Advice for the Novice Breeder

Before Breeding

There are several things to consider before breeding fancy rats:
  • Why are you breeding? If it is just to produce cute kittens without any thoughts of homing, etc., consider that you may be just adding to the rescue population out there!
  • Breeding comes with its own risks and if things go wrong, you could lose the kittens and/or the doe. If something goes wrong and veterinary treatment is required, it is unlikely to be cheap as an emergency vet is often needed because rats don't always manage to have these things go wrong during opening hours.
  • Finding good homes for the offspring, you can expect an average litter to be between 10 and 12.
  • If you want to breed rats to make money, forget it! Pet shops generally buy the kittens for approximately 1.00 to 3.00, not a good way to get rich quick and most pet shops these days tend to source from 'rodent farms' rather than local breeders!
  • You will need extra cage space for breeding. The doe will need a nursery separate from her cage mates, and you will need to consider where to separate the young kittens out to, bucks from does, once they are weaned.
  • If you are a younger rat owner, you will need to ask permission from your parents before starting any rat breeding programs.

Selecting the Parents

It is important to select healthy and fit parents. Avoid using wheezing or snuffly rats and rats with obvious defects. If the rat is temporarily unwell from something minor, give the animal plenty of time to recover before choosing to mate from it and even then only consider breeding from if there really is no other choice available and the rat has made a complete recovery.

Temperament is a very important factor in breeding. If bad tempered or biting rats are used then this is likely to produce bad tempered offspring as temperament problems can be hereditary, so choose a pair of friendly, pet-able animals.

Age is necessary to consider. It is recommended to choose a doe between 5 and 7 months of age for her first litter. The older the doe is, the more problems she may encounter with pregnancy or birth. It is advised to never mating a doe who is over a year old for their first litter. If you intend to have two litters from the one doe it is better to start her early in order to give her some resting time in between the litters.

The doe should be of a good size approximately 300gms. If she is too overweight then she may not get pregnant at all. In the other respect an underweight or scrawny doe may not cope well with the stress of pregnancy and looking after her litter so the doe needs to be fit.

Bucks should be of a good mature size approximately 500gms. and can father litters up to about 18 months old. It is recommended to start using a stud buck between 6 and 12 months of age. After a year old you may start to experience sterility problems. You can use a younger buck but the full maturity and temperament may not have developed until about 6 months old.

Some varieties do suffer from breeding and other health problems. It is worth checking with an experienced breeder of that variety before you start and to also make sure that there are no inherent problems in your rats background by discussing with their breeder(s) also.

Breeding for Show

The most important thing in breeding good show quality rats is starting with good quality rats. It can take years to get inherent faults out of your show rats, but it can only take one litter to breed those faults in. It is recommended to seek out a good recognised breeder of the variety you are interested in and approach them for advice and perhaps some starting rats. A list of breeders is kept by the NFRS and this may help to point you in the right direction. You cannot expect to achieve winning results with your rats overnight, it often takes years for a breeder to win the illusive Best In Show awards and achieve consistently good results at shows. If you get the chance to arrange for a judge or experienced breeder to take a look at your rats and give you advice this is well worth doing, even though the truth can sometimes be hard to swallow, it may save you a lot of time and frustration in the long run. NFRS rat shows are the best place to learn more about breeding and showing as you can chat to other breeders and judges and learn from them by demonstration.

Size and type play a big part in producing good offspring and also temperament as previously mentioned. It is no good breeding the best looking rat ever, if it then turns round and savages the judge!

The ideal stud buck should be solid, muscular and a good size, at least 500gms. but not fat. The head should be broad with a blunt nose and large eyes. The buck should not be able to be mistook for a doe, avoid all 'racy' or narrow head types. He should have a nice thick set tail narrowing down towards the end. The buck is the pride and joy of the stud in the same way as a bull or stallion so never use a second rate buck.

The doe should be firm, solid and racy but not thin or too overweight, ideally weighing at least 300gms. The head should be long but not pointed with large well formed and well spaced ears. The eyes should be large and round. The back should be arched smoothly running down to a long thick set tail. The coat should be smooth and glossy. The type of your rats is far more important than achieving the right colour. Colour can be changed and perfected a lot easier than type when breeding.

