Monthly Archives: April 2007

Eyes Wide Open

OK … eyes mostly open. Last night all three of Serena’s babies had their eyes fully open. Not open like adult rats, but completely open all the same.

I believe we have correctly sexed the babies, so let this be the formal introduction of Sweet Pea, our newest little girl; and, Bruiser and Dash, our newest little boys.

Sweet Pea is just simply adorable. Bruiser is a rambunctious little rat and shows little regard for himself or his siblings as he charges about in the cage, or on the bed, or anywhere else for that matter. Dash is going strong and picking up speed as he races across the bed when we have them out for their free range time.

Sweet Pea seems to be progressing the fastest at the moment, walking on almost completely straight legs. Dash is next in the stability department with Bruiser following closely behind.

Serena is doing well, even starting to put on a little weight. She was starting to look very thin until we added some human toddler baby food into the girls diet. Sammy and Serena share a small bowl of baby food for a late breakfast. Serena seems to be taking the larger share, and Sammy seems to be holding her weight steady, so all things considered this is working out well.

The big boys (Teetu, Inky, Jeremy, Nibblett, Frank and Gordon) get their fair share of baby food as well in another bowl in the boys habitat.

The babies will be two weeks old tonight … now what exactly do you get for a two week old rat?!

The Big One-Oh

The babies were officially ten days old last night. They are looking quite healthy and happy, and are growing at a fine rate.

The dark babies are developing strong solid black coloring on top with white on their sides and underneath, very much looking like their mother Serena. The light colored baby is a beautiful light creamy color.

We have started throwing some names out for these little ones … they are still too young for us to tell their sex.

For now we have nicknamed the light colored baby as Sweet Pea, and one of the dark babies as Bruiser. The other dark baby just earned the nickname of Dash.

If Sweet Pea is female, and Bruiser and Dash are male, the names will likely remain.

We’re hoping to see their eyes open in the next couple of days …

Whiskers, Nails, and Ears

Baby rats are so precious to look upon.

It has been just over four days into their lives. We made our usual nightly head count and nest check. The babies were doing fine. Serena keeps them mostly on the hard surface of the bottom of the cage surrounded by a myriad of nesting materials. We recently purchased some small Easter stuffed animals, human baby sized, for our rats. Serena has even added the stuffed bunny to her nest. They are both very leery of the lamb. The boys got the ducky.

We decided to start socializing the babies. We tried to get some pictures, too, but the camera or our skills at using it have not been cooperating of late.

We picked up the babies and I held them in the palm of my hand. I had washed my hand in hot water to insure they were warm for the babies, as well as rubbing my hands vigorously together just before handling them. They start to squirm about so I used my other hand to make sure none could fall out. It is awe inspiring to see these tiny little lives being held in the palm of my hand knowing they will grow up and one will barely be able to be safely held in one hand.

Mrs. Rattitude ran for the camera and we tried to get some clear pictures. Fuzzy pictures we can do, no problem, clear pictures are another thing altogether. We traded places. Mrs. Rattitude held the babies and I tried to take some pictures. In my opinion, I think it’s best I stick to handling the babies.

We did see the babies are developing some fine details. Their whiskers, nearly a translucent white, are about a half inch long. Their toe nails are all perfectly visible. Their ears, although we could see where they are, appear to be “plastered” to their heads. Their markings are becoming more defined. The two “dark” babies are slightly darker, and the “light” baby is starting to show some darkening across its back.

We held the babies for about fifteen minutes. Serena and Sammy were in the living room again. We will be working up to longer periods of time handling and socializing the babies. This is one of the most important aspects of new born pet rats. We want them to get to know us. We do not want to upset Serena too much with rearranging her nest every night and moving her babies around, too.

Before we return Serena and Sammy to the girls habitat we do our best to put everything back to the way it was before we brought out the girls to play. Serena is becoming more tolerant of our investigations.

The first few days of a new litter, at least with this experience, can be an emotional and sometimes troubling process. As I see it, we have done as well as nature allowed, and I am confident to say we now have three baby rats that live with us, and in a few more days we will see more developments and details of who they are.

An Uneventful Adventure and Colors

Last night our inspection went quickly and well. Of course I’m sure Serena may not have been overly impressed with us disturbing her nest once again.

