Owning a rat that’s not spayed or neutered comes with many concerns; mostly, whether they will mate without you knowing it.
So, can rats get pregnant through bars? Yes! There have been some cases of female rats getting pregnant through bars, although this can depend on the amount of space between the bars. To ensure that your female rat doesn’t get pregnant — if you don’t want her to — separate her from male rats and keep their cages further apart.
Of course, rats mating isn’t a simple topic. They have their own cycles, and if you learn to understand them, you can easily prevent any unwanted pregnancies or even breed them more successfully if that’s what you want. Read on to find out more about rats and breeding.
Determining The Sexes
The first step to preventing pregnancy in female rats or properly breeding them is determining what sex they are. You can do this from the moment they are born but it’s best to wait a little bit. This way, you can separate them on time.
A female baby rat will have nipples, around 12 of them. It’s best to do this before they have fur since nipples can get lost among the hairs. If you already have a rat, but you don’t know their sex, you should move them around to check for nipples.
Once you know which of your rats are female, you can take them to a separate cage.
Male rats have testicles, and pressing softly on their belly will make them even more noticeable. They should be in a separate cage too. Of course, try not to have too many of them in the same space since they can end up fighting or not having enough space to be comfortable.
If you have baby rats, separate them before their fourth week of life, since they start breeding around that time. Remember that this can happen quickly, and you’ll end up with too many rat babies before you even know it.
Rats may wait until they are 6 weeks old to mate, but this is possible starting at 4 weeks old — you shouldn’t let this happen because female rats are too small at that point, and pregnancy could cause numerous health problems or even death.
If you already know the sex of your rats, you can separate them on time. But even if you do keep them apart, it’s best to understand their reproduction cycle in order to prevent accidental pregnancies.
Female in Heat
If you know when your female rat is in heat, you’ll know when to separate the males from her and keep their cages further apart. Even if they are already apart, accidents can happen. For instance, if you let your male rats out to play, one of them can mate with your female rat if they can reach the cage.
So, when you know how to recognize a female in heat, you’ll know when to be on the lookout for any sneaky mating.
Unfortunately, rats don’t make this easy. They don’t have a particular season when they mate. Females are in heat every 4 to 5 days, and they can get pregnant each of those times. This will be even more frequent during spring.
A female in heat will arch her back when touched. She will stick her but up, squeak, and jump if you touch her, and she will also vibrate their ears. She might run and stop continuously and be more nervous all around.
A female may even jump on top of the male to attract them. You can also expect her to spray more.
Once you know how your female rat behaves when in heat, you can notice these changes and react in a timely manner. Alternatively, you could have your rats neutered and avoid all of these worries.
Males and females shouldn’t play together if you don’t want rat babies. The costs of having baby rats — feeding them, caring for them, housing them, and paying for medical bills — is high. If this is something you are not willing to do, be extra careful.
Selling baby rats is also not a good option since many pet stores sell them as food for snakes, and there are many rats already without a proper home. If two rats are a family, they shouldn’t be allowed to breed, although they will try to. The result of this mating could be seriously ill or deformed baby rats.
Keep in mind that if your rat gets pregnant, they might not have the mothering instinct as soon as they give birth. It might be days before they actually start to care for their babies. Older females should also not be allowed to play with males since they can still get pregnant, but it could be deadly for them.
Rats mate very quickly, and they won’t hesitate to do so if you put them together. If you do allow them to play, you should keep a close eye on them — and even then, they can mate in a blink of an eye. Of course, if one of them or both of them are neutered, you can allow them to play. But if they are not, keep them apart.
And yes, rats have managed to mate even through cage bars, which means that you should be extra careful.
What If Your Rat Is Already Pregnant?
If your rat is already pregnant, then you have around 20 days to prepare. The pregnant rat will need more attention during this time, and you have some room to find a home for the babies once they grow up. If you want to keep them, you can purchase more cages.
Keep in mind that rats are not ready to leave their mothers before 28 days of age. After that, you can take them to their new homes. Try to find families or people among your friends, someone you know will care for them and not just let them go or sell them as a feeder rat.
A pregnant rat should be carried gently, and she should be comfortable. Don’t press on her belly. Get her a cage without many opportunities of climbing since she’ll be too heavy to jump like when she wasn’t pregnant, or she could fall and hurt herself.
Of course, you can also wait until a week before she gives birth to give her a separate cage. With the cage, provide plenty of materials for nesting. The best type of habitat for her and the babies is an aquarium since there’s no way for babies to hurt themselves.
If a rat is pregnant, then her belly will get bigger and bigger, resembling a pear shape. She will need more food and more nutrients. Give her more protein and more water. In case your rat is already this big, you have only less than a week to prepare.
Your female rat will also groom the hair from her nipples away, to prepare for nursing. The nesting will also begin — your pregnant rat will build a hiding spot. This sometimes starts as soon as they get pregnant, but sometimes it starts a lot later.
You can give them a box to hide in because they will be more comfortable somewhere hidden and dark. She might even become aggressive towards you or other rats.
A mommy rat shouldn’t be alone. If you have the father of the babies, let them into her cage. Rats are astonishingly good fathers, and they will care for the babies as much as possible. For example, they will let baby rats sleep on them, they will clean up after them, and they will play with them too. This allows the mom to get a break too.
Of course, remove them from that cage as soon as baby rats grow up a bit. After a month of giving birth, a female rat will be able to mate again.