Problems with Birth, Nursing or Infants
The birth process normally takes 1-2 hours. The first sign is a bloody discharge from the vagina. The birth usually proceeds without need for assistance, but occasionally there will be problems. Rats sometimes die giving birth. The danger of an obstructed birth is that the mother can go into shock. A Caesarian section may be possible if done soon enough.
Once the birth process begins, if no babies are delivered within 2 hours, there is definitely a problem. The rat’s uterus is shaped like a Y and a baby can get stuck across the bottom of the Y. Gently massaging the mother’s abdomen may help reposition the problem baby. If a baby is stuck in the birth canal, it may be possible to lubricate it with baby oil and pull it out with forceps. Then the rest of the babies can usually be delivered normally or with the aid of oxytocin. If the mother survives the birth with unborn fetuses, she may be able to expel or reabsorb them. In this case it is a good idea to put her on amoxicillin to prevent infection.
Most rat moms do just what they need to, but occasionally a mother might refuse to nurse her babies. Try bribing her with a dish of yummy food to encourage her to stay on the nest so the babies can start nursing. Once several babies start suckling, the mom will usually accept them. You can also try housing them in a tiny habitat that forces her to stay close to her babies for 24 hours, giving the babies a better chance to nurse.
It is common for infants to develop an abscess where the umbilical cord attaches. Treat it as a simple abscess (see Abscesses.) An umbilical hernia can also occur, but in most cases it will eventually close up on its own.
Occasionally, there will be one or two runts who can't compete with their siblings for the nipples, especially in a large litter. The best solution is to temporarily separate some of the other babies into another container to give the runts a chance at the nipples. Leave about 4-5 babies with the runts to stimulate the mom to suckle them. The mom may not pay attention to just one or two babies. As long as the rest of the other babies are kept warm, there is no harm in them being away from the mom for up to 4 hours. You can put them in a little box with nesting material on a heating pad on low or near a light bulb. Keep a thermometer next to the babies so you know exactly what temperature they are experiencing. Use a small weather thermometer, not a medical thermometer, as the latter can't record drops in temperature. Keep the temperature around 100-102 degrees F. Rotating the groups of babies with the mom every 2-4 hours will give the runts the best chance.
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