Her babies are doing well. Their coloration is starting to show through their pink skin. Two appear to be taking after their mother with the dark on top, light on bottom Berkshire style markings. The third one seems almost completely without marking, so we are expecting a standard hooded style.

Serena is keeping the babies in a very large nest. It takes up nearly half of the bottom part of the cage. There is a mixture of tissues, paper towels, and pot holder pillows. As well as pieces of fleeces and felt Serena has gathered from other parts of the girls habitat, mostly from where Sammy has set up her “home” on the top level.

The night passed with relatively little incident except for a thumping scratching noise that woke me up very early. I turned on the bedside light and looked down on the floor. The noise sounded like a rat hitting a box, not quite making it to the top and sliding down the side. This is usually a trick of the boys, but today it was Samantha.

There she was, just her nose and her eyes peeking out from under the dresser that the boys habitat sits on. She seemed nervous, but not actually afraid. I got down on the floor with her and tried to coax her out the front. That was not going to work, and since there is barely an inch of clearance at the front my arm was not going to fit through to bring her out.

I finally had to move the dresser and boys habitat out from the wall. Turning the whole thing on a corner left me room to get behind and limited Sammy’s escape routes. I reached in to pull her out but she got away and ran around the far side of the dresser. This is fine as there really wasn’t any where for her to get to. I blocked her return route then reached moved around front and then reaching blindly down beside the dresser carefully picked her up.

I placed Sammy on the bed and she did a little run around and buried herself in the blankets. Being 5:30AM I thought this would be an opportunity to give the girls some extra play time so I found Serena, looking at us as though she knew all about Sammy’s adventure, waiting on the edge of the platform. I placed Serena on the bed with Sammy and they had some free time as I dozed for about a half hour or so.

The boys were woke up by their big move earlier, so I placed the girls back in their home, Serena first, then Sammy. It was time for some early morning exercise for the boys. They got about the same amount of time as the girls did before I put them back up and went back to sleep.

Anytime is playtime for these little ones, with or without human intervention … I look forward to the new babies being able to join in the fun with the adults.

Entering Into Day 3

Just when I thought Serena was settling in and accepting her role as new mother in a closed door cage environment she proved just how determined she can be.

It was just past the 48 hour mark for the rat babies. Serena apparently not satisfied with living in a cage with the door closed had set out to fix the situation. I was in the living room when I kept hearing thumping noises coming from the bedroom. I went to investigate.

Having 6 male rats, you just can never know when they will decide its time to display some testosterone, or get into a boxing match, or practice their rat-fu. It wasn’t the boys.

We also have four cats. Boo and Roo, being brothers, tend to get into wrestling matches from time to time. Usually this happens in the dining room but sometimes they chase each other into the bedroom. No, not them. Cinder was asleep on her pillow. Sony was curled up in her box. It wasn’t the cats.

That left the girls. So I start looking for Sammy first and found her on the platform outside the cage, sniffing at the back corner. I had left the lights turned off and was searching by the daylight filtering in through the bedroom window blinds. Then there was a commotion in the cage. I heard food being flung out onto the floor of the cage. I had moved a food bowl from an upper level to the bottom of the cage earlier in the day. Then I saw the real issue.

Serena had managed to chew through the corner of the cage bottom and was just in the process of squeezing through the hole she had made. There have been chew marks in the cage bottom for months. We never thought much of it, except to consider a more sturdy (read: all metal) cage later on. This cage is a simple pet store cage with a plastic bottom and powder coated wire top section. Serena, on the other paw, realized quite well that this would eventually be a means of exit to exploit, and exploit it she did.

She quickly found one of Sammy’s treats and headed back to the cage door, which was still closed. This didn’t sit well with her and I quickly opened the door. Serena scampered inside and I closed the door behind her. I thought she had settled down and was content to prove she could escape. I left her be for an hour or so then checked up on the girls again.

Serena (or maybe Sammy) had expanded the hole further and she had obviously been out and about, especially since she was staring down at me from the top level of the girls habitat. This made a decision we needed to make much easier: just leave the door open to the cage. Samantha seemed to be curious about the squeaks coming from Serena’s nest but was doing nothing more than distant sniffing.

Later in the evening Mrs. Rattitude and I made a visual check on the babies. We had Serena and Samantha out for some play time on the living room sofa. We lay out some blankets and pillows for them to burrow in and they have a great time poking around.

