Data submitted from ROSS GORDON COOPER (Zimbabwe, Africa)

Some important points in the housing, handling and feeding of the African giant rat
Ross G. Cooper
Department of Physiology
University of Zimbabwe
P.O. Box MP 167
Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Fax: 263-4-333678.
E-mail: [email protected]

Introduction

The African giant rat is an amazingly gentle animal and makes a good pet. It cannot be over-emphasised, however, on the importance of proper care and keep of this rat if the owner and rat are to really get along. This article is a continuation of that in Cooper (2000) and it is hoped that the short notes outlined below, provide additional information on the care of this species.
Bedding
Giant rats like torn-up newspapers as bedding, which they use to make a deep depression and sleep in (Figure 1). Given the high absorptive capacity of newsprint, the bedding should be replaced regularly due to its tendency to soak up urine. The giant rat, however, is much cleaner than the domesticated rat as it prefers to urinate and defecate in one corner of its cage. Thus cleaning out the bedding once a week is adequate.
Taming
Recently acquired giant rats may be nervous and a good way to encourage them to get used to their new owner is to hand-feed them. This includes allowing them to take some solid food from one's hand, rather than giving it to them in a dish.
Food
I have found that feeding my rats dog food seems to satisfy their protein requirements. I use dog food of a nutrient composition shown in Table 1. Peanut butter is also a good protein source. I tend to avoid cooked meats as these are often lost in the bedding and decay rapidly.
Cages
Galvanised metal should be avoided in cages as knawing on the cage may result in the ingestion of zinc. Indeed, chronic exposure to zinc has been shown to increase levels of neuropeptide Y, a factor implicated in seizures (Schwartz et. al., 2000). Aluminium cages should also be avoided, especially in young rats that are susceptible to aluminium-induced changes in the metabolism of essential nutrients (Sanchez et. al., 1997). Ammonia build-up is significantly reduced if absorbent bedding is used under tray inserts. The reduction in ammonia is important as it exacerbates respiratory problems particularly from mycoplasma infections (Broderson, Lindsey and Crawford, 1976). A well-ventilated room is important to blow away this gas. It is particularly important to avoid contaminated bedding as this may expose the rats to diseases, particularly mites and tapeworms.
Temperature and humidity

These parameters are presumably the same as those for the domesticated rat, that is a temperature of 20°-25°C (68°-77°F) and a humidity of 50-55% (Canadian Council on Animal Care, 1980). Rats, however, are very hardy
animals as they can acclimatise with apparent comfort to a far wider temperature range, thus allowing their successful keep in many countries.
Light and noise
Giant rats sleep during the day and it is preferable not to disturb them. Exposing them to light sources at night should be avoided. Although there is currently no data available for the giant rat, like the domesticated rat they have an acute sense of hearing and should not be exposed to irritating noises exceeding 85 decibels (Baker, Lindsey and Weisbroth, 1979). Conclusion
The care of the giant rat is relatively easy although it does require a higher protein intake than the domesticated rat. Housing, handling and feeding requirements should never be ignored if one is to keep a healthy rat. A healthy rat is a happy rat!

References
    Baker, H.J., Lindsey, J.R., Weisbroth, S.H. (1979) Housing to Control Research Variables. In: The Laboratory Rat,
Vol. 1, Biology and Diseases.pp. 169-192. H.J. Baker, R.J. Lindsey and S.H. Weisbroth (eds.). Academic Press, New
York.
     Broderson, J.R., Lindsey, J.R. and Crawford, J.E. (1976) The role of environmental ammonia in respiratory
mycoplasmosis of rats. American Journal of Pathology 85(1): 115-130.
     Canadian Council on Animal Care (1980) Guide to the Care and Use of Experimental Animals, Vol. 1. Canadian
Council on Animal Care, Ottawa, Ontario.
     Cooper, R.G. (2000) Giant rats in Zimbabwe. Rat & Mouse Gazette 6(1): 26. Sanchez, D.J., Gomez, M.,
Llobet, J.M., Corbella, J. and Domingo, J.L.(1997) Effects of aluminium on the mineral metabolism of rats in relation to
age. Pharmacology and Toxicology 80(1): 11-17. Schwartz, P.J., Grote, S.K., Stephans, K.L. and Adler,
E.M. (2000) Zinc elevates neuropeptide Y levels in rat pheochromocytoma cells by a mechanism independent of
L-channel mediated inhibition of release. Brain Research
877(1): 12-22.

Figure and table legends
Figure 1. Giant rat sleeping in a burrow made up of torn newspapers Table 1. Nutrient composition of dog food

 

Table 1. Nutrient composition of dog food
Nutrient composition

Crude protein minimum
Carbohydrate maximum
Crude fibre maximum
Fat minimum
Vitamins and trace elements minimum
20%
60%
5%
5%
0.2%



Figure 1

 

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