My Rats!

This page last updated August 16, 2002.



These are various stories and descriptions and what not about
Amy and my rats, in chronological order, at least as far as the rats go. I'll add to this whenever it occurs to me, so it will probably become horribly long. I have pictures of a few of them, click on the names to see them.

Amy wants to be sure you all know that these are her rats too. She doesn't think it's fair that I'm getting all the credit just because I wrote a web page. (Amy doesn't have WWW access -- if she did, all these "Amy" links would be to her page!) But Amy is responsible for all of this. Amy got the first rat, completely on her own, with only the vague hope that I wouldn't freak out. And now we just can't stop getting them.

One thing that I've realized I have to appologize for on this page are the ever shifting and never matching tenses. I tend to write in the present tense, and then months or years later, when one rat in a story is long gone but another is still around, I try to fix the tenses. But I miss stuff, and more time passes, and it ends up being a huge, confusing mess. I'm toying with the idea of fixing it all one last time, and switching to a diary format. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. If you have an opinion, let me know.

Note added Dec 5, 2000: For some reason today it occured to me how much my rats have traveled. (There's a reason I started the recommended rat vet page!) So I thought I'd add my rat's state of birth and death, as well as how many states they lived in and visited. Don't ask me why.

Finally, I should mention that as of this morning (August 16, 2002) we are ratless for the first time since 1994.

Rat Colony v1


Born: Jan. 1990 (Kansas) / Adopted: March 1990 / Died: Oct. 1992 (Michigan)
States lived in: 2 / States visited: at least 8

Wotan was a big surprise. Amy and I had both grown up in households full of animals, and after a few years in petless apartments it was starting to get to us. Sure, we had fish, but fish are, well, fish. Then one day I came home from mid-terms, and there's this strange little grey creature in a cage in the middle of the floor.

"Wotan the Little Mouse" was named Wotan because Amy had a dream where she kept calling him that. Amy has some weird dreams. We called him "Little Mouse" before this because he was not little or a mouse. Wotan was a grey rat (almost black when he was little) with white feet and a white spot on his underside/tummy/whatever.

Wotan was not very friendly to people when we first got him. (Amy took the first rat they picked up out of the feeder tank. "This one OK?" "Sure.") He was a few months old, and hadn't had much human contact. He liked to worm out of your hand so that he could go hide in whatever was convenient. He wasn't really afraid of people, he would just rather go hide in the sofa bed than be held. (And it took us half an hour to get him out of that sofa bed . . .) He eventually became very friendly, though, often preferring our company to that of other rats. (Possibly because he was raised alone for the first year of his life.)

Wotan was a "sleeve rat," meaning he loved to be in people's clothing. I would carry him around in my sleeve when I went to friends' houses, and let him explore their bookshelves, cabinets, etc., whatever they would allow. He also liked tight spaces of any sort, and in one apartment discovered how to get into our walls. We could hear him scurrying around, but we couldn't find him, until he stuck his head out next to a pipe. It took us hours to get him to come back out. Now that I think about it, Wotan was really good at getting into places that we had a hard time getting him out of.

A word of advice, from my experiences with Wotan -- if you let your rat have free run of the house, make sure he can't get at any electrical cords. Among other things, Wotan stripped a couple inches of a lamp cord completely bare, so that it was just two copper wires hanging next to each other in the air. By shear luck he never started a fire, but now, several years later, I still occasionally discover some wire that he stripped. After Wotan, we were much more careful about that.

But I make Wotan sound like much too much of a disaster. Wotan was just about the friendliest and most affectionate rat we ever had. By the time he was 6 months old, he was constantly wanting to be held and played with. He would come over to the edge of his cage and lean way out, and if you were close enough he'd climb right on, ready to go wherever you were going, just for the ride. (Eventually he figured out the trick of leaning the direction he wanted to go, as most rats do.) Wotan was also the only rat I had for quite a while that definitely knew his own distinct name, as opposed to just "rat." (And a few other words, mostly having to do with food, but all rats learn those!) He was a really great rat.


Born: Feb. 1991 (Kansas) / Adopted: March 1991 / Died: June 1993 (California)
States lived in: 3 / States visited: at least 12!

After a year, I got tired of Wotan hanging over the edge of his cage and staring at us all night, wishing we would wake up and play with him. So I got Hastur, an agouti hooded rat. They got along great.

Hastur eventually grew up to be a monster, weighing a little over 2 lbs and standing a foot tall on his hind legs. He was the largest rat I and many other rat owners have ever seen. He was also very gentle, though, as he soon realized the other rats wouldn't play with him if he always won the wrestling matches. It was pretty amusing to see him "pinned" to the ground by a two year old Wotan or a 2 month old Grendel.

Hastur was a habit driven rat. He would have frenzied fits of nest building. (Which Wotan would then seat himself in and go to sleep.) Everything in the cage had to be in the right place. He would pick up any "misplaced" food and put it back in the food bowl. He would move all the waste to one corner, and if we didn't change the cage soon enough for his liking, he would start pushing the litter out of the cage. He also ran in his wheel more than any other rat, as fast as he could, for hours on end. I had once planned to rig up something to see how many miles (yes I think it was miles) he ran a night, but I never got around to it. This was all very surprising to us after Wotan, who enjoyed sitting in the wheel and swinging (he would lean side to side to get it started) but never actually ran in it.

