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Avoiding Rat Pregnancies

When keeping both male and female rats, what is the best solution for preventing unwanted pregnancies?

By Carol Lawton
Posted: April 13, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT

Q: We have one adult male rat, about 16 to 18 months old. We also have two female rats, about 4 or 5 months, one of which had a litter five days ago, and the other is pregnant by the male (the first got pregnant in the pet shop). How this happened is a long story. Anyway, we would like to keep them together after the litters have been weaned, as the male and two females get along really well. We also plan on keeping one baby from each of the litters.
 
So the question is this: Is it better to get the older male neutered, and then keep our two females and two of the female babies? Or should we get the male neutered, keep our two females and two male babies - also getting them done? Or should we get the two females spayed after they have weaned their litters and then keep our male, two spayed females and two baby males (to avoid having to get four females spayed)? Or should it be the same situation but we keep four females and spay them all.
 
I suppose the choice depends on the following:
1. Is it going to be a risk to get our male neutered at his age?
2. Will an un-neutered male try to mate with spayed females?
3. Will the male feel isolated if he is in with four females? (The male spent a year or so with his brother before his brother died, they got on very well, and he has been with the females for about 3 or 4 weeks and seems very happy with them).
 
A: While there are some real advantages to spaying or neutering pet rats, surgery always poses a risk. Spay and castration surgeries are difficult for the rats, the post-surgery period will include a couple days of severe pain, and there is a risk of infection. It is also essential that you locate a vet who has experience with spaying and neutering small animals. And after neutering the male rats, it is absolutely essential that they be kept away from the female rats for at least six weeks as there is still a possibility of impregnating the female rats during that time.
 
Because your adult male is a bit too old to neuter, I suggest considering an option that doesn’t include a risky surgery for him. Simply keep a pair of males from the litter to keep the older male company, and keep the females in a separate cage. 

After a careful introduction, most adult males will accept a pair of young males as cagemates. This has the advantage of avoiding surgery for everyone, your young male rats will still have a companion when their older cage buddy passes on, and the savings from avoiding surgeries would easily allow you to purchase a nice, large second cage. Yes, you have to be diligent in keeping the male and female rats separate to avoid unwanted pregnancies, but this arrangement guarantees that everyone has a cagemate.
 
If you would eventually like to keep all the rats together, get the younger male rats neutered and introduce them to the female rats after the older male rat passes on.

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