The Dangers of Breeding Fancy Rats
Issues That Could Arise
Breeding fancy pet rats can be an excessively rewarding experience. What rat owner wouldn’t like to be able to hand raise their own rat kits? With all of the ratty joys that come along with hand raising pet rats, it is easy to get swept away with the idea of starting a rattery. However, it is important to stop and evaluate whether or not one can handle all of the consequences of breeding fancy rats as a hobby; you never know when your biggest nightmares could suddenly become reality when breeding rats, labor begins for the doe, or when the mother rat is raising the kits. Are you prepared for a disaster or a tragedy?
1: Difficult Pregnancies
Should the pregnant mother become severely ill or sick while she is pregnant, there could be severe consequences for the baby rat fetuses before they are even born. If the mother suffers from a bad health issue while pregnant her body may decide to abort the entire litter of kits in order to reduce stress on the mother rat. Pregnant pet rats grow rapidly, and will deliver kits only 21-24 days after breeding. This means their little bodies are working excessively hard to prepare the baby rats for life outside of the womb. If the mother is too ill to heal herself, the body will prioritize in favor of the mother’s health. Should this happen, the litter will be lost.
If the babies are aborted, they will then be reabsorbed. The female will then return to her regular estrus cycle, unless she is still very ill. If the babies are miscarried and born prematurely, other complications can develop. The mother could go into labor several days after the babies have died, greatly increasing the risk of infection. If the babies are being miscarried because there is not enough room, it’s possible one of the rat fetuses could become lodged in the birth canal. Either of these will prove deadly if a rat veterinarian doesn’t take action with the pregnant rat immediately.
Do You Have Proper Housing for Mother and Babies?
A soft, large bed (such as this ferret igloo) is going to be necessary when the rat has her babies. The soft fleece will deter injury when the mother moves them around and helps to keep them warm. The larger amount of space will offer her comfort during delivery as well. If you can avoid hard, rough surfaces during birth and the first few weeks, you will be giving the kits a huge advantage.
2: Aggression Between Females and Males
If the buck, or the adult male rat, becomes aggressive towards the female rat before, during, or after breeding, he should be removed from the doe immediately. Breeding aggressive lines is a bad idea, period. This could result in aggressive babies, which would have a very hard time finding a home. You must be able to differentiate between aggression and pet rat courtship and breeding rituals before breeding your fancy rats. Otherwise, you won’t be able to tell the difference between an aggressive rat, or a rat that is instigating courtship and breeding. It is rare, but sometimes males will attack and kill the female rats; keeping an eye and being able to tell between the two will keep this event from occurring.
Do You Own Pet Rats?
3: 24 Hours of Labor, Help!
If a rat doe has been in labor for over 24 hours, then it is certain that something is going horribly wrong with the pregnancy, labor, and delivery. More than likely, one of the rat kits has become stuck in the uterus or the birth canal. Rats have “Y” shaped uteruses, and on occasion this can present a problem. Sometimes two babies try to go down the birth canal at the same time. Sometimes a baby rat’s head or body might be way too large to fit through the mother rat’s birth canal. If this occurs, ESPECIALLY for first time mom rats, she will need an emergency rat cesarean section.
Things You Need for Kits in Case of Emergency
Milk Replacement (Such as soy free infant formula)
Lint free bedding cloths
Tubing for nursing
4: No Nearby Vets
This might just be one of the worst case scenarios. Before breeding, EVERY rat owner should find a veterinarian that specializes in pet rats and fancy rats. Without a rodent veterinarian, a breeder is on his or her own. This could mean no lifesaving antibiotics for an ill rat, no emergency surgery for a rat with a baby stuck in the birth canal, and no help should a pet rat sustain a major laceration or broken bone. If a mother rat should arrive in a dire situation during pregnancy, labor, or birth with no local rat veterinarian, there will not be any medical help available to her.
The next best option would be to locate another emergency animal clinic and take the rat there; that way, if there is no help available for the rat and she is in a life threatening situation, she could be euthanized. This may sound cruel, but nothing is crueler than a slow, painful, unavoidable death. Remember: the unborn babies are receptive to pain as well, especially if they are full term!
Baby Rats Are Demanding!
- Baby rats must be fed every two hours.
- They cannot usually urinate or defecate by themselves during infancy; they require stimulation.
- Infant rats cannot maintain their own body temperature.
5: The Female Isn't Nursing the Babies
If your doe decides to abandon the babies, your kits could be in serious danger. If this should happen, you will need to place the baby rats with a lactating surrogate mother so that they will be fed, cleaned, and kept warm. If a surrogate mother is not available, you will need to care for the kits yourself.
In order to care for rat kits, you will need a replacement rat milk formula. Usually, SOY FREE infant formula is a great replacement option for mother rat’s milk. If you cannot find soy free (it happens to be hard to find), any decent formula such as Similac will do. You will also need a very small nursing bottle. The best way to feed baby rats is to use a very tiny syringe with a tiny hose attached that will comfortably fit into the babies’ mouths. You must also be careful when feeding them; they cannot ingest air bubbles. You will also need Q-Tips to stimulate them to eliminate waste (go to the bathroom, in the same way a mother rat would lick them). A heating pad will be necessary to keep them warm as well.
6: The Mother Rat Dies During or After Birth
If the mother dies while giving birth or shortly after birth, you need to immediately take care of the surviving babies. If the mother begins having severe labor issues to begin with, she needs to be taken to an emergency vet that specializes in rodent medicine and surgery. As stated above, the kits will need either a surrogate mother OR your care. The kits can survive with proper care; it just tends to be excessively time consuming and slightly difficult with such small babies.
7: The Female Rat is Cannibalizing
If the rat begins to eat her offspring, there could be a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it may be that one of the babies is sick, injured, or doomed to die due to health problems. Mother rats will eliminate ill and injured babies to ensure survival of the stronger kits. Weak kits can strain the mother’s milk supply. If your female rat eats only one or two kits and is behaving normally with the rest of the litter, she probably deemed them to be unhealthy, injured, or sick.
If the rat decides to continue to eat the rest of the litter, she will need to be separated from them. Rats will eat their offspring (keep in mind that this is a RARE occurrence!) when they feel unsafe. This could be for a number of reasons, from a predatory threat (dog, cat, or even children) to a stressful change in her environment (noise, moving into a new cage, etc.). Rats need to be in a safe, quiet, stress free, and familiar area when delivering kittens.
8: The Mother is Sick
If your rat becomes excessively ill 1-5 days after delivering her kits, it is quite possible that she has contracted an infection of the reproductive tract. She will need to go to a vet immediately for a check-up and for antibiotics. If she is not given antibiotics to help her body fight the infection, it is quite likely that she will succumb to the illness. When rats give birth, there is a high risk of dangerous bacteria and viral particles entering the reproductive tract, causing infection within the ovaries, uterus, and birthing canal. If they begin to breed out of control, there will be a lethal infection that follows. Cleaning the mother rat’s cage and giving her a good bathing 3-5 days before birth will drastically reduce the risk of an infection.
9: A Baby Rat Kit Is Not Nursing
If the rat kits are eating healthily, a milk band will become apparent on his or her belly. Usually, you will see it on the right side of the baby rat’s belly. This milk band is milk that is sitting in the baby’s stomach. If no milk band is seen within 2 hours of birth, it means the baby probably isn’t going to nurse. It is advisable to begin hand feeding the baby rat. You can always allow the mother rat to continue to raise the baby as she normally would, while you feed the baby as it grows. It is also possible that the baby will begin to nurse later on. Weak kits may have problems getting up the energy to look around for a nipple, fight other kits for a feeding spot, and latching on to feed. It is quite possible that, with some nourishing from you, the kit will gain strength and be able to nurse from the mother as would be expected.
Baby Rats Being Hand Fed Using a Syringe
10: Deformed Kits
If you have a baby rat that is born with a deformity or a handicap, you may have to interfere with the raising of the kit. Generally, if a baby rat is born with a handicap or deformity and is able to nurse and eliminate effectively, the chances are the handicapped rat kit will survive. You will need to closely monitor kits that seem to be deformed. These special babies will need some extra love and monitoring to ensure that they are growing up big and healthy without any issue.
Sometimes, kits that are born deformed just won’t make it; this is because you never know the true extent of their abnormalities. If they seem to be having issues early on and end up passing away, it is very possible that there may have been abnormalities with vital organs. If you fail to keep a baby rat alive, do not let it depress you; it does not mean that you have failed. It simply means that the baby was not properly developed, or that it just was not able to make it.