As the girls where enjoying their free time we carefully pulled out the cage and took the top off. We gently moved the bedding out of the way to find three babies, still pink and squirmy. They appeared to have been separated into a single and a pair, about a mother rat distance apart. We put the single with the pair and put the nest back together.

Serena appeared to be building a fortified encampment around her babies this morning, or maybe I’m just reading too much into all the nesting materials she keeps adding from around the habitat. I just want to believe her motherly instincts have just been slow to kick in.

… And Then There Were Three

Our little girl Serena only has three babies to take care of now.

We had left Serena with her babies relatively undisturbed for a full 24 hours, listening from time to time for telltale squeaks of the babies. There was no reason to believe there were any problems.

Although Serena’s pregnancy was accidental, we had decided we would keep the entire litter. Mrs. Rattitude and I have read extensively about rats; about caring for pet rats; about raising rats; and, more recently about rat pregnancy. We’ve had pet rats for over three and a half years.

We were certain Serena was pregnant. We made adjustments to her diet. We made the girls habitat more young rat friendly. We read more. We researched more. We were prepared … or so we thought.

You cannot prepare for over half of a litter not surviving the initial birthing processes. You cannot prepare for two live, apparently healthy, babies to be “removed” from the nest by the mother?! Now with great and unfortunately sad expense we are learning and making every effort to gain the best of this situation.

We checked on Serena and her babies last night (April 3) to take a head count. We could find only three babies after we had coaxed Serena out for some free time, and to give her a change of pace. Two of the original surviving five are no longer to be found, the only evidence left is a dark red spot in the nesting material.

We had the cage on the bed with Serena. The top of the cage was separated from the bottom and we were carefully searching through the nest, trying not to disturb it too much but still be thorough. Serena became agitated after seeing us pawing through her nest, she jumped into the cage and grabbed one of the babies by its torso and started to take it … elsewhere?! We quickly put the cage back together and managed to settle her down enough to not rough up the babies too much.

Serena got more free range time later in the evening as being in the cage with the door closed is something she has not had to live with in months. She has not been behind closed doors since we originally brought her and her sister Samantha (“Sammy”) home.

I made a point of getting up earlier this morning to allow Serena some extra free range time. This was a good chance for her to have a visit with Sammy, as well. We separated the girls after the births due to the high mortality rate, just in case. Mother and babies seem to be doing well.

As Samantha was distracting Serena with a chase around the bed, I lightly touched each of the three babies in the corner of the cage where Serena is nesting. There were some wiggles and squeaks, and a sigh of relief from me.

This rat pregnancy does not reflect all rat pregnancies, but it does serve as a reminder that even with the best intentions, and preparedness, things can go wrong. If you are considering breeding pet rats, be absolutely certain … and remember to separate the sexes before they are older than five weeks, or you could be starting all over again.

Serena’s Seven

It started Sunday late afternoon, at least as best as our research told us. Our little girl was pregnant and starting her labour. Twenty-four hours later, or at least no more than 24 hours later, she was giving birth to her first litter. We expect it to be her only litter, too.

The exact start time of Serena’s labour is mostly a guess, but the evidence points to Sunday April 1, 2007 at approximately 5:30 PM. We, Mrs. Rattitude and I, decided she should have her babies at “home”. We watched her all that evening. We did everything we could to keep her settled and calm. We made sure she had safe areas to choose from for her nest.

After a few hours of watching and waiting it appeared our little girl may have been having her own little April Fool’s joke on us. We were fairly certain she had started labour, but there was virtually no evidence to support that. Back to Google. We found more information that supported our thinking. She was at the end stages of her pregnancy and should start giving birth within 24 hours.

Given that this was our first rat litter as well as Serena’s, we were excited, and nervous, and worried, and … it was quite a tumultuous event. We set up a birthing home on the bed with several nesting sites as well as lots of nesting materials (mostly tissues and shredded paper towels with a few “pot holder” pillows). We left her at free range on the bed for the night.

The free range over-night bed sharing is something I’ve done several times with our rats. Mrs. Rattitude sacrifices her side of the bed; and, it usually leads to virtually no sleep for myself, but I can live with a lost night of sleep to keep watch over one of our little ones. We usually only resort to this arrangement when leaving a rat in their normal habitat doesn’t seem best, this was one of those times.

Serena was fine for the most part. All of our rats live in our bedroom and there was some commotion coming from the boys habitat for a good part of the evening. There was a minor mishap with Inky, he ended up on the floor. I quickly scooped him up, gave him the once over and put him back into the boys habitat, that was around 3:00AM in the morning. I think this may have startled Serena.

She appeared to wake up and start wandering around and behaving much like she normally does during playtime. This went on for a couple of hours. I was drifting in and out of a light sleep when I felt a springing sensation off the bed. I was immediately wide awake. The bedside light was tuned on in an instant. Serena had jumped?!

I found her in less than a minute. She was trying to find her way back up to the girls habitat. She probably would have made it if left to her own devices. Mrs. Rattitude must have heard my search and came to see what was going on. We checked the entire bed for more evidence of the birthing process. We could find nothing to indicate she was in the process of giving birth and decided to let her go back to the girls habitat. Mrs. Rattitude and myself had to go to work on Monday morning.

Serena was fine through the rest of the morning as far as we knew. She was doing well but still no births at lunchtime when I came home from work to check on her. After work I went shopping for more rat food supplies. I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a precooked roast chicken for dinner and as an additional high protein food for Serena. When I arrived home I immediately checked on Serena, she was in the middle of giving birth.

Serena was in the lower levels of the cage in the girls habitat. I couldn’t have placed her in a better spot. I really couldn’t see much of what was going on. I caught just a brief glimpse of her with what I imagine was some part of the afterbirth. I could hear tiny little squeaks and chirrups coming from somewhere further inside so I grabbed the nearby flashlight. Careful not to shine the light into Serena’s eyes or bring the light too quickly to bare on the scene I was fortunate to see a little “pinky” before Serena covered it and herself up with some of the nesting materials in the cage. I sat in the room and listened as the squeaks and squeals continued and thought good thoughts. We closed the door to the cage and left Serena and her babies to some privacy and security. Sammy, Serena’s sister, was content to stay in the upper level of the habitat, we were just making sure.

All our research said it was best to leave the new mother be as she was most likely much more capable of taking care of her new litter than what a big clumsy human would be. We also wanted to check, just in case, if there were any concerns that needed to be addressed.

Mrs. Rattitude and I had read a great deal of information on several sites over the last week or so. There are several scenarios that we just did not want to witness. We were not as fortunate as some accounts.

We removed the cage where Serena and her babies were from the girls habitat. We placed the cage on the bed and carefully removed the upper wire section. Mrs. Rattitude then carefully started removing the loose nesting materials to find Serena and her babies. We wanted to at least make a head count.

The following details may be more graphic than some people may want to read … please proceed with this warning in mind, or click on the “Skip Details” link to bypass them.

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As Mrs. Rattitude started to remove the usual nesting materials (an old shirt, tissues, paper towels, fleece pieces, etc.) we found the first one. There was a fully formed rat kitten, dark pink, not moving … stillborn? Next was a head and the upper torso, only. Then, another little pink lifeless body. I went to get some scissors so Mrs. Rattitude could carefully cut away the shirt materials. We could still hear little squeaks so we knew there were live ones in the nest. When I came back Mrs. Rattitude was just discovering two more stillborn(?) babies. Then we found a pink squirming baby rat. I was feeling devastated at the losses and this baby gave me hope. We found another, then another. Then we found a baby fully formed but it’s stomach was missing, bent backwards, showing it’s spine and ribs. A most disturbing scene I will not soon forget. Serena was getting quite agitated as we were carefully searching for more live births. We were still hearing more little squeaks and squeals coming from somewhere in the nest. We found two more little pink squirming babies, both slightly smaller than the first three. We saw that at least two, perhaps three of the babies had “milk bands” indicating they had nursed recently and that gave us more hope for their survival.

We re-arranged the living quarters of the girls to use an aquarium for Serena and her babies. This just wasn’t working, Serena seemed extremely stressed and we were worried she would not tend to her newborns. I quickly went to clean the cage that Serena gave birth in and found another very disturbing sight. What I thought was just simply a large loose stool stuck to the bottom of the cage turned out to be a very small head with perhaps a shoulder, only, grey in colour … Serena’s last baby, number twelve.

Details above

Serena’s Seven. Three not meant for this world. Four did not survive their birth. We did not know them. We will miss them. We commend them to the Rainbow Bridge. May their souls live in peace.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the surviving five