Small Rodent Basics

Housing

Rats should be kept in large wire cages that allow them to climb and run around. A cage 50cm x 50cm x 30cm is suitable for one rat. The cage should be placed in a draft free, dry environment with access to natural light but not direct sunlight. The cage should include items for them to climb in/on e.g. plastic tubes and ropes, they also enjoy comfortable bedding areas so a wooden box with a lift able lid should be provided filled with hay.

Mice and Gerbils ideally should be kept in medium sized aquarium with multi-levels and a wire mess lid. A cage of 45cm x 30cm x 20cm is ideal for 2-3 mice/gerbils. The cage should contain plenty of hidey holes in the form of wooden boxes and cardboard tubes.

Always remember a bigger cage is better, these sizes are a minimum size for comfort.

Rats, Mice and Gerbils like to have plenty of substrate within the cage to allow for digging and tunnelling behaviours. A good substrate is wood shavings and in the case of the rat some straw or hay to make a bedding area with.

The cage should be cleaned out on a regular basis of once to twice a week depending on the number of animals in the enclosure.

Feeding

Rats, Mice and Gerbils are omnivores which means they like to eat a variety of different foods from fruit and vegetables to titbits of meat e.g. chicken. Ideally feed your small furry on a commercial complete food with additions of fruit, vegetable and meat titbits in moderation but try to avoid high fat seeds like sun-flower seeds, as they can be prone to obesity. Water should be available at all times and can be given in a water bottle or ceramic dish. Bottles are generally cleaner than ceramic dishes.

Pairing

Rats, Mice and Gerbils are social creatures and enjoy the company of others of the same species. Ideally they should be kept in same sex pairs or same sex groups as they have a high reproduction rate, meaning two animals can become 10-20 in only a matter of a year!

Rats can be kept on their own but prefer to have company.

Common Diseases

Pneumonia

Rats and Mice are prone to viral pneumonia. The best way to help avoid them getting Pneumonia is to ensure their cage is clean and the cage is in an appropriate place – draft free, dry place with access to natural light but not direct sunlight and that adequate ventilation provided eg wire mesh cage or wire mesh top to the glass cage. Clinical signs included distressed breathing, sneezing, lack of appetite, and loss of weight.

Wet Tail

Gerbils are prone to wet tail. Wet tail is caused by a number of factors including stress, environment, and possibly diet. Therefore it is important to ensure the environment is clean and an appropriate diet maintained. Clinical signs include very watery diarrhoea which will stain the anus and tail, lethargy and loss of appetite.

 Neoplasia

Tumours are a common problem in all small animals. Unfortunately they grow fast and often affect more than one body system meaning and are most often seen in animals over 2 years of age. In some cases the tumours can be removed but more often than not it is a matter of keeping the animal comfortable.

Dental Problems

Rats, Mice and Gerbils have open rooted teeth which means they are growing all the time which means if they are not provided with enough material to chew on their teeth become too large making it hard to eat. Items that are good for chewing on include wooden blocks, cardboard and rope toys.

Malocclusion occurs as a deformity and as a result of bar chewing. Regular clipping at the vets is required to keep the teeth short.

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