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Because searching ‘rat’ is too unlikely according to Facebook, I'm being presented search results for 'ray'.

Because searching ‘rat’ is too unlikely according to Facebook, I’m being presented search results for ‘ray’.

 

When Facebook autocorrects your search from ‘rat’ to ‘ray’ it can feel very lonely, having pet rats.

Of course, this is just one of their predictable algorithmically calculated assumptions – and it’s working badly at that because I have ‘rats‘, ‘pet rats‘ and ‘wild rats‘ as my interests.
But it shows how the majority of Facebook users tick: They misspell ‘Ray’ with ‘rat’.

Pity they never get to find out that rats make great pets. 😮

 

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

 

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Ever curious, ratties love going new places. Give them the confidence to feel comfortable in their new environment by packing plenty of their familiar things.

Besides being super lovable, rats are also super practical pets to keep.

For example, you can easily take them with you on holiday. Or you can easily bring them over to a friend or ratsitter. What ever you decide to do, here’s a quick list what to pack:

Travel Cage

You might need to disassemble the cage, in any case it is a good idea to keep the ratties in a small cage or box while travelling.

Don’t clean the cage

Wherever you go will be new and full of unknown smells, so it’s good to have a familiar home as a safety point. Don’t scrub your ratties’ cage clean just before travelling. Of course keep it clean, just ensure everything you pack has a comforting smell for the ratties.

Toys and Treats

To keep everything as homely as possible, remember to pack your ratties’ favourite blankies, maybe a t-shirt that smells of you, gnawing toys, treats and snacks.

Dry Food

Prepare a mix of your ratties’ favourite dry foods. Even though the environment changes, try keep most of their essentials the same.

Extra Water

Make sure there’s always enough water around, especially when travelling in hot weather or long distances.

Replacement Bedding

Instead of changing hammocks and cleaning houses, use bedding as an inlay and swap it regularly.

Old Newspapers

To catch any pee or poos that slip past the loo and dispose of them easily, put down sheets of newspaper and remove one by one from the top down.

Spare Litter

Ensure there’s enough litter to easily clean the rattie toilet. Like with cat litter the wet areas can be removed to keep the toilet clean. To avoid any bad smells, it helps to have plenty litter.

Blanket to cover the cage

Especially in winter rats are prone to respiratory diseases due to draft. A thick blanket covering the entire cage keeps them warm and snug.

 

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This rattie rascal managed to go into the furthest corner, climb the tallest shelf and sneak into the top box, just for a moment of peace and quiet away from the rest of the clan. 😉

 

Don’t underestimate the cleverness of rats. Having a pet rat can bring great joy to your life. But, like any curious and intelligent creatures, they can be mischievous and outwit you.

If you need convincing, quickly read: Why you need to ratproof your home. 😉

Don’t wait until one of your favourite tops / belts or expensive gadgets / ear phones are munched up by these munchkins. Making your home ratproof only means getting organised and keeping things neat, so take this as a motivation to get your life in order:

– Seal all potential holes

Ratties are explorers. If you let them free-roam, ensure they cannot possibly escape by checking for and sealing any openings in your home. Remember, if their head can fit through, the hole is big enough for the whole rattie to get through.

– Pack your things away

Get rid of all that clutter. Don’t bother putting it ‘out of reach’ – this concept doesn’t exist in rat world, rats can get anywhere they want, and that’s mostly because they’re so darn stubborn about it! I’ve witnessed rats walk up walls, jump up furniture and pull themselves up with just their upper body strength. They’re amazing acrobats and fun to watch in their adventures.

– Protect your plants

Rats burrow. If you don’t want your plants to be dug out or tunnelled under, place heavy – and I mean heavy – stones on top of your pot plants’ soil. I’ve caught pet rats work in teamwork to remove rocks from my large palm tree pot…

– Organise your cables

Rats love to chew cables, especially when electricity runs through them. I once saw a pet rat electrically charged after she bit through the stereo cable and caused the fuse to blow. She was fine and I suspect she liked it… that tingly feeling on their teeth… Wire your cables through a cable tube or wrap them in a cable zipper.

– Don’t leave food around

Rats are scavengers and will steal your food or anything edible. They won’t necessarily eat it though, but hoard it, and possibly somewhere unreachable. As rats are extremely picky with their food, chances are you end up with it going off somewhere unknown. Always feed your pet rats in their cage, so if they do steal food, they’ll bring it there.

