Beat the Heat & Keep It Cool: Summertime Tips for Pet Rat Care
July 1, 2016 by
About Pet Rats in
Care, Health, Safety
Protecting your rats from becoming overheated is a matter of life and death. Rats don’t have sweat glands. Any excessive heat is dissipated through their tails. Some believe that longer-tailed rats were born in hotter months since they needed more tail-surface to release the extra heat. In the wild, rats are nocturnal. They’re more used to cooler weather rather than full sun and heat.
How to tell if your rat is hot:
Excessive heat is released through the skin of pet rats’ tails
Besides simply feeling your rat’s body temperature, you’ll discover your rat has turned into a “pancake” if it’s too hot. By “pancake” I mean they literally flatten themselves out. Very similar to cats and dogs, your rat will stretch out and lie as elongated as possible on top of surfaces rather than inside any boxes, hanging beds or other hideouts. When hot, their tail will also be hot to the touch.
Pet rats should be kept in a room no warmer than 80°, preferably cooler. If you’re not sure of the temperature, place a thermometer in the room. Always keep your rats’ cage away from direct sunlight. Even in colder months, sunshine can heat up the cage making it uncomfortable.
How to keep your rats cool when the weather gets hot:
- Close windows, drapes and blinds during the day
- Freeze water in plastic water bottles or even plastic gallon jugs. These can be placed in the cage so that your rat can choose whether or not to lie next to or on top of the icy containers. When doing this, have two sets of plastic containers so that you always have a set of completely frozen ones in the freezer. This way you can easily replace the containers in the cage that have gotten so warm the water is no longer frozen.
- Offer your rats cooling treats such as frozen peas, watermelon and cantaloupe. A fun game is “pea diving” which combines a frozen treat with water: Fill a glass casserole dish with about an inch of water. Place peas in the water and let your rats begin diving for peas.
- Sprinkle your pet rats with water
- Use a fan to keep the air circulating. However, your rats will only be cooled by the fan if they’ve been sprinkled with water. (Otherwise the fan will just be blowing warm air on them.)
- If, the room temperature is over 80 degrees and/or if your rats appear uncomfortable, they need to be moved to a cooler spot. Smaller cages can be placed on the floor of the coolest room in your house. Oftentimes this will be a bathroom. If their cage is too big to move, use a small cat carrier to place them in the coolest possible place in your home or apartment.
It’s too hot for Henderson to sleep inside his pirate ship. Instead, he’s decided to take a nap on deck.
If you aren’t able to control the temperature of the room in which your rats are housed when the weather gets hot, take them over to stay in a friend’s house that’s air conditioned.
- Above all, never ever leave your rats inside a locked car in the summer. Despite parking in the shade, high temperatures will still increase quickly inside a car. This is true even if you’ve cracked the windows. If you need to take your rats with you, use a “stealth bag” and take them in with you rather than leaving them in the car. (For information on an ideal “stealth bag”, see On the Road with Rats.)
Signs of heatstroke
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Lethargy, weakness, reluctance to move, limp body
What to do in the event your rat experiences heatstroke:
Remove your rat from the hot area immediately, handling him or her as gently as possible. Begin cooling your rat by sprinkling water over his or her fur. You can also rub water onto your rat’s ears, hands and feet and tail.
Cooling off your rat must be done GRADUALLY to prevent further complications. If cooled off too quickly or if cooled too much, life-threatening conditions can result. Place your rat on a wet towel inside the carrier you use to take your rat to the vet.
Cooling fruits (such as canteloupe) and frozen peas help alleviate the heat—as long as your rats are comfortably housed in a room 80° or, preferably, less.
Phone your vet to let them know you’re on your way and that your rat may have suffered from heat stroke. The reason it’s good to call first is 1) it gives your veterinarian a head’s up and 2) the technicians time to get all of the needed supplies and equipment ready.
Once you walk in the door, a veterinary technician, assistant or receptionist will have been alerted and will immediately take your rat to the treatment area. Usually fluids and possibly oxygen will be administered. Your veterinarian will want to keep your rat under observation for at least an hour in case further signs of damage appear and to make sure your rat recovers as fully as possible. Internal organs can be damaged and some symptoms may not appear right away. Once you bring your rat home, you’ll want to monitor closely and report any changes and concerns to your vet immediately.
Hopefully you’ll avoid having your pet rats overheat by following the tips above for keeping your pet rats cool when the weather gets hot.
Follow About Pet Rats: