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Question Pet rats: Inquiry about respiratory and audio sensitivity in alternative accommodations

Charlene Jank

Sep 18, 2021
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Bay Area, CA
So, I've read just about all the Rat threads on here and have a couple of specific questions for anybody with rodent experience. I'm currently stationary but live in close proximity to a freeway. It's kinda pretty noisy and grimy. I just moved to an area a little quieter, but I know rats have sensitive ears. Of course, I see people take them on freight rides... but I just wanna make sure I give a decent environment to 'em. As far as the grime goes, there's a decent amount of gunk getting kicked up into the air. If I go 5ish days w/out showering it's quite noticeable washing out of my hair, and my tent has developed a little coating of it over time. I know that rat's have sensitive respiratory systems and I'm wondering if this sounds like a deal breaker those who have been/are rat parents?

Maybe I'm over thinking this because there are of course feral mice/rats that eat any food left out over night, but yeah, just wanna make sure. This won't be their forever home, but for the foreseeable future it would be.

I've been wanting rats for years and finally want to pull the trigger! Was even at the pet store earlier today, but the clerk advised me to get breeder rats (theirs were all feeders) and I couldn't distinguish the gender (I want males bc they sound chiller)... Anyway, any advice is appreciated! [:
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Jan 7, 2022
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First off, sorry this is a lot. Probably will post as a wall of text and I apologize right off the bat. If there's an edit button I'll clean it up and shorten it, otherwise, skim that shit! I would, so here goes:

  • Do you live in a tent (or) a house? (If a house Critter Nation, if portability like Tent, I recommend Rat Manor or similar sized constructed cage)
  • How many rats were you wanting? (I recommend a min and max-limit of 2)

(My background): I have had over 60-80 PET rats give or take but have only traveled with ~10-15 for transport from one location to the next (and not for more than a week at a time). Unless I'm breeding or have a surprise litter from a rescue, I will never have that many rats again. Right now I have 3 rats having just lost the fourth and may or may not take in any new rats after this group (undecided). The most rats I can handle now with all my projects are 2-4 and even 4 is pushing it, 2 is the perfect amount). I once had one rat that would stay in my shirt wherever I traveled but he fell out of my shirt once and I didn't notice, I panicked and ran back down my path and found him standing dazed in the middle of the sidewalk I swooped him up and never let his ass go again. I had another rat that loved to move around, but when we were traveling he stayed in my coat's sleeve. And I had two rats that would shoulder ride up to a point (actually they would shoulder ride indefinitely), I had another rat who was wild as all get-up but would shoulder ride with me as well, my heart-rat. But the majority of my rats (talking more than 15+ at a time, *coughs*) just couldn't be contained like that or it was hard balancing them and paying attention to everything else. Plus try juggling all those rats (I have tried and failed to go anywhere beyond up and down my steps when my mischief was at it's largest! Somewhere there's a picture of me walking with a shit ton of rats all over my shoulders and a few on my head lol). [But 1-2 rats, manageable]

I've camped in a 16ft bell tent with 6 rats in a LARGE bulky ass cage, that reached my hip and could fit me in it sitting down, but it was piss poor for portability. (can't remember the name of the cage but have pictures somewhere of it). I did this w/them for a month or so during fall but it got too cold and I had to bring them in. There were cats prowling outside my tent which also made me nervous, but they couldn't get in the tent and my rats were protected via cage when they weren't free ranging (I had to watch the rats when they were out because the walls were canvas and they occ. chew, though some rats are hardcore chewers). I also didn't keep them outdoors during extreme temps, because they're climate sensitive (and yes any kind of dust or particles are bad for them). I used coco coir as bedding once and even keeping it moist t it still kicked up dust and my rats started getting sneezes.

Based on this experience here is what I feel (I hope it doesn't sound evangelistic some things I say like the words you 'need' and the 'best' kind of, I've done my best to edit that out, it's just I used to think the exact opposite and the effects it had on the rats that I kept solo or in a small cage was down-right abusive. I vowed never to make the same mistakes and so I just want to spare you the pain I learned from my early rat ownership. This January marks the 20th anniversary of rat ownership through both good and bad times with and without a roof over my head) Keep in mind all this is opinion based on my personal experience, mileage may vary so take me with a grain of salt:

  • OK so you said the word plural rats, which sounds freaking awesome. I just want to emphasize that if you get rats, it's recommended to have a pair of rats (not one), rats are extremely social and even with you as their only company they get depressed or become antisocial towards other rats when left alone. I've had a few solo rats, and every solo rat had some type of challenge (just because people say they had 1 rat and it was OK doesn't mean it was, and probably isn't versed in rat behaviour or had a rat that wasn't social to begin with!). This said, there are rats that can be solo I think? THE BEST kind of rat to take Solo with you is a rat that has been solo his own life or that is aggressive towards other rats but sweet towards people, such a rat hasn't been neutered or if it they were neutering didn't help. You can find these rats in Rat Facebook groups, or via a Friend's FB group, and potentially Craigslist.

  • The smallest most portable and roomy cage I could find for my rats was the "You & Me Rat Manor Habitat 16.5" L X 22.5" W X 32" H", I didn't get it but I want that shit so bad, right now I have this big ass Critter Nation which is fucking huge, it can be broken down but who wants to break that down and travel with a 100+lb paperweight. My only portable travel cage is that cage I mentioned with the bell tent. Not good for my next chapter. This said cages built for hamsters etc. are too small, and petco/petsmart sells a small ass cage marketed towards rats that I do not recommend at all except for babies. (alternatively) you can build a cage with plastic bins and animal fencing. | There was another cage that was good for traveling, it was a hospice type cage that I didn't get for my rats but wanted to when a recent pair of my rats were ill (both pit. tumors).

  • Yes their lungs are SUPER sensitive, to me it is a dealbreaker if you can't move. You prob. know this but bedding and air quality matter (even a house with bits of mold can make them sick). The cleanest (easiest to manage on the go, and mostly stress-free) bedding I've found (for myself) are cotton baby blankets brought or found in bulk and swapped out of the cage every 1-2 days. (Aspen is messy, and anything else hurts their lungs). If you cannot relocate to a non-dusty environment I recommend not getting rats, it can lead to permanent lung damage ::meh:: (speaking from experience :( ~ ). If you buy or find in bulk you don't have to clean as often (I do laundry every few weeks ~ once or twice a month, with laundry including rat bedding). / The reason you have to change it daily isn't just the pee it's that rats chew.

  • Rats need enrichment, their teeth never stop growing and if they have nothing to chew their teeth will grow super long. They also need something for their nails like stuff to climb on (my rats had little razor blade nails lol, I looked like someone sliced me up with a knife). But the teeth thing is super important, otherwise you have to trim them yourself or it can grow through their skull. I had this happen to ONE rat, never got so bad it grew through his skull, but they grew long and broke skin. There were no rat vets so I had to learn on my own and trim that shit myself.

  • Speaking of which Geriatric rat care is esp. hard because they can stop grooming themselves and develop mites :(. Have a Euth plan in hand. I prefer to let my rats die naturally so long as they are not in pain, and will only utilize EUTH if they are in pain and I can feel it (intuitively coming), rats do not show pain 'easily' so learning rat pain signs is crucial to figure out sick rats. I'm also a self-taught rat mortician and death doula for rats [and ok pre-vet drop out] ::meh:: rats are legit my calling. CO2 chambers is a good humane option if you can't afford a Vets euth or if your Vet isn't doing it humanely or won't let you be present (usually because they are going to inject the rat to the heart without anesthesia which causes the rat distress and is inhumane).

