So you have a litter of baby rats, and you just don’t know what to do with them. Most importantly, you don’t know when to take them from the mother rat, wean them, and take over their care. The female rat will eventually become slightly annoyed by her babies, so be sure that she has a place to “escape” to; a place that the babies cannot get to. A high hammock is a good option. You will see her begin to get antsy when the babies begin running around, between 2 and 3 weeks old. So when exactly can you free the doe from her maternity cage, and let the kits fend without their momma?
Going By Age: 4 to 8 Weeks Old
Please understand that 4 weeks old is VERY early. Absolutely the EARLIEST a kit can leave its mother without suffering. This is when I begin the weaning process for my litters. Now, I will say that if the kit is eating and drinking well, then 4 weeks is perfectly fine. Most of my kits have been swapped over to food on their own terms by 3.5 to 4 weeks. Personally, I do not like sending kits home at 4 weeks old though.
5 to 7 weeks is the most ideal age to send kits home. I begin weaning at 4 weeks, and monitor kits for 7 to 14 days. Then, kits go home. If a kit has trouble holding weight or seems to be stunted in growth, it remains with mother rat longer. Removing the mother and allowing the kits to socialize during this time is a great idea for 3 big reasons:
- They can develop important play and social skills before going home.
- The stress is gradual and easier to digest- FIRST they wean, adjust, THEN go home.
- I can ensure that all of the rats are developing well, maintaining health, and that they are not displaying even the slightest of behavioral problems.
Separating By Health, Safety, & Natural Weaning
Male rats should be separated from female rats no later than 6 weeks old. While the risk of pregnancy is very low, the risk of pregnancy is dangerous for such a young female rat. In addition, the male kits could impregnate their mother. The owner could become overwhelmed with babies incredibly quickly.
All kits should be in good health; they should be of good weight, of a uniform size, eating and drinking well, with a well kept coat, clean bright eyes, and no drainage. There might be a runt in the litter to keep an eye on; generally, runts will thrive just fine! Some do need a close eye kept on them.
Mother rat will naturally wean over time if she has space to retreat from the kits. Male kits will have to be removed, as previously stated, but female kits will eventually wean. Rats are quick to take preference to food over nursing; personally, I think continued nursing evolves into simply a bonding/social activity between mother and child; mother will break them of this habit and it is nothing to interfere over.