577470_510191575683008_325838539_nFostering involves keeping a shelter animal in your home until they are adopted. Fostering is great because:

  • It is flexible – you decide how long you can keep the animal for and foster accordingly. Only able to take house trained dogs? Let your shelter know and they’ll work with you.
  • It is low commitment – can’t commit to a dog for the next 15 years, but would love one for the next few months? Fostering is for you.
  • It is affordable – shelters pay for some to all of the animal’s expenses. Check with your local shelter. Some may give you everything, some only veterinary care, and then there’s everything in between.
  • It saves lives- every animal you foster creates room for the shelter to take in another, and depending on the area might well have saved the animal from being put down.
  • It gives pets a second chance – some animals need a little extra TLC or might not do well in a stressful shelter environment. Fosters give these animals the quiet environment they need to shine!
  • It is rewarding – Nurturing a pet and helping them find their forever home is a great accomplishment and something to be proud of! This is also a chance to help a far higher volume of pets than you would if you adopted.
  • It is fun – want puppies/kittens? Homes for a mother and her litter are in high demand in my area. Also, you can foster anything from mice to cats to horses.
  • It helps adopted animals stay in homes – a foster home is a chance to learn about an animal’s personality, which might be completely unknown just coming from the shelter. Fosters also help train and socialize the animal, which makes them more desirable. Any way you slice it, animals coming from foster homes are more attractive to adopters.  Adopters like this guesswork taken out of the equation, and it also helps them to know what they are getting, so to speak. Also, almost all animals behave differently in a home than in a shelter. A dog might be a perfect angel in a home but a poorly-behaved stress ball in a shelter (and thus have extremely little chance of getting adopted). In just a few days, you could take a dog like this and make them highly desirable for adoption by merely giving them the safe home environment they need to relax and be themselves.

All in all, I think fostering is great, and I’m looking forward to the day that I have the ability to foster dogs. It is undoubtedly hard work and hard to let the animal go when they are adopted, but you know you gave them a second chance at life they may not have gotten otherwise. A great article about the subject can be found here.

Rock it like this pooch!

Rock it like this pooch! You can buy these bandannas at

In order to help your foster pet get adopted, I recommend letting people know as much as you can that your foster pet is looking for a home. They should still be listed by the shelter (such as on or in a picture at the shelter), but any publicity you can give them is great! I recommend those bandannas and vests for dogs that say “Adopt Me!” or similar when they are out in public- you never know whose eye they may catch.

Happy Fostering!


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Finding Lost Pets

Losing a pet is scary, stressful, and tragic if you don’t get them back. According to the ASPCA, only 2% of cats and 15-20% of lost stray dogs taken into shelters are reunited with their owners. How can you increase your chances of getting them back?

1. Prevention

Microchip and rice

The most important thing you can do is get your pet microchipped. A microchip is the size of 2 grains of rice and is injected into a ligament between the dog or cat’s shoulder blades. The area is numbed first and it only takes a few minutes. A scanner will reveal the microchip’s broadcasted number, which can be looked up online. As long you submit the paperwork (giving your contact information) when you get your pet microchipped, your pet has a high chance of being returned to you. A microchip costs $20-$50 and is a permanent way to ID your pet.

Also important is having clear, relatively current pictures of your pet from a few angles. This is important, because once you lose your pet you can’t take pictures of them for lost ads. Having a picture is essential to help people identify your lost pet. Having only puppy pictures to show for your now-gray senior isn’t great.

Not helpful!

Not helpful!

Lastly, if your pet goes outside they should have a collar and ID tag on when they are outside. The tag should at least have a current phone number.Consider adding last name, address, and any medications the pet takes, but a phone number is likely most useful. Once at the shelter, a puppy was found with a collar and tag but it only said “Mossy.” If a phone number, address, or microchip were there she would have likely been reunited with her owner! Sadly no one came looking for her, but she was adopted out.

2. Once lost, act quickly!

The longer it has been since your animal got lost, the lower the chance is that you will find them. It is crucial that you  act quickly to get them back. Start by looking for them in the place that you lost them. It sounds obvious, but don’t throw up you hands and go home an hour after losing your dog in the woods 2 hours from your house. If you lost them near your house, call your neighbors and ask them to be on the lookout. Call the local police and animal control, giving them a description and your contact information. Make a lost ad the same day and distribute it to the police department and all of the shelters in the area. The old fashioned tape-it-to-telephone poles is helpful to get the word out too. The ad should have name, age, breed, description/identifying marks, place and date last seen, and contact information. You may wish to add information about the pet’s personality such as “Shy- please do not chase!”  Always put “cash reward” on the poster, as some people will look just hoping to get the money. It’s lame, but if it gets your  cat back it doesn’t matter (and lots of people refuse to take the reward, anyways). You can also leave a lost ad with local vet clinics.

