Feeding Your Rat

by Jane Adamo
(with thanks to Robyn Arthur, Anna Dorfman, Julie
Eschliman, Anne Harper, Lila Jones)

First things first: If you haven't done so already: clickon
and buy Debbie Ducommon's Rat Health Care.  It is THE most important
publication available today for the care of the pet rat.  It will pay
for itself the first time you use it -- as if it had to: it's only $3.50.  Do it right now!

Included are Debbie's complete discussion of rat feeding, including
detailed information on specific foods and her famous recipe for the
Molasses Mix rat diet which you can make yourself.


Debbie Ducommon is an expert on the subject of pet rats;  I am not.  But
I offer my suggestions for how to feed with a goal toward slim  rats
that are healthy and live long.  I also offer an open invitation to
anyone with questions or challenges on anything I've said to contact me
through the Ratlist.



High: rat-appropriate vitamins, minerals, nutrition provided by a diet
of 1) 80% dry formulated food and 2) 20% fresh foods like fruits,
vegetables, grains, seeds, etc. (for obese rats: make that 2/3 dry, 1/3
fresh).  Lots of water!

Low: protein (makes rats scabby and itchy and puts a serious strain on
their kidneys), salt, sugar, fat

Your rat needs the concentrated nutrition that comes from a good dry
food mix.  The problem is: there are few commercial diets formulated for
the pet rat.  Rodent diets for hamsters, chinchillas or gerbils, etc,
are full of grains and seeds and do not offer the pet rat all the
nutrition he needs to be healthy.  Here are some options:

1)   Lab Block.  This is the dry food formulated for research rats.  I
mention it first because it’s natural for a newbie rat owner to hit the
pet/feed store looking for a dry rat food, and this is probably what you
will find. Some of the brands are:
o Purina Lab Chow
o Mazuri
o Harland
o Kaytee

Here’s the problem: lab block is formulated to keep a short-lived
research animal in top form.  It is not formulated for the companion pet
animal.  Lab block can have too much fat and protein for our rats, is
loaded with corn, preservatives (some actually carcinogenic) and
artificial colors.  Better options are:

2) Oxbow Rodent Diet is one rodent mix that is formulated to be
appropriate for rats.

3) An incredible diet for rats which they LIKE is Debbie Ducommon's
homemade rat diet: Molasses Mix.  Rats on this diet LOOK GORGEOUS.  The
mix-it-up-yourself recipe is in the Health Care Guide.  So BUY THAT BOOK
and stir up some good rat food!

Here are FREE RECIPES for some mix-it-up-yourself diets that are JUST
WONDERFUL for your rats!  Go to the sites, print out the recipes and
make some great rat food! --

4) Virginia Simpson’s diet

6) Virginia’s diet is based on Susan Crandall's diet.  That recipe and
more rat cuisine is at the RMCA website

7) Rat Nutrition:

8) The Rat's Diet:

9) Some ratters have done extensive research and have determined that
Nutro Lite Dog Food is a great rat food: low in protein and high in
nutrition appropriate for rats.  Remember: not just any dog food!  Most
of them, especially the expensive stuff from the pet stores has too much
protein for a rat. If you feed dog food, it must be Nutro Lite or a
formula identical to it.

Think.  If you put dry food and cooked spagetti in the same dish, that
rat will fill up on pasta and leave the kibble.  They must eat that dry
food: it is concentrated nutrition for them!  So, alternate: one day:
only dry food.  The next day, offer fresh: fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds,
cereal, etc.

Fruit: organic, strongly colored varieties are best.
Vegetables: ditto, especially raw fresh dark leafy greens full of
life-extending anti-oxidants: bok choy, kale, broccoli, etc. While
you’re at it: you eat some, too!

NOTE: introduce fruits and vegetables into a new rat’s diet SLOWLY AND
GRADUALLY to prevent colly-wobbles.

Cold breakfast cereal: NOT the sugary ones!  Give ‘em their Whole Grain
Total: nutritionally perfect when it comes to ratty vitamins and
minerals: truly, it’s like a multivitamin for rats!  Also Kashi brand
cereals, especially Kashi 7-grain, rice and wheat puffs and other
high-nutrient breakfast cereals.
Hot cooked cereals: like oatmeal, farina, polenta
Cooked beans
Seeds and grains: including barley, wheat, millet, rice, oats
Flour products: bread, crackers, cooked unsauced spaghetti
Other things to feed:
Cold-pressed Flax Oil
Wheat Germ
Cod Liver Oil
Canned Oysters
Live mealworms.  If you can STAND it...

