by Debbie “The Rat Lady” Ducommun
Because rats are nocturnal, they haven’t evolved to endure heat. Rats don’t sweat or pant to cool themselves. Instead they use their tails as heat releasers, sending more blood to the skin surface to help radiate excess body heat. Because of this, tailless rats are especially vulnerable to heat stress and probably shouldn’t be exposed to temperatures above 90 degrees. Rats should be indoor pets only, especially wherever the weather gets above 90 degrees.
For healthy rats, temperatures above 90 degrees will be uncomfortable, those above 100 can cause distress, and temperatures above 104 degrees can be fatal. Rats with respiratory infections can be even more sensitive to heat. You can tell how warm your rats are by feeling their tails. Normally a rat’s tail will feel cool, so a warm tail means the rat is feeling the heat. Heat stroke can cause a rat to fall unconscious. If this happens, cool the rat off immediately by immersing him up to his neck in cool water. Then call your vet for emergency help.
During hot weather, you might need to leave your air conditioner on during the day for your rats even if you’re not home. If you go out of town even overnight, and you don’t have air conditioning with a thermostat control, you may need to make special arrangements. Perhaps a neighbor could come in to turn the air conditioning on in the morning and off in the evening. Or, you could take your rats to a friend’s house.
If the weather turns hot and your house isn’t air conditioned, you’ll need to take special precautions to keep your rats cool. Keep a thermometer near your rats’ cage for reference. Draw the drapes and close the windows during the day, and open them at night. Put your rat’s cage on the floor in the coolest room of the house, usually the bathroom, maybe even in the bathtub. Run a fan in the room to circulate the air.
Freeze water in a plastic container with a tight lid (so it won’t leak) and put it in the cage. Use two containers for each cage and rotate them, so you always have one frozen ready to go. Or you can put ice cubes in a jar, but they will melt more quickly. (Freezing water in a glass container can shatter it.) Another way to help your rats cool off is to offer them treats of frozen fruits and vegetables.
If it gets really hot, and your rat seems miserable, try wetting him with a quick dunk in cool water up to his neck. Rats don’t usually like water, but they do enjoy the quick relief from the heat. Use special care if you take your rat outside on a hot day. If you plan to travel with your rat during hot weather be sure to take lots of water and ice to cool your rats if necessary, for instance if your vehicle’s air conditioning breaks down. Rats should never be out in the hot sun, and never left unattended in a vehicle.
Here is a link to a website with video instructions for making a cheap portable air cooler using a 5-gallon bucket, a small fan, and a frozen gallon jug of water that is quite effective. You can buy the Styrofoam liner for the 5-gallon bucket at Home Depot.
Rats are pretty tolerant of cold if they have plenty of warm bedding, but if your power goes out and the temperature is going to be close to freezing, you might need to take special steps to keep your rats warm. There are a variety of products designed to keep hands and feet warm for outdoorsman that can be put underneath a rat cage. Two catalogs to check with are Cabela’s at 800-237-4444 and Elite Force at 800-556-2537. Another catalog is Grabber at www.grabberwarmers.com or 800-423-1233. Prices range from $2 to $10 and the items can generate temperatures up to 185 degrees F! The hottest ones should first be wrapped in a towel. A space blanket can also be draped over the cage to hold in heat.
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