Kennel cough

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Kennel cough

Kennel cough is an infection of a dog’s windpipe (trachea) and large airways of the lungs (bronchi), hence its other name, Infectious Tracheobronchitis. The infection is normally caused by a virus or bacteria. It is comparable to a chest cold in a person. A dog with kennel cough will usually clear the infection on its own in 1 to 3 weeks. 

Runny nose, watery eyes, and a classic “hacking cough” are the hallmarks of kennel cough. The cough can sometimes be confused with vomiting. It has been described as “something stuck in my dog’s throat” or “like a cat trying to hack up a hairball.” 

Kennel cough is highly contagious. It can travel through the air or direct contact. We can even carry the disease from one dog to another. This is why animal shelters, boarding facilities, and doggy day cares are all highly vigilant for this disease.

Important Points

  • Kennel cough has an incubation period of 2 up to 10 days. This means that even a healthy looking dog today could come down with kennel cough in a week. 
  • Kennel cough could spread to other dogs in your home. To reduce the risk of disease transmission, we recommend separating the new pet from your existing pets for the first few days. Please note we cannot assume liability for the health of your other pets. Any treatment they may need would be at the adopter’s expense. 
  • Kennel cough can sometimes be severe enough to warrant medications. If this is the case, all doses must be given as directed. In the rarest of cases, kennel cough can even advance into pneumonia. 
  • If you are adopting a dog today, and they are being treated for kennel cough, Animal Humane Society will provide you with enough medication to complete the current prescription. If additional medication is required or if a veterinarian recommends further diagnostic tests (X-rays, blood work, cultures, etc.), the new owner will assume financial responsibility.
  • Rarely, an immune-compromised person (with AIDS or undergoing cancer chemotherapy) could become infected with Bordetella Bronchiseptica, one of the bacteria involved in kennel cough. If someone in your family is severely immune-compromised, please discuss kennel cough with your physician before adopting a dog.

If your pet develops kennel cough, notify your veterinarian if:

  • Your dog’s cough worsens or doesn’t improve over 1-2 weeks.
  • Your dog becomes depressed or stops eating.
  • Your dog develops nasal discharge, especially if it is colored.

PLEASE remember to wash your hands after touching any dog to prevent the potential spread of disease!

Feline upper respiratory infections

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Feline upper respiratory infections

Feline Upper Respiratory Infections (URIs) are infections of the sinus and nasal passages of cats. They can be caused by viruses or bacteria, though viral infections are much more likely. URIs are comparable to flus or colds in people. A cat with one of these infections will normally clear all clinical signs within 2 to 3 weeks. 

Sneezing, clear nasal discharge, and watery eyes are all hallmarks of this disease. In more severe cases, cats can develop colored nasal discharge and eye or oral ulcers. The most important things to monitor with this disease are you cats appetite and ability to breathe comfortably. 

Feline URIs are highly contagious. They can travel through the air via droplets from sneezing or by direct contact. People can even act as a carrier of this disease between cats. This is why animal shelters and boarding facilities are all highly vigilant for this disease. Animal Humane Society makes every attempt available to us to keep our cats healthy (vaccinations, disinfecting cages, isolating symptomatic cats). However, because many cats enter our shelters already silently carrying viruses that lead to illness, vaccines are partially effective at best, and specific treatments are limited. The most common URI causes are very difficult to control in a shelter environment.

Important Points

  • URIs have an incubation period of 1 to 2 weeks. This means that a kitten that looks perfectly healthy today can come down with a cold just days later. 
  • URIs can spread to other cats in your home. To reduce the risk of disease transmission, we recommend separating the new pet from your existing pets for the first several days. Additionally, wash your hands after handling your new pet to keep the risk of spreading infection to a minimum. Please note we cannot assume liability for the health of your other pets. Any treatment they may need would be at the adopter’s expense. 
  • URIs can sometimes be severe enough to warrant medications. If this is the case, all doses must be given as directed. Oral antibiotics are the most common medications needed, but sometimes nasal drops or eye medications are also indicated. 
  • If your new pet is being treated for an upper respiratory infection, Animal Humane Society has provided you with enough medication to complete the current prescription. If additional medication is required or if a veterinarian recommends further diagnostic tests (X-rays, blood work, cultures, etc.), the new owner will assume financial responsibility.

Please see you veterinarian promptly if you think your cat has an URI:

  • Under the free treatment policy, we can dispense antibiotics, as prescribed by your veterinarian, within 14 days of adoption.
  • Animal Humane Society cannot reimburse you for the cost of care at your local vet clinic.
  • You have the option to return your pet within 30 days if you don’t wish to treat its URI. We certainly hope, however, that you will make the commitment to your pet and see them through this normally mild, treatable disease. 

PLEASE remember to wash your hands after touching any animal to prevent the potential spread of disease!

Finding the right veterinarian

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Finding the right veterinarian

We want your relationship with your new pet to be a success in every way. Having a relationship with a veterinarian will help to ensure a healthier life for your new pet. A veterinarian will be your partner in providing preventive care and any treatments for injuries or illnesses throughout the pet’s life. Preventive care for pets includes physical exams, vaccinations for infectious diseases, medication for preventing parasites, travel advice, nutrition and more.

As your pet ages, your veterinarian will guide you in providing geriatric care and comfort to your pet. This lifelong relationship is important, and these tips will help you choose the right person or practice for you and your pet.

Ways to find a veterinarian

  • Personal references
    Friends and family in your area who have experience with pet ownership will be useful resources. Neighbors with animals can also provide information about local veterinarians.
  • Veterinary associations
    Searching your state veterinary medical association will often provide lists of member veterinarians. Search Minnesota’s list on the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association website.
  • Local directories
    Area telephone books will list veterinarians in the business section.
  • Reference from your current veterinarian
    If you’re moving out of state or are new to the area and already have pets, your current veterinarian may have a colleague or information about the area to which you are relocating.
  • Animal Humane Society’s list of veterinarians who will provide your pet with a free examination
    Select local veterinarians participate in a program which provides your animal with a free examination following its adoption. Not only does this first exam ensure the health of your pet, it may be the beginning of a lasting relationship.

For low-income pet owners

Kindest Cut is an Animal Humane Society partner that offers high quality, low cost spay and neuter surgeries, dental care and other wellness services such as vaccinations and testing to low income pet owners. They are located at the Melrose Animal Clinic in Golden Valley and also operate a state-of-the-art mobile surgical unit serving 25 communities in Minnesota. Visit the Kindest Cut website to find out if you qualify, what services are offered and to set up an appointment.

Find out about other local and national organizations offering veterinary assistance.

Things to consider in selecting a veterinarian

  • Are the business hours a good fit for your schedule?
  • Is the level of internet operation (for appointments, test results, etc.) acceptable to you?
  • Are same-day appointments available for urgent matters?
  • How many veterinarians are on staff?
  • Are you able to specify the doctor you wish to see?
  • What medical services are provided (surgery, x-rays, ultrasound, access to specialists, etc.)?
  • Is the practice neat and clean?
  • Is the staff helpful and friendly?
  • What payment methods are taken?
  • What financing methods are available?
  • Is the staff knowledgeable about pet insurance?
  • Are there any services available besides veterinary care (such as boarding or grooming)?
  • How are after-hour emergencies handled?

Suture care

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Suture care

All adoptable dogs, cats, rabbits and ferrets are surgically sterilized prior to being made available for adoption. Most do not have skin sutures, but it’s possible your new pet may. Here’s what you need to know if this is the case.

Suture line:

Usually, no special care of the incision area is necessary. Make sure the area is kept dry and clean. It’s best to walk your pet outdoors on a leash during healing. Prevent your pet from lying in the dirt.

Irritation:

Check the area around the stitches or along the incision line daily for any swelling, redness, or discharge. Many animals lick this area during the healing process. If the surgical area appears irritated, or your pet begins to pull out the stitches, contact your veterinarian.

Exercise:

Dogs must be walked on a leash. No running, playing, jumping, or rough play for 5-7 days following surgery.

Bathing:

Do not bathe your pet for two weeks following surgery. You can wash off dirty paws as long as the surgery area stays dry.

Suture removal:

Follow up with your veterinarian if suture removal is necessary. If your new pet has a sutured incision, normally the sutures are due for removal in approximately 10-14 days after surgery.

Finish any medications:

If your cat or dog was sent home with any medications, review the instructions on the bottle(s) and begin giving the medication as instructed. Even if your pet doesn’t appear sick, it’s important that he finish all medication as prescribed by the veterinary staff. Consult your veterinarian if you have difficulty giving your pet its medication.

Free treatment policy

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Free treatment policy

While our veterinary services staff makes every effort to assess and report the health of your new pet, Animal Humane Society is not a full-service veterinary hospital or clinic. Adopters should take their new pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible for an examination.

If a new health problem (not noted at the time of adoption) should present itself within 14 days after adoption, we are able to provide oral or topical medication to help treat the following conditions:

  • Feline upper respiratory infection
  • Kennel cough
  • Eye infection
  • Ear infection
  • Skin infection
  • Pain control related to surgical sterilization
  • External parasites – fleas, ear mites, mange mites, lice, cheyletiella mites
  • Internal parasites – roundworms, hookworms, tapeworm

You must take the pet to an outside veterinarian for an examination. Select local veterinarians participate in a program that offers a free examination within 14 days after the adoption date. If the animal is diagnosed with any of the conditions listed above, your veterinarian can call or fax the prescription to AHS to be filled.

Staff are available to fill prescriptions between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekends. If you need a prescription outside these hours, please contact the Veterinary Services Department at the site you adopted the pet. Please note we are ONLY able to provide medications prescribed by your veterinarian. All other medication or treatment expenses incurred will be your responsibility.

If you choose to obtain the medications from your veterinarian, it will be at your own expense. AHS cannot reimburse you or your veterinarian for veterinary medical expenses you may incur. 

If an illness other than those mentioned above is suspected, you may have your veterinarian diagnose and treat the condition at your expense, or you can return the animal within the trial period and receive an adoption credit certificate valid towards adopting another animal.

If you have any questions regarding the free treatment policy, please contact the Veterinary Services Department at the site from which you adopted the pet.

We strongly advise you to keep your newly adopted pet isolated from your existing pets until your veterinarian confirms its health. Animal Humane Society is unable to treat pets currently in the home that may have been exposed to illness from your newly adopted pet.

As the adopter, you agree to take full responsibility for the care and wellbeing of this pet. Once the adoption is finalized, you will be responsible for all medical bills and decisions regarding this animal.

FeLV and FIV

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FeLV and FIV

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) are two life-threatening, contagious, viral diseases that destroy the immune systems and can cause cancers in cats.  Even perfectly normal looking cats can silently carry these diseases. 

FeLV is contagious through saliva, blood, or mom-to-baby exposure. Unfortunately, 85% of cats with this disease die within 3 years of diagnosis. FeLV usually leads to life-threatening cancers and diseases caused by immune system suppression. FIV is contagious through blood and sexual contact. It is comparable to HIV in people, but neither FIV nor FeLV are transmissible to humans in any way.

Dental diseases and infections caused by immune suppression are more common in cats with FIV. There is no good data for the life expectancy of a cat diagnosed with FIV, but it is generally considered longer than a cat with FeLV. 

Testing considerations

These diseases are rare. About 2.5% of the United States cat population would test positive for FeLV or FIV. When healthy-looking cats were tested, the prevalence dropped into the 1.5% range. Stray cats that are getting into fights are the populations at highest risk.

There is no perfect test for either of these diseases. We run one of two “SNAP” tests that look for either both diseases at once or just FeLV. The FeLV part of the test looks for antigens, or part of the actual virus. The FIV test looks for antibodies, or the body’s response to the virus. Mom’s antibodies can make young kittens test falsely positive for FIV. If a cat was recently exposed to either of these diseases, it can take a month or sometimes more for them to test positive. 

Animal Humane Society has at least 15,000 cats come through our doors annually. Testing every cat is, unfortunately, cost prohibitive, and keeping cats for at least a month or until 6 months old to avoid the need for retesting is counter to our goal of placing cats in good homes as quickly as possible. A longer stay would also put cats at risk for URIs and other contagious diseases. 

Our testing policy

With the relative rarity of these diseases, the cost of testing, and the limits of the tests themselves, our policy is to test those cats where the results are reliable or we are most likely to find either disease. Cats with bite/fight wounds, those that may go to our colony rooms, pregnant or nursing cats and those associated with a cruelty/hoarding case get FeLV/FIV tested. 

Follow-up testing?

Please consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible regarding potential FeLV/FIV testing. Together you can formulate a plan of testing and/or vaccination that fits you and your pets’ best interests. We advise you keep existing cats separated from newly adopted cats until you get a chance to discuss testing with your veterinarian and any recommended follow-up tests have been performed. Any follow-up testing would be at the adopter’s expense. 

For further information on these or any feline diseases, please visit the website for the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

Parasites

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Parasites

External parasites

Parasites that live on the outside of our pets are known as external parasites, or ectoparasites. They are better known as fleas, ticks, lice, and ear mites. Fortunately, infestation by these parasites is very treatable and preventable with the proper steps. At AHS, we diagnose and treat these parasites before they have a chance to spread to any other animals. While the initial treatment is done at AHS prior to adoption, any follow-up treatments after the adoption will be at the adopter’s expense.

The following are general descriptions of the most common external parasites in dogs, cats and other animals:

  • Fleas: Fleas are a tough parasite because they are good at infesting an environment. Adult fleas (the ones that bite!) make up only 5% of the total flea population. The rest are eggs, larvae, and pupae that live in the environment. We treat animals that we suspect may have fleas with medications that not only kill adult fleas, but treat the whole life cycle. The medications we give last a full month. Fleas are prevalent throughout Minnesota, so ongoing prevention/treatment is recommended. Please discuss a flea prevention/treatment plan with your veterinarian.
  • Ticks: Ticks are very common in Minnesota. They transmit diseases like Lyme disease to dogs and people, and are also very hardy parasites. Treatments that kill fleas quickly take much longer to kill ticks. Full-grown and baby ticks (nymphs) can bite and spread disease. We apply topical insecticides that kill ticks to any animals that we suspect may be infested. Like with fleas, the medications we give last a full month. Ticks have been seen late into the fall and very early in the spring. Ongoing prevention/treatment is recommended. Please discuss a tick prevention/treatment plan with your veterinarian.
  • Lice: Lice are tiny parasites that live on the hair of their host. All types of animals, including people, can get lice. Fortunately, lice are very species-specific, so the type of lice pets get cannot infest people. If we diagnose an animal with lice, they are isolated, treated, and sent to the adoption center once they are deemed clear.
  • Ear Mites: Ear mites are tiny parasites that can live in the ear canals of dogs and cats. They do not infect people, but are contagious to other dogs and cats, causing excess black wax and extreme itchiness in the ears of affected animals. We start treatment the moment we diagnose mites. We give a topical medication call Revolution that is very good at killing these parasites. We also physically remove as many mites as we can by flushing and cleaning the ears. Rarely, follow up treatments are necessary. If your pet has been diagnosed with ear mites, please keep them away from animals that are not infected until you get approval from your veterinarian.

Prevention is always the goal with parasites. There are many excellent external parasite treatments and preventives on the market. Please discuss your pet’s risk and exposure with your veterinarian to make a comprehensive parasite prevention plan. 

Intestinal parasites

Intestinal parasites are very common in all animals, especially those that are strays or not in a controlled environment. Roundworms, hookworms, tapeworm, whipworms, Coccidia, and Giardia are all parasites seen in dogs and cats. Pets are usually infected by ingesting eggs or larval versions of parasites found in the environment. Eating birds, rodents, or fleas can also be a source of infection. Puppies and kittens can also become infected by their mother in utero.

Considering the prevalence of intestinal parasites, all dogs and cats at AHS are given a general de-wormer upon arrival. If they show further signs of parasites while in our care, like having diarrhea, a fecal test will be run to check for any evidence of specific parasites. The only good way to test for parasites is to check their stool for eggs, which are microscopic. After leaving the shelter, adopters will also want to monitor stool for the presence of worms or diarrhea, and your veterinarian will likely want to do additional parasite testing and treatment, as well as discuss a prevention plan. 

The following are general descriptions of the most common intestinal parasites in dogs and cats:

  • Roundworms: Roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite in dogs and cats. Adults are about 2-6 inches long. The worms can migrate throughout the body, but they live off food in the intestinal tract of their host. Eggs are shed by female worms in the stool, and ingestion of those eggs is how an animal becomes infected. Roundworms can be killed by most de-wormers, but repeat doses are usually necessary. Human infection is possible with roundworms if the eggs are ingested. Practicing good hygiene can greatly reduce any risk.
  • Hookworms: Hookworms are relatively common parasites as well. Adult worms are very small and thin, often not noticed in the stool. The worms “hook” into the lining of the intestines and actually feed off the host’s blood. Eggs are shed by female worms in the stool, but the eggs quickly hatch to become larva. These larvae can infect other animals, including people by being eaten or penetrating through bare skin.
  • Whipworms: Whipworms are small, thin worms with an even thinner tail that looks like a whip. They dig their tail into the lining of the large intestine, causing irritation and diarrhea. Eggs are shed by female worms. These eggs are not shed all the time, so seeing them on tests can be difficult, and the eggs can live in the environment for months at a time.
  • Tapeworms: Tapeworms are usually diagnosed by actually seeing little “rice-grain” segments around an animal’s rectum.  Tapeworms live off food in the intestines. Pets get tapeworms by eating an intermediate host like a mouse or flea. 
  • Coccidia: Coccidia are microscopic organisms called protozoa that live in the lining of the gut and can cause diarrhea. They are shed as cysts and are ingested to re-infect animals. There are many different ways to treat Coccidia. 
  • Giardia: Giardia are intestinal parasites that live in moist environments, especially ones where there is standing water. Giardia can cause vomiting and diarrhea. They are also shed as cysts into the environment and are ingested to re-infect animals. People can also be infected if they should ingest contaminated water or food.