In regards to what varieties to choose to breed, it is better to pick one or two main varieties that appeal to you and breed those well than attempt to breed large numbers of different varieties. This can be a common mistake amongst many breeders and you will soon find that space can be a problem. Remember quality not quantity. Some varieties can be interbred together allowing you to cover more than one class when showing for example Agouti and Silver Fawn or Siamese and Silver black.

To produce certain colour varieties it is often necessary to inbreed, sometimes through several generations. This does not, as commonly thought, produce defects in the offspring, but if monitored carefully can actually improve a strain and help to fix desired points in type, colour etc.. In the same way bad points can be fixed in so you need to be careful and perhaps seek some advice first. Continued inbreeding can lead to problems in health, fertility, longevity and size so an outcross/new blood would be recommended by about 6 generations.

It is advised to keep records when breeding for show of the parents and resulting offspring. This can prove to be particularly useful at times and will help you to see any patterns or problems arising in your particular strain.

If you are looking to breed specific varieties, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of genetics. The NFRS can provide some information on this, and can help to answer those "What will I get if"? questions. For the basic beginnings also try the NFRS handbook and Nick Mays book, 'The Proper Care of Fancy Rats'.

Breeding for health and temperament

Breeding for health and temperament is not really much different from the above, but the breeder will be totally focussed on improving the health and temperament each generation as priority and general conformation, markings and colours become less important to them as they quite often do not show in varieties classes although many breeders focussing on health and temperament do very well at shows in both pet and variety classes. Breeders who are focussed on health and temperament will keep in regular contact with the owners of all their rats and will want to know details of health and temperament traits and cause of death and age when the rat finally passes on.

Mating

Does have a four or five day oestrus cycle. This means that every 4/5 days the doe will become receptive to mating with the buck. When she is in heat she will tend to be very jumpy and excitable. If she lives with other females you may notice that they will mock mate her. The majority of does come into heat in the evening which lasts for approximately 12 hours. If you touch the doe on her flanks she will assume a 'frozen' stance often vibrating her whole body and wiggling her ears which can appear quite comical! If you examine her vagina when she is on heat the area will probably show as a mauve colour and the entrance will be wide open as opposed to a normal almost unnoticeable entrance of a pale pink colour. This is when your doe is ready to mate.

There are two ways to go about the process of mating. Firstly the method which most breeders use is to place the doe with the buck when she is in heat and leave them together for their night of passion (Or a few passionate hours if you choose). The other method is to leave the buck with the doe for at least 10 days (to cover 2 oestrus cycles) and then separate them. Some people only remove the doe from the buck when she starts to appear pregnant or a few days before the birth.

If your buck lives with other males then it is suggested using the first method as it allows you to re-introduce your buck back with his cage mates a lot easier. The other bucks will sometimes attack the lucky male because they can smell the female scent on him, and fights can turn quite nasty. If you encounter problems a trick that is pretty successful is to dot some vanilla essence onto all the bucks chests which will help to confuse their own odours, if this does not work then remove them into a neutral environment whilst you clean their cage, put some favourite food in and then return them.

If you are considering that you would like to leave the buck in with the doe for longer, bear in mind that although the buck will often make a good father, the doe will come into heat immediately after giving birth (Post partum oestrus) if the buck succeeds in getting her pregnant the second litter will often be miscarried or sickly and can cause extreme stress to the doe's health while she is nursing the first litter. Also not only are the parents likely to mate but the maturing kitten does may also become pregnant, with obvious results, so we would strongly suggest you separate the buck from the doe before the birth to avoid any possible problems.

After mating your doe you will need to keep an eye on her to see if she comes back into heat. If she does then the mating has failed to be successful and you will need to repeat the process. If she does not come back into heat after about 12 days you can assume she is probably pregnant.

Gestation/Pregnancy

The gestation period lasts 21 to 23 days after mating. The majority of does give birth on day 22 and a half which will be the morning of the 23rd day. By about two weeks you will start to notice the doe becoming fatter and taking on a pear shaped appearance. In the last few days some look like they have swallowed a tennis ball and almost roll rather than walk!! Remove obstacles or anything she may fall off from her surroundings.

