Keeping Your Rats Cool In Hot Weather
Whilst us humans welcome warmer temperatures and long hours of sunshine, our rat companions can often suffer when the mercury rises. Covered in a layer of fur and lacking the ability to sweat, the rat’s only real ability to control its body temperature is through the dilating (opening) and constricting (closing) of blood vessels in the tail. For intact bucks, there is also the option of releasing a small amount of excess heat through their testicles and, being a keeper of mostly bucks, I can testify to being rather alarmed on a number of occasions at the sight of a rather red and glowing pair of testicles hanging out of a hammock! There is also the option for rats to lose a very small amount of heat from the bottom of their feet; however if you find a rat on its back in the warm weather (and it isn’t it’s usual sleeping position) I would suggest that you make efforts to cool them down slowly* as it is likely that they are really rather feeling the heat.
*(If you need to cool down a suffering rat, it is best to do so slowly as sudden changes in temperature can shock the body and actually be more harmful.)
Of course, prevention is always better than cure. So how can we keep our furry friends cool when it’s hot outside? Here are a number of ideas that can help prevent your rats suffering in high temperatures.
Keep the room cool
Keeping the room that the rats are in cool will be the best way to help your rats to stay cool as well. In some houses I know this can be challenge; I live in a top floor flat and whilst in the winter I benefit from the heat rising, in the summer it can be like an oven!
• Windows. Whether you keep them open or closed really depends on the temperature outside. If it is cooler outside than inside, keeping them open will allow cool air into the room. If it is warmer outside than inside, keeping them closed will stop warm air increasing the temperature inside. Generally I have windows open during the cooler parts of the day, such as the morning and evening, and closed during warmer parts of the day, such as the afternoon.
• Black out blinds are really useful for blocking out the sun if it is shining directly through a window, as this will increase the temperature inside the room. Think about when you’re outside on a hot day, if you sit under the shade of a tree it feels much cooler than when you’re sat in direct sunlight. It feels counter-intuitive blocking out that lovely sunlight, but it will make all the difference to the temperature of the room. If you don't have blinds, then pull the curtains shut, or lean a large piece of cardboard against the window.
• Fans can be used to help lower the temperature of the room with a small adaptation. Fans work by creating a breeze that evaporates sweat from our skin and cools us down. As rats don’t sweat this is useless to them. However, if you lay a damp flannel that has been soaked with fridge cold water (or even placed in the freezer for a short period) over the cage of the fan or place a bowl of ice water in front of the fan, this means the fan will actually circulate cooler air around the room, thus lowering the temperature.
Ideas for the cage
There are lots of things you can do to help your rats stay cool in their cage if it’s super hot or you’re struggling to keep the room cool or want to make keeping cool fun and/or tasty as well!
• Tiles (particularly marble) and terracotta plant pots are great things to put in the cage as they tend remain cooler than the surrounding environment for a long period of time. You can maximise the cooling effect by putting them in the fridge or freezer overnight before putting them in the cage.
• Cold water can be provided to the rats. I do this by putting a spare water bottle for each cage in the fridge overnight and swapping the cold bottle with the bottle on the cage in the morning and evening. You can also use a coup cup bolted to the side of the cage to provide a little bowl of water that rats can drink or dunk their faces/paws in to refresh themselves.
• Plastic water bottles filled two thirds with water and frozen (don’t fill to the top as water expands when frozen) can provide a cheap way to put something cool in the cage for rats to lie against. You can wrap them in a towel or blanket or pop in a sock to prevent ice burns and stop rats getting soggy from condensation as the ice melts. This is a great idea for chewers as they are easily replaced and have a non-toxic contents.
• Frozen fruit and vegetables are a tasty way to help rats stay cool in the hot weather. You can buy bags of already frozen vegetables or berries from supermarkets or freeze your own if you’d prefer to. Good fruits to freeze are grapes, banana and various types of melon. Cucumber is a really refreshing treat as well.
• Ice cubes can be provided in a spare food bowl as well. They can be sweetened with a little fruit juice or squash or made with Dr Squiggles (daily essentials one) to make them more enticing. For an extra special but challenging treat you can freeze yoghurt with a hook in and hang in the cage for the rats to reach for! To do this, pour yoghurt into an ice cube tray, pop in the freezer for an hour or so, take out the tray and push the hooks into the partially frozen yoghurt and then freeze solid overnight.
Pablo (top) and Ivan (bottom) enjoying frozen yoghurt!
Cooling down free range time!
Even though it’s hot and the rats might not want to move around so much, free range time is still important. Keeping the rats cool during free range will ensure they can still get their exercise without overheating.
• Plan your activities carefully to try and keep things open and airy. I often provide blankets and throws for the rats to explore underneath or plastic tubes or huts for them to explore and hide in. When it is warm I tend to avoid these and provide cardboard boxes instead which don’t trap the heat as much as a plastic igloo or blanket.
• Think about the time of day and place you free range. If possible I try to avoid free range during the warmest parts of the day (which is typically the afternoon when they would usually be sleeping anyway!) but if I am unable to do this I try to free range in the coolest place possible. For instance my lounge can be very warm all afternoon and sometimes into the evening so I will often free range in the hallway or bedroom during these times as it is much cooler in these areas.
• Pea fishing! This is great free range activity to keep rats cool as it gets them dipping in and out of water. You can maximise the cooling effect by adding frozen peas to the water.
Kipper enjoying pea fishing on a hot day!
Travelling/showing your rats
There aren’t many shows over the summer due to the fact it is often too warm for the rats. However, if you find yourself at a show and it is warm, or you have to travel with your rats for another reason, there are a few things you can do to keep them cool on the way.
• Freeze pieces of apple or cucumber before travelling so they can provide cool hydration for as long as possible. If you have a cool box or insulated lunch bag, you can take extra pieces of cool fruit/vegetable for the journey or once you have arrived at a show.
• If you are showing, providing a small mouse water bottle on the top of a show tank will ensure the rats can get adequate hydration (some shows require this for all exhibitors in the summer months, if this is the case it will be advertised). Again, if you have a cool box or bag, you can keep the water cool until you arrive at the show.
• A misting bottle is good for travelling; you can pick these up at a chemist or pharmacists. During the journey you can spray a fine mist over the rats to help them stay cool but also making sure they don’t get too soggy.
Hopefully you’ve now got plenty of ideas on how to keep your rats cool when it’s roasting outside. If you have any other ideas, please share them on the forum in the habitat section!
Author: Marie Blackett (izzerie)
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