In early January we purchased two dumbo rats for the girls to have as pets. I called around to different pet shops, and finally settled on the Feeders Supply at Holiday Manor because they were one of the few places that had a pair of males for sale. Of the stores who had pairs of males, they had the lowest price.
We bought all our supplies there, and selected the two rats we wanted. The sign on the cage said they were males; I asked the lady who caught them and boxed them for us to be sure.
That's how we ended up with Sharkie and Snowball.
In my reading about fancy rats, I learned that it's not too difficult to tell males from females. Early on, it's more of a challenge, as they haven't really developed; but if you know what to look for, you can tell. Nipples are not visible on the male. On the female, they might be hard to see, but you can see them. Also, on boy rats, the genital opening is spaced farther from the anus.
Now, I have to admit, I never looked. I guess, in hindsight, I should have. However, in my defense, I was told by the young lady at the pet store—and she really seemed to know what she was talking about—that we had a same-sex couple. The person on the phone said it, the sign said it. Also in my defense, we were getting used to the rats, and the rats were getting used to us. Sharkie and Snowball weren't very habituated to human handling. They were skittish. Holding one to examine its underside would have been possible if I had thought it was important, but doing it simply to "make sure" would have been stressful for both me and the rats. (They are both much more used to us now, and easier to handle, but they cow has left the barn.)
The experts said that as the rats get older and more developed, boys are easier to tell from girls because they have very visible scrota. And that's true. After a month, I could see the sizable nutsack as the rat passed by. I would think to myself, "Gosh, yes, that is pretty visible. No way that's a girl."
The thing is, it never even crossed my mind to pay attention to which rat I was looking at when I saw the scrotum. I just assumed I was seeing scrota on both rats. Wrong. I was only seeing Sharkie's balls. I was not seeing Snowball's scrotum, because Snowball did not have one. And I never really noticed that I wasn't noticing it.
Last Monday, after I got to work, Kim called and said she was concerned about Snowball. She didn't come over when the cage door was opened, like she usually does; and she looked bloated. Mindful of the fact that rat's don't burp or vomit like we do, and can have severe digestive issues if they eat the wrong thing, Kim asked me to take off work, go home, and take Snowball to the vet.
When I got home, I found that Snowball was hiding in the chewed-out center of her hammock, hard to see. I could hear strange squeaking, the hammock was moving. I peeked in, and saw her eating something dark, pawing at it; it was pretty gross. I was quite alarmed and thought she was having some kind of fit, and that I would have to reach in and pull her out while she was sick and in distress.
After a few minutes of trying to coax her out, I got a better view, and realized she had baby rats in there with her. That was the point at which I thought: "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Now I get it! Snowball is a girl." She had been eating the placenta like a good little mammal. I had missed the birth by minutes.
That was a week ago today. Sharkie is now in a separate cage, because female rats go into heat within 24 hours of giving birth. We have 14 baby rats that, though still naked and pink, are growing quickly. We are doing our best to ask everyone we know to help us find homes for them.
Now that Sharkie and Snowball are used to us, they are much more fun to play with. I have both of them trained to run up the inside of my sweat shirt sleeve when I hold it open. They both seem to enjoy climbing around inside my sweatshirts and sweaters. They come to the cage door and climb into your hand. Sharkie enjoys having his neck rubbed.
We've been handling the babies to get them used to humans. It has to be done while Snowball is distracted, otherwise she gets a little freaked out. She'll grab a baby out of my hands and run with it back to her nest. Several times, after doing that, she has come back to my hand and gently sniffed and nipped my fingers one at a time to make sure they weren't baby rats. I don't think her eyesight is very good.
The end. For now.