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Condition - the art of reading your rats
In rat ownership we are very lucky to have a real variety of experiences, techniques and philosophy’s in keeping our rats. It’s part of what makes the fancy wonderful, but also occasionally confusing or frustrating. Whilst some areas of rat keeping do have some firm clear cut rules (like the vast majority of rats benefit from being kept active) many do benefit from being tailored to suit the individual rats. Feeding is an excellent example of this. I remember having a discussion with someone in the early days of working on a straights based diet, she told me that there were two main approaches to feeding your own diet, the science route, where you relied on the information that was out there to tell you what to feed and the art, where you used instinct and read your rats and feed to suit them and that was generally where the rats truly shone. At the time I found it endlessly frustrating as I felt you could either be one or the other, and I was firmly reliant on the science, using grand spreadsheets to work out everything and reassure myself I was doing the right thing. I believed because I wasn’t instinctive at the time, I couldn’t ever be. Looking back I realise that I was using the science as a crutch in many ways. It got me started, gave me the broad guidelines and took me a good way to getting my rats what they needed. The rats looked fine on it, with a few teething problems and it was working ok, but they never truly shone. After some soul searching I forced myself to relax, start to trust my instincts, which were founded in all the science and research I had done, but also trusted my rats and my knowledge of them too. It’s been several years now since that change and I can honestly say it is well worth it. My rats do have spells of being out of condition, though not badly so, but generally they look good and are often amongst the best condition bucks at shows (something which you will know is not easy if you’ve ever owned bucks, they are a lot fussier with their needs than does). So this is where I attempt to capture some of the things I’ve learnt over these years.
Understanding condition is one of the single most useful tools we as rat owners have to keep our rats in the best shape possible. This is where you take the science of feeding and turn it into more of an art. Science tells us rats need certain amount of nutrients which have been developed from study over large group sizes, however it doesn’t tell us what each individual needs at that particular stage of life, though it can give us good guidelines to start from. The traditional approach is to take these general rules and believe that all rats fit them. This isn’t unrealistic in a lab environment with genetically similar rats living in controlled conditions, however our pet rats vary broadly, they live in different environments and have different activity levels and habits. If you truly want to give your rats the best chance possible then understanding how to read them will give you a head start.
This article is split into two main parts, the first part looks at the different parts of the rat you can use to judge there condition, including coat, tail and so on. It also looks at positive and negative signs of condition as well as what might have caused them. The second part looks at the specific causes of poor condition and suggests ways you could aim to rectify them. It is worth noting that in many cases there is more than one symptom of poor condition showing at any one time, and these can be caused by more than one issue. The biggest mental shift in this approach is to be prepared to experiment, starts with the simplest and most common solution then work through other potential solutions if the issue isn’t improved or fixed in a few weeks. It is also worth noting that this guide assumes that your diet is broadly balanced to start with, so typically around 12-14% protein, 4-5% fat and covering a good range of vitamins and minerals.
It is split into 2 parts;
- Judging Condition - how to read what your rat is telling you
- Fixing Condition issues - when you find something isnt quite right what you can do to fix it