The strangest thing about Hastur was his love of spicy foods. It started when for a while we fed the rats some parrot treat mix. We noticed that Hastur was hoarding some small dried red things, and eating them very slowly. (It took him days for each one.) I convinced a friend of mine to try one, and he ran out of the room to the nearest water source. When he returned, he explained that the small red things were very hot dried peppers. After this we tried various other spicy foods on him. He loved pretty much any kind of hot pepper, especially jalapenos. All the other rats saw this kind of stuff as poison, and wouldn't touch it.

Hastur was also the only rat I have ever seen throw up. Not just once but on several occasions. "Why the hell is this guy telling me about his puking rat?" you ask. Well, it does seem like an odd detail. The reason is, I was told this wasn't possible, that rats can't puke. It's in at least one rat book I have, written by some vet. Well, my rat could sure seemed like he could puke. Especially after eating some 4 day old piece of lettuce the other rat had hidden away in a corner under the litter. I've been told he must have just been choking or something. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe that's true. Or maybe my rat was a freak, a one in a billion useful mutation, something which would have benefited all of rat-kind. And which I squashed by never breeding him. Oh well.

Hastur also introduced us to mycoplasma, a common rat respritory disease. It now seems to me that pretty much every other rat I've seen has been exposed to myco, but Wotan showed no symptoms at all until about 10 days after we got Hastur -- perhaps Wotan was from a line of myco-free lab rats, and had never been exposed? It's also been suggested to me that what Hastur had was some virus, and not myco. Whatever the case, at the time we bought Hastur, we didn't know anything about rats and respiratory disease. Within two weeks of getting Hastur, we knew plenty. We were never able to rid our first rat colony of it (we kept thinking we had, them months later it would come back) and eventually (after two more rats) it lead to our decision to let colony 1 come to an end. In the long run, we have never escaped occasional respiratory problems -- Wotan seems to have been a freak. The best I've seen or heard of since are rats who have myco but deal well with it -- it's always there, but with some rats it never flares up into a problem. I've considered trying to get some SPF (specific pathogen free) rats from a lab supplier, and making sure they are never exposed to other rats, but that would be a lot of trouble. Maybe someday . . . for now, I'll just live with normal rats and deal with the occasional problem as it occurs.

The name Hastur comes from H. P. Lovecraft. If you say Hastur 3 times around someone and it makes them wince, they have been reading too much H. P. Lovecraft.


Born: Jan 1992 (Michigan) / Adopted: Feb 1992 / Died: May 1994 (Michigan)
States lived in: 2 / States visited: at least 12

Grendel had a complete agouti brown coat, which got slightly lighter on his underside. Looked like a wild rat. Come to think of it, he was the only brown rat in the tank. . . and the only rat of his age in the tank . . . and the tank had no lid (just high sides). . . and there was a shelf hanging over the tank . . . naw.

I picked him out of the pet store tank, because when I looked in it and nearly all the rats ran to the other side, he was the only one that came over, stood up, and looked at me. He was fearless and terribly curious, and also terribly spoiled by Hastur, who would let him steal any treat he wanted. Hastur knew we would give him another one -- it's the law of equal treats, which all civilized rats learn eventually. Grendel learned this as well, but he learned that it meant that if he dropped his treat through the wire mesh cage floor and into the litter, we would give him another to replace it. We later discovered that he would go back and reach down through the mesh to retrieve his "lost" treat after we left the room.

An aside here: this was before I learned the evils of cages with wire mesh bottoms. Your rat should never have to walk on wire mesh, and not just because they might hide treats! Walking on wire mesh is very hard on their feet -- imagine walking on widely spaced small metal pipes all day. It can cause a potentially chronic foot infection called bumblefoot, which sometimes requires surgery. And more specifically, your cage should never have any surface composed of 1" x 1/2" wire mesh -- this is perfect sized to catch a relaxed rear rat foot. When the rat realizes it's caught, it tenses its foot, and many rats break their leg trying to get free. Wotan twisted his mightily, and after that I removed the cage bottom and replaced the shelves.

Back to the story: Grendel is responsible for our first cat, Baba Jaga, being afraid of rats. When we got Baba, she was a tiny kitten, and weighed about the same as Grendel. We would let the rats out to play in one particular room, and once we let the kitten in with them. The rats were in the habit of running nearly the length of the room and tackling each other, which they seemed to think was great fun. Well, when we put the cat in, both Grendel and Hastur would dash up, sniff Baba until she turned around to sniff them back, and then they would run. This got the cat pretty unnerved. Eventually Grendel decided the cat would be fun to play with, so he ran to the corner, turned, came barreling back and tackled Baba. She hissed and leapt away, to the great delight of Grendel who promptly tackled her again. This time Baba didn't stick around, she just ran.

Even though she is now nearly ten times their mass, I think Baba still thinks maybe those rats could knock her right over. And she's much too dignified of a cat to ever get close enough to them to let them try.

The name Grendel comes from Beowulf. You know, the big horrible monster that can't be hurt by swords, so Beowulf tears his arm off. That Grendel.

Spiney Norman

Born: Jan 1993 (Michigan) / Adopted: Feb 1993 / Died: November 1993 (Michigan)
States lived in: 2 / States visited: at least 12

Spiney had long curly hair (and whiskers) and his color was "Himalayan," dark at the tips (face, feet, etc) but cream colored elsewhere. (Actually I've been told this was more of a Siamese. Himalayans should be white, not cream colored.) He had pink eyes. I have had a difficult time trying to come up with the usual cute anecdotes for Spiney. He was a very friendly, very nice rat, but he spent his whole life pretty sick and died very young. He was also the first rat I ever bought directly from the breeder, so I guess my experience has been somewhat different from most people's in that respect. (All of my longest lived rats have been "mutts" or feeder rats.) She told us he wasn't sick, and that his parents weren't sick, etc. etc. When we eventually went back to her to tell her that the rat was sick and died very young (we were very nice about this, we thought maybe she really didn't know) she was very hostile and evasive, and might as well have denied that our rat had ever died. Needless to say, this did not make me particularly fond of fancy rat breeders.

After I bought Spiney I vowed never to by a rat bred solely for they way it looked ever again, and also decided that I would never again buy a rat without seeing the parents. And finally decided that we would not get any more rats until the current colony (at the time, just Grendel) was no more, so that we could start over again with non-sick rats. I wouldn't do this now -- at the time, I thought that mycoplasma free rats existed, but no such luck. We are much more careful about the health of the rats we buy after Spiney, but no matter how careful you are, there can always be problems.

Spiney Norman was the name of a hallucinated giant hedge hog in one particular episode on Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Rat Colony v2


Born: April 1994 (California) / Adopted: June 1994 / Died: Feb 1995 (Michigan)
States lived in: 2 / States visited: at least 12

Well, I immediately broke my first rule, and bought a blue rat, Jabberwock. He was still with his mother, though, so we could see they were all healthy robust rats. (Jabberwock was somewhat less than healthy and robust later in life, but to read about that, see his section below.) Bandersnatch was with his mother in the next cage over, (the feeder tank!) a pure black rat with just touches of white around his paws. When we went into the store, we weren't even sure we were going to get any more rats. (Grendel had just died a month earlier.) But these guys were just way too cute and healthy, so we couldn't help it. (We had one initial health scare, read the sisal story.)

Bandersnatch was a very determined and methodical rat. He had to study anything new we put in the cage, slowly and carefully, until he understood it in whatever way satisfied his little rat brain. When we first put a wheel in their cage, Jabberwock was the first to leap all over it, but Bandersnatch was the one who actually figured out how to use it.

When he was little, Bandersnatch was obsessed with ping-pong balls. We put some in the cage for the rats to play with, and they annoyed him to no end. Ping pong balls are not convienently shaped for a rat to manipulate -- they are too big for a small rat to hold between its paws or in its mouth. And they roll around so easily and can end up anywhere in the cage. (Usually in the nest, which was the lowest point in the cage.) As far as Bandersnatch was concerned, they had no business being there. He would shove them all over to the opposite corner, and as soon as he noticed them anyplace else he would put them back. Even if we put them in the top of the two level cage they lived in, he would be outraged when he found them, knock them all down to the floor, and put them back into their place. But with two little rats flinging around the cage, they would always end up in the nest again, to Bandersnatch's great disgust.

Then, a few weeks later, we put the core from a roll of paper towels in the cage for them to play with. The next day, all the ping pong balls had vanished. Being the clumsy, slow witted humans that I am, it took me a few minutes before I picked up the tube -- and all four ping pong balls were stuck in it. The fit was just tight enough that they wouldn't roll back out. Hardly able to believe that a rat could figure out such a clever trick, we got all the balls back out and put them in the cage again, along with the tube. Bandersnatch got up from his sleep, gathered all the balls to one end of the tube, got the other end of the tube against the side of the cage, and one by one shoved the balls in the tube. He had finally figured out a place to put the balls to keep them out of his nest.

If Bandersnatch had lived longer, I was going to try to teach him some tricks. Unfortunately he died unexpectedly of heart failure when he was only 10 months old.

Why Bandersnatch?

The name is from that infamous poem in "Through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carroll.


Born: April 1994 (California) / Adopted: June 1994 / Died: Nov 30, 1995 (California)
States lived in: 2 / States visited: at least 12

Jabberwock was my favorite rat ever. Not that it's fair for me to have a favorite rat, but he was just the best. He was the friendliest, sweetest rat I've had, and I still miss him. Just so you know my biases before I begin.

Jabberwock was a beautiful blue rat, with long thick soft hair. If you don't know what a "blue" rat is, well, it's actually sort of a light grey. But mammals never really get "blue" so I guess someone figured this was about as close as they would ever come.

He was also very bright, very friendly, and could see better than any other rat I have ever known. We first noticed that he seemed to be watching us, but a rat can't see much so we just assumed he could hear us. Then one time I took him out of the room so that Amy could clean the cage, and Amy put the cage down in a completely different part of the room before I returned. Amy was nowhere near the cage, and the cage was in an unusual place, but as soon as I walked in with him, he looked around, saw the cage, and started leaning towards it. (We "train" our rats to lean where they want to go. They know the rooms well enough to lean towards their cage if they want to go back.) We couldn't believe it! Surely no rat could recognize its own cage from across the room! But since our initial realization, he again and again demonstrated his amazing abilities, and we could no longer deny it.

Jabberwock's eyesight was pretty eerie if you're used to normal rats. It bugged the hell out of my cats. He didn't know it wasn't polite to stare, so he would sit on the edge of the cage and stare at the cats as they walked through the room. Baba (who already is weary of rats, see Grendel's section, above) couldn't stand to have some animal perched above her, watching her every move. So whenever Jabberwock was out watching things, she would avoid the room. Enkidu, on the other hand, was fascinated, and Enkidu and Jabberwock would sometimes spend up to an hour just sitting and staring at each other.

