Bring a female rat home from a pet store and there is a 99 percent chance that she will be a mother. I knew that, but I saw this one cute girl in a cage with several males. I took her home anyway and named her Sam. Use this story to learn from my adventure if in the same situation.
Prepare the cage before it is too late. Do not “wait and see” if the female rat is pregnant. Put her in a cage that is baby proof. According to World of Rats, it should have narrow bars, and the bottom pan should be at least 3 inches tall. Sam’s cage had the deep pan, but wide bars. I decided to “wait,” but she immediately began to build her nest. When it became clear she was pregnant, I tried to move her to a new cage. She freaked out, and was returned to her nest. I then had to cover the cage in thin wire, which took hours and resulted in several bleeding fingers.
Mama rats are obsessive nesters. Sam took everything and put it into a nest. She took bedding, material, hammocks, paper towel and food. I would worry because it was winter, and she slept in an empty corner. I would give her more, hoping she would keep it for herself. Nope. Into the nest it went until she had a massive pile. Give the mother rat plenty of bedding, but don’t worry if the mother refuses to think of herself.
Baby rats look like pink wrinkly hippos. The day Sam gave birth, she bit my finger and tried to drag it into her nest. A few hours later, 11 babies were squeaking. Sam was so protective that I had to lure her out of the cage in order to get my hands on the squeakers. Handle the babies often, even before their eyes open at around two weeks. The more they are handled, the more socialized. Hold them for a short time, and mama won’t mind.
Baby rats become parasitic piranhas. Feed mama rat high protein foods often. After nursing, Sam would be lethargic and then ravenous. Feeding 11 babies was difficult for her. By two weeks, the babies were already starting to wean and were weaned by three. It usually takes at least four, but these babies were hungry and Sam could not provide enough. Give the babies baby cereal with soymilk until they eat hard food. Imagine 11 babies begging for food, climbing up the cage and stealing from each other. Sam had to beat her babies in order to eat. Give her time away from the brats whenever possible.
To prevent a repeat, separate boys and girls by 5 weeks. Males will mate by five weeks of age, and the babies can leave their mother then. All the babies found new homes, except for two. I kept one girl, and a boy without a home. He was, of course, neutered. Sam is happy, healthy and still babies her two full-grown children.