How to Care for Baby Rats
If you have decided to breed your rats or have a pregnant female, you have to expect 8-15 babies, sometimes even more.
However, first of all: Don't underestimate your pet rats. 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!
If you have the buck still 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 they. Females can stay. In the worst case, they don't care, in the best case they help looking 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.
However, consider you have to care for the babies. The babies have to be separeted 4-4.5 weeks after their birth. The does 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'll do. It's no fun to catch a fled rat if it hides behind cupdoards.
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, watching your rat, if you can determine when she's giving birth.
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 cleaning and licking her babies and keeping them warm. The intensive care has a few reasons:
- The offspring is cleaned
- Blood circulation initiated
- The babies and the mother bond and 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 with 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 immeadiately check on the babies but do not touch them yet!
The mother stays in the nest most of the time, feeding her children. Only when hungry she will 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 do that with a stick, while you keep their mother busy outside. Check if there are dead babies. Usually a mother eats deceased and ill 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 tames pet rat might turn into a roaring lion and their teeth dig deep.
On day five, 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 deeveloped.
On about day eight 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.
After about a fortnight the ears are opened 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.
On day 22 they are fully developed and start eating solid food, though they are still being fed by their mother for about a week.
After 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 you should consider giving them to caring people.
If you decide upon keeping them all, be sure you have two cages big enough and if you plan upon putting the males with their father intergrate properly (which requires an additional cage) as the father will not recognise his offspring and fight for his territory. Treat it as if you had bought a new male rat.
It is a great time watching little rats grow up and even without knowledge the mother knows what to do, so don't panic. Only if something seems off to you, go see a vet.