Rat eating food

Which species of exotic pets tend to pack on the pounds? This week, we’re looking at the top five species I treat for obesity.

No. 4 on my list of obesity-prone pets are rats!

Rats are known for their ability to squeeze through small spaces and get into everything. It’s amazing the narrow cracks and crevices that lithe little rats manage to get through. Yet, many pet rats sadly can’t accomplish this trick, because they are overweight.

Rotund Rodents Aren’t Right

It’s no surprise that rats eat everything that’s not nailed down. Bread, crackers, chips, meat, vegetables and sweets — no intelligent rat turns down any of these yummy treats. That’s why wild rats tend to congregate around dumpsters and trash bins nibbling on anything they can get their little paws on. Pet rats are no different. Most pet rats will eat anything their owners offer them, and since they are omnivores, consuming both meat and vegetable matter, owners tend to offer them a little bit of everything. The problem is that a little bit of everything can eventually add up to a lot of weight gain, particularly in pet rats confined to cages for many hours a day who have nothing better to do than nosh. Fat rats can develop many of the same cardiac and musculoskeletal problems that other obese animals and people can develop but are particularly prone to the formation of lipomas, which are fat deposits under the skin that can actually become as large as the rats and can interfere with walking and moving due to their size and weight. Some lipomas become ulcerated and bleed from friction with the ground and actually must be removed surgically.

Savvy rat owners can help prevent obesity by feeding a limited quantity of commercially available, nutritionally balanced rat pellets supplemented with small amounts of vegetables and fruit, and also by having rats work for some of their food. Rats are incredibly smart and love to run through mazes and solve puzzles. Food offered in the form of a reward at the end of a maze or at the top of a multilevel cage encourages rats to get exercise to obtain their meals and can help limit weight gain in predominantly sedentary rodents. Plus, most rats really enjoy the mental stimulation of having to hunt and search for food. Small rodents like rats have very high metabolisms, so getting them to burn calories through exercise is a great way to encourage weight loss. Just remember to consult with your veterinarian before starting any diet or exercise program with your rat to make sure you know how to help your pet lose weight safely.

Tomorrow: tubby turtles!

More on Vetstreet: