The Rat Fan Club

Book Reviews:  Rat Care Books

by Debbie “The Rat Lady”


Book Review: My Rat

            This book was written by Gerd Ludwig of Germany, in German, and translated to English and published by Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. in 2010.  A revised version was published in 2012.  The publisher must have read my original review, because many of the errors in the first edition were corrected in the second edition, even using my words!  I was very impressed by this, but unfortunately, they didn’t correct all the problems.

My main overall comment on the book is that the design, layout and photos are very good, but are geared toward children, where the writing is geared toward adults, and college-graduates at that (for instance, he uses the word “impetus” on page 7).  There is a major mismatch between these 2 elements. Also, something I didn’t notice in the first edition is that almost all the photos are of baby rats. Aside from the photos of the mother rat with her babies, and maybe a few others, every picture is of babies. While it’s true that babies are cuter, people need to know what the adults look like too. Rats don’t stay babies very long!

            There is also a large amount of incorrect information and bad advice in this book, so much that my notes on the original edition take up 11 pages. Therefore, I’m putting them on a separate page, with additional notes from the revised edition.  You can find them here.


Book Review: Rat Training

This book is by Miriam Fields-Babineau and was published by Bowtie Press in 2009.  Pages 9-63 are on general care, pages 65-129 on training, and pages 131-149 on traveling with rats, rat shows, the Extreme Rat Challenge, and professional rat trainers, including the author. Overall, the training information in this book is quite good, but there are some factual errors, and several points in other areas of the book I disagree with.

On page 12 the author recommends not buying a rat from any colony where even one rat is sneezing. This advice is rather outdated. I used to recommend this, but now I think differently. Respiratory infections are so common in rats these days, It’s almost impossible to find rats totally free of respiratory disease. The practical thing to do is assume they all have mycoplasma, and have on hand amoxicillin for treating secondary infections if any symptoms appear. On page 16 a photo of a completely hairless rat has the wrong caption, which says “This patchwork rat sports patches of fur….” The text on this page says that hairless rats “are less able to adjust to shifts in temperature and easily catch cold.” First of all, rats don’t “catch colds,” and secondly, hairless rats only have trouble with extreme cold, ie. temperatures below 50 degrees. They are actually more tolerant of warm temperatures than hairy rats.

            On page 20 it says male rats tend to be smelly, but only certain people with sensitive noses have a problem with the smell of male rats. It also strongly implies that aggression is a common problem in male rats. While rats from pet shops do have more of a tendency to become aggressive, this will not be a problem in well-bred rats. On page 30 it says that it takes 2 months for testosterone levels to fall after a rat is neutered but this just isn’t true. Testosterone levels drop immediately, and the time required for some males to show a behavior change I believe is related to a change in their brain.

On page 32 it says “Lab blocks and seed diets contain too much corn, which can be both uncomfortable (as it can product too much gas) and unhealthy as sole sources of nutrition.” First of all, the amount of corn varies from brand to brand, so such a blanket statement can’t be true. Secondly, the statement about it causing uncomfortable amounts of gas is ridiculous. Fortunately, she then lists my recommendations for diet and praises my homemade diet recipe. Then on page 34 she says yogurt drops are far healthier than candy. However, most yogurt drops contain a large amount of hydrogenated fat, which as we now know is harmful to the body, and basically is just candy.

On page 36 she says alfalfa pellets can be used for bedding, but that rats will likely eat it. In my experience, very few rats will eat much of it. On page 37 she recommends kiln-dried pine products, which still contain toxins, and says rats are likely to eat corn cob litter, which is not true.

            On page 39 she says having a male rat neutered will lower the risk of prostate disease and kidney degeneration, which is true, but since neither of these diseases common in pet rats, neutering does not have any significant health benefits. Fortunately, she then refers people to my information for further health and medical care.

            On page 43 she says that a rusty cage can be a danger if a rat eats the rust. While this might be true, I have never known any rat to eat rust. She then says a 10-20 gallon aquarium works pretty well as an environment for 1 or 2 rats. These size aquariums are way too small to house rats. I’d rather see them in a big rusty wire cage! On page 48 a photo shows a rat with a hamster-sized exercise ball, which is way too small for a rat.

            On page 55 she says if there is a squeaky exercise wheel in the rat cage, either take it out at bedtime or put the cage in a soundproof room. Actually, a very simple solution is to oil the wheel with vegetable or baby oil, or petroleum jelly. On page 61 she says never to use anything made of plastic in a rat cage. I disagree with this because even though rats may chew on plastic, they almost never swallow it. Plus, while soft plastics are not recommended, many hard plastics are fairly resistant to rat teeth. Ironically, the photo on this page shows a rat cage furnished with a plastic milk-jug house and a plastic litter box shelf! On page 62 the caption to a photo says ropes are not safe for rats to chew, but I disagree. Again, while rats will chew on cloth and rope fibers, they rarely swallow pieces that will harm them.

            On page 55 the book gets into the topic of training, and says when it comes to motivating rats, “food will do it every time.” I guess it depends on the food, but I have had rats who were uninterested in learning tricks even for a reward of tasty Cocoa Krispies cereal. On page 66 she says in the morning she makes her rats come and stand on their hind legs to get a food block, and that only one block is necessary. This statement is misleading, because it sounds like a rat only needs to eat one block a day, while they actually need to eat about 3, depending on the rat’s age, size and the brand of food.

             On page 120 there is a serious error regarding the interaction of birds and rats. It says, “Unless Tweety is a hawk, owl, or other meat-eating bird, neither animal will wish to make a lunch of the other.” This is absolutely wrong! Rats are predatory and most rats will quickly kill small birds. On page 131 she says rats are small enough to store under an airline seat, but she fails to point out that most airlines have strict rules against allowing rats to ride in the cabin of the plane. On page 133, she says when traveling, make sure your rat is comfortable in his carrier with a small water bottle, but she doesn’t warn that most water bottle will leak water when they are jiggled.

On the topic of rat shows, she says, “You can either participate in a rat show, or just show up to cheer on your favorite variety. Either way, it’s a fun activity you and rat can share.” Most rat shows do not allow rats that aren’t actually entered in the show in the area, so it’s not possible to take your rat to a show just to watch. On page 34 she says one of the divisions of varieties at a rat show is “the Fancy,” but this is a general term to mean all rats raised for show or pets, not a particular variety. I do thank her for recommending the chapter about showing rats in my rat care book, and for saying I am “an expert on all things rat.”

