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Pet Rats/who's the baby-daddy?


I have a stunningly beautiful black female rat, whom I call 'Mother', because not long after we got "him" and his brother, "he" started putting on a little weight. Poor little mother was only about eight weeks when "he" was discovered to be not only a "she", but quite possibly a pregnant She. About two days later I went to check on her, only to find twelve squirming little maggotty-like babies!  The following five weeks were both terrifying and exciting. Clearly the breeder who sold those rats was not terribly good at her job. Rather than get upset, I had to decide rather quickly what we were going to do with these little hairy people, as I call them.

I set up separate 'nursery' in another large container, and helped mother to raise her babies. When they were six weeks or so I took them in to my local pet shop, who were delighted to have them. They all sold very quickly, except the one female we kept to keep Mother company. I'm sad to say that we had a rather tragic incident one day, whereby one of my dogs managed to gain access to the cage where Mother and her daughter lived. Mother got away, daughter not so lucky. It was absolutely devastating. I felt terribly guilty for what happened, and have since ensured the dogs have absolutely no way of getting near the rats cages.

Anyway.. to cut a long story shorter, by now we had three male rats, as my daughter's two came to live with us when she did. But mother remained alone in her cage. She seemed different. Depressed and lacking in zest. I am convinced that she has been grieving. For a while now I have felt that it would be a kindness to let her have another litter, so that she can keep one of the girls as a means of recovering from her grief over the daughter.

Recently she came onto heat, and I allowed her to mate with her favourite male, a handsome guy named Raticus. Unfortunately she didn't stop with him, she also had her way with the other two guys as well. My intention was to let her and Raticus have ample time together, but instead the three of them took turns. I know that sounds terrible, but I felt if I left it up to them they would work it out.  If there was any arguing and fighting I would separate them, however I didn't need to.

My question is this:

Since Raticus was first to mate with her, will he be the father of a resulting litter?

Is she likely to be pregnant from just one exposure (of multiple acts of copulating) or would there need to have been more time spent with the male in order for a pregnancy to occur..?

Also.. Am I right to think that having another baby will help her out of her depression and loneliness?

I mean to do right by these little guys, and I'm constantly learning.. so please don't be too hard on me if I've made a mistake in doing this.  

One other thing.. Mother has never really grown to typical adult size.. she is not as big as the males = although perhaps the females are smaller in general, I don't know. If I ensure adequate nutrition through her pregnancy and after, will she remain in good health?  I hope that this decision has not comprimised her health.. it was meant to make her happier, but I hope it hasn't caused her any health problems.

I would appreciate your advice.

Thanks in advice for your kind help and time with my matter.

Oh.. One more question.. The pet shop I took the first litter too take great care of their animals.. however I am aware that some people will buy live rats to feed their snakes, and I am worried  about this. Is there any way I can ensure my rats find worthy homes where they will be well cared for and not end up as food for reptiles? I couldn't stand the thought of that! I wouldn't forgive myself if that were to happen to them, when I'd brought about their lives in the first instance!

Rachel. :-=)

Hi Rachel. Lots of questions so I'll comment on each one as best as I can.

First, I am terribly sad to hear about the tragic incident about your dog and the baby rat.  I'm so sorry you had to experience this, and so sad that Mother lost her baby and companion.

The behavior you were seeing in Mother that you felt was grieving is correct.  Most rats will fall into depression when losing their companion, especially if it was their only companion, and in addition, this was her baby.  Some rats will bounce back but others will fall into a greater depression which may cause illness.  You are right in wanting her to have a companion again.  Allowing her to have another litter is one way, and certainly having babies will help her out of her depression.  However, have you considered just adopting one or two females for her instead?  That seems to be a better option as you would not have to worry about "giving away" the remaining babies as you did before.

However, you already had her copulate with the males so it may be too late, as she may be pregnant already.  The gestation period for rats is only about 23 days.  You may not see signs of pregnancy right away but perhaps in a week or 2, you may notice her nipples protruding and being more noticeable.  She will also gradually appear rounder in her lower body.  Also, a few days before giving birth, she will start "nesting" so make sure you give her lots of bedding, pieces of fabric (old clothes, fleece, etc) and paper towels she can tear up and make into a nest.

As for your question about whether the male that copulated with her first will be the father...the answer is, as in humans, there is no way to know.  Unlike humans, since rats have many babies in a litter, it's likely that different eggs were fertilized by different males' sperm.  So you may end up with a very "colorful" litter of different looking babies (assuming your 3 males are different from each other).

It is a fact that females are far smaller than males in general.  Allowing her to have a litter so soon after the first one is not desirable (by good breeder's standards), but it should not compromise her health.  Just make sure future pregnancies don't occur.  Good breeders generally "retire" a female from breeding after 3 or 4 litters and generally space out the pregnancies.  

You didn't mention the type of diet you are feeding.  I would be happy to recommend a healthy diet for you if you write back and ask me.  However, while she is pregnant and afterwards while nursing (until the babies are weaned at about 3 to 4 weeks old), she should be getting plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and extra protein.  Rats should not be fed high protein in general but it's necessary during pregnancy and lactation as the babies need it.  The best sources of protein you can give her are:  beef liver (cooked), oysters (cooked), and eggs (scrambled or boiled).  You can also offer white chicken meat, plain tuna and other proteins not high in fat.  A small serving of protein once a day should suffice.

If Mother does in fact have a litter, I would recommend the following:  Keep TWO or more females babies for her, and try to select the largest and healthiest looking ones.  The reason you want to always keep a group of rats of 3 or more together is if one dies suddenly, the remaining rat will not be left alone.  Also, I would strongly suggest NOT giving the babies to the pet shop no matter how well they care for their pets.  Better alternatives are putting them up for adoption (I can help with that through the Facebook rat groups I belong to which have thousands of members).  The other options are finding a local rat rescue who will take them in (they will do their best to adopt them out), or a breeder who is willing to take them in and adopt them out for you.

The price that your pet shop sold your babies for last time is key in knowing whether they were sold to homes or reptile owners.  Call them and ask the price they sold each baby for.  Hopefully, the price was at least $20 per baby.  Reptile owners won't pay that much for a feeder...they pay $5 or less.  So calling the pet shop and finding that out will put your mind at ease that the babies went to homes.  

Regardless of whether you find out that the pet store sold your babies for $20+ to homes, I would STILL not use that as your first option for this new litter, for this reason:  Pet shops do not care who buys their rats.  They do not "screen" the buyer to make sure this is a good home.  They will also not make sure the buyer will buy the rats in pairs.  As you may know, rats are social beings that NEED companionship and it would be sad to see a rat sold and have to live alone.  On the other hand, a good rescue and good breeder will screen the potential adopters AND make sure that rats are always adopted in pairs or more, or go to a family that already has rats to ensure they are not alone.  If you don't know of rescues or breeders near you, I can help you find some in your area if you reply and provide me with the city that you live in.

If you do write back and would like my help with any of the above, I'd love to see a picture of your lovely Mother rat :)  

I hope that this information was helpful and hope to hear from you about what you decide to do.

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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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