Take the example of any rodent, and you will probably find it under the list of destructive pests. Rat is no exception, as it causes serious damage to garden crops and stored grains. It attains sexual maturity within 1½ months after birth. This coupled with rapid multiplication rate and large litter size contribute to the increased rat population within a short time. Despite all these, controlled breeding of rats is done with a purpose, and the approaches vary according to the breeder.
Purpose of Breeding Rats
Rat and mice breeding is commonly done by reptile owners for feeding their pets. Some snakes feed exclusively on rats and mice, and purchasing them every time doesn't make sense. However, some species of rats are bred for shows and keeping as pets. For such cases, careful selection of the doe and buck is a prerequisite. If you are interested in the same, purchase improved male and female rats from a reliable breeder. Besides these, laboratory rat breeding is done for dissection and experimental studies. They are commercially reared in animal houses and sold for laboratory studies.
Basic Guidelines for Breeding Rats
For a hobby breeder, rat breeding is an interesting, yet challenging approach. Whether you are breeding them for profit or just for hobby, learn the basics of breeding rats and then proceed with the task. Let me remind you that it requires lots of time to breed rats successfully. Also, be well-informed with the cage setting, required bedding, feeding, mating, care for pregnant doe, handling pinkies, weaning and separating them from the doe. The following is a step-by-step guide that explains how to breed rats.
Selecting Parent Rats
Choosing healthy, good temperament and mature pet rats is a necessity and there is no room for negligence in this part. Preferably, the doe should be of 8 months to 1 year old and weighs 250 g, while the buck can be anywhere between 1½ - 2 years old. For health reasons, too young and too old rats are not preferred for breeding. See to it that they are free of respiratory ailments and mycoplasma disease.
Homing and Diet
Build a large and convenient dwelling place for rats. A 10-gallon storage tub or aquarium will work fine, and provide sufficient room for the mother and rat pups later. Never keep the doe and buck together, except for mating purpose. As for feeding rats, they can munch on anything (grains, veggies) that you provide. But, it is best to give proper rat pellets that are exclusively made for providing sufficient nutrients.
Keep a watch over the female doe for any signs of buzzing and vibration. If these happen, the doe is entering heat cycle. Now, it is the right time to introduce the buck for copulation. Mating occurs instantly, but wait until the female is no longer in heat. This may take about 3 - 6 hours, so it is best to keep them together for one night. Next morning, you can remove the doe and transfer it to the breeding cage.
Caring for Pregnant Doe
If conception takes place, the doe tends to sleep and take rest more than usual. It also feeds voraciously to support the developing pinkies. The belly of the doe will expand gradually. Offering a correct diet and nesting material is extremely important during this period. Consider including more proteins in addition to regular diet, like boiled eggs and meat strips. Gestation period of rats usually lasts for 21 - 23 days.
About 3 - 4 days of the expected date, the doe will start building nest by gathering material. A warning sign for approaching rat labor is vaginal bleeding. If the doe stretches its body in a specific manner, it is indicating labor contractions. Very soon, babies will arrive one after the other, and this may go for about 1 - 2 hours. At times, the mother tends to sit up and remove baby rats with the help of its hands.
Mother Care for Newborn
In general, female rats make excellent and caring mothers. Immediately after delivery process is over, the mother rat licks the young ones, and eats away the placenta attached to each of the pinkies. It will settle down to feed the young ones. Don't be surprised if the female consumes very weak pinkies that are on the verge of dying. It is like circulating protein for good purpose. However, keep a watch over them to avoid accidental eating of healthy newborns.
Handling Young Ones
Provide healthy foods to the nursing doe, or it may become aggressive and start feeding on the young ones. Really, it is tempting to touch the cute, hairless pinkies. But, check the temperament of the doe before you handle them. If the babies squeak or make unusual sounds, the female may bite you to defend its litter. Ensure that the temperature of the cage is approximately 100° F or slightly more.
This was a complete guide for how to breed rats. If the litter size is big, say more than 10, you can separate the pups to avoid competition amongst them for suckling. However, don't keep the baby separated for more than 4 hours. As per your requirement, remove pups for feeding your pet snakes. Weaning of the young rats occurs within 4 - 5 weeks after birth. By this time, you can divide the litter according to gender, and keep the male and female rats separately.