On page 147 she says the average litter size in rats is 8, when it is actually 12. She says a male rat will “spend many hours snuggled close,” but not all male rats will; it depends on their personality and the way they’re raised. One final mistake appears on the last page, 149, which says, “In the last three decades, rats have moved from the laboratory into our homes as beloved pets.” The first rats to be domesticated in England were kept as pets first, and only later were rats used in the laboratory. It is a myth that pet rats came from lab rats.

The training information in this book is valuable, and focuses on different techniques that I use in my book on rat training. Despite the errors in this book, I do recommend it.


Book Review: My Rat and Me

(This review appeared in the February 2005 issue of the Rat Report.)

The book My Rat and Me by Monika Lange was published by Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. in 2002.  I found it interesting that the book was originally written in German and published in Germany and was translated into English by someone other than the author, even though a note about the author says she has lived in Seattle, WA since 1998.  I have had this book for a couple of years and somehow never got around to reviewing it, and I don’t remember how I got it.  I don’t remember seeing it for sale in any of the pet stores or book stores I have been in since it came out.  My copy has a price sticker of $6.95 on the back.

This book is a paperback with 64 pages and several fold-out pages.  The design and layout is very interesting and innovative.  It is filled with lots and lots of beautiful pictures of rats interacting with toys and posing with natural objects such as plants, sand, gravel and tree roots.  Scattered throughout the book are little stories by another German writer of adventures her rats get into while on the loose in her home.  The book contains lots of good information and interesting little observations.  It is obvious by some of the phrasing that the author has read my book or some of my articles!

However, as good as this book is, it contains some information that I disagree with fairly seriously.  On page 9 in “The 10 Golden Rules for Feeding” it says for their basic food to add sugar-free granola to a grain mix formulated for rats or hamsters.  Even without sugar, most granola contains fat, and it would just add empty calories to the grain mix.  It also says vegetables of the cabbage family (such as broccoli and cauliflower) are harmful, which of course they are not.

On page 16 in a little section called “What Rats Are Like” it says rats measure about 14" long not including the tail.  This is not correct, because most females are about 8-9" long and most males about 10" long.  In this section it also says “a rat’s teeth continue to grow.”  It would have been better if it had said incisor teeth, because not all a rat’s teeth continuously grow.

On page 18 they say that in theory a rat can have a litter every 3 weeks, but in fact, if a rat gets pregnant at the post partum estrus, the new pregnancy is delayed about a week, so in theory a rat can have a litter only every 4 weeks.

On page 21 it says “All pet rats are descendants of laboratory rats,” but I don’t think that is true.  Rats were being bred for pets in England and were already basically domesticated before they were used as laboratory rats.

On page 23 the author says that you should never have the scent of any lotions or other products on your hands when handling your rats because this will prevent them from being able to identify you.  This is pure nonsense and only shows that the author does not understand the rat’s sophisticated sense of smell, which is easily able to identify many different odors at once, just like a dog.

On page 25 there is a quiz to test “How Well Do You Know Your Rat?”  I think some of the questions should have been worded differently.  For instance, one of the questions is “Do rats live more than 2-3 years?” and the “correct” answer is “no.”  Of course rats can live longer than this, although the book explains it is rare.  It would have been better to make the question “Do rats usually live more than 2-3 years?”

Page 30 includes some good instructions to tell children about rats before they handle them, but while it warns that rats can bite, it fails to warn that rats can scratch, a more likely occurrence.  Later on page 35 the instructions for introducing new rats are rushed, going right from putting them together in neutral territory (a bathtub) to putting them in a new cage together.  Then it says if they injure each other “separate them and carefully start all over.”  Yikes!

On page 54 it talks about changes that can occur in an older rat, and it says that a rat 1½ to 2 years old “loses interest in activity and exploration.”  I’d have to say that if a rat of any age loses total interest in these activities, illness rather than old age is probably the cause.

The section on health problems is very brief, listing only the most common problems.  However, I was concerned that the author included “skin diseases, because the weakened immune system offers less protection” in older rats because I have never noticed an increase in skin problems in older rats.  I wonder if her rats have had scabs caused by fur mites that she didn’t know about.  She says the symptoms of respiratory illness are “gasping for breath, constant sneezing and nasal discharge, and in severe cases lethargy and loss of appetite.”  Why doesn’t she recognize that gasping is a symptom of a severe case (it doesn’t get any more severe than that), and what happened to wheezing and labored breathing?

Overall this is a fun book that is mostly meant to appeal to children.  It recommends a lot of playtime and human interaction for rats, but never mentions exercise wheels.  It’s an interesting book that includes a lot of good information in a small space.



Book Review:  Training Your Pet Rat

(This review appeared in the January 2001 issue of the Rat Report.)

This book was written by Gerry Bucsis and Barbara Somerville and published by Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. in 2000.  I found it in general to be a good rat care book, although there are some things I disagree with.  The introduction is very good, and the chapters on rat-proofing and toys are very good.  But I was disappointed in it mostly because I feel it doesn’t live up to its title.  I was expecting the whole book, or at least most of it, to be devoted to training instructions, but most of it is just a rat care book.  There are only 4 chapters out of 15 that including information on training, and training instructions take up only 11 pages out of 89.

Glancing through the chapter headings in the Table of Contents supports the idea that the book is all about training, but some of the chapter titles are misleading.  For instance, Chapter 1, called Pretraining Preparations, is about choosing a cage, where to put it, etc.  The final chapter, Training Tips and Handy Hints, really doesn’t have any training tips at all.

I was confused that the chapter that sounds the most like it would include trick training, called A Hat-Trick of Rat Tricks, included only one trick, sitting up.  Then it went on to discuss letting your rat ride around on your shoulder (this is a trick?) and letting your rat ride in a fanny pack.

The chapter that actually included the most tricks was titled Fun and Games.  The first part of the chapter covers toys and games.  Then it describes a few of what I would consider tricks, but calls them games instead.  These include climbing a rope, walking a tightrope, jumping through a hoop, pulling up a basket on a string, and choosing the correct shape on the door of a box that has a treat.  So, while the book does include several tricks to teach your rats, after reading the book, someone might come away with the idea that all the book has to offer is some games.

The style of the book is very chatty and glib.  I found the authors’ use of alliteration and rhyme to be so overdone as to call more attention to these style choices than the book’s content.  At every opportunity the authors chose to use alliteration.  For instance, “No matter how often you say, ‘No, no, no!’ little Lola will continue to gnaw, gnaw, gnaw.” Here’s another example, “So you think that hamster habitat is a steal of a deal and cute to boot?  What’s home for Hammy is wrong for Ratty.”  While some people might find this cute, I found it distracting.

I found the overall advice in the book more uptight and overprotective than I think it really needed to be.  For instance, it recommends never letting your rats play in a bedroom (horrors, they might chew on the bedding!), never letting them in the kitchen because of GERMS, and in fact suggests not to let them play in any room but a carefully rat-proofed bathroom, laundry room or mud room.  It warns never to let your rats play outside, even on a leash (too dangerous!)  They also recommend washing the water bottle daily, and picking poop out the cage daily with a scoop or tweezers! 

In contrast to this overprotectiveness, however, I found some failures in some of their advice where they needed to be more protective.  For instance, when recommending large exercise balls for rats they say to just “Pop Minnie inside, close the door, and watch that baby roll!”  In my experience this advice will lead to most rats being scared of the exercise ball.  I recommend you let your rat enter the ball on his own and learn to be comfortable in it first before closing him in it.  In the same way, their instructions on introducing new rats to each other fails to warn against imminent aggression signaled by raised hair, and rushes the whole process.  If fights occur, they say, just break them up by squirting the rats with water!  When talking about traveling with rats in the car, they fail to recommend bringing ice in case of a break-down of the air-conditioner.  Although they recommend removing the water bottle when traveling with your rat by car, they recommend leaving it on the carrier when the rat travels by airplane.  A better suggestion is to include fruit to provide moisture to prevent the bottle from soaking the bedding.

Here are some other statements they make that I disagree with. They say galvanized cages can cause zinc poisoning, but I’ve never heard of this occurring.  Rats would have to actually eat pieces of the zinc for this to happen, not just lick their feet.  They recommend using heat-treated pine shaving bedding, saying that it is no longer toxic, but I have a study that shows that pine shavings treated in an autoclave (high heat and pressure) still retained much of their toxins.  They recommend bathing rats every month, while I don’t think most rats need baths at all.  In between baths they recommend spot scrubbing a male’s back with shampoo, but unless you thoroughly rinse off the shampoo, that means the rat will be licking it off.  Yuck!

They say that you won’t have to spend much for vet bills because “After all, they don’t need annual vaccinations, neutering or spaying isn’t usually necessary, and medical procedures that are commonplace for larger animals are not always practical for pint-sized pets.”  I’m afraid this may support the belief of some that rats are “disposable pets.”  As we all know, because of mycoplasma and tumors, vet bills for rats can be quite high.  When discussing males who become aggressive due to testosterone overload, they say that neutering is “often the kindest course.”  I would say that neutering is the only course!  What’s the alternative?  A rat who has to live alone and can’t be handled?  They don’t say it, but I’m assuming they consider euthanasia an alternative.

Like most rat books, they perpetuate the myth that rats need to chew on things to keep their teeth from overgrowing.  And they say rats have paws, not hands and feet!  This is one of my pet peeves, but really, do rats have paws?

The photos in the book are all pretty good.  Quite a few of the pictures show different toys.  There are about 89 different photos, or sets of photos (for instance they show several different types of litters) but only 11 photos show rat tricks or training.

Overall, this is a pretty good rat care book, but someone who buys it thinking that it’s a book on rat training will be sorely disappointed.



Book Review: Guide to Owning a Rat

(This review appeared in the June 1998 issue of the Rat Report.)

This 64-page softbound book was written by Susan Fox and published by T.F.H. Publications in 1996.   However, Susan told me she wrote the book several years before T.F.H. decided to publish it.  Susan also wrote the first rat care book called Rats which was published in 1988.  Unfortunately, this book has problems similar to her first one.

The introduction of this book is quite good and explains that rats are affectionate and interactive companions that are growing in popularity.  The first chapter, Rats in General, covering the history of rats and their physical characteristics is pretty good.  It is in the section on choosing rats that the problems begin.  It says, “You can buy a rat from a pet shop” without mentioning humane societies or breeders.

It goes on to say “...some people believe that a rat is happiest when kept with another rat.  However, it should not be considered necessary to keep rats together.  A single rat might be more responsive and friendly because you are its only playmate.”  I was sorry to see her perpetuate the myth that single rats are more responsive.  Actually, single rats can be more shy and insecure.  She says to “be careful” if introducing a new rat, but doesn’t give any steps for doing so.

In the chapter on Housing, she says, “There is usually no problem with a rat’s getting its food caught in the wire-mesh bottom of a commercially made cage, especially if you pile bedding all over the mesh floor.”  Why bother having a mesh floor then!  It does say if your cage has a wire shelf, you might cover it with 1/2" square mesh to help prevent a leg from getting caught.

In the section on bedding, she does mention that cedar shavings cause elevated liver enzymes, but does not mention that pine shaving do so as well.  She says, “You should not worry about the adverse effect of an overproduction of liver enzymes in your pet rat, especially if you mix only small amounts of cedar shavings with pine shavings.  Nonetheless, because of these possible side effects, it is often best not to use any cedar shavings at all.”  Talk about a contradiction!

She says, “Your rat can be kept outdoors if the temperature does not drop below 40 degrees F.”  I hate to see anyone recommend keeping rats outdoors, but if they do, it is much more important to warn against heat rather than cold!  Rats can tolerate cold much better than heat.

In the chapter on Feeding, she says you can feed pellets, but she also says you can use hamster or gerbil mix, or make your own mix.  This after a page discussing the importance of vitamins and minerals!  Of course she doesn’t mention how making your own mix is supposed to supply your rats with all the required nutrients.  In the Treats section, she recommends catching wild insects to feed to your rats.  I do not recommend this, as wild insects can pass parasites to rats.

Like most books, she perpetuates the myth that rats must chew on hard foods to wear their teeth down.   She says, “If you give your rat hard foods in its regular diet, long teeth should not be a problem.”  It is not the lack of hard foods that causes overgrown teeth, and if a rat’s teeth overgrow due to a medical problem, hard foods are not the solution.  She recommends hard foods such as, “artificial dog bones (flavored nylon bones work well).”  Of course this is included because Nylabones are sold by the same company that owns T.F.H. (photos are included).  Well, I don’t consider Nylabones a food!  And my rats have never shown any interest in them.

Like many rat books, this one includes a section called Taming.  I always dislike this term in a book about a domestic animal because domestic animals are born tame, they just need socialization.  However, the information included in this section is good, as is the chapter on Training.

In the chapter on Breeding, it says an average litter size is 8.  In my experience, the average litter size is 12.  When talking about a new litter she says, “After peeking once, leave the babies alone until they leave the nest.”  Unfortunately, this will prevent people from giving the babies the early socialization which can be so important.  And unfortunately, she continues in this vein by saying, “You can play with the babies by letting them smell your hands when you feed them and clean their cage....The young rats will quickly become used to you and make better pets because of their contact with you.”  This is not enough!  The babies need to be picked up and held and cuddled and petted!  She goes on to say you can wean rats between 3 and 4 weeks of age, although she adds, “Some rats seem to grow bigger if they are not weaned until the fourth week.”  She does say, “At 6 weeks they should be kept in single-sex groups,” which is good, but then says they reach sexual maturity by 2 months of age.  They can actually reach sexual maturity by 5 weeks!

The brief Health chapter has some good points, but also some problems.  She says, “A sick rat should be immediately isolated,” but I disagree.  I think it depends on how sick the rat is.  I think it can be stressful to isolate a rat from her cagemates unless she is too weak to deal with them.  Her explanation of respiratory disease and mycoplasma is good, but unfortunately, she recommends treating mycoplasma with tetracycline in the water for only 5 days.  This is not long enough to do any good, and in fact, might make the infection worse by allowing the bacteria to develop a resistance to the drug.  She also says, “...use antibiotic therapy only for severe a means of making [your pet] more comfortable.”  The problem I have with this is that she doesn’t define what a “severe bout” is.  I think most people reading this would not consider wheezing a severe symptom, although it can indicate severe lung damage.  She also includes “rough hair coat” as a symptom of an upper respiratory infection, but in my experience, a rat will puff her hair up only when she has a more severe infection.

She says mammary tumors can be surgically removed, but usually recur.  This is incorrect.  Benign tumors do not recur if they are completely removed.  However, other tumors can grow later.  She says lice are rarely found on pet rats, but I have found them to be fairly common.  She also says lice can be treated with bird spray, however, I have found that this is rarely effective.  She fails to even mention mites.

I thought it was a little funny that the back cover listed “Color Varieties” as one of the attractions of the book, as this was a very limited part of the book.  An explanation of the varieties took only half a page, and there were photos showing only 11 colors and varieties.  (In comparison, my book shows 22.)  Many of the photos in this book are of the same 4 rats.

While this book is better than most, it still contains advice that can impair the health and well-being of rats, and I cannot recommend it.



Book Review:  The Rat

(This review appeared in the April 1998 issue of the Rat Report.)

This book is one of a series called An Owner’s Guide to A Happy Healthy Pet. It was published by Howell Book House in 1998.  I was looking forward to this book, written by Ginger Cardinal, a board member and judge of the American Rat, Mouse & Hamster Society of San Diego, thinking that finally there would be a good rat book (besides mine of course).  The portions of the book which deal with behavior are very good, but I was quite disappointed by several other portions of the book.

The best parts of the book are Chapters 2, 8, and 9. Chapter 8, Understanding Your Rat, is very good and I especially like the section on “The Meaning of Squeaking.”  Chapter 9, Training Tricks and Tips, is also good, especially the section on Athletic Ability.

In Chapter 2, Rats As Pets, the section “Is a Rat Right for Me?” is excellent.  The series of questions which explore the responsibilities of having a rat are well done.  Likewise, the rules for letting children interact with rats are also excellent, as are the suggestions for dealing with visitors who dislike rats.  I was intrigued to see that Ginger listed the gestation period as 21-30 days, average 21.  The usual gestation period is 21-23 days (usually 22), but if a rat is bred at the post partum estrus, the implantation of the egg is delayed, causing the appearance of a longer gestation period.  However, I think this should be explained, because otherwise the gestation period is never longer than 23 days, and this could result in a lack of proper care if a pregnancy goes longer than normal term.

I was sorry to see that a 10-gallon aquarium is listed as the minimum cage size, because I think this is too small.  I was also sorry to see that the book perpetuates the myth of rats having to chew on hard things to keep their teeth worn down.  A photo in the section on traveling with your rat shows a rat in a fabric carrier!  I hope no one tries this because a rat could chew out of one of these in a matter of seconds.

I found some minor problems in several other sections of the book.  In Chapter 1, The History of the Rat, the first thing that struck me is that on an illustration of the parts of a rat’s body the hand is called a paw!  (I understand that Ginger was probably not responsible for the illustrations.  She later describes the front foot as shaped like a hand.)  Another thing that bothered me was that throughout this chapter, there was no distinction made between wild and domestic rats.  I don’t think the word “wild” is ever used.  A photo with the caption “For many centuries, rats have foiled human attempts to eliminate them,” shows an albino rat getting into the garbage under a sink! 

The book says “Black Rats [meaning Rattus rattus] are not very common today,” but this isn’t true.  It depends on where you live.  Wild roof rats are quite common in California, and in fact, more common than wild Norway rats.  In the section on Rats in the Media, a picture from the movie The Secret of NIMH is not of one of the rat characters, but of the mouse Mrs. Brisby.

After having gone through the process of writing my book, and the exacting editing process, I got the impression that this book was not well edited.  When writing it’s easy to write statements that make sense to yourself, but have a different meaning to readers.  These misstatements should be caught by an editor and reworded.  Chapter 3, Rat Varieties, states, “There are currently five standardized coat types, commonly referred to as varieties.  These are hairless, rex, satin, standard and tailless.”  Well, tailless is a variety, but it certainly isn’t a coat type.  Ginger says hairless rats need to be kept especially warm, which isn’t true.  My hairless rats do just fine down to 65 degrees F.  She also says they are more sensitive to heat.  This also isn’t true.  My hairless rats are actually less sensitive to the heat and are comfortable at temperatures that are uncomfortably warm for furry rats. 

In the section on rat colors, I think it would have been helpful to define terms such as Ruby eyes and guard hairs.  There is an unfortunate typo which turned the color Cinnamon Pearl into Cinnamon Pear.  Until I figured it out, I was wondering why I’d never heard of this new color.

Chapter 4, Selecting Your Rat, is good.  However, I think the term “feeder” should have been defined because I don’t think a beginning rat owner would be familiar with the term.  Ginger says that rats lick your skin to get salt as well as a sign of acceptance and affection, but I disagree with this.  I think if rats licked you for salt, more rats would lick.

In Chapter 5, Housing Your Rat, I starting finding more serious problems.  It says rat cages should be made of mesh no larger than 1/2” square.  I disagree.  I find that mesh 1” square and even 1” X 2” work fine for adult rats.  I was glad to see that Ginger recommended strongly against cedar shavings.  However, I was extremely distressed to see that she recommends pine shavings!  She says that the amount of toxins in pine is significantly less than in cedar.  I do not know of any scientific evidence that says pine has fewer toxins than cedar, while I do have scientific evidence that pine is significantly toxic.

She says aspen shavings are “a hardwood like cedar, but supposedly do not carry [the toxins].”  This is a complete misstatement.  Aspen is a hardwood, and is non-toxic, while cedar is a softwood.  When talking about corn cob litter, Ginger contradicts herself.  First she says it’s not absorbent, then she says it is thought to contribute to drying a cage, and is not good to use in a dry climate.  In truth, corn cob litter is very absorbent, and that is why it can be very drying.  It can be so drying that it can cause skin problems in young and hairless rats.

She says that if a rat runs a lot on a wheel, it can have a curly tail.  Well, some rats do have a curly tail.  It is a genetic characteristic that I first saw in my lab rats, and which doesn’t appear until the rat is at least 3 months old.  However, it has nothing to do with running on a wheel.  There are plenty of fanatic wheel-running rats who do not develop a curly tail and curly-tailed rats who do not run on a wheel.

In Chapter 6, Feeding Your Rat, I found some advice I could not believe.  Ginger recommends, as a basic diet, either rat blocks or dry dog food!  She has obviously chosen to ignore that fact that dog food is made for dogs, not rats, and that the nutritional needs of the two species are entirely different.  Despite what she says in the book, dog food does not supply rats with the nutrients they need.  Dog food is too low in many vitamins and minerals for rats. 

She says you can use rats as a sort of garbage disposal by giving them discarded food scraps.  This is okay to a point, but she recommends giving apple cores without warning that apple seeds are poisonous.  She says it’s okay to give chocolate to rats, because they don’t seem to be allergic to it the way dogs are.  Well, dogs are not allergic to chocolate.  They are sensitive to chemicals in the chocolate that speeds up their heart.  It does seem that rats can eat small quantities of chocolate without problem. 

Chapter 7, Keeping Your Rat Healthy, had a large amount of wrong information.  Ginger should have had the chapter reviewed by a rat veterinarian or other rat health expert.  She says the red staining that can occur on light colored rats comes from their red saliva.  This is not true.  It comes from their red tears.  Rats do not have red saliva.  She later talks about porphyrin, the red pigment in rat tears, but misspells it “poripherin”.

When talking about mites, she discusses only tropical rat mites, which are tiny but visible, and doesn’t mention the microscopic fur mites.  She says rats can get mites from wood products and that’s why “it is never a good reason to make a rat’s home from wood.”  While it is true that mites can be carried on wood shavings, the wood is not the source of the mites; other rats are.  She also says rats get lice from birds.  This is absolutely wrong.  Lice are species specific which means rat lice can only live on rats, bird lice only on birds, and human lice only on humans.  For treating both mites and lice, she recommends either bathing and dipping, or ivermectin.  Bathing and dipping are usually ineffective and therefore stress the rat needlessly.

She says food allergies are caused by too much fat or protein in the diet.  This would not be a true food allergy, but an imbalance in the diet.  She says eye problems are not common in rats.  I disagree.  I think eye problems are fairly common in rats.  She says “If your rat has some grayish white areas in the eye, these are probably cataracts and there is no treatment for them.”  I think this is misleading.  Cataracts appear down deep in the eye, but superficial damage to the cornea, which needs treatment, can also cause grayish white areas of the eye.  This could cause an injury or infection of the eye to go untreated.

She states that the most common cause of vaginal bleeding is uterine tumors.  In my experience it is usually caused by a mycoplasma infection, not tumors.  She says the tumors can sometimes be removed, but will usually reoccur.  Unfortunately, this may discourage people from having their rat spayed, which is the only way to stop the bleeding.

She says respiratory infections “can range from the standard cold to the dreaded Mycoplasma Pneumonia.”  I don’t know what she means by “the standard cold.”  Rats cannot catch human colds, so this is very misleading.  In the section on tumors, she contradicts herself.  She says rats are prone to tumors and one reason rats are used in research is “their affinity for cancerous growths.”  But then she says “Most growths that rats get are benign.”  Female rats are very prone to benign mammary and pituitary tumors, but rats are no more prone to getting cancer than are humans or any other animal.

When discussing spaying and neutering, she says “There is currently no evidence to support the possibility that spaying or neutering will lengthen a rat’s life.”  Yes, there is.  Three scientific studies have shown that spaying lengthens the average life span of rats.  Ginger does say that spaying can help prevent mammary tumors, but does not mention pituitary tumors.

The last Chapter in the book, Showing Your Rat, takes up less than two pages.  Unfortunately Ginger fails to discuss the stress of taking a rat to a show, selecting show animals by personality, or the risk of disease transmission at a show.

I was disappointed to find that while this book has some good points, it contains much too much wrong information for me to recommend it.



Book Review: Fuzzy Creatures Quarterly—Rats

(This review appeared in the October 1997 issue of the Rat Report.)

Note:  This book has also been sold under the title Rats: A Complete Introduction.  It is exactly the same book with a different cover.

This book was published by T.F.H. Publications in 1997, and written by Daniel R. Schwartz, MS, DVM,. who is a laboratory animal vet.  The cover of this 8” X 11” book says it’s “A Complete Book in Magazine Form”.  However, it seems to be in pretty standard book format to me.  There is also a note on the first page “explaining” about the T.F.H Quarterlies, which I found totally incomprehensible. A statement on the first page says the book is dedicated to lab rats and the people who care for them, and that Dr. Schwartz is donating his proceeds from the book to the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science. Yuck!

The first paragraph of this book states that it was “written for the pet rat owner. Therefore, the purpose is to provide practical and accurate information on the general biology, care, behavior, reproduction, and health of rats as pets or companion animals.”  In this respect, this book fails miserably.  The book is written from the laboratory viewpoint.  It does pretty good on the general biology part, and in fact, properly explains the difference between taming and domestication, and the normal wear of their incisors, which most rat books fail to do (although later in the book it goes back to saying that a lack of gnawing “is often said to contribute” to malocclusion).  I was also pleasantly surprised that it recommends against pine and cedar shavings.

Like the other rat books I’ve reviewed, it contains quite a bit of wrong information, but the biggest failing of this book is it’s emphasis on methods used in labs which are totally inappropriate for pet rats. It shows photos of laboratory cages and recommends “shoebox” cages, without mentioning size, implying that the tiny lab cages are okay for pets.  In the section on handling, the photos (one of them a full page) show lab rats being picked up, and not gentley, by someone wearing latex gloves.  The text says, “you can pick up a rat by the base of the tail and carry it over a short distance”, and talks about picking up rats with forceps and steel mesh gloves!  It recommends wearing gloves when handling babies to reduce foreign odors.  I wonder, why is the smell of latex less foreign than human skin?  It also recommends handling the babies as little as possible.  In the section on euthanasia, it says that “quick physical methods” are acceptable.  When I read this, I was utterly horrified.

The lab focus continued with such wrong information, common in lab resources, as a weaning age of 3 weeks (it should be 4-5 weeks).  It lists the age of sexual maturity in three different places in the book, all wrong!  Surprisingly, it also gets the age when the eyes open wrong, says “females will continue to have litters into old age”, and misidentifies the appearance of a rat’s vulva when she is in heat.

Unfortunately, it also says, “Rats tolerate single housing well.”  It then goes on to say singly housed rats have been tested and found to have lower levels of stress hormones.  This is not true.  In fact, a study I read said exactly the opposite, that singly housed rats have higher levels of stress hormones.

With such a focus on lab methods, I at least expected this book to recommend lab blocks as the basic diet.  Although it does mention blocks, it doesn’t emphasize them, and says “most rodent diets are suitable for rats”.  The photo on this page shows a large close-up of a totally inadequate grain mix, “oats, sunflower seeds, and bits of dog biscuit,” with the caption recommending the best thing to do “is stick to the basic rodent mix.”

The section on disease is fairly good, although it recommends the wrong treatment for bumblefoot, fails to warn about the danger of a virus infection on top of mycoplasma (which of course isn’t a problem in labs any more), and although it talks about fur mites, it fails to list them as a cause of scabs.  It also fails to mention ivermectin as a treatment for mites.

There are some good photos in the book, especially of the teeth and a rat skeleton, and of some hairless rats, but many of the captions are wrong.  Several captions get the color wrong, labeling several albinos as Siamese, a fawn hooded as a cream hooded, and a white rat with black eyes as an albino.  The caption for a photo of a rat with what appears to be a ping pong ball-sized mammary tumor, says it’s a rat “with a small skin tumor--probably a mammary gland tumor.” Well, it’s either a mammary tumor or a skin tumor; it can’t be both, and I would consider such a tumor medium sized, not small.  I was surprised by the size of some of the photos.  Some nice ones of hairless rats and other variety examples are only 2″ square, while the only 2-page spread in the book was of a old sick rat!  In the history section, there are two large objectionable drawings of dogs killing rats.

The book also contains 5 photos of Nylabone products; Nylabone is a division of T.F.H.  One or two might have been appropriate; I thought 5 was excessive. The center of the book also contains 7 pages advertising other T.F.H. books, including one called Rats as a Hobby by Susan Fox, which I have asked the publisher to send me.

After reading this book, I wrote to the publisher, offering to point out errors to the author, and I received a letter from Dr. Schwartz welcoming my comments, which I sent.  I have not heard back from him.  I’m afraid he was probably overwhelmed.  I DO NOT recommend this book.  About the only good thing about it is that in the back it lists some clubs, including The Rat Fan Club.



Book Review: Rats for Those Who Care

(This review appeared in the June 1996 issue of the Rat Report.)

            This new book published by TFH Publications in 1995, is a short introductory book that still manages to include a great deal of wrong and questionable information.  The book, written by Dennis Kelsey-Wood, has 32 pages, is softback and retails for $4.95.

            The biggest mistakes in the book include errors in life-cycle information and behavior.  It says rats open their eyes “before the 15th day (usually by the 12th).”  Rats almost always open their eyes on the 14th day, never as early as the 12th day.  It also says they start eating solid food at 10-12 days, but this doesn’t occur until their eyes open at 14 days.  The book says rats are weaned at 3 weeks of age, but this is at least a week too early.  It says “Does can be sexually mature as young as 8 weeks old...” but this is incorrect.  Females can actually get pregnant at 5 weeks of age  It also says the estrus cycle is 4-6 days (it’s actually 4-5 days) and the gestation period is 21-26 days (it’s actually 21-23 days).  Another wrong statement concerns examining infant rats: “Some young does may resent such inspection and devour their litter.”  It is very rare for a mother rat to eat her babies, and she certainly won’t do so just because they were handled by a human.

            Another unfortunate problem in this book is several statements saying that adult males cannot be kept together because they will fight.  Here’s what the book says: “If you wish to keep two or more rats together, then always choose females as they get along with each other much better than do males.”  “Males may be kept with each other while they are young; but once they mature, or have scented females, or been with one, they will thereafter tend to be very aggressive with their own sex.”  “They can live together in a nursery house until about six to seven weeks of age, at which time they must be separated into sex groups so that the males do not start breeding and fighting.”  This is ridiculous.  Most males raised together get along quite well, and certainly won’t be fighting at seven weeks of age!  And even most adult males can be introduced and live together peacefully.  This book is recommending that all male rats be kept in solitary confinement!

            Like the other 3 rat books available, it recommends using wood shavings as cage bedding, and while it doesn’t specifically recommend pine or cedar, one of the photos shows a bag of pine shavings.  Although the book includes a few photos of wire cages, the text recommends only aquariums as cages.  It says not to put a rat cage in the sun, which is of course good advice, but it underestimates the danger somewhat when it says “Otherwise your pet will become stressed from excessive heat.”  It should say “your rat can quickly die from heat prostration.”

            The health section is very brief, but does not mention either mycoplasma or mammary tumors in the text.  It does include a photo of a rat with a tumor, but the caption only says, “This black-eyed white rat has a large, but benign, tumor.” I was very sorry to see this statement:  “Rats are quite hardy little animals and given proper care and nutrition should normally lead problem-free lives.  But no animal is immune to diseases or injuries, so it all comes down to what sort of risks they are exposed to by their owners.”  This implies that disease in rats is always the fault of the owner, but this certainly isn’t the case.  In fact, infection with mycoplasma usually has already occurred before the owner gets the rat.

            The section on choosing a rat contains a statement that could be dangerous to rats.  It says:  “Most important, its teeth should be inspected to see that they just touch at their tips.”  Normal rat teeth overlap!  So this statement would lead people to think normal rat teeth are too long or meeting incorrectly.

            The section on Feeding isn’t too bad, but it recommends feeding cheese and butter, and wild plants without warning against potentially toxic plants.  It also contains this erroneous statement: “To keep your pet’s teeth in good condition feed lightly stale whole meal bread.”  Lightly stale bread would not pose any challenge to ratty teeth, even supposing hard foods were necessary for tooth condition.

            The section on exhibiting is fairly good, though it’s obvious that although the book was published in the U.S., it was probably based on Nick Mays’ Britain-based book as shown by this statement:  “The show side of the rat hobby is run under the auspices of your national rat society...” and the mention of “national exhibitions.”  The Himalayan color is wrongly described as “The head is pigmented as are the ‘points’ (the ears, tail, and feet).”  The points include the ears, nose, tail and feet, and a Himalayan can’t be described as having a colored head. Only the nose is colored.  The only varieties mentioned in the book are smooth coated and rex.  No mention of hairless, Dumbo, odd-eyed, satin, velour, or tailless.

            Aside from the wrong information, the book also gives some very strange advice.  It suggests improving the aesthetics of a rat’s aquarium by putting an aquarium hood on top with a blue-fluorescent light.  Not only would this interfere with opening the cage, it would produce unnecessary heat and could annoy the rats.  Rats are not fish!  The book recommends solid exercise wheels, which is good, but says “They should be of the wooden type...”  I’ve never heard of wooden wheels, and they wouldn’t be sanitary.

            The book does have some good photos (most of which appear in the other T.F.H. rat books) which are “enhanced with Foto-Glaze™ (according to the cover) to make them shiny.  Some of the photo captions include the color of the rat, but unfortunately most do not.  All in all, I cannot recommend this book. 



Book Review:  The Proper Care of Fancy Rats

(This review appeared in the November 1993 issue of the Rat Report)

            This brand new book has just been published by TFH Publications, Inc.  The author is Nick Mays, a rat show judge in England.  The book is quite thick with 256 pages and a price to match at $14.95.  The first chapter, Meet the Rat, contains well-researched information about wild rats.  The second chapter, Fancy Rats and the Rat Fancy, is also a well-researched section on the domestication of the rat and the history of the Fancy Rat Club in England.  The emphasis of the book is on showing rats with 60% of the pages devoted to this topic, including chapters on Varieties, Exhibiting, Breeding and Genetics.  This is the book’s strength and makes it worth owning for exhibitors.

            However, there are several errors and statements I disagree with.  Mays says females have a 5-day estrus cycle, but some rats cycle in only 4 days.  He says rats can reach sexual maturity as early as 8 wks of age, but some females can get pregnant at 5 wks of age. He says, “Usually the litter is born during the night.”  But I would say 80% of my lab rats gave birth during the day.  A caption for a photo of seven baby rats says it is an average-sized litter, but the average litter size is actually 10-12.  Mays advocates culling large litters down to 4-8, but this certainly isn’t necessary since females have 10-12 nipples.  Mays includes a quite good section on hand-raising orphaned rats, but fails to mention the necessary fact that rats under 14 days of age must be stimulated to eliminate.  Baby rats under this age can’t go to the bathroom by themselves, so if this procedure isn’t done, they will die.

            In the section on genetics, Mays fails to include the dilution gene (d), a recognized rat color gene, which confuses me.  There are some great photos in this book (and some very bad ones), several identifying colors.  In fact, the only color I didn’t see a photo of was Cinnamon.  But unfortunately, some of the most interestingly colored rats in the book—various grays and browns—are not identified by color.  One photo, on page 11, misidentifies a Silver Fawn as a Pink-eyed White.  Also, none of the photos are indexed.  If you look up a color in the book’s simple index, you’re referred to a description, not a photo.

            The rest of the book, about 23% of the pages, consists of chapters about rats as pets, Housing, Feeding and Aliments.  Here I found much to disagree with.  Mays says, “A tame rat will never bite.”  Of course, pet rats ALMOST never bits, but you can’t say “never.”  Any animal will bite under certain circumstances.  Even my very gentle hairless Gremlin once bit me trying to get at a band-aid on my finger!  (He was crazy about band-aids.)  Mays recommends the use of wood shavings and says nothing against either pine or cedar.  He says exercise wheels aren’t a good idea because “most are too small” and “rats might also trap their tails in the spokes.”  Why condemn wheels that are large enough and safe?  Photos of an “ideal homemade cage” show one made with lots of wood and wire mesh.  Although the cage is huge and quite attractive, I don’t recommend using wood for a rat cage as it quickly absorbs urine and becomes smelly. Mays says the average lifespan of males is 2-2 ¼ years, and of females up to 1 ½ years.  I wonder why female rats in Britain have such short lifespans?

            The diet Mays recommends for rats is a grain mix, supplemented with table scraps. For his “ideal fruits and vegetables” he includes celery, cabbage and lettuce.  Celery and lettuce (iceberg) contain very little nutrition, and too much cabbage can cause anemia.  He recommends giving rats pastry and chocolate drops, and although he does warn against giving too much, he doesn’t warn that chocolate can be toxic.  One idea new to me was that too much protein can cause skin problems and itching.  Mays said the most common cause is too much sunflower seeds and peanuts in hamster mix, and he recommends adding vitamin B to the rat’s water to “counteract the proteins in its system”.  I’ll need to do more research on this claim.