During the pregnancy you will need to keep the doe fairly quiet. She will still need her exercise, but be careful when you are handling her especially as she becomes larger. Many does suffer from a personality change during the pregnancy, even some of my most submissive gentle companions have turned into monsters at this time becoming grumpy and aggressive and will often bully their cage mates because a pregnant doe will try to rise to alpha in their cage during pregnancy. All this is due to the change in hormones at this time and you will find that after rearing her litter she should regain her former composure.

Do not overfeed the doe during pregnancy, she should be fed her normal diet during this time. You can add vitamin and mineral supplements if you wish. Make sure that she has plenty of good food with plenty of protein after the kittens are born though. Although all the extra protein would usually cause spottiness, this is one time when it is of benefit.

It is generally not recommended to allow littering more than one doe together, as although they will not intentionally injure each other's offspring, they may try to steal them resulting in a 'tug of war' situation which can damage the kitten's delicate skin. There have been cases where this continued until all the babies had died. You can however leave mum with her cage mates or neutered males for the birth as they should not hurt the babies and may in fact help with their care but most does do prefer to be left alone. Be aware however that the mother tends to becomes very protective over her new offspring and this may cause some stress and aggravation if another rat is left in the cage. Make sure that if you wish to keep her in with other rats that the doe has plenty room to allow her privacy from her cage mates.

The general advice would be to give the doe her own nursery to stop the risk of any problems arising with other rats at all.

A few days before she is due to give birth you will need to separate her into the nursery. Large plastic tanks such as Savic Rody or Ferplast Duna are ideal, but a single level cage with narrow bar spacing would also do. Give her a moderate amount of bedding material food and water.

The Birth

Before giving birth the doe will start to furiously nest build. She may also take very little interest in her food. A pinkish discharge will indicate the beginning of the birth process. The birth usually takes about an hour or so from start to finish. The doe will squat on her haunches and the kittens will be delivered one by one. The kittens can be born head or tail first as both is normal. She will then clean off the birth sack and clean the new born kitten, this helps to stimulate breathing and body functions. The average litter size is between 8 and 12 babies although as many as 20 are perfectly possible.

The kittens are born pink and hairless (known as 'pinkies') and are also deaf and blind. The babies emit high pitched squeaks so that the mother can locate them. They will seek out her nipples and start to suckle immediately. The doe's milk is very important in providing the young with immunity to infection through the anti bodies in the milk as well as its nutritional value. This is particularly true of the first feed (called 'Colostrum') which is the richest in nutrients. A healthy kitten will be a bright pink colour and wriggling. Once they are fed they will have a white patch under the skin half way down the abdomen known as a 'milk band'. This is the stomach area.

It is best not to disturb the new litter too much during birthing as the mother will generally take care of any problems herself and it is not worth the risks as disruption can cause labour to stop. If the doe comes out of the nest to feed or you are confident she has finished birthing, that is the best time to check on the litter and make sure all looks well - kittens have milk bands and mother has no further discharge.

The best course of action is to let the doe get on with rearing the litter with a minimum amount of interference especially in the first few days, generally aiming to handle the kitten while she is out feeding so as not to stress her out too much. As the kittens get older, the mother usually becomes more relaxed about the kittens being handled and certainly once the eyes are open as much handling as possible should be given. Ensure you provide her with plenty of nourishing food and water.

Possible Problems

In the majority of cases the doe will give birth and raise her litter without any need for assistance, but it is worth being aware of any problems which may occur.

Sometimes the doe may miscarry or re absorb her litter. It is normal if there are any dead or sickly kittens born that she may eat them. This is a natural reaction. Very rarely will a doe eat healthy kittens, but if she is going to do this it is likely to happen in the first few days. This is nearly always caused by stress of some kind for example, the presence of a cat or dog or too much disturbance of the litter.