Jabberwock also had a weird habit of throwing a small fit whenever he was picked up. It is important to note here that Jabberwock was the most affectionate rat I've ever had, the kind that begged for attention every time we walked into the room, licked us mercilessly, and loved to just sit in our laps or in our arms and be petted. But he would still eep and kick when we picked him up. As time passed, it went from a full fit to usually just one kick, as if it was his duty. When we would take him to the vet, they could poke and prod him, give him shots, etc. etc., without a sound. But when they'd pick him up to put him back in the cage, suddenly they had a miniature tantrum on their hands. (This often made them jump, because they were amazed at how well he took the shot or whatever.) Then as soon as he was up, and he'd had his eep and his kick, he was a rag doll. I don't know why.

Unfortunately Jabberwock wasn't with us as long as we would of liked. (But what rat is?) His whole life he seemed unusually sensitive to respiratory irritants, and even things like aspen shavings and Carefresh seemed to bother him. As he got older, the problems became worse, although never like full blown myco, and one vet guessed maybe he had asthma. Then, when he was just under 20 months old, things suddenly went downhill, and within a week went from minor myco-like symptoms to the worse case of pneumonia I've ever seen. (Toby, who was from the same breeder and was related to Jabberwock, suffered a similar fate.) One of my fondest memories of Jabberwock is from the morning of his last day -- we had gone to visit him, and he was doing better. The vet arrived for the morning while we were visiting, and she came in to examine him. After looking him over, she started to talk to us about his condition -- and Jabberwock, deciding he hadn't had enough attention yet, walked over beneath the vet's hands and nudged them with his head until she quit talking, looked down, and started to pet him.

I feel that Jabberwock is a strong argument for why breeders need to be able to keep track of longevity -- not only of their own rats, but of any rats they buy. Clearly it's a job for one of the fancy rat clubs -- to register rats, and keep track of longevity, so that a breeder can look up the history of any rat they may want to breed. Otherwise you get Jabberwock. He had all the qualities a breeder can easily see and select for -- intelligence, temperament, a beautiful coat and color, etc. It takes years of breeding before you can even start to keep track of your rats' longevity (and it's nearly impossible when you have to bring in outside rats to keep the gene pool fresh) so even if they try, longevity falls by the wayside, and you have Jabberwock, my favorite rat ever, who died at just over a year and a half old.

The name is from that infamous poem in "Through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carroll.

Little Nemo

Born: Feb 1995 (Michigan) / Adopted: March 1995 / Died: May 3, 1997 (California)
States lived in: 2 / States visited: at least 12

After Bandersnatch died we got Little Nemo, from the only non-sneezing litter of rats we could find in all of Southeastern Michigan. He was a black hooded rat with a white stripe from his chin to where his hood ends on his chest. Then there was this single tiny black spot in the middle of his stomach, as if the color had just slid off his chin and ended up there.

Nemo has got to be the most nervous, jumpy, and hyper rat I've ever had. He mellowed considerably as he passed the 18 month mark, but until then he couldn't stand to sleep in the open, and would often stuff the rat hut door full of litter when he slept. He would jump and hide at any noise, often even if he knew what it is. He was very slow to come to appreciate human attention, and didn't really become friendly until he was well over a year old. (He was quite the lap rat by the time he was two, though.) And he was the first male rat I've ever had attack another. (See more about this below.) But he was always gentle with us, extra careful when taking food from our fingers, and I could grab him in the middle of a rat fight with no fear that he would mistakenly bite me. After he was neutered, he was a very sweet and gentle rat with other rats as well once he knew them, but still very jumpy!

Nemo Plays in the Tub

When Nemo was young, there was a lot of talk of rats and water on the rats mailing list, so I decided I had to try this out. I put a milk crate in the tub (something dry to crawl on,) put in some water, and added rats. Repeat every week or so.

What I discovered was that my two rats reacted completely differently. Jabberwock did not freak, but he made it clear that he was less than pleased with the situation and could he go back to the cage now please? He would briefly explore when the water was very shallow, but otherwise he would sit on the crate and wait to be removed.

Nemo, on the other hand, loved the water from the first time. It took him a while to figure out how to move in the water, but by the second time he was moving with all the grace of a sea mammal. (Well, complicated only by his high buoyancy -- must put him on a lower fat diet . . .) If the water was deep enough he would actually dive in head first, put his feet against his body and make a graceful arc where he just barely brushes the bottom of the tub and surfaces a few feet from where he dived in. Once in he only left the water long enough to try and convince Jabberwock to come play with him, then dove back in. Needless to say he got completely soaked.

After this I put a bowl of water in the rat cage to see what they would do with it. (And secured it with wire so the couldn't tip it over.) Jabberwock looked at it once and then ignored it. Nemo would sit in it whenever he was giving himself a bath. So then I was thinking about getting some kind of heavy dog water dish for the cage. (I never got this to work out!) Must have been some of that sewer rat blood still running in his veins.

After I had Nemo neutered (see below) I quit putting him in the tub for a while, and eventually when I tried it again, he didn't seem to like it as much. He just sat there.

Nemo Gets Modified

I've always had male rats, always introduced young males to older ones, and never (until this) had a reason to neuter any of them. The young rat (as in 4-6 weeks old) decides the older rat is dominant, and that's that, it never changes, even when the older rat gets really old and the young one is still in his prime. They wrestle and play, but there's never any question who's who.

This changed with Nemo, who when he got to be about 7 months old, was taken over by hormones and decided that he MUST MUST MUST be the dominant rat. My 1 & 1/2 year old Jabberwock was not one to back down from any challenge, and disagreed, so posturing and playful wrestling turned to shoving and kicking and eventually biting, always with Jabberwock getting the short end of the stick. (Or the long end of the teeth, as it were.) It was about a week from when the shoving first started to when I found Jabberwock out of the cage waddling in a pool of his own blood. (Literally.) I separated the rats at this point, but Nemo snuck into Jabberwocks cage again a little over a week later, and this time Jabberwock's wounds required a trip to the vet. I decided we needed to do something.

The situation was complicated by the fact that I was having a really hard time finding a vet that didn't say "Well, uh, yeah, I guess I could neuter a rat. I've never done it before. Why would you want to neuter a rat?" But as luck would have it, the only vet open on the Saturday morning we had to take Jabberwock in turned out to be pretty experienced with rat surgery, and regularly neutered and spayed them.

So we made the dreaded appointment, and Nemo had his modifications done. The procedure seemed harder on him than it has been on any cat or dog I've seen it done to. It took him about a day to get over it, but after that he acted fine. Our vet said it would take 2 or 3 weeks for his hormone levels to come down, so we reintroduced the two slowly.

A week after surgery, Nemo was still pretty pushy, but he really craved Jabberwock's company. (Jabberwock, on the other hand, was understandably less enthusiastic about being reunited.) So we would just let them visit each other briefly. But after two weeks, Nemo's behavior had changed entirely -- he was still hyper, but instead of shoving Jabberwock he would splay himself down in front of him, a rattie act of submission. He kept doing this until Jabberwock would let him close, and then he just wouldn't stop grooming Jabberwock. The change from savagely violent to "oh, I am not worthy of you, please allow my lowly intrusions into your field of vision, may I groom your coat again oh master?" was so extreme it was scary.

After a few weeks, they got along great, could play and wrestle again, and at the slightest sign that Jabberwock was not pleased with the game, Nemo would throw himself at Jabberwock's feet or start grooming him again. Nemo's personality hadn't really changed, he just didn't want to fight any more. If anything, he just acts like he did when he was 3 months old instead of 8. (And still does now, at well over a year old.)

So, now that I've done it to one of my little guys, and have seen how well it worked, I certainly wouldn't hesitate to do it again if the need arises. (And in fact it did -- see Deprong Mori's section below. Assuming I've finished writing it by the time you read this, of course . . .) But I probably also wouldn't do it unless there was a need -- in this case there clearly was, but Nemo was obviously pretty uncomfortable for a good day after surgery. (Not to mention going back to have the stables out.) But in his case I think it was worth it, for him to be able to be with other rats. Nemo can't stand to be alone.

Some people suggest neutering rats for reasons that are more in their interest than in the rats, and I can't say I really like that. My vet says that any time you put an animal under 10 lbs under anesthesia, there's a chance he won't come back out. Plus it seems there's a high rate of post-surgery infections (abscesses) some of which prove fatal with neuters. If you do decide to neuter your rat, (1) be sure you have a GOOD reason, and (2) be sure you have a GOOD vet. Even then, you may want to insist on an antibiotic after the procedure.

Here are some reasons I consider BAD and selfish, and my comments on them:

Soft fur and no more oily skin -- neutering your boy rat will make its fur softer, and will make his skin less oily. But is that really worth risking his life? Some people confuse this with helping with allergies, but it doesn't . . .

It will help my allergies -- NO IT WON'T! I am allergic to rats, both by touch and in a respiratory sort of way, and I was just as allergic to Nemo as I am to any other rat. I manage it by keeping their cages clean and wearing long sleeves.

They will stop marking -- MAYBE. But maybe not. Nemo still marked a little, but not nearly as much. James Kittock has a neutered rat, on the other hand, who likes to give people yellow baths. Not worth the risk.

It will eliminate the chance of testicular cancer -- I've never heard of a rat with testicular cancer, so it seems to me that this is a pretty minimal risk. I've asked enough people to have a data set of well over 100 pet rats. So it seems to me that this statement is like saying, "cutting off his tail will eliminate the chance of tail cancer." Some people have claimed other rat health benefits as well, but I haven't seen any evidence, and I fear this is just a rationalization. But ask your vet, she or he probably knows more about this than I do. And if you do have any studies, PLEASE let me know!

So what do I consider GOOD reasons?

It will reduce aggressive behavior -- yes, it most likely will. Nemo, and most males I know who had trouble living with other males, became real sweeties. Mori (see below) a previously sweet, gentle, and friendly rat, suddenly became very territorial about his cage -- not with rats, but with humans -- and started biting us! Neutering cured him of this as well, and restored him to his old sweet self. It doesn't make them fat or lazy, or change their personalities, but they don't want to be aggressive anymore.

It eliminates their ability to reproduce -- so if you have to keep them with female rats (as opposed to keeping them all alone) this is the way to go.

Here my rant ends for now.

Nemo meets Toby

This was a long and difficult introduction, which I will write about some time later. I think Jabberwock's death and Nemo's loneliness was what finally nudged them together. But eventually they were about the closest pair of rats I've ever had.

At one point Toby had surgery to remove a cyst, and had to be separated from Nemo. Once Toby had been gone for a day, Nemo went nuts, flinging himself across his cage at the slightest noise or for no reason, knocking everything over, and not letting us touch him. We left the carrier cage Toby had been in next to Nemo's cage, and he slept in it.

The next day, we put Toby's "nothing to do so he'll do nothing but heal" sick tank next to Nemo's cage. Nemo leapt on top, shoved his nose against the screen to sniff, and watched Toby. Then he was fine, perfectly calm. (Well, as calm as he ever was.) The next several days, he spent most of his waking time on top of Toby's cage. When we put a ramp in Toby's cage, Toby would climb to the top to be next to Nemo. There was no trouble re-introducing them at all, they were ecstatic, and Toby got a thorough grooming.

Nemo's 15 Minutes of Fame

About a week before the beginning of the Chinese New Year (the year of the rat!) I was contacted by Asian Week, a San Francisco area English language newspaper for the Asian-American community. It so happened that they liked the above image of Nemo, and wanted him to appear as the "luck bringing rat" on the cover of their New Year's edition. Of course I said yes.

Next week, there he was, bigger than life, on the cover, next to the Chinese characters for "bring luck." (Written upside-down, so that the luck won't run out.) I even had to wait another week to get my copy, because the issue was so popular that it sold out and had to be reprinted. I feared that soon Little Nemo would be off to Hollywood, looking for bit parts in horror flicks, and hoping for the big roll in a remake of Willard, only to end up waiting tables.

I haven't scanned the cover yet, but you can CLICK HERE for a low-res rough draft version of the cover graphic.


On Saturday May 3rd, Nemo died suddenly and quite unexpectedly of what we can only assume was a massive stroke or something similar. Nemo spent his life being the healthiest rat we've ever owned, still going strong, climbing all over the cage, running in the wheel, and playing with the young rats at 27 months old. He was doing much better than a lot of 18 month old rats I've had. He had changed from not letting us hold him to the most cuddly rat in the cage. He had a good life, I can only wish it had been longer.

Why Little Nemo?

I'm a big Winsor McCay fan. Little Nemo is named after his famous character, an not any of the more recent sickly cute bastardizations thereof.

Toby the Sapient Pig

Born: approx. Sept 1, 1995 (California) / Adopted: October 17, 1995 / Died: June, 1997 (New Mexico)
States lived in: 2 / States visited: at least 9

Toby came from the same breeder as Jabberwock -- at that time Jabberwock had not yet become seriously ill -- but this wasn't intentional, it was only luck. I bought Jabberwock from a pet store, and only found out while talking to the breeder (who had been recommended to me) that Jabberwock was one of his too. I said my only concerns were temperament and longevity, and I got Toby, who's father was two years old when Toby was born. He's a really handsome little Siamese -- seal point markings, pink eyes, etc. When he was just 7 weeks old, he was already calmer than Nemo! A true show rat, very little frays his nerves.

I have some (bad) pictures scanned now and up on the page, but Toby's much larger than that now. (He's the only rat I have who won't use the wheel.) I really need to write more here, but I haven't had time.

Why Toby the Sapient Pig?

See the poster linked to above. "Toby the Sapient Pig" was the most famous of the learned pig acts which were popular in the late 1700's and early 1800's, and it eventually became sort of a generic name for such acts.


Born: approx. March, 1996 (California) / Adopted: May 4, 1996 / Died March 12, 1998 (Michigan)
States lived in: 3 / States visited: at least 12, maybe 15?

Deprong Mori

Born: approx. March, 1996 (California) / Adopted: May 4, 1996 / Died December 17, 1998 (Michigan)
States lived in: 3 / States visited: at least 12, maybe 15?

These are two little rexes, most likely brothers, I got from the same store Jabberwock came from, and from the same breeder both Jabberwock and Toby are from. It was somewhat less cautious than I would have liked to have been, but I couldn't get get ahold of any breeders, and all the rats in the litter seemed healthy. Chupacabra is white with a few black splotches on his head, and dark eyes (which I think is really cool looking on a white rat.) He had a really good rex coat, and he was an attention hound, always begging for someone to come over and play with him -- amazing for such a young rat! He was very active, and even when we got them already probably the alpha rat of the pair, but he was very shy and cautious around the big rats.

Deprong Mori looks like he's from the same litter, and appears to be a terribly failed berkshire -- his bottom side is mostly white, and his top is mostly black, but there's no symmetric pattern, with blotches of each color invading the other. With people, he's often initially shy, but very playful once he relaxes, and very bold around other rats -- he liked to shove the big rats when we introduced them! So I had a 1.5 lb Nemo, all nervous and worked up about these new rats, and I'm trying to get him to stay calm. Out of nowhere Mori romps up and gives him a good shove on the side. In adult rat language, this means, "Come on ya big wimp! I can take you! Just try something!" In baby rat language, it means the same thing, only they aren't serious. Thanks only to my watchful eye (and hand) Mori never had to learn that distinction. He quit doing this after he was neutered, but now frantically grooms them instead, which they occasionally find almost as annoying.

I initially rushed their introduction to the big rats, and things did not go so well. Nemo was very phobic about new rats he didn't recognize -- they might as well have been hamsters or lizards or cats as far as he was concerned. He had to recognize a rat before he would even come up to the level of treating it like a rat. And Toby, well, he's the alpha rat, and as far as he's concerned everyone should just know that. He wouldn't start any fights, but was very quick to answer even the slightest (real or imagined) deviation from complete submission. No one got badly injured, but there was more screaming and nipping that I was happy with. So I backed up and for months never really tried to introduce them (other than occasionally outside the cage) again, although their cages were next to each other. Toby and Nemo missed having an open cage.

