Food for thought

This week, it was time to mix up a new tub of the rats’ basic dry food. This is the stuff they have in the cages all the time, supplemented with fresh fruit, veg, bread, meat, etc. Our dry mix has evolved a good deal over the years, from the days when I fed hamster food supplemented with fresh goodies, through the discovery of commercial rat mixes, and on to the mix we have today – which varies a good deal according to what has caught my eye online or in the pet shop.

When I first started keeping rats, there were few choices available. The shop where I bought Sandie and Dusty recommended their own Rat & Mouse mix, which wasn’t really all that different from the Hamster mix or the Gerbil mix. Sandie and Dusty had a pretty healthy diet, on the whole, despite this (and despite my housemate feeding them crisps, chocolate buttons and whole cookies). They had a good intake of fresh fruit and veg, plus meat (sometimes in the form of cat food) and eggs. Several months after getting them, I discovered a commercial mix called Reggie Rat which I used for them, for Fred & Ginger and at first for Heidi and Clara. Its only major drawback, as far as we could see, was that it contained alfalfa pellets. These appear in most dry mixes for small animals, and are fine for some, but rats often won’t eat them and I prefer on balance not to spend money on a product containing a bulking agent which my lot probably won’t eat.

After Clara’s death and the acquisition of Ashley and Jet, I took advice from a breeder and started using a different base mix – Alpha Herbal Deluxe. This is an alfalfa-free rabbit food which comes in 12.5kg sacks, one of which usually lasts us about 4 months. It contains wheat grains, flaked peas and maize, and lots of little pelletty biscuity things which they seem to enjoy. This is the main part of their mix, but for variety and added nutritional value I chuck in quite a few other things. As I made up the mix this week, I kept a record of what went in this time.

Some ingredients are roughly measured using these:

The larger pot is a 1 pint pudding container. The smaller one is from an individual pudding.

We start in the kitchen, where the ingredients which we sometimes eat ourselves are kept. First in is the mini shredded wheat. A salt and suger free cereal is better for them, just as it is for us, but I have been known to use bran flakes or all-bran too. The boys aren’t keen on the shredded wheat, but I’m afraid that’s just tough. This is about one of the larger measures.

I crumble the cereal up a little before adding the next ingredient: wholewheat pasta, similar quantity to the cereal (though this is slightly less, because I ran out).

The rest of the ingredients live in the rat room. Next in is the Alpha Herbal

(about 5 of the larger measures) and I give it a good mix.

Then the animal protein. They love this stuff. This is a dry dog kibble (James Wellbeloved brand) made from turkey and brown rice – 2 or 3 of the smaller measures.

Next up is the Mystery Ingredient. The last few tubs have contained this mix – it’s a combination of Rat’s Dream, Scratter Mix and locust bean pieces. Rat’s Dream is a dry treat mix containing sunflower seeds, coconut and shrimp, amongst other things. Scratter Mix is a seed and dried berry mix. Locust beans feature in the Alpha Herbal but they love them so I pop in a few more.

Last but not least, dried banana which I break into smaller bits. No photo, because it was rubbish and out of focus. All mixed in, this will last them about 10 days to a fortnight.

The next batch will be different – I have some more Rat’s Dream but no Scratter Mix or locust beans, and instead I have bought a bag of Selective Rat. This is apparently a complete food, and is one of the type of nugget foods where all the pieces are the same, to prevent selective feeding. These are increasingly popular, which is understandable, as it solves the problem of having all the flaked peas (say) left every day because they’ve decided they don’t like them. However, I’ve never tried one before for two reasons. Firstly, my lot go through phases with the various ingredients. This week they might not like flaked peas, next week they might hoover up the lot and leave nothing but dust. The only consistently unpopular ingredient, in my experience, is alfalfa – which I avoid anyway. Secondly, they love furtling through the bowl and finding the last bit of pasta or kibble, or a stray sunflower seed. I can just imagine the disappointed looks on their little faces if they were presented with a bowl of identical nuggets. But a small quantity mixed in with more familiar foods will probably go down quite well.

Everyone has their own mix. If you get rats from a breeder, sometimes they’ll give you a bag of their mix which is a good chance to get ideas, try something different. And if you change the food, the rats will adapt. They might be suspicious at first but they do get used to things. Though we had a worrying moment once, when after using Burns dog kibble for a while, we switched to James W and one of our girls didn’t like it at first – she started foaming at the mouth, which was scary. It didn’t last, and she got used to the new stuff, but it did give us a fright.

This isn’t their only food, of course. This week they’ve also had cat food (a good quality pouched variety) with veg and wholemeal bread, and one evening they had some cooked brown rice with grapes and honeydew melon. They like fruit much more than I do, which is good. At Christmas they’ll get some of the meat (we usually have chicken) and vegetables, and probably some of the chicken bones to gnaw on. Pork chop bones are good too.

So there we are. They seem to thrive on what we feed them, their coats are healthy and they have good appetites and loads of energy, so I guess on balance we get it right. Pretty close, anyway. But I love to hear about what other people feed their rats, too – it can give me some great ideas.

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