  • If you're allergic to rats or rat urine your arm will break out and still want some rats, try some witch hazel and a prescription antihistamine. My nose is stuffy 24/7, 365 days a year because apparently I'm allergic to everything even my own hair and clothes make me break out. My lungs are as sensitive as my rats lungs kinda shit. So just in case XD.

  • Vet care is about $300~ per visit for a pair of rats if they have an issue (Vets nickle and dime, and a good vet that doesn't is hard to find). They need vet care and antibiotics for their lungs, but I'm trying to figure out ways to get my own antibiotics without prescription. There aren't a lot of rat vets, and some I've found give BAD rat advice or do SHITTY things, and now during covid some Vets will take the rat into a backroom to do an exam so you can't see WTF they're doing, also hidden medical costs--sorry trying to avoid a tangent. I can go on about this. But my recommendation is research vets in your area and ask them their price for exams and euthanasia, ask what method they use for euth, and if they let you be present or not, bonus if you ask if they do necropsies and for how much to figure out cause of death.

  • My first rats I got from pet shops that sell them as *feeders, they were sweet rats. I do a hand test, put my hand up and the rat that comes up to me or lets me hold it is the rat I take. The rats that run from me, I don't. I no longer recommend this. All rats I've gotten from pet stores died of tumors, had lots of medical issues, one rat I necropsied upon death who died suddenly had his organs fused together, and there was NO support from the shop keeper. Couldn't ask them questions, and when they handed me the rat they held it by the tail which can break the tail off! Fuckers. I can't say I would never get another pair of pet store rats, but I can say I will never ever get pet store rats from a pet store that treats their rats like shit just because they're feeders. OH...also I found out that most pet store feeder rats are cast offs, so some rat breeders will take their rats that aren't good as pets and will sell them as snake food. So they 'may' come with temperament issues, and often but not always medical issues. [Edit* I don't like to give my money to pet shops that get their animals from mills, ::meh:: I used to feel like I was saving them but no longer feel it's saving if I'm giving them my money to keep on doing what they're doing, buying horses from slaughter mills is the same scandal ::meh::.]

  • I took a hiatus from owning rats after my Gen III/Gen IV group of rats died, but this time I went through rat breeders as an alternative to rescues (too far from me). Some breeders are assholes, and some are wonderful, just like in the real world. Almost all of them have a waiting list, and 99.8% of them are on Fakebook. I love the waiting list, and I love a good rat breeder that will answer questions. What you get from a (good) rat breeder is SUPPORT. I had one rat breeder when of the rats I got from them was ill, actually help me out with a bill and take time off of work to figure out what wrong (not saying they all do that, or it's a regular thing but that's the kind of support you get when you go through a breeder. In my case I keep open dialogues and regular updates). I give them regular updates and feedback on how they're doing with pictures so they can make better breeding decisions in the future. <With pet store rats you're on your own really>

  • Oh before I forget some or most rat breeders don't let you go into their home or rattery (they breed from their home), because of illness (there is Hantavirus (covid for rats) going around only contagious to rats, and then rat bite fever which is rare but I knew of a rat breeder recently that shut themselves down once they tested for it, PET STORES do not test for rat bite fever. I've never encountered this at all, but I only use one rat breeder right now that does proper quarantine of their rats etc. ~). But for this reason and other reasons a lot of ratteries have strict quarantine procedures and will not let you in, so that means you look at a picture of the rat and pick which rat you want and buy it. As opposed to the 'pet shop' experience. I don't like picking a rat from a picture and I like rat breeders who I can talk to and say 'Hey pick the rats you think is best for me'.
I could really ramble on here because rats are legit my life, but ::meh::. I think I've done too much, hopefully a grain of something I wrote was useful for you and I didn't get off on too many tangents or regurgitate too much of what you already know.

  • I recommend if you adopt, to adopt a pair from the same litter (littermates) and don't adopt rats from another litter/breeder/shop without preparing with a second cage and for a long introduction period.
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