Nutrition for Baby Rats
The first and most important source of nutrition for rat babies is, naturally, their mother's milk. Baby rats should not be weaned before 4 weeks of age. I leave male babies in with their mother until they are 5 weeks of age if their new homes are not ready, and girls until 6 weeks. I have been told that if one must substitute something for the milk of a mother rat, soy baby formula is best, but I am no expert on hand-rearing litters so I'll leave those instructions to those who know more about the subject.
Starting about the time a litter of rat babies opens its eyes, I will start deliberately putting food for them in the nest--things like kitten kibble (I prefer Science Diet, Iams, Eukanuba, etc.), whole-wheat bread, soft fruits such as overripe bananas, and so on. Soon enough the babies begin to leave the nest and explore, soon getting into Mom rat's food. More surprises await there, with one of the favorites being kitten kibbles in goat's milk (which is easy to find here in the midwestern US). Make sure the milk isn't too high in the bowl to prevent the babies from possibly drowning--below the level of the kibbles is best. It'll soak right in and makes a good supplement.
As the babies grow, I gradually introduce lab block along with a wide variety of other foods. I try to keep the protien level somewhat boosted, and I really don't totally take away the kitten or puppy food until the ratties are 3 months old or so because I feel they grow better on it. I discontinue it for older rats because there's too much fat and protien for the nutritional requirements of older rats.
If you just got a baby rat (or better yet a pair), I think the feeding regimen below is best.
You will need lab block (I like Harlan Teklad best, but as far as I know they are all basically adequate). Lab block is a special food made to exactly meet the nutritional requirements of rats.
I would feed 2 or so lab blocks per baby per day if the babies are 4-8 weeks old, 3 if they are older but not adult. Adjust this daily to meet the demand. Also add a little bit of good-quality dry kitten or puppy food--maybe a teaspoon to a tablespoon per baby. In addition, add variety by giving little bits of fruits and veggies every day. Don't go too heavy on the people food or greasy, salty, or sugary treats, no matter how much the little boogers beg.
Nutrition for Adult Rats
In general, adult rats need lower levels of protien and fat than do baby rats. This is because they are finished growing. Of course this is not true for the pregnant or nursing doe (female). Further adjustments have to be made for the elderly rat. I will give details of how I handle nutritional needs of each population below.
75-80% lab block (I prefer Harlan Teklad)
15-20% fresh fruits and veggies
5% or less treats (yoghurt drops, seeds, nuts)
Grain mix for rodents can be substituted for some of the lab block allotment.
Rats like most fresh or frozen fruits or veggies. Here are some of my rats' favorites:
melon of any kind
avacodo (WATCH OUT! HIGH IN FAT)
small chunks of citrus fruits
Fruits and veggies they are less enthused about:
apples (not the best nutritionally)
lettuce (same as above)
celery (mine dislike it strongly)
This is by no means a complete list.
70-75% lab block/grain mix
15-20% fresh fruit/veggie (or frozen)
5-10% protein food (kitten or puppy kibble, or high-protien table scraps)
up to 5% treats
Female rats seem less prone to obesity and protein-related skin and coat problems. I feel they need a bit more protein in their diets, but most of my females have an occasional litter and so I like to make extra sure their protein needs are met. Also I give my girls wheels to run on, which they are much more likely to use than the boys ever would be, and the runners seem to need the extra richness in their diet to keep their weight at a healthy level.
Pregnant or Nursing Females:
The big needs of pregnant and nursing females are adequate levels of protein and fat. These can be supplied using kitten or puppy chow, a good brand (such as Science Diet, Iams, Eukanuba, or any of a number of other good brands). Also table scraps can be useful, being palatable, as long as you avoid heavily spiced or salted or sugared items which are hard on the rat's system.
If a doe (female) appears to be expecting a good-sized to huge litter (based on the size of her abdomen), I will take away the lab blocks entirely in favor of the richer foods so that she has the best possible chance of providing adequate nutrition for the growing rat kittens inside of her. I will continue with this (with fruits and veggies, too, and sometimes a little grain mix or whole wheat bread) after the babies are born, but then I will add goat's milk for the extra protein, calcium, fat, and palatability. This is good for putting weight on a thin mother or helping boost up the runts. Sometimes a large litter will nurse the flesh off of a mother--she just doesn't eat enough to make up for what they are taking from her body by nursing. This is, in my opinion, VERY BAD for the female and should not be allowed. If necessary take the babies away for several hours a day and let her rest and eat--feed her lots of tasty food, rich food, eggs scrambled in butter, oatmeal with whole milk or goat's milk, canned kitten or puppy food, whatever she'll eat that's nutritionally rich. Meanwhile offer the babies the same foods separately. Hopefully this will let her catch up and quit losing condition.
As rats get older, they also need special nutritional support. You don't want to go overboard on the protein or fat for this group as they are hard to digest. Instead, things like soaking the lab blocks or breaking them up, adding a little more soft food such as oatmeal, and watching the teeth and condition carefully will go a long way towards helping your ratties enjoy their golden months. If an aging rattie loses too much weight too fast, it's time to add more tasty scraps and so on to the diet. Still try to keep a balance and keep the overal protein and fat levels reasonable.
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