Caring for Your Rat or Mouse

Rats and mice are sociable and inquisitive animals and make great pets. They are well suited to living in pairs or groups, but males living together will often fight, especially if not desexed. Generally we recommend keeping single sex groups unless you want to breed them. Here are some important tips on keeping your rat or mouse healthy.

Housing

Housing should be escape-proof and easily cleaned, and as these animals are prey species, it is important that they feel protected from predators and have places to hide (such as boxes or PVC pipes). Good ventilation is also important – for this reason, fish tanks are not recommended. Wire floor enclosures should be covered with newspaper or toweling to prevent foot injuries. When choosing a bedding material, avoid dusty materials such as sawdust or pine shavings. If using straw, ensure it is of good quality (such as Oxbow Eco-Straw) and changed regularly. Make sure you provide some toys, too! A variety of ropes, tunnels and other toys are available from pet shops, or make your own – toilet rolls are a favourite of many pets!

Feeding

Rats and mice are omnivores – this means they can eat plant and animal material. They can be prone to obesity and dental problems if not provided a balanced diet. We recommend feeding a good quality pelleted food – we recommend Vetafarm brand, as it provides a complete, balanced diet. This can be supplemented with good quality hay (often used for bedding also) and a tablespoon or less of fresh fruit and vegetables per day. Parsley, apples, strawberries, bananas, peas and squash are good choices. You can also purchase good quality treats from pet shops, but again, these should be fed in moderation to prevent obesity.

Fresh water should always be available, either in the form of a bowl or sipper bottle. Take care with new pets, as they may not recognize a new water container and will dehydrate quickly.

Breeding rats and mice

Pregnancy lasts 19-21 days in mice and 21-23 days in rats. Young are weaned at about 3 weeks of age in both species. Mice are able to breed from about 6 weeks of age, and rats from 4-5 weeks of age. However as they are still growing we recommend waiting until they are at least 9 weeks of age before breeding. Young are born nude and their eyes do not open until approximately 2 weeks old. Males should be separated from females before they give birth to prevent them mating again too soon after giving birth. It is also important not to disturb the female during the first few days after the birth, as this may cause aggression towards the young.

If you are not planning on breeding, and you have both males and females in the same enclosure, we recommend castration of the males.

Common health problems and things to look out for

Many problems with rats and mice are related to nutrition, digestive issues, dental problems or obesity. Contact your vet if you notice any of the following signs:

  • Wet or soiled tail
  • Blood in the urine
  • Sneezing, wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Overgrown front teeth or trouble eating
  • Bald patches in the fur
  • Lumps on the body
  • Sores on the feet
  • Anything else out of the ordinary for your pet

Rats and mice are prone to mammary tumours – these can become quite large, and in some cases may spread to internal organs, making your pet sick. It is important to contact your vet as soon as any lumps are detected.

Throat, nose and chest infections as well as allergies are common in rats and mice. Good ventilation can help reduce the incidence of respiratory disease.

Regular health checks with your veterinarian are important to pick up any problems early and to answer any questions you may have about your pet and its husbandry.

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