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Pet Rats/Sudden death


QUESTION: My son and i have had a have had a female rat, lilly, she is about 6 months old. Recenly, she was running loose around the house (as she does every day for several house) she climbed on my bed and ran up my to my shoulder and nobbled my ear. She crawled tbrough my blankets then stood up on her hinf legs and fell over. Then she tried to climb up my arm again and fell of she flopped a few times then fell against my leg. She breathed erratically for about 10 minutes and tried to move a few times as we held her. Then she died. My question is what did we do wrong. We did not use cedar chips in her cage. She had plenty of water we did not change er food. The only people food she had was frozen peas and an occasional grape. The only change we saw in her was that she peed on us more frequently the last few days. I would lime to know if we did something wrong if we ever get another one. We are grievi.g right now and cant imagine getting another one. Hopefully you have some awsners for us.

ANSWER: I'm so sorry about you losing your baby girl so suddenly.  I know what a huge shock that must have been.  

Did you buy Lilly at a pet store or adopt from a rescue or a breeder?  If breeder, was it a reputable one that has bred rats for several years with emphasis on breeding out health issues, which a reputable breeder will focus on.  Most people do buy rats at pet stores as breeders are not available nearby enough to everyone, so I will answer your question with the assumption that you obtained her at a pet store.  Bear in mind that pet stores get their rats from rat farms/mills, which breed rats for the purpose of snake food, which means they pay no attention to breeding out health issues.  The unfortunate truth is that pet stores will usually pick out the "prettier" rats and sell them as pets, and the rest as snake food.  This is not to say that pet store rats do not make great pets...they usually do, but you just don't know their genetic lines or whether or not their ancestors had health issues in their genes.

Now to answer your question.  First and most importantly, please do NOT blame yourself for Lilly's passing.  From what you are telling me, you did the right things and provided a healthy and caring home for her.  As far as human food, you could have been giving a wide variety of fresh healthy foods, but that is another topic which if you are interested, you can write to me at another time regarding diet.  

There are any number of reasons Lilly passed so suddenly, but from your description, it sounds like a heart attack.  Rats are prone to many of the diseases humans are, including heart disease, kidney disease, respiratory infections, pneumonia, diabetes, cancer, to name a few.  It is quite possible she could have had cardiovascular problems that didn't show themselves in her day to day life (just as in humans).  It is not uncommon that she continued to act "normal" until she died.  Rats are both predators and prey in the wild, so their nature as prey tells them to mask their illnesses very well to survive.  So they will often continue to eat and play despite illness, until it's often too late.  

Yes, she was indeed very young to die suddenly.  A pet rat's lifespan is an average of 2 years, although they can live well beyond that with proper care and good genetics.  

As you know, rats make incredibly wonderful loving pets so by all means, consider rats in your life again.  The advice I have for you is to seek out a local breeder if possible.  The internet is a good way to start.  Where do you live?  Perhaps I can help.  If no breeders are within reasonable distance (and I know people that drive for 2+ hours to good breeders), do seek out rescues or go to your pet store.  Pet store rats can and do often live much longer than yours did.  Also, ideally you should keep 3 rats at one time, if your time allows this, because rats are very social and thrive on the companionship of another of their own to snuggle and play with when you are not around, and even if you are.  This will not take away in their bonding with humans in the least.  Three is a good number.  Most people get 2 rats, but then when one passes, they are often left with one very depressed rat.

Again, you should commend yourself for giving Lilly the best and happiest life you possibly could and remember your little baby with fondness.  Good luck and please let me know if I can help you with anything else.

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QUESTION: Thank you for answering back so quickly, it does make me feel a little better to know that we didnt kill her though neglect or ignorance. In answer to your question, yes we got her from our local pet store. It is a small pet store and has been owned/run by the same family for many years. She keeps the rats she uses for breeding seperate from those for sale; but are on display for any who wish to see them. We have purchased from her before and have not had any issues. She seems to be forthcoming with any problems. Though I dont know if she is nowledgeable on how to breed out health issues; but she says the rats she keeps for breeding live longer than two years. Also the rats for pets and the rats and mice for snack food are kept seperate and come from different breeders. We live in Oroville Ca. Which is a few hours north of Sacramento, If there are any breeders near here i would condsidered buying from them. I would like to get more as I already miss having her run around the house; but i have to wait till my son is ready. Any advise on a proper diet would be greatly appreciated also, so that i can have things ready.

I have a wonderful rat breeder for you!  They are Bleu Royale Rattery located in Sacramento.  I know that is a little bit of a drive for you but not too bad and would be well worth it.  This is the only current active breeder that I know of in your area.  There may be others that I am not aware of, but probably not well-established either.  Bleu Royale has been breeding  for years and is reputable and well-established.  Their website is:

Healthy diet is very important for longevity. Adult rats require a very low fat/low protein diet (babies need a higher fat and protein content for the first 4 to 6 months). Their diet should be high in grains.  There are basically two schools of thought on providing a rat diet.  The first is that rats should have a constant supply of lab blocks in their cage at all times.  Harlan Teklad are one high quality lab block engineered by scientists that provide proportionately everything a rat would need in their diet. Rat owners who feed lab blocks as primary diet do not mix the lab blocks with any other dry mixes together with the lab blocks, because what happens is the rats will pick out the "good stuff" and not eat the lab blocks (they are very bland). Those who feed lab blocks do supplement their rats' diet with fresh fruits and veggies every day. (Note that there are different lab blocks for babies versus adult can discuss this with your breeder).

The other school of thought is use a dry mix of foods INSTEAD of lab blocks. In addition to the dry mix (which must be provided in their cage at all times, because rats have a high metabolism and graze frequently), fresh fruits and veggies should be provided daily.

I will not advocate one method over the other because both are healthy options, however, my own opinion is this: considering the short life our rats live, a daily diet of lab blocks is tremendously boring and bland. Rats have taste buds similar to humans and enjoy a variety. If you choose to go the latter option and use a rat mix rather than lab blocks, please DO NOT EVER buy a pet-store rat mix. They are amazingly unhealthy as they are too high in seeds and corn and are high in fat.

I make my own dry rat mix and have been doing so for years.  It is very easy and quick to make and much less expensive than pet store bagged mixes. I buy most of the ingredients in bulk from farmer's market type stores such as Henrys or Sprouts. I mix a whole bunch of it in a very large airtight container, and refill their bowls from there. This large container can last me for several months before I have to mix up a new batch, so as you can see, very easy. Here is the recipe (I mix equal amounts of all ingredients, except for the last few, where I state specifically):

- Plain Cheerios cereal
- Total cereal
- Rice Crispies cereal
- Corn Flakes cereal
- Uncooked whole grain rotini pasta
- Uncooked 3-color vegetable rotini pasta (I use Ronzoni's)
- Millet
- Organic rolled oats
- Organic barley flakes
- Dried peas (about 1/2 the amount of the above grains)
- other dried fruits and veggies such as strawberries, blueberries, tomatos, banana, mango, etc. (about 1/4 the amount of the above grains)
- Plain unsalted shelled sunflower seeds (small sprinkling)
- Plain unsalted shelled pumpkin seeds (small sprinkling)
- Plain pine nuts (small sprinkling)

This dry mix is always in my ratties bowls 24x7 so they can graze. Rats will only eat what they need and generally don't overeat. In addition to this mix, I provide a variety of fresh foods a few times each day (you can do a breakfast and a dinner if you like). I never feed meat or seafood (except to babies). The following are my ratties favorite fresh foods: grapes, bananas, blueberries, canteloupe, apples, peas, green leafy lettuce, broccoli, and many other fruits and veggies. I also give portions from my own family meals but only if they are healthy (prior to adding salts, seasonings, oil, butter, etc), which include: rice, potatos, egg whites, pasta, bread... Once every couple of weeks when I cook a whole chicken, I give each of my rats a nice big leg or thigh bone (after I remove all the fat). They adore chomping on this special treat and by the next day, I find the bones almost disintegerated in their cage. I imagine the extra calcium can't hurt either :)

I hope that you will contact Bleu Royale rattery for your next rat and do consider getting more than one if you can.  If there is anything else I can answer, please don't hesitate to write to me again.

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Irene Murphy


I can answer a variety of questions regarding adoption and care of pet rats throughout their lifetimes, including questions about their health and well being, temperment, diet, bedding, cages, toys, etc. I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability in a timely manner and I have an abundant amount of resources to help me to help you with your pet rats. I love rattie pictures, so include pics with your question if you can. You may ask me medical questions, but please be advised that I am not a vet. I may use my resources to answer some medical questions, however, I will need to refer you to your local vet with medical questions that I feel I am not qualified to address.


I have been a huge rat enthusiast for many years. Since becoming a rat owner, I have educated myself in all areas of pet rats from every resource I could find including the internet, books, conversations with local exotic vets, as well as several local rat breeders.

I have a college degree but not in the area of animals. I have obtained my extensive experience and knowlege of pet rats all on my own because in my eyes, pet rats are the most interesting and fascinating creatures you can ever imagine to have as pets. I also am saddened by how mislabeled and misunderstood these amazing and extremely smart animals are by the majority, and my mission in life has become to educate and change as many people's perceptions of rats as I possibly can.

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