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The Scuttling Gourmet Series 5

Rat Diet: Feeding for reproduction and growth

Alison Campbell

Copyright 2017 Alison Campbell

All rights reserved

Published by Shunamite Publishing

Smashwords edition license notes

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This e-book represents a new era for The Scuttling Gourmet, which was first published in 2003 and is now in its fourth edition. The book still offers a comprehensive guide to wholesome nutrition for rats, and at the moment (2017), is only available in hard copy.

As part of my current regeneration of the old Shunamite Rats breeding site, into the new online home of The Scuttling Gourmet and all things pertinent to rat nutrition, enrichment and well-being, I have decided to create a series of e-books. My intention is to digitalize the print version of the book, to make it more accessible abroad, and for those who simply prefer this format. The plan is for a series of 7 e-books which will together encompass most of the material contained in The Scuttling Gourmet, plus added extras, such as links to extra information and suppliers. This is book five and the rest should be published throughout 2017.

If you enjoy this book, please bookmark the website and sign up to our free e-newsletter to be the first to find out as new e-books become available.

Table of Contents


Conception, pregnancy and lactation

Early development and feeding requirements

Early influences – growth, weight and lifespan

Supplements and useful extras

The soya debate



About the author

Other books by Alison Campbell

Make contact with Alison Campbell


Rat nutrition is a wide-ranging subject, with many opinions and ideas as to what is best to feed your rats. While the book – The Scuttling Gourmet – aims to offer an all-embracing look at rat nutrition, here, we are focusing down on only one area of feeding rats – how to provide nutritional support during pregnancy, lactation and growth.

With this in mind, there will be many natural gaps in the information given here, for instance, I don’t discuss what to feed overweight rats, the elderly, or how to make up a mix. If you are keen to put the information in the book into a wider context, or come across a concept that you wish to expand, then I would encourage you to check out the growing archive of information on The Scuttling Gourmet website, and look out for the other e-books in this series.

If you need help or clarification while reading this book, please email me at alison@shunamiterats.co.uk and I will try to assist you.

Conception, pregnancy and lactation

Breeding animals should always be at the peak of fitness and condition before mating occurs, and this requires thought to be given to the diet, particularly in the run up to conception. A good quality diet which includes a full range of vitamins and minerals is essential; a variety of grains, seeds, pulses, some animal protein and fresh vegetables will help to achieve this. However, if you are in any doubt about possible shortfalls in the diet you are feeding, now is the time to supply a comprehensive vitamin and mineral supplement. It should be noted that this will only help ensure adequate levels of micro-nutrients and it is still essential that the diet provides good levels of protein, carbohydrate and suitable fats.

Diet and fertility

A number of dietary deficiencies can affect fertility in both male and female rats and some can also affect the female’s ability to sustain a pregnancy. These include deficiency of vitamin D, vitamin B12, vitamin E, vitamin C, zinc, iron, copper and l-arginine (an amino acid). Reproductive capacity is also affected by being very underweight or obese, or having too much fat or too little protein in the diet.

There has been an ongoing debate over recent years about the effects of soya on the reproductive abilities of humans, but in terms of fertility the effects of a high proportion of soya in the diet is only likely to affect those who are already sub-fertile. Small amounts of soya in the overall diet should have no effect on rats of normal fertility. The soya debate is complex and is expanded later in this e-book.


Pregnancy is a period of life that makes unique nutritional demands on a female rat’s body. Almost every nutrient is required in increasingly greater quantities to support healthy, developing offspring. However, it is also a time requiring balance as over nutrition (at least in terms of calories) can have a negative impact just as surely as under nutrition. Indeed, both chronic under nutrition and obesity can reduce the rate of conception, the amount of milk produced and the growth rate of babies, as can a diet that is high in fat. (1)

A pregnant doe will gradually increase the amount of food that she eats in order to compensate for the requirements of pregnancy. If you are already feeding a high-quality mix, there is no need to change the diet greatly at this time. The main exceptions to this are to increase protein up to about 20% and ensure that she has curly kale, dandelion, broccoli or other green leafy (mineral rich) vegetable most days. However, if your mix is potentially low in any essential nutrient it is wise to take steps to ensure that you make changes at this time. Many healthy mixes will be running at maintenance levels or below for nutrients like protein, copper, selenium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D and vitamin B12, but the demands of reproduction can exceed those of maintenance by as much as a factor of 3. (2)

Because the mix I feed is intentionally fairly low in protein, I do have to modify it slightly for pregnant does. I can do this easily in one of three ways; adding a quality, low fat dog kibble (which also improves copper and vitamin D content), increasing another dry protein source (such as freeze dried shrimps) or increasing the amount of fresh animal protein that I feed. In practice, I tend to add kibble and other dry protein sources to my mix, and also use a good multivitamin and mineral supplement (such as Dr Squiggles Daily Essentials) a few times a week. Giving a little cooked lamb’s liver once a week during pregnancy, can also serve to boost many micro nutrients. Freeze dried liver in the form of dog treats is also available, which can be added to your mix.

It is relatively easy to increase the nutritive quality of a rat’s diet without greatly increasing the calorie content. This is important because when does become overweight they tend to have more birthing issues, as do those who grow unusually large babies in the uterus. Both issues are more likely if the calorie load of a pregnant doe’s feed is greatly increased. It is sufficient to allow the doe to consume more calories by simply eating more food as the pregnancy progresses. Realistically, a pregnant doe should put on a little body fat beyond the weight of babies, placentas and fluid. This is needed during lactation to supply reserves of energy when demand is at its highest.

From laboratory studies the expected weight of the placenta, fluid/sac and kitten at the time of birth are approximately 0.6g, 0.7g and 5g respectively (3), giving a combined weight of around 6.3g per kitten carried. In view of the relative size of our pet rats it is likely that this figure is slightly increased in the domestic environment, and the only example I have seen of a breeder weighing kittens at birth showed the kittens at 6g rather than 5g. Of course, the problem is that we never know in advance how many kittens a doe is carrying, so the best measure of excessive weight gain will still rely on observation.

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