Later (after Mori was neutered) I decided to make another serious attempt. Chupa and Mori were 7 months old, hardly what many people would call an ideal age for introductions! But things have gone smoothly so far. Nemo recognized them, and settled in nicely -- probably in part because Mori was crazy about Nemo, and gave him a good grooming whenever he got the chance. (Nemo eventually started returning the favor, and became eager to spend time with the little rats.) Toby was a little trickier, and was apt to start a shoving match because he just tripped and fell out of the hammock and was looking for someone to blame -- but nothing serious came of any of this. And Toby loves a good rat pile, so for the most part he's happy if everyone will just curl up and provide him with some pillows. Toby and Nemo are both somewhat territorial about their cage around other rats, so I did all the introductions inside the little rats' cage. I hoped to have them all sharing the same cage full time within another week or so, but then Zotz came along . . .

This story is becoming somewhat disjointed, but oh well. To jump ahead a bit, for quite a while Chupa, Mori, and Zotz shared one cage, and Toby and Nemo were in the other. Eventually I moved them all in together, although since both Chupa and Toby were the alpha rats of their own cages, I worried the two would fight. They never did, but instead it became sort of a popularity contest to see who could get more of the other rats to treat them as the alpha. There was no question about Mori, and Chupa would not allow Toby to pick on him. Nemo didn't really care that much, but whatever little he did care, he was in Toby's camp. Zotz was a problem, because he had the weakest link, although he seemed to think Chupa was the alpha. But he really liked to cause trouble, and seemed to view Toby's pestering and chasing as play. The matter was never really settled until Nemo passed on, when Chupa became the alpha. The whole time, Chupa and Toby mostly avoided direct interactions, and never came to blows.

Interestingly, when Toby became ill, this all changed. Chupa suddenly started to pay attention to Toby, grooming him, curling up with him, making sure the other two didn't disturb him, and so on. He was with Toby constantly the last few days before we took Toby to the vet.

In late December 1997 Chupa formed an abscessed lump on the side of his head. It was repeatedly removed but repeatedly returned, and in March 98 was diagnosed as a cancerous tumor -- there was nothing that could be done. It was an uneasy situation, because at the time we found out, Chupa had just recovered from surgery and was feeling the best he had in months, but we knew that the tumor would start to grow again within days. We decided to make his life as happy as possible until it came back, and to make sure he didn't have to suffer once it did. So Chupa spent the last week of his life eating cheesecake, turkey & gravy baby food, girl scout cookies, and anything else he decided was good. The tumor started to grow again a week after we got the diagnosis. Chupa made one final visit to the vet on March 12.

Toward the end of 1998, Mori started a slow decline, becoming weaker and slightly less coordinated than before, but nothing that couldn't be written off to old age. The third week in December he started along a faster decline, loosing his coordination, the use of his limbs (which he could only hold fully extended), and finally suffering seizures. The likely culprit was a pituitary tumor. He made his final visit to the vet on December 17th. Mori only moved into the big cage (with Phobos & Deimos) at the end of November, but Deimos became quite attached to him, and kept Mori clean and groomed when Mori could no longer do those things for himself.

The name Chupacabra is after what could best be described as Puerto Rico's version of Big Foot or Nessie. Click HERE to see Tito Armstrong's Chupacabra Home Page.

"Deprong Mori" is from a species of bat described in an exhibit at The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California (near L.A.) If you ever have the misfortune, er, eh, I mean luck to find yourself in L.A., you MUST visit.


Born: October 1996 (California) / Adopted: November 1996 / Died: Summer 1999 (Illinois)
States lived in: 4 / States visited: at least 12

I'm falling behind now! Zotz was a rescue rat, who's previous owner couldn't keep him, so he was destined for the shelter where his chances of being adopted were slim to none. Instead we adopted him. He's a very bright little rat, and learned the name "babyrat" in the first week we had him (before we could come up with anything better). He's very social with people, so it's hard to tell if he's actually learned his new name, since he responds to anything! If rat colors are your thing, Zotz is a beige self, probably show quality.

Zotz initially moved in with just Chupa and Mori just before Christmas '96, because I was going to be gone, and introducing him to the whole lot (just when they had all started to get along) was going to be a pain. In the end, it didn't go so bad, and all five rats I had at the (Nemo, Toby, Chupa, Mori, and Zotz) time moved into a large 2' x 3' x 2' tall custom Fern Mfg. cage in January. Zotz was quite a terror, and constantly wanted to play/bug the other rats -- so actually moving him in with four other rats spread things around more, and made him more tolerable to Chupa and Mori!

"Zotz" is a Mayan bat god, and also a month in the Mayan calander. I've also seen it spelled Tzotz and Sotz.


Born: June 1997 (New Mexico) / Adopted: August 1997 / Died: 1999 (Illinois)
States lived in: 3 / States visited: at least 10

Yeti is our first female rat. It was not our intention to experience a female rat, but, well, now we are. We got another rat to keep Zotz busy, because (for a male rat) Zotz is hyper, and constantly bugging Chupa and Mori to play. This plan worked better than we could have hoped with Yeti, because of the following difference between male and female rats:

Differences between male and female rats #1: When traveling from point A to point B, a female rat will, whenever possible, leap rather than walk. This is usually possible as long as the separation of point A and B is less that 4 ft. When traveling from point A to point B, a male rat will, whenever possible, reconsider the travel and stay at point A instead. Corollary: In comparison to female rats, male rats are inert lumps of matter, most easily comparable to rocks or large potatoes.

When we first put them together, Zotz mostly tried to hide from Yeti. (Zotz is neutered, BTW! Poor Chupa can't come out to play with Yeti . . . yet . . .) If that failed, Zotz would sit on Yeti, which rarely worked for long but managed to give him a few moments of peace.

Since spaying is quite invasive, and Chupa was not in good enough health for neutering, mostly Yeti lived with Zotz and Mori with Chupa until after Chupa died, with frequent visits by all the rats with each other, except for the one forbidden pair.