– Clean up after yourself

Rats are not dirty: They groom themselves more often than cats and are naturally housetrained. It is us humans who leave dirt behind that attracts rats in the first place. Don’t blame rats for your bad habits. Clean up right away, so it’s out of the way.

– Prevention is always best

All these simple means are not only keeping your pet rats at bay, but also prevent wild rats from bothering you. Once you have a rat problem, it’s very difficult to get rid of them: Poison is not only inefficient and cruel, it is also likely to kill more wildlife than actual rats.

 

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Rat girl Mimi in the sock

Mimi in the sock – it makes her more comfortable and thus less snappy.

Rats don’t bite, I used to say. None of my ratties ever have, but I have witnessed pet rats that did bite. In general I’d be very consequent about this: Once the bite inhibition has broken, the pet becomes unpredictable and thus a potential danger.

To be bitten by a rat is not fun: their razor sharp incisors cut through anything like it’s butter. They can even grind through concrete, as their teeth never stop growing.

However, it is possible to teach your rat not to bite. Should biting occur you need to take immediate action:

Be prepared:

See the signs:

Observe:

Is the rat biting out of fear or out of anger? Was it a once-off event? Does the rat bite other rats, too or only humans? Was the rat trapped and could not run away? Was the attack provoked or out of the blue with no warning signs?

You need to understand why your rat is biting in order to determine the right approach to stop this behaviour.

Rats that bite out of fear are the easiest to improve, as all you need to do is to gain their trust. Some rats might not be aware that they are hurting you, then you need to train them bite inhibition. Sometimes it can be a territorial thing, where you have to establish you’re the boss. Or it can just be sheer craziness, where separation is the last resort.

Train your rat:

–       Trick them: Hold something that they can bite into

If you know your rat well, you can do this without gloves, as whatever you’re holding will be subject to the biting attack. Just like a lion tamer extends their arm with a whip, you can extend your finger with an object. Make sure it is sturdy enough to withhold rat bites. You can either hold something
– that rats don’t like: so they get repelled from biting you, or
– that rats do like: so they experience kindness which should stop their aggression.

–       Seduce them: The peanut method

Rats love food. This works with their favourite food, which can differ from rat to rat. Peanuts are a safe bet: Most rats can’t resist. While chewing the nut, stroking is allowed. The chewing speeds up a little, but it is as if rats always have to finish their treat first, before attending to defending themselves.

–       Surprise them: The sock method

Don’t try to grab a biting rat with your bare hands. Already a cloth can help protect you from their sharp teeth. If you need to pick up a biting rat, a sock can help: With your hand in the sock, grab the rat, then pull the sock over the rat so it sits inside it. While in the sock, carrying around is allowed. It is as if the sock guarantees enough security for the rat not having to bite.

–       Teach them: Some rats might not know their strength

Rats naturally have bite inhibition. As pups they learn to measure the strength of their jaws. If they nip you a bit too hard during play fight or grooming, tell them this hurts with a loud and high-pitched eek! This is rattie language for ouch!

–       Dominate them: Show the rat who is boss

Rats have a clear hierarchy in their clan. Ensure they always regard you as their boss. If they disobey or challenge you, punish them: Throw them on their back into the subordinate position and hold them steadily until they stop fighting back. If you want to lighten up the fight at the end, you can tickle or groom your rat, as this is the winner’s reward.

In case you do get bitten:

Read this first aid tip: how to best attend to a rat bite.

 

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Rattie girl Mimi gets ready to defend herself.

Rattie girl Mimi getting into fighting stance.

Rats fight with each other for play, for food and for rank.

They would not normally fight humans. But if they feel cornered, they will face you with vigour. When there is no possibility to flee, a rat will fight back. If you come too close into their personal space, rats can attack.

Rats wrestle and bite. They shove with their front paws and dart forward to snap. They fight a bit like kangaroos: They stand up on their hind legs and box with their forepaws.

However, with rats it rarely comes to a full on fight, as the build up to it often consists of a frenzied staring contest: When rats fight each other they often end up in a standoff and it looks like they’re battling it out mentally.

Usually one gives in and peace is restored. Which is enforced by rigorous grooming that makes you wonder who is the winner actually.

Read why rats should not hurt you in the first place: Rats naturally have bite inhibition.

Learn how to stop your rat from biting: How to train your rat not to bite.

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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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