            I found the most errors in this book in the chapter on Ailments.  If a rat has diarrhea, Mays recommends treating it with white bread and milk.  Milk will commonly cause diarrhea, especially if the animal isn’t used to it.  Mays says there are “many different species of mites which can be introduced to rats” although my research shows there are only three, and demodectic mange is not one of them, contrary to what Mays says.  He recommends giving brandy for hypothermia (alcohol is not a medicine!), says “Malignant tumors are faster growing then benign tumors” (not necessarily), and that when “gnawing aids (such as wood) are absent, a rat’s teeth may easily become overgrown” (teeth overgrow only if they’re out of alignment).  One very dangerous recommendation Mays makes is about using ether or chloroform to euthanize rats. Both of these substances are carcinogenic and should be handled with extreme caution, preferably either outdoors or with a fan blowing the fumes out a window so no people will be exposed to them.  Yet, Mays gives no warning about their dangers.

            The worst errors of all have to do with Mays’ advice about respiratory diseases.  He says, “Rats catch colds very easily.”  There’s no such thing as a cold virus in rats.  He says it’s caused by a sudden drop in temperature or a draft, and the symptoms are hunched posture, dull coat and discharge from the eyes and nose.  This sounds like bacterial pneumonia to me, which should be immediately treated with antibiotics.  The treatment Mays recommends is to isolate the patient and keep him warm.  Quick treatment is important, he says, or the cold can lead to pneumonia which is indicated by progressively heavier breathing and rapid weight loss.  “Sadly, however, pneumonia is very difficult to treat” although “the vet may attempt an injection of penicillin,” he says.  He says ear infections which result in a head tilt are caused by a virus and “there is no rock-solid treatment” and “recovery is usually only partial.”  Inner ear infections are almost always bacterial and prompt antibiotic treatment can usually clear up the head tilt.

            Worst of all, Mays says this about respiratory infections: “Few prove fatal.”  And he says, “Rats with respiratory infections can still breed normally (the diseases are not congenital), but the rats may not be shown, as they can pass infection on to other fanciers’ stock.”  If the rat is infectious, it will pass the disease on to its offspring!  Rats with respiratory infections should not be bred.  His information about respiratory diseases is very generalized; he doesn’t even mention mycoplasma.  I would hazard a guess that he hasn’t done any research on respiratory infections and has no real knowledge of them.

            I think this book should be titled “Showing Fancy Rats in England” since that’s what the bulk of the information is about.  I don’t recommend it for pet owners unless you’re interested in the different varieties or in showing.



Book Review:  Rats, A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual

(This review appeared in the September 1992 issue of the Rat Report)

            This book by Carol Himsel, DVM, published in 1991 by Barron’s Educational Series, has an incredible amount of wrong information.  I counted 13 statements that are factually inaccurate, plus many others that I disagree with.

            The following wrong facts appear in the book:  “Mothers wean their babies at about 21 days.  At this time, the young rats begin eating the rodent diet provided for the mother.”  (My mother rats don’t start to discourage nursing until after the babies are 28 days old.  And, babies start eating solid food at 14 days.)  “By 10 days of age the ears and eyes have opened.”  (Eyes don’t open until 14 days.) “Age when body hair appears:  10 days” (Hair is present at 7 days.)  “Age when puberty begins: 50-60 days.  Age when breeding begins:  65-100 days” (Females often get pregnant at 42 days of age.)  Females have a “slitlike vulva.”  (It’s actually 2 holes—an “inney”{vagina} and an “outey”{urethra}.)  “Average lifespan:  24-60 months” (3-5 years is exceptional, not the average!)

            The author also states:  “Of course a rat cannot learn to come when called.”  And “They never coax to be fed.”  (?!!!) This makes me think the author doesn’t really have much interaction with her rats.  My rats beg for food, don’t yours?  And rats easily learn to come when called.  And she says:  “As a rule, laboratory rats are different.  These rats are under the stress of high-population density, which brings out aggressive tendencies such as biting.”  The only thing “different” about lab rats is that most of them aren’t socialized as well as pets, so the adults may bite.  When properly socialized, lab rats are very sweet.  She also says a 33-quart aquarium (8.25 gallons) is the minimum recommended size for a cage.  And she thinks lab rats are crowded?!  Even a 10-gallon aquarium is way too small to house a rat.

            Since the author of this book is a veterinarian, it’s not surprising that the most accurate and useful part of the book is the section on health care, but I wish she had included more home remedies instead of saying “consult your vet” so much.  And she offers some advice that’s hazardous.  For instance, she says to use clothespins to fasten a heating pad to the outside of the cage to provide extra warmth.  This might work on an aquarium, but it would be dangerous on a wire cage.  The rats would be able to chew on the pad and short it out, causing either electrocution or fire!

            She says to clip overgrown teeth to ½″, which is too long for the top teeth, and fails to warn about catching the lips or tongue in the clippers, something that is easy to do if you’re not watching for it.  And she recommends restraining rats by holding them by the scruff.  All of my adult rats struggle and scratch when held this way.

            Most of the drawings and photos are well done, but many of the captions aren’t matched well or are inaccurate.  For example, the caption for a photo of a mother rat with a baby, which appears to be less than 3 weeks old, states that the mother “recently weaned” the baby because her nipples are visible.  A drawing showing the differences between wild black and brown rats has the captions reversed.

            Besides the inaccuracies, I was disappointed in the “Special Chapter:  Understanding Rats” advertised on the book’s cover.  Most of it is about wild rats.  No mention is made of the rat’s complex social behavior, modes of communication, or ability to learn.  All in all it is a disappointing book.



Book Review: Rats

(This review appeared in the September 1992 issue of the Rat Report)

            Rats by Susan Fox, which was published in 1988 by TFH Publications, was the very first rat care book published.  This is a short book with limited information, but at least most of its information is correct.  But it does have some problems.  The book has some nice photos showing different color varieties, but includes 6 photos of mice which the captions imply are rats!  It wrongly states that rats can develop a vitamin C deficiency (primates and guinea pigs are the only mammals that can’t produce their own vitamin C), and it fails to warn against the danger of legs getting caught in wire mesh.  It also says to use wood shavings.  But there is less wrong information in this book than in other rat care books out there.

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