Pet Rats/BEDDING & PLAYTIME
QUESTION: Hi there,
I have two male rats who I just adore, they are like my children and I am always trying to give them the best life possible so i would really appreciate some advice from you :) I heard that saw dust is really bad for rats lungs so when I first got my rats I asked the man at the pet store what he recommended and he said corn cob bedding, so I have been using it ever since however recently I saved a baby mouse from being fed to a friend's snake and set up this sweet mouse in a nice little cage with saw dust for bedding and I couldnt help but notice how comfortable she looked and how uncomfortable the corn cob bedding looked for my rats :( Now I am so worried that this corn cob bedding is actually not the most comfy or safest bedding for my babies. Do you perhaps have any knowledge on this bedding and could you recommend the best bedding for them if this isnt good?
Onto my next question... I work really long hours and have two jobs and lately I am not spending as much time with my rats as I would like. I feel really terrible about it as I used to always make sure i gave them an hour out the cage at least, my hours have now extended so now I spend about 15 minutes max with them
out the cage, I try to carry them around while I do house work but can never carry both because they fight terribly for my attention, its just making me so sad that I cant spend much time with them as I used to. I greet them at their cage before I leave and greet them when I get back, I feed them twice a day and give them little treats often while I am home, if I dont have time to play with them I sometimes leave them to play together on my bed or couch while I shower or get ready. Is this not good? Should they be getting more time with me and how do I spend more time with them without them fighting? They fight terribly when I try and spend time with them both at the same time but hardly fight when I leave them on their own.
I would really really appreciate yor advice :)
ANSWER: You know, I have heard of rat owners using corn cob bedding, and although I don't believe it to be unsafe, I agree with you that it is not comfortable. What I think many people do is use corn cob bedding only in the litter pan and fill the rest of the lower level of the cage with something more comfy.
There are several safe as well as comfortable choices for bedding. A popular choice is Aspen shavings. Of the wood shavings, this is the best (never use cedar or pine as it can cause respiratory issues). I personally used Aspen for many years and it was fine (although not completely dust-free), but I wanted to try something else that was even less dusty. Carefresh is a popular choice and can be easily found at any pet store, but even this was a tad dusty. In my search for completely dust-free, I came across a new product by Kaytee. This bedding looks like shredded very thin paper. It is the most dust-free I'd run across to that point. Not long after, I tried something different again, which I am using to this day and very happy with it. I line the bottom level of the cage with fleece fabric cut to size and secure it tightly with these tiny clamps all around. The fleece is completely dust-free of course, but it is so soft and comfy for my rats. Then in the litter pan, I use the Kaytee product so my rats can differentiate between their home and their potty. The advantage of the fleece is that it can be bought inexpensively and then can be washed over and over and re-used, thereby saving money. The disadvantages are that fleece doesn't absorb odors well and rats will pee on it (mine only use their litter pan for poop), therefore, the fleece should be changed out more often than other beddings as soon as it starts to smell. The other disadvantage is that the rats don't have anything to dig in or build with. When I used to use Aspen only, my rats would build little hills with it and dig and snuggle in it.
Hope this gives you several good options to consider for your boys.
Regarding your busy life lately and reduced time you can spend with your boys, you've already made a good decision by getting 2 boys instead of just one. Although time with you and free-range time for excersise is important, their most important need has been met by giving them each other when you cannot give them time.
Now let me ask about your cage size. I am hoping that it is a fairly large cage with 2 or more levels and includes lots of hammocks, tunnels, toys, and things to chew on to keep them busy. Rats get bored easily so hopefully, you are rearranging their cage often to keep things interesting. If you can afford it, and your cage is not that large, invest in a really large cage, for example a Martins cage R-895 (what I use for my 2 girls) or larger. Critter Nation is also a popular choice and very spacious with several levels. You can search for these on the internet but they will run you over $100, however they are very well-built, safe and will last for ages, so well worth the investment if you intend to keep rats into the future.
Since you can't give as much free-play time as you used to, perhaps consider setting up a completely rat-safe large play area. Do you have a spare room that has nothing that you care about being chewed up? Probably not, but just asking. If you have a spare corner of a room, you can build a relatively inexpensive and safe play area. I've done this with cardboard but they will chew it up and eventually chew holes and escape. You need something that doesn't require your supervision. The best playpen I've seen was created by this one person who used large pieces of pegboard. You can purchase it at a Home Depot or hardware store and ask them to cut it to the sizes you need to create 4 walls. Then you can duct-tape the 4 pieces together. For the floor, some kind of plastic is good that can be easily wiped down, such as painters plastic, or cheap plastic tablecloth (or even fleece or towels, but be forewarned of chewing). If your boys are climbers or jumpers, you may want to also purchase something to create a roof over the playpen so they can't escape (i.e., chicken wire or clear plexiglass so you can peek in at them as you walk by). In the playpen, put in lots of junk and stuff they can run and climb on, like empty piles of shoe or other boxes, cheap towels or old clothes/socks to snuggle and dig in, tunnels, wood chews, whatever you can think of, and rotate things in and out to keep them from being bored. And don't forget a food bowl and water bowl and perhaps even a litter pan if your boys are good about that. Be prepared that the playpen will be a mess when you peek in after a while, but the boys won't care. Granted, this is not time with you, but it will give them the excersise and fun they need. Meanwhile just spend as much time as you can interacting with them, as you have been doing and try not to feel guilty, as you are giving them the best life possibly considering your new circumstances.
PS - Just on a side note, I always recommend to people who are serious rat owners and plan to keep rats in the future, to always get 3 or more rats (not the suggested 2). This is because you can never predict when you may suddenly lose one to illness, leaving you with one very lonely and possibly depressed rat. If you have 3 or more, then the remaining will have each other and you could always add 1 or 2 more at that time. This is a fact that has to be considered. Although it could be hard adding a 3rd boy to your group of two, it is something to be seriously considered.
I hope that I have addressed your concerns and please do let me know if I can help you with anything else.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
Thank you very much for your reply. I didn't realize but you have answered two of my questions before and I really appreciate it. You previously answered my question about them fighting and I have since taken your advice and seperate them when they fight, if the fight continues I put them back like you advised and its quite funny because they know this now and when they have been fighting and I pick them up they simply refuse to go back in their cage and cling to me, I then let play time resume and they then play with no fighting.
Thanks for the advise about the corn cob bedding, I have recently been putting paper towles down over it and sometimes old socks or I cut up old shirts but they end up smelling and so I always just throw it away the next day. My rats unfortunatley do not go to the toilet in their litter box, I tried to train them from when they were small but they tip the litter box over and dig up all their litter, when I tried putting their droppings in their box and back in the cage they would then tip it over and scatter their droppings,they are very good when they are not in their cage and never ever make any droppings however they do tend to sometimes mark their scent and pee on the furniture :( Is it to late to try and train them again? I am going to have a look for the bedding you have recommended but as I live in South Africa I am not sure if it is available here, there are not many products for rats as they are mainly sold as snake food here. Their cage was the largest cage I could find at the pet store and is two levels but it has enough space to add another level on, I have bird toys, hamster bathing sand in a large "bath" container for them, and an ice cream container that they sleep in. I plan to make a hammock for them this weekend as I am sure they will love that. I will defintely look into making a play area because I often find them running around the room as they often jump off the couch and have also been chewing all the cushions so I think a play area will be the answer to that problem, thank you very much for that idea!
Unfortunately I do not think I could get another rat as these boys of mine can be extremely vicious to each other sometimes, especially my one and I can just imagine how they would react to a newcomer, but because you mentioned if one had to fall sick, it reminded me that my one boy Tommy often has red stuff around his nose when he first wakes up, he has had this for awhile now but their breeder told me that it is fine if there is a little around his nose when he first wakes up, she said I must just monitor it? Is this correct or something I should worry about?
Many many thanks for all your help! :)
Now that you mention it, I DO remember helping you with your question about your boys fighting a little while back. See how smart they are? They know enough to behave if they want playtime to continue :) It's very cute. I don't recall if you have them neutered...if you don't, a neuter would reduce their aggression not only to each other, but they most likely would much more openly welcome newcomers. This may be something you can consider because you will someday be faced with losing one before the other, and you may have guilt about not being able to spend more time with your lonely boy. Ask your breeder what she thinks about the neutering and adopting 1 or 2 more.
Don't worry at all about the red around Tommy's nose. It's called porphyrin, which is often a sign of stress or illness. However, it's quite common for some rats have to show porphoryn discharge on their nose when first waking up, and because yours has it consistently after waking, it is completely normal and nothing to worry about. If you were to see it along with other symptoms like lethargy, poor appetite, weight loss and such, and also porphyrin discharge around the eyes, then that should raise a red flag that your rat is ill.
That's sad that it is hard to find rat products in South Africa, but you are lucky to have a breeder and not have to buy them from pet stores. Perhaps pet stores by you don't carry Carefresh or Kaytee beddings, but I can't imagine there is not something similar. Since reptiles seem to be popular there, you can purchase Aspen shavings in the snake section...it is the same thing. Can you try shopping on the internet for bedding instead? Also, the fleece lining I suggested earlier is a really good option and you should be able to cheaply buy fleece at fabric stores.
I am glad you like the playpen idea...try to make it as large of a space as you can fit in your home. One other thing you could do, which I do, is to place their cage right into the playpen, and when it's playtime, you open the cage door so they can run in and out, as their cage IS indeed their home and when they want to rest, they can take a nap at home, go get a snack, or go potty.
As far as potty training, I hate to tell you that it probably is too late. Most rats will potty train themselves, because naturally, they tend to like to poop in the same place every time (i.e., a specific corner of the cage). Then there are those rats who really don't care and seem to poop as they run anywhere and everywhere. Of all the rats I've ever had, all of them automatically started pooping in their litter pan at a very early age. Maybe they followed the example of their cagemates or it was just an instinct. However, I now have one little 3 month old girl rat who drops all over the cage, while her sister uses the litter pan. She even drops them in her wheel as she is running! Her raisins are everywhere and she obviously doesn't care. Anyway, perhaps instead of the lightweight litter plan you've been using which they tip over, you can use a heavy bowl or something they can't tip. Try the corncob just in this new litter pan and fleece or some other bedding everywhere else.
I think I addressed all your concerns, but feel free to write again if I can help you with anything else, or even just write to tell me how things are going with your boys.