Banana Thief

By Laura McLean

I am the proud owner of two beautiful male dumbo rats, also known as fancy rats. One a brown cinnamon called Beris, the other a grey and white Russian blue called Darios. I named them after two characters from two different novel series I am working on.

I know they are a bit unusual and some may think a bit upper class for mere rats. Should I have stuck to names people could relate to characters from books they recognise, for example? No, to me they suit them perfectly. Honestly, their cuteness will make you think twice about the image the word rat conjures up in your head. Especially when you see Darios’ little face, most people don't think he looks like a real rat, more like a little cartoon one.

It has been three weeks since I got them from a breeder. Their eating habits are very interesting and I've had to do research to work out a healthy and safe diet for them. They have no gag reflex, which means they could easily get sick if they were fed something that didn't agree with them. Which I am not going to let happen to them. Most of my family adore them, not too sure about dad, he is still a bit wary and hasn't actually lifted them yet.

Anyway, getting to the point, last Thursday morning I had them out to play before breakfast. My mum says she's putting them into rat boot camp as they've found a way to sneak down the side of the settee and inside the actual settee. Anyway, everything was fine, just a normal day, breakfast around 10am which varies between scrambled egg and kale, chicken and brown rice or tuna and kale. Much more variety than most humans. Better stop rambling on and get to the point.

Later that day, around 7pm, they were brought back out to play but were still not allowed on the couch – in case they went into hiding again. Darios and Beris are very good and have never once tried to bite any of us. Mind you, they do like a bit of a chew at your fingernails, don't ask me why but I'll cope with it. Better than a sore finger.

I discovered they have a little bit of a sweet tooth, they absolutely adore their strawberry treats. Back to the point, after their playtime they were put into their cage to eat. We watched to see what they would do as we'd put some dried banana chips in their bowl. Beris, being as quick as lightning, got to the bowl first and grabbed a banana chip in his front paws – they actually look like little hands – and scurried to the far corner of the cage. But take a little guess at who decided to follow after him. Beris noticed and tried to keep his banana chip away from Darios by turning his back. Being a greedy sneak, Darios tried his hardest to get it from Beris. I guess Beris’ unhappy mood should have told Darios to go and get his own banana chip. But no, you must never underestimate how determined they can be, especially where food is concerned.

Luckily, it didn’t turn into a squeaking or boxing match between them, as neither would harm the other. I know that for a fact, Emma and I have heard them play fighting many times, chasing each other, sitting on each other’s heads – but never vicious.

We tried to help get Darios away and leave Beris in peace to eat his banana chip. We tried to distract him by speaking to him and mum rattled the bowl to try to show him there was more than one banana chip. Eventually, Darios gave up and finally, although reluctantly, got his own banana chip. I cannot believe how greedy Darios is, trying to steal his brother’s food when there was more than enough for both of them. I hope that he won’t try that little stunt again.

My rats were only eight weeks old when I got them and at that stage, up until ten weeks, they needed to be fed three times a day, at 10am, 3pm and 9pm. From ten weeks until twelve weeks the afternoon feeding is stopped. By the time they are twelve weeks old they should have reached their adult size and feeding is reduced to once a day – and that is in the evening. We are all wondering how they will react the first time they are put back in their cage with no breakfast. My mum thinks that maybe we should give them some treats to take their mind off the fact that their dish is empty. Treats like kale, yoghurt on your finger, bits of chopped up baby sweet corn, dried banana chips, small pieces of cold meat and strawberry treats.

Their diet mainly consists of fruit, vegetables and some meats like beef, chicken, chicken bones, liver, ham and turkey. But mum is saying no to giving them liver to eat, just because she doesn't like the smell of it cooking. As I said before, they are very good eaters. The only fruit and vegetables they can’t eat are apple seeds, green bananas, raw sweet potato, raw onion, Brussel sprouts, avocado skin, cabbage, dried corn, green potatoes, mango, oranges, raw artichokes, raw beans, raw red cabbage and rhubarb. Other things they shouldn't have is chocolate, blue cheese, liquorice, carbonated and caffeinated drinks, poppy seeds, peanut butter, hamster food, wild insects and orange juice.

Who would have thought a rat’s diet would have to be so carefully monitored to ensure they get proper nourishment and don't eat anything harmful to them? The most common thought is that they'd eat anything!