Pet watch.



If you are thinking of getting a small pet, such as a rat, you have to prepare thoroughly. The first thing to consider is if you are suited to your chosen pet and vice versa. Also you need to think carefully about the pet's needs such as housing, feeding and watering, handling and care.

IS A RAT THE RIGHT PET FOR YOU?

Rats are lively and intelligent and make very interesting pets. They are easy to look after but they must have the correct housing which must be cleaned regularly. Ideally, rats should have the company of other rats. Adult males may fight, single sex siblings can live together especially if they are kept together from weaning. The larger the cage the better, as overcrowding can lead to fighting. However, providing you have enough time to spare, a rat can be kept alone as long as you give it plenty of attention. PDSA estimates that rats kept in groups need a minimum of half an hour's attention each day. A solitary rat would need longer.

Males and females should only be put together for breeding but several rats of the same sex can be kept together. Rats become sexually mature between eight and 10 weeks of age and produce litters of six to 16.

Rats can be kept indoors, in cages with good ventilation but should be housed away from damp and draughts. Bright lights can also damage a rat's eyes, especially if it is an albino (all white).

Ensure the cage is secure against predators, such as the household cat and don't keep rats in a garage with the car, as the exhaust fumes are poisonous.

A rat's cage can be made of wire, but this can have several disadvantages. Wire cages have good ventilation but rats can get their legs caught in the mesh and damage legs and toes. The wire should be fine enough to prevent escapes by youngsters but strong enough to resist chewing from adults. One wire per 1.5 centimetres is about right. If the cage is made from galvanised steel, the rat may develop zinc poisoning if it chews the bars. Rats also love to gnaw wooden cages, so these cages should only be made from untreated wood. Glass or plastic aquariums are the most popular cages.

The minimum cage space for one rat should be 45cm long x 30cm wide x 25cm high. Rats need plenty of space for exercising and enjoy climbing and chewing so add some suitable twigs, platforms and tubing to the cage. The floor should be covered to a depth of 1cm with a covering such as pine or softwood shavings, as cedar or hardwoods may be toxic. Shredded paper can be used as the bedding but newspaper must not be used as the inks may be toxic or stain a rat's fur. Both the floor litter and bedding should be absorbent.

The cage litter should be changed at least twice a week and the whole cage thoroughly cleaned once a month.

FEEDING AND WATERING

Rats will eat almost anything and you can feed them vegetables and meat. Rats benefit from a varied diet and they can be fed proprietary pellets or mixes. Hamster mixes should not be fed to rats.

The diet can be supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables, cooked eggs, dog biscuits, cooked chicken, cooked fish, bread or oats.

Chocolate in large quantities is poisonous to rats.

Food and water containers should be changed each day.

Let the rat know you are approaching. They can become frightened if you swoop down from above as they will view your hand as a predator coming to eat them! Rats rarely bite unless frightened or in pain but don't disturb resting rats as even tame ones may bite in these circumstances. Cup both hands around the rat's body or hold them around their shoulders. Hold your rat firmly but not too tightly.

Rats rarely become ill if they are kept in a clean, well-ventilated cage.

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