[March 4, 1998] Since Chupa's death, Mori moved in with Zotz and Yeti. This was fine with Zotz, who knew Mori well, but it was not at all ok with Yeti. She has a small bird nest in her cage, looking out over a set of shelves, from which she would hawk over her kingdom. Whenever Mori set foot on these shelves, she would just start yelling at him, chirping and eeping the likes of which I've never before seen outside of the social interactions of squirrels. Mori was quite confused, and usually pretty sheepish, when this would happen. Yeti eventually quit, and will no notable skimishes they all get along fine now.

Deimos and Phobos

Born: May 1998 (Michigan) / Adopted: June 13, 1998 / Phobos died April 22, 1999 (Michigan) / Deimos died November 6, 2000 (Illinois)
States lived in: Phobos/Deimos: 1/2 / States visited: Phobos/Deimos: 7/8

This section updated 1999-04-23.

I got these two rats in June of 1998, and they quickly became willing accomplices in my rat detector project. As their pictures attest, when they were young they had two modes of operation, sleep and play, with a brief transitional period involving waking up and eating. Rats who spent most of their waking hours playing and laughing were most useful to the project.

As they grew older, these two continued to be a couple of the most playful rats I've had. They would run to the front of the cage to play, and as soon as either of them got excited, the two would bound towards each other, pounce, and ricochet around the cage as a ball of wrestling rats for a few moments before running back to the front of the cage. Deimos was always the troublemaker, and got along well with Yeti and her many strange, aimless, and sometimes slightly destructive plans involving cage arrangement and food distribution. Phobos was always somewhat more reserved, cautious, and thoughtful. Or at least he knew when it was best to just stay out of the way! So even though these two guys looked nearly identical, as soon as they did anything it was fairly easy to tell them apart.

The sad endings: Phobos always had trouble with respiratory problems on and off, where Deimos had none until much later. In late March 1999 Phobos' problems became much worse, and he contracted pneumonia. He was young and fought hard, but on April 22nd we took him to the vet for one final time. He was by far the youngest rat we've lost to respiratory disease.

A little over a month after we got Thrint and Kzin in 1999, first Yeti and then two weeks later Deimos fell ill. Yeti did not survive, Deimos did but suffered chronic respiratory problems the rest of his life. In September of 2000 a tumor appeared on his back, and we elected not to remove it since the vets gave him virtually no chance of surviving surgery. By November 1 the tumor was so large that we had no choice but to try surgery or put him to sleep. To everyone's surprise he did make it through the surgery just fine, but a few days later was overcome by pnemonia.

"Deimos" (terror) and "Phobos" (fear) are sons of Ares, the Greek god of war. To make matters confusing, they are also the moons Mars. Mars is the Roman equivalent of Ares, but there is no Roman equivalent of Phobos and Deimos -- the Romans gave Mars different sons, Remus and Romulus. Yet Aseph Hall, who discovered the moons of Mars, decided to name them after the sons of Ares instead of the sons of Mars. Who knows why.

Deimos is the smaller moon, and thus Deimos was the smaller rat as well. At least when they were young. But certainly of the two, he's the one best described as a terror.

Rat Colony v2 Continues:
The Current Rat Hoard

Kzin and Thrint

Born: Summer 1999 (Illinois) / Adopted: Summer 1999 / K'zin died Nov. 15 2001 / Thrint died August 16, 2002
States lived in: K'zin:1 Thrint:2 / States visited: K'zin:none (now we have a pet sitter!) Thrint:7

A brief update (2002.08.16): Thrint was over 3 years old and as finicky as ever when he finally passed on. He was the oldest rat we ever had. He was old and frail but he just kept going. We were feeding him whatever he would eat (mostly whatever we eat!) -- a few nights ago he had pan seared salmon on a bed of rice. No, we don't spoil our rats . . .

The rest of this section last updated 2001-10-03 (before K'zin died).

Thrint and K'zin are over 2 years old now and I have only now finally posted one lousey picture of them. I've become quite the slacker when it comes to this page. Well, Thrint and K'zin are probably brothers, both hooded rats (agouti and black). We got K'zin (and named him such) because some thoughtless rat had nibbled his ears when he was but a wee ratling, and we thought no one but a rat lover would buy a rat with tattered ears. We got these guys not long after Zotz died to keep Deimos company. He loved them, and was probably the happiest we'd seen him since he was young. Yeti was less impressed by the new young rats messing up her cage while she was away. (Yeti died before we could neuter these guys, so they never lived together.)

Someday I will certainly have to tell you about K'zin's braces. Yes, K'zin had braces on his teeth because they were crooked. Now they're straight, no more clipping K'zin's teeth, happiness for all. The only question is who is crazier, us for getting braces on our rat or the vet that suggested it.

I think Thrint and K'zin will be our last rats. For a while anyway. Various other things have started to fill our evenings and we just don't have the time to spend with rats that we used to. In addition, I've grown steadily more allergic to them which makes it difficult for me to spend a lot of time around them. Plus we think it's possible these guys are carriers of whatever did in Yeti, and we don't want to risk doing that to any other rats. So maybe this is the end of Rat Colony v2, and the end of our Rat Colonies all together. I'm not sure Amy's convinced though, she keeps bringing up what a great rat Yeti was, as if maybe we should try girls for Rat Colony v3. I don't know, we'll just have to see . . .

The K'zin and Thrint are alien races from science fiction novels written by Larry Niven. I read nearly every Larry Niven novel there was before I was in high school.


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