Remember, the word "rodent" is derived from the Latin root, rodere: "to
gnaw."  Rats adore gnawing hard things and it helps to keep the toofies
trim.  Here are some choices:

1) Look in the dog section of your pet store for Nylabone Edibles:
rock-hard corn (potato?) starch bones in flavors like carrot, potato,
corn, fruit, etc.  If you can't get the Petite size, do this:  LEAVE THE
BONE IN THE PACKAGE and hammer it into rat-size bits.  That way, the
shards won't fly into your face.  Or buy the jumbo size and attach it to
the cage wires with cable ties: keeps the bone clean, keeps the rats
busy!  Don’t make these a regular part of their diet: most of these
bones have a lot of protein.

2) Nuts in shell, in particular macadamias, pecans, hazelnuts (filberts)

3) Cooked chicken bones
4) Wood blocks soaked in fruit juice
5) Baby teething rusks (vegetable flavor).
6) Dog biscuits: buy low-fat, low-protein diet formula
7) Wine corks
8) Ice cream sticks
9) Wooden chopsticks
10) Knotted hanging rope with wood blocks: look in your petstore parrot
11)  Bathroom door

Rats can't vomit up bad food.  For that reason, they are reluctant
especially in the wild to try new foods.  A rat baby learns what to eat
from mom.  You can mimic mom's lessons with great sucess.

To introduce new foods,  nibble the food yourself (yes, even the Nutro
Lite: geez, it won't kill ya.)  Now offer the nibbled food to the rat
and blow on the rat lightly so she can smell the food on your breath.

o Learn the Ratty Heimlich maneuver.  If your rat is choking on a piece
of food, you can dislodge it with this method. Here's the link to the
procedure at Debbie D’s Rat Fan Club site (scroll to bottom of page):

o If you notice runny stool, especially in babies: cut off all greens
and fresh fruits and vegetables.  Reintroduce these foods very slowly,
very gradually. Remember: diarrhea-like symptoms means the rat is losing
water and can get dangerously dehydrated.  This could be fatal with
little babies.

o Salt: no, they don't need it.  No salt.  If you hand out pretzels,
knock off the salt.

o Corn: you will hear that corn causes cancer in rats.  This is based on
a study in which researchers fed rats six gazillion tons of corn.  So
the whole thing is bogus.  However, only feed corn in moderation, no
matter how much the rats beg.  It’s not very digestible which is why
cheap pet foods contain lots of corn and corn meal: it’s mainly
high-profit, non-nutritive bulk.

oSunflower seeds: Nice treat in moderation only: too much protein here!

o No raw beans; they must be cooked: in raw form, they contain an enzyme
that causes the rat's red blood cells to clump.

o No raw sweet potato; they must be cooked: consumed raw, they form
cyanide in the rat's stomach.

o Peanut butter: do not give them a clump of peanut butter: they will
bolt it and choke and die.  Some say, spread it thin on a piece of bread
but I nearly lost a rat so I just quit feeding peanut butter
altogether.  It's just not worth it.

Elderly or sick rats need extra vitamins and minerals to give them
strength and to help them fight illness.  And they need calories to keep
the weight on them and give them energy.  Try live-culture yogurt, tuna,
cooked oatmeal, cooked unsauced macaroni, bread, peas, banana, baby
food.  Try anything! Now is the time to trot out the fatty foods they
adore: cooked egg yolk, fatty dairy products such as cheese, cream
cheese and sour cream, avocado, etc.

An essential first-aid food for rats is human meal replacement, like
Boost or Ensure.  Rats generally love it, it’s easy for sick/elderly
rats to digest and it really packs on the nutrition and calories fast.

Try human soy baby formula.  You can buy powdered formula and mix it
yourself.  You can buy the liquid formula, but it goes bad quickly.  Try
different things: thinning the baby formula with water will help get
more fluid into the rat.  Keeping it thick will get more calories and
nutrition into the rat.

To help them eat:

1) Give them what they like!  No rules here!  Of course, try your best
to get nutritious food into them but if that fails: just keep the weight
on them and keep their spirits up!

2)  Chew the food yourself first then offer to the rat.

3) Often, even if they won’t eat food from their dish, they WILL eat the
same food if you feed the foods by hand or by spoon.  Even the baby
formula: have the rat lick it off your fingers.  If the rat is too weak
to maneuver the food out of his food dish: try putting soft food in a
spoon and put it right up to his mouth, or offer food in a flat dish,
like a yogurt lid.

4) Feed by syringe (without the needle!).  Use a little thin one: 1cc.
You can often mash, seive and thin down many foods so they will squirt
through the syringe.  You can even enlarge the syringe tip with a hot
nail.  BE CAREFUL: your weak rat can aspirate during this procedure.
Don’t feed too fast. Watch the rat and make sure she is keeping up with
you and actually swallowing the food.  Match your "squirting" rate to
her "swallowing" rate.  Don’t force the food in.

5) Chocolate.  This won't hurt your rat.  Sure the sugar, fat and
caffeine aren't doing them any good but chocolate will cheer up a sick
rat and often pique their appetite for other things.  It can also help a
wheezy rat breathe a little better because chocolate works to dialate
the respiratory passages.  Feed a piece half the size of their hand.
When one of my rats looks sick: I offer chocolate right away -- if they
refuse it, I know they are VERY SICK and I run them right to the vet. So
offering chocolate is a good test of how serious the situation is.

5) Tea: make tea with milk and honey; let it cool.  Tea stimulates the
rat a little and makes them feel happy.

6) Tubing: you can learn this from your vet but it's not pleasant.  You
push a tube into the rat’s mouth and into his stomach and force the
foods in.  It's a very stressful, last-resort kind of thing.

7) Water, water! Keep sick and elderly rats hydrated: try adding sugar
or flavoring to their water.  Maybe they'll drink more from a dish
instead of the bottle.  Give watermelon: I knew of an arthritic rat that
couldn't get fluid any other way and got all his water from watermelon
nearly all his life!  Test for dehydration: pinch up a little skin on
the rat's flank.  In a properly hydrated rat, the skin will pop back
into place.  In a dehydrated rat, the tent of skin will stay up there or
return slowly.  In cases of serious dehydration: ask your vet to teach
you how to give Lactated Ringers Solution by sub-cutaneous injection.

8) If the other rats in your colony are eating up all the food before
the sick guy can get to it, you may have to isolate the ill or elderly
rat during feeding time.

o Peas: your rats will eat the inside of that little pea and leave all
the skins all over the place just to make you nuts.  You will find pea
skins next to you in the bathtub, in your skivvies, in your car.  Hell,
I even found one floating in my coffee.  Don't let those rats know for
one minute that it bothers you.

o Feeding red things: one day you will look into the cage and to your
shock you will see a big, raw, bloody mass that looks like somebody
coughed up an internal organ.  Just before you completely lose it, you
will remember: "Oh, right!  I gave them a strawberry this morning!" So
if you feed the rats something red -- watermelon, tomato, etc. --JUST

o You can try hanging one of those parakeet cuttlebones on the wall of
the cage: some say it gives calcium.  My rats thought it was modern art.

o Rats love treats as much as you do!  You can buy yogurt drops in the
pet store.  Or you can buy yogurt drops in the bulk candy store for WAY
LESS! But a really great treat is just to give them some of whatever
you're eating!  Even on fast-food night: slice off tiny ratty sandwiches
from your Whopper, hand each critter a fry with ketchup, spoon some
chocolate shake into a dish, and then pass around bits of apple pie!
Tomorrow, we diet!

o Keep trying! Don't feed them the same old thing day in and day out
just because they like it and it's easy for you.  Even if your rat hates
blueberries today, he may change his mind in a few months.  Try new
foods, retry old foods.  Remember: Adventure! Drama!  Excitement!

o Hard boiled egg au shell: just cook the egg and cut it in quarters
with the shell still on for a calcium boost.
o Chocolate toy: take the cardboard tube from the toilet paper roll.
Put a few chocolate chips inside and crimp the edges closed for ratty
o Dangle favorite food on a string inside the cage.
o Make the rats a digging box.  They will nibble the sprouted wheat
grass and dig up and eat the unsprouted seeds they find.  Or you can
hide foods in the grass or in the dirt for them to find.
o Put crumpled-up paper in a box and hide food in there.
o Pea diving!  Super summer fun: buy a plastic paint roller tray from
the hardware store (it's got a deep end and a shallow end!).  Add
water.  Toss in frozen peas.  Give out tiny gold-silver-bronze medals
for the best pea diver!
o Toss a whole ear of corn into the cage!  Don't even bother to husk
it!  I steam it a little first and let it cool.
o Don't peel the banana: just cut into chunks with the peel still on.

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The Evil Myco

by Jane Adamo

    All domesticated rats are infected with the organism mycoplasma pulmonis and there's no
way to "get rid" of it.  In times of weakness or stress, a rat may get sick and show the effects
of mycoplasmosis: respiratory problems, weight loss, leading to death (other symptoms).
    To avoid your rats going clinical (getting noticeably sick) for Mycoplasmosis:

                 1) Keep their stress levels LOW.  Stress can weaken them to the point
                 where they get sick. For example, if they get mites, treat it.

                 2) Keep ammonia/urine levels low: use a good absorbent bedding.
                 Everytime you visit, take away a handful of wet bedding! Wash fabric

                 3) They need quality diet, exercise opportunities, fresh water (and
                 scrub that bottle), clean cage, etc.

                 4) Make life interesting for them.  This is GOOD stress: it excites them
                 without being harmful: this kind of stress STRENGTHENS them:   take them
                 out of the cage, let them run around in a ratproof room, bring them on
                 adventures.  My vet encourages me to take them to the office.

                 4A) Always always be thinking about environment enrichment: add fun
                 things to the cage: toys, bags, boxes, rags, change things around (not
                 the litter box).  You know that Homedics thing?  that rock sculpture
                 that you plug in and water runs over the rocks and it's supposed to
                 relax you?  Well, my vets sez rats LOVE them and he encourages me to buy
                 them one.  Yeah.  I'll wait for them to go on clearance...

                 5) Keep dust levels low: avoid dusty bedding.

                 6) Never bed on aromatic woods such as pine chips, cedar shavings,

    And remember this great tip from Virginia:    The best disinfectant is the cheapest! After
you wash the object (water bottle, cage bottom), spray it with white vinegar, then spray it
with 3% Hydrogen peroxide.  Or vice versa.  THIS IS A STRONGER DISINFECTANT
safe!  Yay, Va.!

 "Jane Adamo" <jadamo00@yahoo.com>

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Scabs and Itchies

(Mites and Lice)

Compiled by Missy Ruud

  It's easy to check for lice and mites.  On a lighter colored rat, brush the hair in the
opposite direction that it grows.  Inspect the hair shaft and skin for moving tan dots
(lice) or black ones (mites). Watch for them running toward the skin.  Nits are small
white particles that cling to the end of the hair shaft. They look like flecks of dry skin
or dandruff, but you can't brush them off. These can be seen easiest on darker colored
rats. BUT, even if you can't physically see signs of mites or lice, in general, if your rat
has scabs, your rat PROBABLY has mites or lice.
  Scabs can also be caused by dry skin or too much protein in their diet.  Go here for more
information:  http://wererat.net/rathelp/itchyscabs.htm
  But it's usually a good idea to rule out mites or lice first and that means treating them with
ivermectin and bleaching their surroundings.  As long as the rats are in the same vicinity of
each other (i.e. not in full quarantine), mites and lice can get around on their own, and if
one rat is infested you need to treat all of them and you need to do it promptly: parasites
of any kind can weaken the immune system of a rat very quickly and allow other types of
illness (like mycoplasma-related respiratory infections) to set in.
  The treatment for mites and lice is an over the counter drug called Ivermectin and is a
horse wormer paste.  You can get the paste from a feed store or saddle store, or you can
order it online at   http://www.armstrongequine.com
(The 'Zimecterin Paste with Ivermectin' is the one you want)

1) Before dosing with Ivermectin paste, you MUST decant the
entire contents of the tube into a separate container (like a baby
food jar or a film container) and mix it VERY well. The contents of
the paste are not blended well, and you could easily under- or
over-dose your rat or mouse if you don't take this extra step.

2) The dosage is the size of 1/2 grain of cooked rice, or 1 grain of
uncooked rice.  The dose comparisons are equivalent.  It's important to
have a grain of rice for comparison while you're dosing, to avoid
overdosing.  Measure it with a toothpick and smear it directly on
their upper teeth.  Ivermectin paste MUST be given orally.

3) The above dose is for THE AVERAGE SIZED RAT, meaning
approximately 1lb/450g. If your rat is significantly smaller, you are
going to want to adjust the dose accordingly. Likewise, if you are
treating a mouse, the dose is *really* small...like, the size of a
pencil dot. Just a speck.  Ivermectin is a great, effective
medication, but you DO NOT want to overdose.  It is an
over-the-counter drug and seems to have a very low
rate of side effects *when used correctly*, but it is a neurotoxin
and large overdoses can kill or paralyze the rat and/or permanently
damage the liver.

4) Thoroughly strip down the cage and wash all
cage parts and accessories in a 10% bleach solution (rinse
well). Do this several times during treatment.  Also wash down the
surrounding walls with the bleach solution.

5) Dose each rat and thoroughly clean cages, contents of cages,
and surrounding areas one week apart for 3 weeks.  Be sure to be

Ivermectin is also safe for pregnant or nursing rats as long as you don't
over dose.  Give the pregnant or nursing rat NO MORE than the recommended
dose once per week. There is no need to treat babies after they are born,
provided you have efficiently treated all of the other rats. They will be treated in
utero and through their mother's milk after birth.

Regarding the frequently asked question "Can I treat my rat with Ivermectin if he is
under medication for anything else?":   the consensus is that Ivermectin does
not interact with Baytril or any other antibiotics.  It does actually interact with drugs
like Valium, but that is not a common medication for rats.  If in doubt
about a particular medication, please ask your vet.

Missy Ruud <missy@helloimage.com>

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Scabs and Itchies continued

(Mites and Lice a Home Remedy)

by Bill Price

A home remedy for treatment of mites and lice is with the application of Olive oil, something easily found in your kitchen cabinet that is used to cook with. Although this is a safe natural substance, the application may be stressful to some rats.
How To Apply
Place a tbsp or two of Olive oil in the palm of your hands (so it coats your hands) and then simply rub (massage) thoroughly onto and into your rat(s) fur and skin. This will make it less stressful than just pouring the olive oil on the rat.
Leave it on for an hour.
Remove and destroy the old bedding and anything like cardboard which might harbor eggs or mites or lice while waiting the hour to pass.
When the hour is up use a gentle puppy shampoo in very warm water to wipe off remaining or excess Olive oil from the rat.
Be careful not to get the water hot enough to burn, and don't let your rat or rats get chilled.
Dry your rat(s) thoroughly.

Finally, apologize to your rat or rats for their humiliating experience and give them treats.
Then repeat the process again in 7-10 days to kill any new hatchlings.
Remember, its just a tablespoon or two of Olive oil, you are not trying to make rat salad. Do not use any other kind of oil except Olive oil!
A word of caution: avoid applying if the rat is ill or already stressed due to illness.


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by Robyn Arthur

The RMCA has a great article all about dosing rats with
echinacea to improve their immune system to help
combat respiratory illnesses like Myco:

The actual amount and frequency with which to dose isn't
an exact science, so as an example here's what I do:
Whenever my boys get a little sneezy, I dose them with it
for about a week and it usually clears them up in a few days.
I use a Child Echinacea, as it is not hosted in alcohol.
They get 2 drops each per day (for large males), added
to their breakfast yogurt. Others have rats who will happily
lick it right off the dropper or eat it off a small piece of bread.
You can also add it to their drinking water, although this
makes it more difficult to see how much they ingest.
Echinacea shouldn't be given continuously as it becomes
less effective with excess use. I dose one week on and one
week off until the rats improve.


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Rat-fattening Foods

by Robyn Arthur

(for a more in-depth look at feeding sick and/or elderly rats, see "Feeding your Rat")

Many people have asked what to feed their skinny rat to
help it squish-up a bit, or for foods to assist a nursing rat
mum or to help young rats grow up big and strong.
Here are a few high calorie, highly nutritious foods that
you could try:

Nutrical paste (available from vets and pet shops)
Baby food or soy baby formula
Whole grain bread/cereal/wheatgerm mixed with soy milk
Scrambled eggs (+/- cheese)
Kitten food


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