Occasionally the doe may suffer from an obstructed birth and she may go into shock and in extreme cases, die from the shock or haemorrhaging. In this instance a caesarean section may be possible to save her life if it is done soon enough before shock or too much blood loss takes place, but she will be unable to nurse any surviving babies so in many cases there will be very little you can do.

Once the birth process begins and the doe starts to discharge, if there are no babies delivered within four hours then there may be a problem. This may be due to a baby being stuck in the birth canal and massaging the mothers abdomen gently may help to release the problem kitten. Sometimes it is possible to pull the baby out by using forceps and the birth can continue as normal. The first baby is usually the hardest for the mother to pass. Oxytocin may help in this case, but it doesn't always work and there may be many other reasons why labour is not progressing normally.

Occasionally a doe may spot blood in the last couple of days leading up to the birth and this can be an indication something is wrong, but in some cases this can be aborting the odd kitten and they have then gone on to produce a healthy litter so it is best to wait she is due to give birth and deal with any problems if they arise. If you are in any doubt over the well being of your doe it is worth contact your vet and/or other experienced breeders for their opinion. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

If there has been no sign of the litter by day 25 there may also be a problem and at this stage they may produce a still born litter or none at all. If the mother survives with unborn foetuses often she will reabsorb them naturally but it is worth treating her with a course of antibiotics to prevent any infection occurring.

In rare cases you may find yourself with and orphaned litter, perhaps due to the mother neglecting or abandoning her kittens or if the mother falls sick or at worst dies. For further information on orphaned rats and hand rearing see below.

The Litter

When examining the kittens in the first couple of days it is a good idea to wait until the mother is away from the nest and then remove the doe from the nursery. The doe can be very protective of her litter and may attack you so be careful. When she has been removed, rub your hands in the nursery bedding to avoid putting too much of your scent onto the babies. Be aware some young kittens wriggle with amazing speed and can easily squirm out of your hands and fall. When you have finished handling the kittens, place them back into the nest and return the doe. Some does are completely indifferent to you handling their kittens, but always be careful as they can land a nasty hormone-driven bite if they decide they do not really want you there.

It is recommended leaving the mother and her new litter for at least a week before cleaning her out completely. The disturbance of her nest may upset her at this stage but you can remove handfuls of blood stained or badly soiled bedding and give her a bit of fresh bedding to top up during this time. After the kittens have opened their eyes then it is fine to return to your normal routine. You may find as the kittens get older that they will need to be cleaned out a great deal more, due to the extra mess and smell they can create.

The fur begins to grow within a day of being born and by four or five days colour and markings on varieties such as hooded, variegated and capped become apparent. Some colour varieties can be difficult to distinguish to the untrained eye until they are a little older. The fur colour may go through many different shades before they reach their adult moults between 6 to 11 weeks old.

The opening of the ears occurs at approx. 2 and a half to 3 and a half days, and the opening of the eyes at 13 to 16 days. The kittens grow at an amazing rate and this can be an great learning experience particularly for children to watch. Once their eyes are open the baby rats become very curious of their surroundings and start to explore although a little wobbly at first. This is a good time to start handling the kittens, helping them to become fully socialised and confident with humans.

Whilst the doe is raising her litter give her plenty of nutritious food and plenty of protein. This also applies to the young when they start to mature and nibble at solid food at approx. 2 and a half to 3 and a half weeks. The kittens can eat amazing amounts, so provide them with a constant supply of food. During this stage of their growth this extra food will help them to flourish into healthy strong young rats. Supplements of EMP, porridge, eggs, curly kale, bread and milk are a worthwhile addition throughout their kitten hood.

Healthy new kittens can be very boisterous in their play activities, causing no end of amusement by chasing each other and play fighting. They will begin to develop a hierarchy amongst the litter mates. Grooming and mock mating are ways that the more dominant individuals assert their positions over their more submissive litter mates.

Sexing the kittens can be a traumatic experience for most novice breeders but with a little practice it can become possible to sex them from birth. The best way to differentiate between the sexes is the distance between the urethra and the anus. In the female this distance is noticeably closer than in the buck. The doe also has two rows of nipples and the buck has testicles which will not migrate or 'drop' outside the body until approx. 3 to 6 weeks.

The buck kittens must be weaned and removed from their mother and sisters at approx. 4 to 5 weeks. Weaning means that the kitten will no longer feed from its mother but will instead rely wholly on other sources of food and by 3.5 to 4 weeks they most likely will have stopped suckling themselves anyway. Some breeders leave the doe kittens with the mother for longer as this can help with socialisation.

Do not place older males near a young litter as it is possible for kitten does to become pregnant this way. The does appear to become sexually mature a little earlier than their brothers and are in most cases capable of becoming pregnant from around 5 weeks.

Kittens become officially adults at 13 weeks of age but it will often take until 6 to 7 months of age (or more) for them to reach their full adult size - all this depends on the lines and the general upbringing of the kittens. Kittens should be supplemented in their diets and advice on this tends to vary dependant on the lines. Some breeders recommend supplementing for the full 13 weeks, while some only supplement for around a month or so after weaning as supplementing for too long with some lines can make the rats get very fat and grow up too fast.

Separating and Introducing

When separating the kittens, to save cage space you could put the young bucks in with other males until homes are found, and the kitten does can stay with mum or go back into my communal does' cage. Be wary of doing this unless your adult cages are settled and pretty tolerant as adults can damage young kittens. Bucks are usually easier to introduce to adult bucks at this age. The ideal is to have extra space available and to have one cage of young bucks and one of does until the surplus kittens that you are not keeping have left for their new homes.

Introducing the kittens to adult rats is generally a great deal easier than introducing an adult rat to another adult rat, particularly in the case of bucks. One suggested method is below:

Dot each rat with a drop of vanilla essence on the chest, (you could also bath all the rats in a mild animal shampoo for the same effect), place all the rats together in a neutral environment until settled or about an hour. Thoroughly clean out the cage or tank which they are due to go into. Move some cage accessories to different places or add a new toy, and also add some favourite food into the area. Put all the rats back in and watch and wait.

Never put the young rats into another rats environment without cleaning the area first or they are more likely to attack the newcomers as a threat. The idea is to confuse the scents of all the rats concerned and the new toys and food helps to add another distraction. It is strongly advised that you do not introduce the rats just before you are about to go to work or bed, if there are any serious problems then you will not be around to deal with them, so make sure that you have some spare time on your hands before attempting to introduce your rats.

Once introduced the community will then need to re-establish its hierarchy. This can often be quite distressing to watch as the adult rats may terrorise the new kittens, pinning then down and 'scuffing' them with their paws and making a huffing type noise. Keeping a water spray handy to calm the dominant rats down if they begin to get a little over zealous with their 'dressing down' is a great idea. It is a good idea to provide a small tube in the area that only the young kittens can fit into as a 'bolt hole' for them. The kittens may sit frozen for long periods of time and you may hear a lot of squeaking. This should last anywhere up to 48 hours before slowly tailing off, and eventually the other rats will then begin to allow the new arrivals to eat and sleep with them. Remove the kittens if any serious fighting occurs or if blood is drawn, remember to watch your fingers when splitting any fights up as you may unintentionally get bitten in the process. There have been rare cases of the kittens being killed if you have a particularly dominant rat in the cage, in the majority of cases all should work out well but you will need to use your own judgement, if at all worried remove the kittens and try again when you are around to keep an eye on what is happening, or find another place for them to live.

Orphaned Rats and Hand rearing

There are several reasons why you may find that you have an orphaned litter on your hands, the mother may simply neglect or abandon them, she may fall ill or at worst die or have had a c-section to give birth to them.

In the case of finding yourself with an orphaned litter you have a few options: Nurse the kittens over to another doe who also has a litter of similar age, hand rear the kittens yourself or put the kittens to sleep. It is good practice to either breed two litters at the same time yourself or alternatively work closely with other local breeders so you both have litters around the same time and could help each other out if needs be.

Remove the new mother from her nursery and mix the orphaned babies into the nest with the other kittens, then replace the mother. Mother rats are almost always willing to adopt. Make sure the prospective doe is healthy and fit before nursing over the new kittens.

