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Basic Care of Rats

 Its really fun to pick out your first rat, but there are things to watch for.You can go to a pet store, breeder, or your local animal shelter. Make sure that the pet store has seperated thier babies by sex as they can get pregnant at the age of 4 to 6 weeks. Then check thier health,a healthy rat is active, curious and has bright shiny eyes.Sometimes your rat will even choose you! Take some time with this, play with the babies, and see who responds to you. I have also had good luck with older males ( if you decide to get yours from a shelter).
A healthy rat should feel solid, not too boney or fat. Do not buy any that aren't looking good, avoid sneezing, or ones with a  reddish discharge  around thier eyes and nose. Be careful if they are lethargic, and not active. Rats also like to be with a friend, so consider getting 2, it will make them both happy and it does not cost any more to feed 2 instead of one.  Also make sure to choose the same sex of rats unless you want to breed them. If you are thinking about breeding I suggest getting your rats from an established breeder, and BEFORE you do anything make sure to do lots of research. You should have prospective homes for the babies before you have a litter. Rats can have anywhere from 1 to 20 babies.
 Rats are surprisingly easy to take care of. First consideration should of course be housing. Usually this is the most expensive part of the keeping of rats. I have rats in glass aquariums, and wire cages. The aquariums are best for mothers and babies because i have found that a baby rat will be able to squeeze out of just about any cage because of bar spacing. Also aquariums are best for hairless rats, because it cuts down on drafts and they can become cold easily. Now as for wire cages,most adult rats will be happy in wire cages with bar spacing of about 1\ 1 in. That way they cannot get thier little heads stuck in the bars.They love to climb around the cages too. Rats have toenails like we do and if you are not comfortable trimming them, you can put a small rock or brick in the bottom of the cage, under the water bottle  to help keep thier nails worn down.Fill the cage with toys, ladders, ramps, ropes, cardboard tubes, hammocks etc. Rats are so intelligent that they can get bored easily if they do not have stuff to do. The worst thing is to put a rat in an aquarium with nothing but a water bottle and food dish. 
 I have tried allmost all the different litters and bedding.I recently discovered the joy of newspaper, yes newspaper. It makes cleaning the cage very easy, just roll up and throw away, doesnt weigh as much as other bedding either plus the rats love to tear it up. Some places have free newspapers so its also cheap so I can afford to clean them more often.
 Aspen bedding, available at most pet stores, is also good as it does not contain any oils or additives which can be harmful to rats. . There is also a bedding called CAREFRESH that is made of paperwhich has a wierd smell and a bit of dust but it is highly recommended by other RAT LOVERS.You can also use a combination of cat letter pellets like Yesterdays News, or a horse stall litter like Woody Pet, and Kiln dried pine. Please NEVER use pine or especially cedar as these contain stuff which can potentially be fatal to rats. Clean the cage at least twice a week, more if need be. Do not clean new mothers cages until the babies have hair,10 days or two weeks after the birth. I have found that this lessens the rejection factor. 
 Rats need carbohydrates,proteins, and fatty acids in thier diet. I purchase in bulk, rat chow, hamster food and rabbit pellets and make my own mixture. I also add some dried fruits and veggies. I also give them vitimans. But guess what!!! Rats can become BIG junk food junkies if you let them. they love any food you do, but never chocolate. Mine eat pizza, popcorn, fresh fruits and veggies and just about anything you can think of. The key to keeping them healthy is moderation. I also buy powdered baby formula and add it to the food of my pregnant and nursing mommas See the RECIPE page for a good dry mix, and some treats too!! Rats love to chew, and because thier teeth are growing constantly they need HARD stuff for this or you will end up trimming thier teeth. There are wood chews made for small critters, also Nyla bones, and Rawhide chews, and even dog buscuits help with this. 
 There are many things you can do with your rat, take them with you on your shoulder or in your pocket. I have an old "backpack" style purse that mine like to ride in. They love to chase things and will play tug like a dog. They also can be trained to do tricks by using the "treat" method. They can learn to climb ropes or ladders, come when they are called, learn different words etc. They love to have interaction with humans, also other rats. 
 I am not a vet, so I reccomend finding a vet that has experience in caring for rats before something happens. Some rats can get tumors or abcesses. Watch out for respitory infections, look for excessive sneezing, and reddish discharge around the eyes and noes.This is called  porphyrin.  Antibiotics will help. Some rats can get a disease called mycoplasma pulmonis it is definatly a vet thing. They can also  develop  toumors, too. SO PLEASE CALL YOUR VET.
Some rats can also come to you with mites or other nasty critters, usually you can use a spray from the pet store made for kittens.
I have added ecinacia/goldenseal to a small piece of food for about 3-4 days to help with thier immune systems. Yogurt is good for diarrhea too. This is the extent of my medical advice.

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