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Rat Cafe - Aiming at peak condition
by Alison Campbell (The Scuttling Gourmet 2nd edition, 2005)

What is condition?
Condition describes the overall fitness, tone, vitality and well-being of a rat, part of which is reflected in its coat quality. Fatness, thinness, lack of muscle tone, dullness, lack of energy, long, dry, greasy or thinning coats all reflect lack of condition.

Is condition just important if I show my rats?
Condition is not just something that you should aim for on the day of a show, something you think about the week before, or something that you think is irrelevant if you don’t show. Maintaining good condition is a 7-day a week job and an important one for all rat owners. Think of it from the opposite perspective. Poor condition can be an indicator of nutritional problems, or underlying illness. If you don't aim for good condition, these indicators are lost to you, and you may miss ill health until your rat becomes really sick.

Maintaining condition isn't hard
Peak condition has two major factors:

  • Excellent diet.
  • Fitness.

The fitness element has a good deal to do with diet, as fat rats will find it harder to climb, exercise and maintain fitness. Fitness is easy to maintain if you keep your rats in good-sized cages, with plenty of climbing opportunities. For all but the oldest of rats remove any ramps and easy routes up the cage – so that the rats get around by climbing the cage bars. A well thought out cage layout is a great tool for maintaining fitness. Of course, having plenty of free-range time will also help.

For anyone who has young active babies I would recommend the large Silent Spinner wheel. My younger girls really enjoy using this – and it certainly helps to keep them trim. It is a huge solid plastic spinner that will attach to the cage bars, or can be used freestanding. I have always been suspicious of wheels, having heard so many people say that their rats don't use them. However, I know a number of people who have a Silent Spinner and all report at least some of their rats using them regularly.

Feeding for fitness
To feed for peak fitness you will need to have at least some understanding of a rat's nutritional needs, and feed an appropriate diet. For instance, while supplementing with a little fish or olive oil will help to improve coat condition, rats fed on a high fat diet often have very poor condition overall. There are some general principles that can be applied:

  • Feed the best quality diet that you can.
  • Diet should be very low fat, moderate protein, high carbohydrate from a variety of sources.
  • Feed lots of dark green leafy plant material (e.g. dandelion leaves, clover, kale, spring greens, broccoli).
  • Feed a wide variety of foods (especially grains, legumes, vegetables and berries).
  • Don’t over feed. Rats come is all shapes and sizes, but whether large or small they should be muscular, not fat. However, they shouldn't be so lean that they are underweight either.

Coat condition booster:
1 cup cooked barley
1 cup of cooked chickpeas
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons seaweed powder
1 teaspoon EPA fish oil

Add all ingredients to a large bowl and mix thoroughly. The quantities above will feed about 20 rats). You can add other supplements like multivitamin and mineral powder or garlic if desired. Feed alongside usual dry grain mix and a large handful of kale or similar greens.

This is meant as a booster feed to be given maybe once or twice a week. Don't overdo the oil or your rats' coats will just become greasy, and your rats fat!

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