In respect to hand rearing the below information was written by Marnie Mays from the NFRS handbook, a slightly more extended version is also available by Nick Mays in the book 'The Proper Care of Fancy Rats' and information is also available in Debbie Ducommun's book 'Rat health care'.

"First of all, remove the kittens from the cage and place them in a smaller, safe cage - for example a show tank. Put a towel, some tissue or any other warm bedding material on the bottom. Also place the cage in a warm place, preferably on a heated pad (on the lowest setting), as it is vital that the kittens are kept warm at all times.

Next, buy 'Lactol' milk powder from your local pet shop and set out to find a suitable bottle to feed the kittens with. Toy shops are a good bet, as very small dolls bottles usually make ideal rat bottles. A small syringe (without needle!) will also work.

Prepare the lactol from the instructions on the tin and fill the bottle with it. The milk mixture is supposed to be hand warm, not hot or cold. Gently hold one kitten at a time and try to feed it. Don't force the milk down its throat, as this will suffocate the kitten. Just put one small drop of milk in the kitten's mouth and wait for it to swallow. Ensure that no milk bubbles out of the kitten's nose, as this means it has gone down the wrong way. It may take a little while at first before the kitten understands how to feed, but they usually learn after a couple of feeds. Feed the kitten until you can see that the tummy is getting white, which indicates it is full of milk. This can be observed through the kitten's skin before any fur covers it, the stomach being plainly visible when full of milk. Sometimes the kitten will decide when it has had enough and pull away from the bottle. It takes up to five minutes to feed each kitten individually. This now has to be repeated every four hours, day and night.

Don't worry if the kittens seem to grow thin at first, this is normal and they soon start to gain weight after a little while. When the kittens have opened their eyes you can start cutting down the nightly feeds and give them some more solid food. Lactol mixed with baby rice is good as a start. If the kittens don't want to eat it, try getting them to lick it off your fingers, which usually works. Continue to bottle feed them until they are about three to three and a half weeks old. Then gradually cut down the feeds and give the milk mixed with baby rice on a plate, mixing this with various baby foods. Give the kittens at least three or four meals a day, replacing all uneaten food from the previous feeds. They are still without their real mother though, so you must act as their mother and clean them up when they get dirty after eating sloppy food. Rat kittens that are very dirty may actually lose their coats and go bald for a while, but don't worry, their fur will grow back eventually.

Your kittens will now be extremely tame, regarding you as their only mother and you can feel proud that your hard work (and sleepless nights) has paid off. They are alive and healthy! They may be slightly smaller than other kittens of the same age but this doesn't necessarily have to be a problem, just follow a prudent diet of nutritious foods and they will grow very much as normal. Good luck!"
-Marnie Mays - NFRS Handbook '91 edition

Culling

Culling is a personal choice and many breeders do not cull at all and have no problems with their does raising large litters with well supplemented diets. If you choose to cull to reduce your litters, please ensure this is done humanely.

Selecting the Best

If you are keeping any of the offspring as pets the biggest factor is to keep the kittens which are the friendliest and appeal to you most personally. New breeders in particular tend to end up having attacks of 'cute' and keeping too many babies but after a few litters they realised this was not practical and they become much stricter with themselves!!

If you are keeping for show purposes apart from temperament you will be looking for other factors. If you have chosen the parents well then this is half the battle as the kittens will reflect the qualities of the parents. Avoid any obvious show faults such as kinked or short tails, 'piggy' eyes, 'hat' ears, etc.. You are looking for a good solid specimen with large eyes and well spaced ears with a chunky frame not too fine boned. The markings are obviously of utmost importance when choosing to show any marked rat, check the show standards for the required size, width and placing of the markings but don't forget the rat does need good conformation and type as well. When choosing an un-marked rat for showing make sure it has no white on its chest or feet, this is considered a fault. Certain varieties take time for their full coat colour to develop, for example: Silver fawn, Cinnamon pearl, Agouti, Cinnamon and blue agouti and do not generally show well as kittens. Most colours have a drab greyish tinge to their baby coat until their first moult at 6 to 11 weeks of age. If you are in any doubt which to keep for showing it is well worth contacting an experienced breeder or judge for advice.

Young rats can be shown between 7 and 13 weeks of age, and are to be entered in the 'kitten' class. Beyond 13 weeks they should be entered in the adult class. Don't expect amazing results at first as young rats do not 'show themselves' very well, but with good luck and careful selection some kittens do achieve greatness!

Finding Homes

Most breeders these days use the internet as a main source of advertising upcoming litters. Many studs and ratteries have their own websites containing planned litters pages or they talk about their breeding plans on discussion forums and this tends to aid in building up a waiting list for any surplus kittens you may have. There are also some forums on the internet you can advertise your kittens - the NFRS has a members' forum where members can advertise their kittens to other members. The NFRS also has a breeders' list where as a member you can be listed as a breeder and this helps potential owners track you down as well. Reputable breeders do not breed more than they can comfortably find homes for. NFRS members can also advertise rats at the NFRS shows on a notice board.

It may be a good idea to produce a care sheet yourself providing your details and details of some good literature which provides information on keeping pet rats. If you contact the NFRS they should be able to provide you with some NFRS care sheets and membership forms for you to copy to give to new owners of your rats.

It is not recommended to sell your kittens to pet shops as you will not get to 'vet' the new owners personally and the majority of pet shops will not give out good advice on how to keep the rats. Many pet shops source their rats from 'rodent farms' anyway and are not interested in small scale breeders rats as they cannot get the kittens on 'sale or return' this way usually.

It may be a good idea to advertise your kittens in your local vets surgery or maybe locally distributed papers or pet shops. No kittens should go to a new home until they are fully weaned and at least 6 weeks old. You often see very young small shivering rats in pet shops (some as young as 3 weeks old), and puts a great deal of strain of the young rat which does not have enough stamina to cope with the new harsh environment without mum. Most are brought by unsuspecting members of the public who within the week have a dying or sickly rat on their hands.

When selling privately many people will wish to come round and see the rats, this is an ideal opportunity for you to have a chance to 'vet' the new owner and for them to 'vet' your rats. Other methods include chatting to the prospective owners on the phone or via e-mail discussion and some breeders also use an 'application form' process, which can weed out the potential owners who may be wasting your time or be completely unsuitable for your rats.

Rats should not be sold singularly as they are communal creatures and no matter how much somebody promises to play with their new rat it will never be as happy as if it is with its own kind (and own sex!!).

When selling a rat the price is up to you but most pet owners expect to pay between 7 to 15 per rat. The NFRS states a guideline of a minimum is 7.00 in their General Guidelines for selling rat kittens. So this may give you an idea of how much to aim for. If anybody wants to buy the whole litter or a large number of kittens, be very wary as they probably want them for snake food rather than as pets.

When handing over you rats ensure you provide the new owner with your details, so that if they have any questions they can contact you. Many breeders also provide details of the background of my rats in the form of a 'pedigree' or family tree, and this can be particularly useful if the rat is for showing or breeding.

When selling to any juvenile make sure that they have permission from their parents and that you speak to them before agreeing to sell the rats. Sometimes children try to buy a rat with no conception of housing or feeding the poor thing, and you will end up with an angry parent on your doorstep! Note that according to the DEFRA Animal Welfare act of 2006, a child of under 16 may only buy an animal if they are accompanied by an adult.

Always make sure your new owner knows how to house, handle and feed the new rats, you can advise that they give the new babies some bread and milk to begin with and to allow the new rat a day or two to settle in before being handled. It will take time for the new owner and baby rats to get used to each other as they are a little nervous of each other to begin with!

We would wish you the best of luck with breeding the fancy rat. The experience can be very enjoyable and exciting to watch. Please contact the NFRS if you would like any more information regarding breeding and genetics.

Appendix and References

For more information on breeding and keeping fancy rats, the following sources will prove useful:

The National Fancy Rat Society
For details on membership contact:
BM NFRS, LONDON, WC1N 3XX
Please send a SAE with all correspondence if you would like a reply.

Pro-Rat-a
The National Fancy Rat Society's magazine. These are excellent sources of information on all aspects of rat keeping and showing. Back issues are available from The Membership Coordinator.