreated water, and work in or near water are at a higher risk than others as it is most commonly passed to humans through water contaminated by rat urine.

Statistics

According to the Health Protection Agency there are usually less than 40 cases of leptospirosis throughout England and Wales per year reported in humans. In 2006 there were 44 laboratory confirmed cases of leptospirosis in England and Wales. It is more common in countries where the climate is more tropical or subtropical, reported cases for 2005 in Australia were 141, and France, 212. This is worth being aware of if illness occurs after travel.

(http://www.rospa.com/leisuresafety/adviceandinformation/watersafety/weils-disease.aspx)

It was a hoax email claiming that a woman died after catching Leptospirosis from dried rat urine on the lid of a soda can that brought attention to this illness.

The Leptospirosis Information Center dismisses this emailed warning as fake.

Exposure to urine from infected rats and other animals can indeed cause humans to contract leptospirosis. However, the chances of someone becoming infected in the manner described in this email are extremely slim.

(http://www.hoax-slayer.com/leptospirosis-soda-can.html)

Rat-bite fever

Rat-bite fever (RBF) is a rare disease spread by infected rodents. It can be caused by two different bacteria, Streptobacillus moniliformis or Spirillum minus, both of which are found in the mouths of rodents. The source of the infection is usually a rat. Other animals that may cause infection include squirrels, weasels, and gerbils.

(http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001348.htm)

Rat-bite fever (RBF) is an infectious disease that can be caused by two different bacteria. Streptobacillary RBF is caused by Streptobacillus moniliformis in North America while spirillary RBF or sodoku is caused bySpirillum minus and occurs mostly in Asia. People usually get the disease from infected rodents or consumption of contaminated food or water. When the latter occurs, the disease is often known as Haverhill fever.

(http://www.cdc.gov/rat-bite-fever/index.html)

Should you get bitten by a rat, here is a First Aid guide: http://firstaid.about.com/od/bitesstings/ht/07_Rat_Bites.htm

Salmonella

Salmonellosis is a diseased condition that is brought about by infection with the Salmonella bacterium. Salmonellosis is very rare in pet rats and infection is usually found to have been spread via ingestion of food and water contaminated with infected feces, urine, and bedding material.

Infected rats can be potential sources for spread of this infection to humans as well, classifying this as an infection with zoonotic potential. Therefore, this condition should be managed with caution. Treatment is often not effective for the control of salmonellosis, so taking steps to prevent the spread of this infection is the best way to manage this condition in rats.

(http://www.petmd.com/exotic/conditions/digestive/c_ex_rt_salmonella)

Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis

Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) is a disease caused by the Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis virus (LCMV).  The virus may be found in about 5% of wild mice throughout the United States.  The virus can also infect pet rodents (such as mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs).

Urine, feces, saliva, or blood of an infected house mouse (Mus musculus) or pet rodent may contain LCMV.  People may become infected with LCMV by contact (through a mucus membrane or break in the skin) with fresh urine, droppings, saliva, or nesting materials from infected rodents.

LCM is very rare in humans in the United States. People who have unprotected contact with rodents or their waste/bedding (e.g., owners of pet rodents, laboratory workers who handle infected animals) are at higher risk of infection.

(http://www.vdh.state.va.us/epidemiology/factsheets/Lymphocytic_Choriomeningitis.htm)

Dwarf Tapeworm

A tapeworm infection caused by Hymenolepsis diminuta is relatively common in rodents but can rarely cause infection in humans. Insects such as fleas and beetles are intermediate hosts and transmission to humans can result from accidentally swallowing infected arthropods. Symptoms tend to only occur in children or in patients with a relatively heavy infestation.

(http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/h/hymenolepsis_diminuta_infection/intro.htm)

It is the most common tapeworm infection diagnosed in the United States and throughout the world. The disease may be asymptomatic or may result in abdominal complaints and diarrhea. An infection may be treated with niclosamide or paromomycin.

(http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/dwarf+tapeworm+infection)

Cryptosporidiosis (Crypto)

Cryptosporidiosis is a diarrheal disease caused by microscopic parasites, Cryptosporidium, that can live in the intestine of humans and animals and is passed in the stool of an infected person or animal. Both the disease and the parasite are commonly known as “Crypto.” During the past 2 decades, Crypto has become recognized as one of the most common causes of waterborne disease (recreational water and drinking water) in humans in the United States. Most people who have healthy immune systems will recover without treatment. Diarrhea can be managed by drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

(http://www.medicinenet.com/cryptosporidiosis/article.htm)

Rabies

Rabies, also known as hydrophobia, is one of the most terrifying fatal diseases. Death by rabies is physically and psychologically excruciating for the victim. Although any mammal can contract rabies, the disease is extremely rare in small rodents like rats. It is virtually unheard of in pet rats.

(http://animals.pawnation.com/pet-rats-rabies-1337.html)

 

For more information please see:

Diseases directly transmitted by rodents http://www.cdc.gov/rodents/diseases/direct.html

A list of zoonotic diseases that rodents can carry:
http://askville.amazon.com/domesticated-rats-give-humans-diseases/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=832856

Common Diseases of Rats: http://www.vitalpethealth.co.uk/small-animals/small-animal-articles/70-rats/149-common-diseases-of-rats

Rat Illnesses: http://www.80stoysale.com/ratsickness.html

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