The cold snap in the air signals that the end of the year is near. It also means an onslaught of pumpkin- or peppermint-flavored everything and upcoming holidays. Our rats have no understanding of our seasonal traditions, but it’s not uncommon to want to include them in the celebrations — because many of us view our rats as part of the family. Let’s discuss some ways you can spoil them, keep them safe this season, and utilize their cuddles.
Spoil Your Rats With Food, Glorious Food!
Whether you’re preparing for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, winter solstice, or any other type of observance, the quickest way to win favor with your rats is through their bellies.
Generally, rats can eat some of the same healthy foods we do. Educate yourself about potentially unsafe foods for rats, and consult your veterinarian for any concerns specific to your rat.
For example, sweet potatoes, bulk tofu, dry beans, and peanuts should never be given raw. Green potato skins and eyes, poppy seeds, dried corn (fresh is fine), or any type of nut that has gone bad or contains mold should be avoided. Celery, beets, and spinach should be fed with caution, or in moderation. For more in-depth information, and a full list of foods to be wary of, one reference is the Rat Fan Club diet page.
Rats should receive fresh fruits and vegetables every day anyway, so you can easily integrate some of your holiday feast into their daily diet. The main things to remember are: moderation and portion size. Avoid offering your rats any vegetables, fruits, or meats that are “enhanced” with seasonings, spices, sweets, etc. As you cook, set aside the healthiest ingredients for your rats before all the extras are added.
When it comes to desserts, offer your rat kiddos a little smidgen of the sweets — a tiny indulgence every now and then won’t hurt otherwise healthy rats. Just don’t make it a regular habit, and be sure to factor in any other snacks they’ve had that day. Also, avoid anything made with artificial sweeteners. Rats generally don’t like them, and these sweeteners aren’t good for rats.
If you don’t feed your rats a vegetarian diet, then samplings of turkey, chicken, giblets, and fish would also be welcomed. However, avoid ham or anything else that is particularly high in sodium.
Do not allow your rats a sip of your adult beverages! Avoid giving them any fizzy drinks, as well. Rats do no have the physical ability to burp or vomit, and carbonation can cause an upset stomach.
Find The Fun Side Of Food
Before you throw away any leftover, whole pumpkins, consider carving one open. When my son was young, we’d cover the table with paper bags, pull out the guts of a pumpkin, remove any knives from the area, and bring the rats over to inspect the pumpkin contents. Some were hesitant and had no idea what to make of the slimy, orange strings, while others were courageous enough to amble through the pile.
Don’t worry if your rats taste the raw pumpkin; it’s perfectly safe and healthy as long as it’s still fresh. Even if they don’t like the flavor, it’s a fun enrichment activity. Plus, if you’re able to pull out the seeds before anything unsanitary happens to them, you can roast them in the oven with a tiny bit of olive oil for an additional rat snack. They are filled with nutrients and protein, but their high fat and calorie content means you should limit them to only a few per day.
Another enrichment activity, which also doubles as a holiday present, is a DIY treat tube (I call it a treat piñata). I make one every December for my rats, and hang it from the top of their cage while I supervise. Basically, it’s a toilet paper tube covered in festive wrapping paper and filled with a healthy rat food or snack of your choice. Both ends of the tube should be tied off using a string or cloth ribbon. Don’t use curling ribbon, as it can be harmful if swallowed. Leave one of the ends long enough so that the tube can hover over the floor of the cage.
Don’t make it too easy for them, but do ensure that your rats can actually reach it with their hands in order to open it. Definitely get your camera out to capture the moment, too. It’s hilarious to watch the looks of confusion on their faces, and the moment of triumph when they tear it open!
Remove the treat tube whenever you can’t supervise the activity. You don’t want a rat getting tangled in the string. For more detailed instructions, check out my Instagram post about it.
Explore Gift-Giving The Rat Way
While gifts aren’t necessary, I do enjoy spoiling my rats with new things for their cage. I often try to get at least one new item my rats have never experienced before. I’m a big believer in changing things up in their environment to help keep rattie minds sharp.
Options for changes include: a shelf/level addition for the cage, a food puzzle, a foraging toy, a digging box, or a ferret tube. I also take this opportunity to replace chewed up hammocks and bedding. I like to support small businesses and hammock makers during this time of the year.
If your rats don’t need any new items, but you still want to do something special, consider donating to a rat rescue in their name!
View this post on Instagram
Discover The Joy Of Rat Therapy
If you find yourself faced with holiday blues, I sincerely encourage you to take advantage of the comfort that pets can offer. Did you know that the simple act of petting an animal can have a calming effect, helping lower blood pressure and reduce stress?
Why not make a cup of your favorite beverage, grab a cozy blanket and a rat or two (or six), and just spend some time cuddling with them as often as you need? Take a mental note of the feel of their fur (or skin, if they are hairless) between your fingers, talk out loud to them, and give them a little back massage while reminiscing about what they have meant to you. Really spend time thinking about all the ways they bring you joy and fulfill your life. Know that the creature in your lap is thrilled to have you there — even if they just peed on your arm — and enjoy some extra bonding time this winter.
I hope you all have a blessed season with unexpected moments of joy!