Prevention is always the goal with intestinal parasites. Fortunately, most heartworm preventives contain general de-wormers. Good hygiene is crucial to prevent infection for dogs, cats, and people. Always pick up and properly dispose of your pet’s stool, and when possible, clean the affected area. Never let children handle stool of an infected pet. Always wash your hands after playing with your pet. Please discuss testing, prevention, and treatment of intestinal parasites with your veterinarian. 

About collars

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About collars

Though it may be tempting to take your pet’s collar off when inside your home, it’s important that your pet wears a collar both indoors and out. Accidents can happen when you least expect it and it’s best to be prepared. Just as a smoke alarm is a safety device to protect you and your family, a collar and ID tag is a safety device to protect your pet. You shouldn’t take a collar off your pet any more than you would take the batteries out of your smoke alarm.

How to fit a collar

  • Adjust the collar for a comfortable, yet snug fit around your pet’s neck.
  • See how many fingers you can fit between the collar and your pet’s neck. You should be able to get one finger under the collar for cats, two fingers for dogs.
  • Finally, check to make sure it’s not so loose that it can slip over the pet’s head.

Proper collar maintenance

Once a month, or once a week for puppies and kittens, check your pet’s collar to ensure it still has the proper fit. Check your pet’s collar for signs of wear and tear as well. If it looks like it is getting frayed and may fall apart, drop by Animal Humane Society to purchase a new one.

Collar FAQs

Q: My pet doesn’t go outside, or wears his collar and ID tag when he does go out. Why should he wear a collar and ID tag indoors?

A: Unfortunately, accidents happen. It may be as simple as someone leaving a door open or your pet running outside when you leave for work. While you are careful to prevent these things, it happens more often than you may think. In fact, 41% of all cats reported missing were indoor only cats.

Having an ID tag on your pet is a crucial part of any emergency preparedness plan. If there is an emergency – tornado, fire, break-in, etc. – you may not be able to get your pet to safety. An ID tag will increase your chances of being reunited after the emergency.

Q: My pet is microchipped. Isn’t that enough?

A: While microchips are useful in reuniting pets with their owners, an ID tag is the fastest and easiest way for your lost pet to get home. There are a lot of people who will help out if they see a lost pet. However, few (if any!) carry around a microchip scanner in their pocket. An ID tag will give them a way to contact you right away and ensure your pet is back safely in your home as soon as possible.

An ID tag also identifies that your lost pet has a family that is missing them. This is especially important for cats as it prevents people from assuming your cat is just an outdoor cat and is not in need of assistance.

Q: What type of collar do you recommend?

A: We recommend the standard adjustable plastic clip or buckle collar. A study by Dr. Linda Lord of the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine showed that traditional collars are just as safe as breakaway collars and possibly slightly MORE safe. Some breakaway collars break apart too easily and often, causing frustration for pet and their people. This makes well-fitting traditional collars the better option. For dogs with narrow heads (i.e. greyhounds, whippets, etc.) we recommend a Martingale collar.

We do not recommend elastic collars (which tend to stretch over time, losing their proper fit) or choke collars.

Q: Are collars safe? What if they get snagged on something?

A: Studies have proven that properly fitted collars pose very minimal risk for causing injuries. The risks of being a lost pet are far greater. Nationwide, less than 2% of stray cats entering a shelter get reunited with their family and less than 10% of lost dogs return home on their own.

Also, while the risks of wearing a collar are very minimal, you can lower that risk even more by choosing an appropriate collar and ensuring a proper fit.

Zebra finch care

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Zebra finch care

Health and wellness

Diet

The zebra finch diet consists of a seed mixture for small birds. This should be made up of different kinds of millet and canary seed as well as other seeds. It is important, that zebra finches always have access to food. If they are too fat, then they need more exercise, not less food.

In addition to this, zebra finches like many greens, such as dandelion leaves and chickweed. Millet sprays are also appreciated. Make sure you get any greens from a non-polluted area. For instance picking dandelion leaves from the roadside is not a good idea.

Zebra finches should always have access to fresh water.

In general birds should always have access to some form of calcium. Usually cuttlefish bone and/or sea shells are very popular, but so are egg shells from regular chickens. If you do use egg shells I would suggest microwaving the shells for a few minutes (or heating them in a regular oven if you don't have a microwave) in order to kill any bacteria (Salmonella). Let the shells cool off before feeding them to the birds.

The above information is provided without any guarantees. Always consult a veterinarian before following any advice that might affect the health of your birds.

Housing

Zebra finches can be kept in cages or aviaries, indoors or outdoors. Since zebra finches are very hardy, they are able to tolerate many different environments without any problems. However, you should avoid placing them where it may rain on them. You should also avoid changing the environment too rapidly, since the birds will need to acclimatise to the new environment. Generally, healthy acclimatised zebra finches will feel quite all right with temperatures between 5� Celsius and 30� Celsius[RM1] . However, when breeding 15� Celsius should be the minimum temperature. (recommended temperatures may vary from region to region depending on humidity, etc.).

  • Cages or Aviaries? So where do I keep my birds, I hear you ask. Well, basically you have two choices: Either in a cage or in an aviary. If you just have one or two pairs, then you might want to keep the birds indoors. However, you should be aware that this will cause some inconveniences, as the birds can be quite messy. Indoors you will probably use a cage to keep your birds in. Many people have a shed in their back yard for those birds that are in cages. If you would rather keep your birds outdoors, then you would probably need an aviary.

    Whether you chose an aviary or a cage, you should always try to make it as big as possible. The minimum size for a cage that is to be used all year round is 60 x 40 x 40 cm (24 x 16 x 16 inches), but yours birds will appreciate any extra space. For shorter periods, such as during the breeding season or during the winter, shorter cages can be used. The breeding cages that I use now are 100 x 50 x 40 cm, and other than the show cages used for exhibitions, these are the smallest cages my birds are ever kept in.
  • Equipment: Apart from a cage or an aviary, you will need some pots for food and a drinker for water. Since zebra finches like to bathe, you should also have something for them to bathe in. If you are hoping for chicks, you should also get a nestbox (around 12 x 12 x 12 cm) or a wicker nest. For nesting material you can use coconut fibre or hay/dried grass.

Rat care

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Rat care

Personality

Rats are very social and intelligent pets. They do best in pairs. Two females can reliably live together. Males can do well together if introduced young. Do not keep males and females together, as rats are prolific breeders, producing up to 20 babies in one litter. The typical lifespan of a pet rat is 2-3 years.

Health and wellness

Medical needs

Common signs that something may be wrong with your rat include sneezing, lethargy, weight loss, dull eyes, open wounds, diarrhea, difficulty breathing and lumps. Rats are susceptible to external parasites such as lice. If you notice any of the former symptoms or parasites, contact your veterinarian promptly.

Diet

Pelleted or block-type diets are available for rats, and are formulated to be nutritionally complete. Choose a rat block that is low in fat and calories, and has soy meal high on the ingredient list rather than corn. While rat blocks should make the basic diet, a variety of fresh foods can be used to supplement the diet, which will aid in keeping rats healthy and prevent boredom with the pelleted diet. Packaged loose mixes are also available, but rats tend to pick out their favorite bits from the mix, which may mean they are not eating a balanced diet.

Try small amounts of fruits and vegetables such as peas, carrots, apples, bananas, whole grain pastas and bread, brown rice, yogurt, and occasionally low fat cooked meat, mealworms, cheese, seeds and nuts. Treats, such as plain dog biscuits, can also be given. It is important to keep rats on a high-fiber, low-fat diet, so limit higher fat foods such as cheese, seeds and nuts to very special occasions. Do not feed rats sugary foods such as candy, chocolate or junk food. 

Heavy ceramic food dishes are best for feeding your rat, as they are sturdy, don't tip over too easily, and they are simple to clean. A water bottle with a sipper tube can be used for water. Make sure a supply of fresh clean water is always available.

Housing

A large wire cage with a solid bottom is best to house your rat. A tall cage with ramps and platforms is ideal for providing room for multiple rats. At minimum, a cage with 12 x 24 inches (2 square feet) of floor space is okay for two smaller rats, as long as the cage is tall and you provide shelves and/or hammocks for extra space. Larger is always better. Large aquariums are okay, but do not provide good ventilation (and must be cleaned more often).

Avoid cages with wire flooring, as spending time on wire flooring has been linked to a condition called bumble foot where the feet become red, swollen and bumpy. Also look for wire that is a fine grid (½ x ½ inch maximum). Your best bet is to look for cages that have plastic or wood shelving, or you can modify cages using melamine-covered boards to make your own easy-to-clean shelves.

The cage should ideally be placed in a relatively quiet location, but still near the social activity in the home. Rats are nocturnal, so choose a location where it is fairly quiet during the day. Placing the cage on a table or stand will help the rats feel more secure. The cage should not be placed in direct sunlight or in drafty locations. Limit access to the cage by other household pets, as a rat will understandably feel threatened by a cat or dog hovering outside the cage.

  • Bedding: For bedding, avoid cedar and pine wood shavings as these woods can be harmful to rats. Carefresh or aspen (or other hardwood) shavings are best. There are many other good pet bedding and litter options available these days that are very absorbent, not dusty and safe for small pets. Some are pelleted and not very comfortable for rats to play and sleep in, so some people use the pelleted products (which are usually very absorbent) under a layer of softer loose bedding.

    You will also want to provide some nesting material which the rats can shred and use to line their nest box. Paper (no ink), plain tissues and paper towels all work well.

    Usually, the rats will chose a bathroom location in one area of the cage. Heavily soiled litter should be scooped out daily, and more litter added if needed. Thoroughly clean the cage with warm, soapy water once a week.
  • Nest Box: A nest box should be provided, either store-bought or homemade. A cardboard box makes a perfectly acceptable nest box, but plan to replace it often. Other possibilities include a flowerpot or jar turned on its side, or a section of PVC drain pipe (perhaps cover one end). Store-bought boxes are good too, but keep in mind that wooden ones can be hard to clean if they get urine on them, and the plastic ones might get chewed up fairly quickly.

Grooming

Rats have sharp little nails, and for your comfort you may want to trim them when playing with your rats. Check them every 1-2 months. Nail trimming is not difficult, except that your rat will probably object and try to squirm away. You can use a pair of human nail clippers and just trim a tiny bit off the tip and avoid the pink part (quick) inside the nail, as this is a blood vessel and nerve. If you do happen to nick the blood vessel, a little cornstarch or Kwik Stop applied to the nail tip should stop any bleeding.

Check the teeth occasionally to make sure they are not getting overgrown. Make sure you provide lots of chewing opportunities to keep their teeth healthy.

Training and pet behavior

Handling your rat

Rats are friendly and curious by nature, but you will need to spend some time getting them used to handling. Start by hand feeding them small treats. When they are comfortable accepting treats, pick them up one at a time – one hand supporting the bottom, the other over the back. Once hand-tamed, many rats will become comfortable enough to sit on your lap or shoulder.

Playtime and exercise

Rats love to climb, and will make good use of ladders, ropes, hammocks, tunnels, and platforms. Blocks of wood for chewing, cardboard tubes, and toys designed for ferrets or parrots are good choices. Look for rope and wood toys as many plastic toys can't stand up to chewing by a determined rat. Simple items like large cardboard mailing tubes, crumpled paper, paper bags, and cardboard boxes can also make wonderful toys. Rotate the toys on a regular basis so the rats do not become bored.

Some rats like to run on exercise wheels (and some will never try). If you get one, be sure to choose the solid type without wire rungs. A rat’s feet or tail can get caught in the rungs or the supports on which the wheel is suspended.

Exercise and playtime outside the cage is a must for the smart, active rat. Make sure that the area you allow your rats out in is secure and rat-proofed, since rats will chew on just about anything they can get their teeth on. Make sure electrical wires are out of reach or encased in plastic tubing and that your pets cannot access anything that is toxic, including poisonous plants. Rats tend to leave scent marks as they roam in the form of little drops of urine. The odor is not offensive, but you may want to cover furniture with a throw while they are out. They will also do this on their owners, so be prepared!

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