How to Care for Baby Rats
If you have decided to breed your rats or have a pregnant female, you should expect 8-15 babies, sometimes even more.
Pregnant Rats Instinctively Build a Nest
However, don't underestimate your pet rat. She has probably prepared a nest in her house, piling up everything she gets her teeth on into a wall with only one entrance. Offer her some unscented undyed toilet paper or something similar. Your pregnant rat will accept this and layer the nest with this. It is important that the mother-to-be has her own shelter. Rats who cannot build a proper nest might eat their children!
Are There Other Adult Rats in the Same Cage?
If you still have the buck with your pregnant rat, remove him. Rats go into heat as soon as they have given birth. Neuters have to be removed as well, as well. Females can stay. In the worst case, they don't care, in the best case they help look after the babies. It can even happen that, if two females have babies at the same time, they will put their little ones into one single nest.
Male and Female Babies Need to Be Separated
The babies have to be separated 4 to 4.5 weeks after their birth. The does (female babies) may stay with their mother, but you need a second cage for the males. If the wires are too far apart the small rats can escape—and they will. It's no fun to catch an escaped rat if it hides behind the cupboards.
Process of Labor and Birth
Rats go into labor late in the evening or during the night. It lasts about an hour and after that you have 8-15 baby rats. I recommend you stay up and watch your rat if you recognize that she's going into labor.
Usually there is nothing to worry about, but complications can kill your rat and her offspring, so it can be important to go see a vet. If you think something is wrong, don't hesitate and take your pet rat to an emergency vet.
However, if everything is going fine, do not disturb the mother. She is stressed, but she is busy cleaning and licking her babies and keeping them warm. This intensive care has several purposes:
- Clean the babies
- Initiate blood circulation
- Initiate the bonding process between mom and babies, as the mother takes in the smell of her little ones.
The mother eats the amnion as well as the afterbirth and everything that might remain is some blood in the nest. The babies are tiny, bald, and have their eyes closed. They scream for their mother—and that might be the first thing you notice if your rat gave birth while you are asleep. You should immediately check on the babies but do not touch them yet!
First Few Days After the Birth
The mother stays in the nest most of the time, feeding her children. Only when she is hungry will she come out to get some food. A special diet is recommended during that time: cheese and yoghurt make good additions to her ordinary food.
During the first five days, it is not good to pick up the little ones. The mother might abandon them. However, you still have to check every day if the babies are healthy. You can do this with a stick while you keep their mother busy outside. Check if there are dead babies. Usually a mother eats ill or deceased babies, but you might find one. Also check if the little ones have milk bellies. Through the thin skin there should be some white visible in their belly. It is a sign that a baby is well fed.
Some mothers can be aggressive, even to you! Even the tamest pet rat might turn into a roaring lion, and her teeth will dig deep.
- Day 5: You can begin picking up every baby and start whispering to them so they get used to humans. Beware of the mother if she's aggressive, and don't take them out for too long. They are still naked and cool out quickly, though their color can be seen and fuzzy hair has already developed.
- ~Day 8: You may find a baby outside his nest. The offspring is, though still blind, investigating the new world. Now the mother is busy picking up her babies and bringing them back. If you have a mother who trusts you, you can even give her the babies after you cared for them and she'll bring them back safely.
- ~Day 14: The ears are open and they begin opening their eyes. They resemble mice or tiny rats by now as they have developed fur. Now they start trying their limits, however, the mother is still trying to keep them inside the nest.
- Day 22: They are fully developed and start eating solid food, though they are still being fed by their mother for about a week.
- 4 to 4.5 Weeks: The males should be separated since they could impregnate their mother. They should still remain within sight as those weeks are important for ratty behaviour development. Only after six weeks should you consider giving them to caring people.
After 6 Weeks
If you decide to keep all the babies, be sure you have cages that are big enough. If you plan to put the males with their father, be sure to integrate them properly (which requires an additional cage), as the father will not recognise his offspring and will fight for his territory. Treat the situation as if you had bought a new male rat.
It is great to watch little rats be born and grow up. Even if you don't know what to do, the mother knows what to do, so don't panic. Of course, if something seems off to you, go see a vet.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.