Natural Rat Care

Question: Dear Dr. Moffat, I love your newsletter; it tells me so many important things. If you have any good advice on natural rat care and things about rats; I would love to see something about it in the newsletter. My rats are very dear to me. Thank you. Affectionately, Barbara P. from Pullman, WA.  

Answer: OK, I do promote that a cell is a cell is a cell, no matter what size or shape of animal or human it is in. I learned that in veterinary school from my favorite pathology teacher, Dr. Chuck Leathers. Rats are made up of cells and have the same components as humans or any other animals, so it would make sense that they would respond in similar ways even though some chemical pathways may be altered. So, here’s my take on preventative health care for rats: 

Rat stuff in general: Rats reach puberty at 6-8 weeks of age and start breeding at about 3 months of age. Gestation is about 20-22 days (just like most birds) and the babies are weaned in 21 days. They are best housed on solid bottom wood-floored cages in bedding (see below). After the male breeds with the female, the female is housed separately until after the babies have been weaned. You only need one male for several females.  

  • They need fresh water—preferably filtered and chorine free.
  • They need a variety of raw fruits, vegetables, dried fruits and nuts along with their rat kibble.
  • Purchase only high-quality rat diet (from a store that moves the rat diets fairly quickly so you can be sure that it is fresh.)
  • Store extra food in the freezer or in a dark, cool place so that it will stay fresh. Rats have enough of a problem with cancer anyway, they don’t need extra free-radicals in the form of rancid food!
  • Wire cages are better than glass aquarium set ups because they get the necessary air circulation and you can smell when the bedding needs to be cleaned. Now this is kind of a “thing” with me. If you can put your nose a couple of inches above the bedding and be overpowered with urine smell, imagine what the poor animal has to live with? When a train comes through your town and is derailed and a tanker of ammonia is released into the air, what do humans do? Call the Hazmat team and get the heck out! Rats, mice and other pocket pets can’t do that. So they live with all that ammonia which really does a LOT of damage to their mucous membranes. As a veterinarian, bloody noses was one of the top reasons why we saw pocket pets. The cause of pneumonia and bloody noses is due to Mycoplasma and Streptococcus, usually potentiated by the ammonia exposure. Death usually ensues due to secondary bacterial infections. So, change the bedding often. . . which brings me to my second pet peeve having to do with pocket pets.
  • Use PINE SHAVINGS instead of Cedar shavings! Yes, cedar smells better (hiding the fact that you should be changing the bedding more regularly) but the essential oils of cedar can cause cancers over time and can mess with the liver enzymes. I suspect this is true for humans as well as I’ve noticed a few people with cancers who spend lots of time in cedar-lined rooms that are not sealed or work in plywood factories. Also, the cedar shavings break down under the animal (dogs included) and the little slivers migrate into the skin causing mammary tumors (especially in rats and dogs).

Now for those of you who wonder why you would want to spend $75 (or much more in some veterinary practices) to remove a tumor on a rat, let me tell you that rat owners like Barbara are very common and would do anything to extend the life of their precious babies. (Rats live on the average of 2-3 years.) Make fun if you want, but this is serious business for some people.  

I’ve removed at least 20 tumors on rats in my career so far and it is very traumatic to the rat, expensive for the owners–we surgeons don’t come cheap. . .even for rats! We have to use a heavy gauge of stainless steel suture for the suturing as well, because the rat has a tendency to chew out his/her stitches.  

Most all the other causes of rat diseases are due to bacteria which include Pseudomonas, Bacillus, Corynebacterium, Salmonella and Pasteurella.  

To treat rats naturally, I focus on prevention and environmental manipulation including cleanliness, good food, proper bedding, a variety of things to eat (fresh and sulfite-free dried fruits and vegetables should be represented in all the colors of the rainbow), and then if necessary, support the immune system with fresh herbs (they like chewing on the stems of fresh herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) and homeopathics to kill those bacteria (Professional Complementary Health Formulations Bacterial Immune Stimulator drops cover just about all the above-mentioned bacteria.) My regular clients usually end up with a bottle of this and a bottle of their viral formula as stock for their First Aid cabinet anyway. They need only email or call me for a muscle test on how many drops to add to the water bottle. Pretty easy stuff to treat that way.