In addition to calling/giving a lost ad to shelters, make sure you visit them frequently in case they don’t check every incoming animal against lost ads or something gets lost. Shelters have a holding area for strays (hoping that owners will come for them!) and an adoptable animal floor. Check both. In areas with tons of unwanted animals coming in, they may get just a day’s chance to be adopted- don’t miss that chance.

3. Don’t give up hope!

Keep checking for your lost pet- they may be wandering around for some time before they are found or make it home. Once, I lost my dog in the woods down the road from my house. We were running around looking for her for hours, the neighbors were looking for her, my dad was driving around town, and my mom was putting together a lost ad. Guess where we found her? By the front door of the house.

Posted in Cats, Dogs, Shelters and Rescues | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ideas for Saving Money on Pet Care

Pets can be expensive. What can you do to save money?

You’ll be a pro in no time.

1. Clip your pet’s nails yourself. Walmart sells dog/cat nail clippers for $5 and it is easy to do yourself instead of paying a groomer or the vet. Work with them a little each day on having their feet handled if they are difficult, and recruit a helper to hold them. Never done it before?  Ask someone to show you, or here’s the basics:

  • Take a little off at a time, and put a flashlight behind the nail to see where the quick (live part) is so you don’t cut it if you can’t tell where it is.
  • If the nails are really super long, cut the nails a little and the quick will recede in a few days so you can cut more off.
  • If you do cut the quick, don’t panic, as you’ll hit the blood vessel before the nerve (it bleeds before it hurts). Stop bleeding by using some cornstarch, flour, or styptic powder (like QuikStop) and hold some pressure with a paper towel.

A cotton swab can easily rupture a human eardrum. Dogs, not so much.

2. Clean your pet’s ears yourself. Use ear cleaner (or hydrogen peroxide, works fine) and cotton swabs or cotton balls. You can put a few drops in the ear canal and massage it around, but I just put it on cotton swabs. Unlike humans, dogs and cats have an L-shaped ear canal with a 90 degree turn. This means you can’t hurt the ear canal with a cotton swab and thus inserting one into their ear is safe as long as you are gentle (ears are sensitive!).



2. Do anything else that you can yourself. You can bathe your dog yourself with dog/baby shampoo, learn to cut their hair and groom them yourself (you can get clippers for $20 if necessary, vet clinics often use clippers made for people), learn to put on nail caps, give subcutaneous fluids, and probably other care tasks a vet or groomer might be doing for you. Your vet should be more than willing to show you how to do these things.

3. Say no to fancy treats. Fancy dog treats are so expensive, and honestly I don’t think my dog appreciates the difference between $2/pound biscuits and $10/pound ones. Making your own is even cheaper and easy too, and many “people foods” make healthy and tasty dog rewards. Some of my favorites are plain cheerios, air-popped popcorn, carrot chunks and apple pieces. High-value treats for training include bits of meat or cheese, just keep it in proportion to your dog’s size. You can also use your dog’s normal kibble (if they eat kibble). Like with any treat, feed in moderation and reduce their normal food to make up for it if appropriate (for example, if you fed 1/4 cup kibble training, feed 1/4 cup less at dinner).

4. Make your own toys. Old tennis balls are a dog favorite, and my dog loves old socks tied into rings. For cats, make awesome toys by duct taping sturdy string to a stick and adding feathers, fleece strips, or cat balls to the end. Like commercial toys, make sure it is safe and don’t leave your pet unattended with it unless you’re sure it’s completely safe (no string!).

5. Be smart about medications and supplements. Talk to your vet about cheaper ways to keep your pet healthy. For example, will a human pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens fill your pet’s prescription for $4? They dispense a variety of veterinary medications (ask for a list), and your vet should be happy to help by calling to ask about availability and calling in prescriptions. If you found heartworm/flea/tick control products cheaper online, ask for a prescription and get them there (from a reputable company like PetMeds only, please). Also, many vets will price match so you can save the hassle of ordering elsewhere.  Lastly, supplements may be cheaper when made for humans (ask vet about formulation or to check about added ingredients)  and are better regulated. For example, Cosequin is the only brand of pet joint supplement that guarantees the active ingredient is present in the product as stated on the label (and it is expensive accordingly). Since there is no regulation (unlike with human supplements!), companies can say that there is 500mg glucosamine per capsule but get away with not having any. Make sure you get what you pay for.

Silica gel litter looks cool, but it’s extremely expensive. They say you can change it less frequently, but I’m unconvinced your cat wants to step in 3 week old absorbed pee.

6. Use plain cat litter. Odor-controlling cat litters are more expensive, may contain allergenic or toxic chemicals, and are in my experience no better than the plain stuff. If the litter box smells, clean it. Litter boxes should ideally be picked out every day. If you’re going  a week between cleanings and the smell is getting to you, put in some elbow grease instead of looking for fancier cat litter. Your cat and nose will thank you.



Don’t forget the teeth in back!

7. Brush those teeth! Buy some dog or cat toothpaste (the fluoride in human toothpaste is very toxic to them!) and learn how to brush their teeth from online videos or your vet. There are normal toothbrushes, finger toothbrushes, and dental pads to choose from. Getting them use to it slowly helps make it easier, but even if all  you do is let them lick up some toothpaste the enzymes in it help to dissolve tartar. Dental disease is extremely common in pets, and usually expensive tooth cleanings are required to keep their teeth healthy if you don’t brush them. If left untreated, infected gums and rotten teeth can sicken or even kill your pet over time, so prevention is well worth it. You don’t have to tell anyone you brush your dog’s teeth if you’re  embarrassed about it. By the way, water additives don’t do anything and are essentially low dose antibiotics, which isn’t great for your pet long term. If they worked, vets would be recommending them left and right to lower periodontal disease rates.

Posted in Cats, Dog food, Dogs, Pet Food, Veterinary Medicine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I Love Shelters and Rescues! (And I Think You Should Too)

Shelters are awesome places to find pets. In a nutshell: They offer a variety of pets for a nominal fee, save you lots of money in vet costs, provide a support network, and help animals in need. They are dedicated to helping you find a suitable pet and reduce the chances of you taking on a pet with surprise problems. Lastly, the animals are really not “there because there’s something wrong with them.”

My dog Chelsea- she was a stray (came to my Grandmother's door) and no one claimed her at the local shelter

My dog Chelsea- she was a stray (came to my Grandmother’s door) and no one claimed her at the local shelter

This may sound like a sales pitch, but every claim I’m making comes from my experience (although you can take that as you will). My credentials: I’ve volunteered at a shelter, volunteered or shadowed at 2 vet clinics, and cared for a small boatload of pets (mine and others) including those from shelters, rescue groups, Craigslist, strays, breeders, shady breeder animals, pet stores, feeders from pet stores, and word of mouth rehoming.




Why Shelters are Awesome

Grace- rescued by Ray of New World Riding from a bad situation, now an awesome riding horse

Grace- rescued by Ray of New World Riding from a bad situation, now an awesome riding horse. She is super sweet.

You can get all sorts of pets in rescues- don’t think that because you want a rare pet you can’t find it at a rescue. Some specialize in specific breeds of dogs, in various small animals, in reptiles, and more. Some take in livestock. Most are dog and cat shelters, but use Petfinder and Google to look around in your area. For example, MSPCA at Nevins Farm in Methuen, MA takes in livestock of many types, has barns full of horses, takes in small animals, and has a dog and cat shelter. If a rescue doesn’t have what you want at the time leave your name and number and ask them to call you when they get one in. You may have to drive further than the local mall, but trust me it is worth it. Shelters often or always have young animals (depending on size), so you don’t have to settle for an adult if your heart is set on a youngster (although adults can be great because you know their adult size and temperament, come house trained, and are less likely to get sick due to a developed immune system). If you want a puppy “today, ” yes the mall pet store might be your only option. However, a dog is a commitment and is worth a small amount of driving or waiting.

Ben- adopted from Nevins. He's a really good boy and aims to please his rider.

Ben- adopted from Nevins. He’s a really good boy and aims to please his rider.

Shelters save you money. Buying a dog or cat from a shelter is the cheapest way to go (yes, cheaper than taking one of your neighbor’s puppies). If they are a decent rescue, the dog or cat will be spayed/neutered, microchipped, health checked, and have shots started if young or completed already. The adoption fee does not cover all of these costs, and you’d pay hundreds more having this done yourself on a pet store, breeder, or friend’s puppy.

Shelters help you know what you’re getting and get what you’re looking for. You know something about the animal, because shelters evaluate animals and know about their health status. For example, the Animal Rescue League of Western PA does a temperament test on all animals, which has to be passed in order for the animal to be put up for adoption. This involves trying to invoke aggression, being pinched/hugged, and having food taken away from them among other things. Shelters also give you the health status of the animal, because they want to find a good match for the animal and don’t want them to be in a bad situation in the future. Puppies and kittens from pet stores come from “puppy mills,” which pump out animals in poor conditions with no concern for health (sources provided upon request). Again, they are expensive as well. One mall pet store, Debbie’s Pet Land, had puppies “on sale” for the low low price of $1100 and up! This is also before having them fixed, dewormed, given shots, and so forth, and before any health problems coming from the poor conditions they came from and inbreeding.  Shelters are usually $50-$200 and often offer free adult animals and specials. Breeders are also expensive, as I’ve never seen one have puppies below $500. Shady “breeders” or puppies on Craigslist might be cheaper, but they will still be more expensive than an adoption fee after vet care.

3 of my awesome rats, adopted from Pittsburgh Rat Lover's Club

3 of my awesome rats, adopted from Pittsburgh Rat Lover’s Club

Support: Shelters want you to be happy with the animal and the animal to be happy with you. Thus, they won’t lie about the pet because it decreases the chance of the animal having a good home and staying out of bad situations in the future. If the animal doesn’t work out, you can return them and choose a different pet at any reputable rescue (rescues want you both to be happy!). Shelters also sometimes offer reduced cost vet care, training classes, free food and supplies to those facing economic hardship, and trap-neuter-release programs for feral cats in your yard.

Posted in Cats, Dogs, Rats, Rodents, Shelters and Rescues | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Applying to Veterinary Medical School



You’ve taken classes, racked up volunteer hours, and sat through pre-health presentations. You’re now ready to apply to vet school! Unfortunately, it’s a long and involved process.

1. Research schools


There are only 28 in the United States, which means they are hard to get into. All of them are good.

Always apply to your in-state school, if you have one, because you have the best chance of getting in there. Most schools are 2/3 in state, and many are higher. It is also cheaper in state.

Some schools offer conditional acceptance programs if you meet requirements as a sophomore and maintain grades (contract schools), but this is not necessary for getting in. All schools have large and small animal, but look at schools that have the program you want if you want a specific focus.

2. Gather materials

It’s real. He was stunned from flying into a window.

Start early, because the application is involved. You need:

Transcript- average GPA is around 3.6. It’s possible to make up for a lower one, but higher is always better. Consider retaking classes if need be to show that you’re serious about vet school and can handle difficult material.

Make sure you have the prerequisites for the school you’re applying to. Email admissions departments if you’re unsure about anything- they’re usually really nice, and it helps (a little )if they know you, especially from in-person presentations if your school had any. Also email them or go in for a post-rejection interview if you don’t get in to learn why they didn’t accept you and how you can improve for the next application cycle. Many people get in on their second, third, fourth, or even fifth tries!

GRE Score- Average scores vary by school. Leave enough time to retake it and still apply on time if you haven’t taken it once yet.

Personal statement- explain who you are as a person, why you’re passionate about veterinary medicine,  and so on. Make sure it is not  “I wanna b a vet cause I loooooove puppies and kittens!!!!!!!!! :)” You need to show that you are serious about becoming a vet, and that you are doing if for the right reasons (such as desire to help others, the science aspect, or public health). “I’d rather be a vet than a human doctor because I don’t want to work with people” is also something that should never come out of your mouth or keyboard during the application and interview process.

Letters of Recommendation- usually 3 are required: 1 from a veterinarian, 1 academic, and 1 other. The third one might be up to you or might be specified by the school (such as an employer, a second vet, or an advisor). Give the person writing for you lots of time and a helpful information sheet if they don’t know you very well (but try to get people who know and like you and will sing your praises).

Experience hours- usually a minimum of 250 veterinary, but it varies by school and more is always better.

Extracurricular Activities- leadership positions or animal or medicine related ones are good, but anything you’re passionate about is good. It also helps to show that you manage your time and are involved.

Work Experience, research experience- further relatable experience, work ethic, and time management is the idea here. Published research or research with or about animals or medicine is a bonus but is not necessary to a successful application.

Explanation section- explain any unusual circumstances, for instance if there’s a reason you had a drop in your grades, or some type of hardship.

Supplemental Application- Some schools have one (check their website). Always do it if there is one.

Money- Vet schools are expensive to apply to, although it’s cheaper per school in VMCAS the more you apply to.

3. Apply

This is Jaye. She was the most fantastic horse ever.

Most schools use VMCAS, an online application system like CommonApp that sends your materials out to multiple schools. The website goes live over the summer and is due the next fall- pay attention to guidelines and deadlines. Submit it at least a day early because the website often crashes the night before the deadline from traffic volume. Also, check up to make sure schools receive all of your materials (if physically sending something, use delivery confirmation). Update schools if you gain experience after applying.




4. Wait and Relax

Grace goes bridless

Grace goes bridless

It’s apparently nerve wracking to wait to hear from schools, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Keep up your grades if you’re in your last year of school (most schools give you until you matriculate to finish your requirements).




5. Hear back and go for interviews

One of these things is not like the others…

No one is accepted without being brought in for an interview, usually in late winter or so. It takes time and money to travel, but it’s the only way to get in and it’s a really good sign if you are granted an interview. Some schools have a program where on your interview day you shadow a current vet student. Make sure you stay for that if offered to show interest, and the students typically report back on what they thought of you. It looks really bad to take off. Also, always extensively research the school before you go (your admittance likely hinges on it!), and don’t ask questions with answers on their website!

6. Get accepted (congratulations!) or rejected (I’m sorry)

Baby cow!

If you get accepted, decide on your school of choice if you’re super lucky and have multiple acceptances and submit a deposit to secure your place. Good for you!

If you didn’t make it in, know that many people don’t get in on their first try and you can try again next year. Ask the school why you didn’t get in, and work on what they tell you. This might mean boosting grades, retaking the GRE, or gaining experience hours. An excellent way to spend this year is to work as a vet tech, thereby making money and gaining valuable experience.

Posted in Vet School, Veterinary Medicine | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Caring for Pet Rats

Hello! I’m a rat!

Rat Basics:

  • Rats live 2-4 years
  • Rats are highly social and need to be kept in pairs or groups
  • Boys are usually bigger and less active than girls
  • Adults weigh about a pound
  • Rats brux (grind/chatter their teeth) and boggle their eyes when they’re happy
  • Rats are nocturnal, but often get up during the day if you’re around

I need more toys! I can’t find any!

Rats need:

  • Large wire cage to live in, with any wire floors covered in newspaper, plastic, cardboard, tiles, fleece or towels
  • Water bottle(s)
  •  Good-quality rat blocks like Oxbow Regal Rat or Harlan Teklad food. The only good rat food sold in pet stores is Oxbow, but I buy Harlan Teklad online cheaper at only $1.10 per pound. Use a cheap ceramic cat dish, soap dish, or bowl you have laying around to put it in.
  • Fresh food (a little of what you’re having, unless it’s one of the few things they can’t have) to supplement their diet and as a treat. They also like Cheerios, uncooked oatmeal, and dry noodles.
  • Somewhere comfortable to sleep, like a hand towel made into a hammock with paperclips or a cardboard box with an old shirt in it
  • Toys! Great cheap rat toys include untreated wood to chew or play on, boxes, cat toys, folded cardboard, clay flowerpots, rope dog toys, bird toys, shirts cut up into tubes, pouches, or hammocks, small plastic bins from the dollar store, and small wooden ladders.
  • Plastic low-sided bin for a litter pan, if desired. Tupperware type containers work well.
  • Shredded newspaper, aspen shavings, Carefresh bedding, or pelleted bedding (made for cat litter) for the bottom unless you want to use cloth. No pine or cedar because it contains toxic aromatic oils.

The only big expense is the cage, but a good one lasts forever. You can check Craigslist, Ebay, and online rat forums for used ones. I already had water bottles, and most everything else I found around the house or got at the dollar store. Food is cheap, and I wash and reuse towels so I don’t have to buy bedding other than some for the litter pan.

Here’s what my cage looks like:

My Cage

I’ve since switched to towels on the bottom and there’s no water bottles in there yet, but you get the idea.When I’m home, I open up the cage doors and let them play on the table the cage is on.

I love bananas!

Rats can eat almost everything people can eat. A few exceptions they should never have:

  • Apple seeds
  • Green bananas (ripe bananas are fine, and are my rats’ favorite food!)
  • Mango, orange, and orange juice if male- Safe for female rats but contains d-limonene which causes liver problems and cancer in male rats
  • Raw brussel sprouts, artichokes, onion, red cabbage, and sweet potato (cooked is fine)
  • Rhubarb
  • Blue cheese
  • Licorice
  • Poppyseeds

I also love bananas!


  • Meat- they can’t break down animal fat well
  • Candy, soda, sweets (chocolate is not toxic to them and can help with respiratory distress, just not too much)
  • Anything too fatty, sugary, or salty (if it’s not good for you, it’s not good for them)
  • Peanut butter (choking hazard, fine mixed into something)
  • Raw peanuts (can have mold, roasted is safe)
  • Raw bulk tofu (bacteria hazard, cooked or raw packaged tofu is safe)

Just Napping

Rats are pretty cheap to keep, but the one caveat is that at some point in their lives, rats will need veterinary attention. I recommend saving up some money in a “vet fund” for when you need it. Signs of a sick rat include:

  • Excessive Sneezing (respiratory infection)
  • Clicking or wheezing sounds (respiratory infection)
  • Porphyrin (reddish mucous) around eyes and nose (respiratory infection)
  • Not acting normally (not eating, drinking, or playing, sitting hunched up with a rumpled coat)
  • Excessive scratching
  • Head tilt (infection)
  • Obvious lumps and injuries
  • Weight Loss

You disturbed my rat nap

As far as getting the rats themselves, I recommend a rat rescue group first if you have one in your area (check I got mine from the fabulous Pittsburgh Rat Lover’s Club. The lady who had them drove to my house to let me pick out rats (she brought a bunch), and even gave me 5 pounds of food and a box of Cheerios. The adoption fee was really reasonable and I got friendly, healthy young ratties that had been health checked and treated for mites (she does this for all rats coming into her shelter).

I love bananas too!

If there’s no rat club or rescue in your area, dog and cat shelters often get rats in that no one wants. Check or call around. Alternatively, there are always people on Craigslist trying to give away rats.

If that doesn’t work out for you, a good breeder can sell you baby rats. I avoid advocating breeders because there are so many rats in need of homes, but it’s better to support a good breeder than a poor-quality “backyard breeder”.

Aquariums are not appropriate for rats due to low ventilation, it is not big enough for even 1 adult rat, the bedding is toxic pine, their food is 98% millet, and I had to ask staff to give them water (and I was initially told “That’s fine!” and had to make a fuss to get the poor things some water). Don’t support people who keep animals like this!

Pet stores are notorious for taking poor care of rats, especially so if they are feeder rats.  I’ve seen multiple moms and litters crammed into dirty 10 gallon aquariums, rats kept alone, low quality food given (at one mall pet store, they had only Cheetos!), and rats out of water (many, many times). They are likely to be handled roughly and have no concern given to their health. Also, lots of rodents die in transit due to horrible shipping conditions the customer never sees. You will likely have to spend a lot of time socializing them, and they might die on you shortly after you bring them home. Buying them saves that one rat but just increases demand and another will be bought in its place.

Note: feeder and pet rats are the same species and all four of my rats were originally feeder rats. My rats are healthy and friendly thanks to the group I got them from, but I avoid personally buying pet store rats. If I brought one home from a pet store without quarantining, it could have a virus like Sendai that would kill my other rats regardless of vet treatment. It’s best to just stay away.

Posted in Pet Food, Rats, Rodents, Veterinary Medicine | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

How to Medicate Your Rodents

Rodents are fairly healthy pets, and they only need to go to the vet when sick. However, the odds are in favor of their needing supplements or medication at some point. I’ve had 11 so far, so I’ve had to medicate a fair bit.

Rodent medications are usually an oral liquid. It’s really important to measure carefully for these guys because they are so small! I have a tiny syringe that measures in fiftieths of a milliliter for my gerbils and rats. Note: make sure it’s an oral syringe and has no needle. They should look something like this:

Oral Syringes

How to measure oral medication:

1. Shake it up: Lots of rodent medications are suspensions, meaning the drug is in small particles floating in the liquid. It needs to be mixed to be sure you’re getting the right amount of active ingredient.

2. Draw it up: Suck it up into the syringe. Draw it up past where you need it to be, trying not to get any air bubbles in it. If there are, push it out and try again. If you can help it, don’t push the tip way into the liquid because that gets medicine on the outside of the syringe. This wastes it unless your pet will lick off the outside of the syringe. If your vet was savvy, they’ll have given you a bottle with a plastic stopper with a hole in it through the neck, like this. This allows you to just shake, stick the tip in, flip the bottle upside down, and draw some up without the mess of sticking it in an open jar:

No mess, no fuss

3. Measure it out: Slowly depress the plunger until you have the correct dose left in the syringe.

4. Administer: Creativity and patience will be rewarded.

Straight up: Some animals, like my Nettie and Inquisitor, think that anything in a syringe is some type of supernatural deliciousness (even plain old water, folks) and will try to rip it from my hands and carry it off. So, when I had to medicate Nettie I just had to get the syringe near him, hold on for dear life, and slowly depress it. If you do this, it is important to depress slowly so you don’t choke them.

Om Nom Nom!
Photo by Jorats

In Food: If you’re creative enough with foods, there’s a good chance your pal will take it. Good choices include oatmeal, apple sauce, banana, banana bread, baby food, juice (unless your vet says it can’t be mixed with anything acidic), Nesquick, Ensure, soup… anything to get them to take it. I like to put the medicine on a spoon, add something tasty, stir, and then give to my rodent.

With any luck, they won’t know it’s there!

The caveat here is that Enrofloxacin (Baytril) cannot be mixed with calcium (no milk, dairy, or Ensure), zinc, iron, sucrylfate (a medication), or antacids. Doxycycline cannot be mixed with  antacids, sucrylfate, magnesium, aluminum, zinc, or bismuth. It’s recommended but not imperative to keep doxycycline away from calcium as well. Doxycycline and Baytril are very commonly prescribed for rodents, so don’t mix your pets’ medications with dairy unless you’re sure. (Information courtesy of Pittsburgh Rat Lover’s Club, Physician’s Desk Reference page 890)


As a last resort, you can force them to take it. I had to do this for one of my gerbils once, and he got use to it without too much stress. First, try to get them to take it when holding them down as they are sitting normally, like this:

Photo by Twin Squeaks

It might help to have one person hold, one person medicate. If this is a no go, you’ll have to restrain them more forcibly It’s for their own good, trust me. Just do the best you can not to make it stressful and reward them afterwards.

For a small rodent: Hold the syringe in one hand, and with the other hand pick them up with your palm to their back (fingers pointing towards head) and your fingers wrapped around them. Then, flip them up (not tilted too far back, they could choke) and squirt the medication a little at a time into their mouth:

Photo by Doomgerbiluk

For a large rodent: Wrap them up like a burrito in a towel to hold them, and squirt the medication a little at a time into their mouth:

Photo by Jorats

Again, having two people might make it easier.

With a little practice, you’ll be ready to medicate those rodents like a pro. Also, please let me know if you have any tricks of your own!

Posted in Rats, Rodents, Veterinary Medicine | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Let’s Talk About Rats

Is this guy not at least a little bit cute?

Is this guy not at least a little bit cute?
Photo by Jessica Florence

There are many  misconceptions surrounding rats. They are seen as diseased, disgusting vermin that many people seem to have a visceral reaction against. If you are one of these people, please hear me out. You can express your opinion at the end, I promise.

First of all, it is important to note that wild and domestic (pet) rats are genetically different. They are not the same thing! More or less, dog is to wolf as pet rat is to wild rat. That being said, some people have kept wolves and wild rats as pets (not that I condone keeping pet wolves). I love them and think they are really sweet, but a lot of people hate them or are afraid of them. It’s time to shed some light on the reality of rats.

Fear and Misinformation-Motivated Myths about (Pet) Rats

They are dirty!

Hey man, who are you calling dirty? This place is spotless

Hey man, who are you calling dirty? This place is spotless

When told I keep pet rats, several people have looked shocked and concernedly tell me how dirty rats are. Rats are not dirty, at least any more so than cats. Let me explain. They are clean animals that groom themselves a lot, as cats do. They can be trained to use a litter box, like cats do. Some people leave their rats loose in a safe room all the time and they use a litter box (just like domestic cats!). Now, feral cats and wild rats may be dirty like any other wild animal. But wait, you say! My roommate had a rat that smelled! Well, like any other pet, if you leave them in a cage and never clean it, they and their cage will become filthy.

They carry and spread diseases- they caused/carry/will give you Bubonic Plague!

What's all this plague nonsense? Shh, I'm trying to sleep

What’s all this plague nonsense? Shh, I’m trying to sleep

Pet rats at least don’t have diseases you can catch. The caveat here is that you give it to them first and then they could give it to someone, such as a cold or  the flu. However, at that point it would be more likely to spread person to person and infect your household that way. Like any other mammal, it is possible for a wild rat to have rabies , but pet rats can’t get rabies unless exposed to an animal with rabies (which pet rats have not been). Lastly, Bubonic Plague was spread by infected fleas on rats, dogs, people, and other animals. Yes, there were a lot of rats in the Middle Ages but it’s not caused by rats and at any rate, pet rats can’t give you plague.

If you bring them in, they will destroy your house!

I am Internet, Destroyer of Cookie

I am Internet, Destroyer of Cookie

Rats can chew on electrical cords,your favorite book, and so forth, but so can puppies, rabbits, etc. They chew a lot less than other pet rodents I’ve had, and you just watch them and tell them no if they do chew. Rats are not destroying machines destined to bring your house to ruin.




Their tails  are slimy.

Tail Closeup
(by the way, the color variation is pigment, not dirt)

I’m guessing the people who have told me this have never actually seen a rat in person, because their tails aren’t slimy at all. Their tails have soft sort-of “scales,” if you will, that are smooth going from base to tip but rough if brushed the wrong way.  I don’t find their tails gross, but if you do that’s an opinion you’re entitled to. I just ask that you touch an actual rat tail before you decide.




They will eat you when they get hungry

Landmine rats sweep in an hour what a human can sweep in a week!

My own mother told me this one.  My rats are very affectionate and I can’t imagine them trying to eat me. I’ve heard rumors of those African Giant Rats (like are used to detect land mines and tuberculosis)  eating people, but not a single thing about wild  normal or pet rats eating people. If my rats try to eat me I’ll warn you in an update. I promise. I’ve never even been bitten by one of them.


Even if you believe me at this point that rats are not the vermin scourge they are often portrayed as,  you’re probably wondering why someone would *want* to keep pet rats of all things.  The answer? Rats are fun! They can be active and entertaining, or a lazy lap rat. They’re kind of like small dogs; they love people and are curious.  They like being petted and scratched. You can carry them around in your sweatshirt hood or pocket, you can teach them a few tricks, and you can play with them. They’re much more tame and less skittish than other pet rodents I’ve seen, and are far less messy than guinea pigs and rabbits in my experience. Here’s a little bit about each of my rats:

Nettie!Internet aka “Nettie”- he loves everyone, and always runs over to see me. It’s really cute to see him reach out to people with his paws asking to be picked up. He’s a total cuddle bug and he and Oppa are the best at tricks so far. He is a treat hound and likes to stash his lab blocks.





Oppenheimer aka “Oppa” – he’s the smartest and plays the most with toys. He loves playing in water and likes having his belly rubbed. He likes to sit on the top of the cage and is pretty funny to watch climbing down.



Ziggs- He’s the most shy but very sweet and loves chilling on shoulders. He’s the softest and arguably the prettiest, with a white belly and silver ticking in his coat. He loves sleeping in hammocks and other high places.



Inquisitor aka “Quizzie”- he plays with cat balls more than anyone, and is a bit of a piggy for food. He’s pretty cuddly and loves my boyfriend more than anyone.






I think they’re pretty fun, especially given how easy they are to take care of.  I hope you’ve learned a little about rats and see why they I love them so much.

Can you look at this face and call him vermin? (I think he’s pretty cute)


As promised,now is the time let me know what you think of rats:

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned next week to learn how to care for rats.

Posted in Rats, Rodents | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Experience Hours for Vet School

As someone looking to apply to veterinary medical school in a few years, I’m trying to gain as much veterinary and animal experience as I can while getting good grades as a college undergraduate and working summers to pay for said school.  Veterinary schools are competitive, and have extensive application processes. To get in, you need lots of veterinary experience hours (experience supervised by a licensed veterinarian) and animal experience hours. The more hours you have when you apply to vet school, the better. I’ve heard many different numbers for what’s needed as a minimum, ranging from 250 vet hours and 500 animal hours to 10,000 hours combined.  That’s a wide range and a lot of hours! I recommend checking with the schools you’re interested in by emailing admissions departments and looking at how many hours admitted students have on average.  This information should be on their website.

Good places to get vet experience hours:

  • Veterinary clinics and hospitals
  • Shadowing veterinarians (such as large animal, equine, etc)
  • Zoo and Wildlife veterinary centers
  • Vida Veterinary Program Field Clinics– work at a spay/neuter clinic in Central America (Warning: costs $$$)

Good places to get animal hours:

  • Animal Shelters or Rescue Groups
  • Animal Sanctuaries
  • Fostering for a rescue group
  • Farms
  • Barns
  • Wildlife rehabilitation centers
  • Zoos
  • Aquariums
  • Animal businesses like dog grooming, daycare, or training
  • Pre-veterinary club programs
  • Vet School sponsored programs like the Adventures in Veterinary Medicine Program at Tufts (Warning: costs $$$)
  • Seasonal jobs at dude ranches (working with horses)
  • Therapeutic riding centers (involves horses)

Diversity of experience is also important. Don’t have all of your hours in one venue! Having the broadest range of experiences is best, because it shows vet schools that you know what you’re getting into and are committed to veterinary medicine. Again, recommendations vary, but in general have some experience with large and small animals, at least one “specialty” experience like zoo or wildlife, and at least one vet clinic.

As you get experience hours, keep track of them.  Vet schools will ask for numbers of hours, and certain schools want information on hours with each type of animal worked with (i.e., horse hours, cow hours, pig hours, sheep hours, etc). An easy way to do this is to keep a spreadsheet, with one sheet per experience or as you see fit. I do this to keep track of my vet clinic hours, but I haven’t for my barn and shelter hours. I will have to estimate and this is not ideal. Don’t inflate your hours, because you have to provide a reference for each experience and the school could call to verify. Lastly, work out roughly when you will do different experiences so that you have time to get the hours you want before vet school. You can’t spend the summer at a dude ranch in Wyoming to get horse hours and work in your local vet clinic at the same time.

How to Get Involved

  • Programs and Internships
    • To find them, Use Google or Google Maps to search for zoos, rescues, wildlife centers, and so on near you. Consider summer internships that require travel.
    • Look at the websites of facilities you’ve found and see what they offer. Call and ask for information if needed.
    • Plan ahead, as you might have to apply for the program months before the start or get vaccinated for rabies (yes, this was a requirement of one wildlife program I looked at!).
  • Volunteering
    • Check the websites of shelters, zoos, and aquariums for information on volunteering.
    • Apply online if available, or look for the number or email of a volunteer coordinator
    • Nothing listed online? Walk in and ask! Dress professionally and bring a résumé (add a cover letter, letter of recommendation, or references as you see fit) to vet clinics or wherever you’re interested in and ask if they’d let you volunteer. I did this at a vet clinic, they accepted me, and it’s been the best pre-vet experience I’ve had.  You might have to start with cleaning kennels, but some places are really generous with their time and will train you to do other, more veterinary-related stuff (which is awesome, and great experience for vet school, which is the point of this getting-hours exercise).
  • Job Opportunities
    • Look for animal-related jobs you’re qualified for online. If you can become qualified and knowledgeable enough to work as a veterinary technician, this is the best pre-vet experience in my opinion. Vet techs work with vets every day.
    • See if your school’s career services department offers job  opportunities, job shadowing, or internships
    • Look for openings at venues where you volunteer

Look around, and you’ll be sure to find something.

Personally, I have:

  • Been a working student and camp counselor at a horse barn
  • Volunteered at a dog, cat, and small animal shelter
  • Volunteered at a vet clinic
  • Been involved in my school’s pre-vet club

I don’t have as nearly as many shelter and vet hours as I need to, and I have experience with only 1 (albeit awesome) vet clinic. I need to get some kind of exotic or wildlife experience this summer. So, I’m not particularly exemplary, but my experience is an example nonetheless.

Posted in Vet School, Veterinary Medicine | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments