As winter approaches, it is important to focus our attention on how we can increase our rats’ immunity against infection and provide them with the best possible defense during what is often a vulnerable time for rats, especially the elderly.
High humidity, along with cold, can create conditions that affect a vulnerable rat’s respiratory system. This is due to the increase in the water element which can aggravate mucus conditions or people susceptible to them. It is important to note that there is a greater need to balance the water element within the body system at this time, so that we can increase the body’s ability to cope with humidity and cold.
In Ayurveda (an ancient Indian healing system based on maintaining balanced health), there is further aggravation of the water element during the winter months. There is a tendency for more mucus conditions to appear. Therefore, it is important to try to counteract this tendency by creating an “internal” balance within the body while adjusting “external” conditions to reduce stress. We can do this by addressing environmental factors that can aggravate a watery condition, for example by using a dehumidifier, avoiding sweet moist foods as well, reducing stress, and incorporating various immune-building strategies (as suggested below).
Some rats are more affected by an aggravation of the water element than others, especially those that have already had recurring respiratory problems. These rats will be more susceptible at this time, but it is important that all rats need extra help during this season.
Below are some ideas to help boost your rats’ immunity (and yours, too). I always recommend and personally use human grade supplements because I believe that the health of the whole family is where the focus should be. Many of the supplements created in the pet industry are not that great and have some “novelty / benefit” value. I feel like it’s wiser to go for better quality supplements that we ourselves would be happy to use and then just ‘decimate’ some of these to our rats. Our rats need us to be healthy to take care of them, so I think it is better and less wasteful to buy the kind of supplements that we can all benefit from.
Stress is a major factor in the depletion of the body’s defenses. Rats are often under stress due to group incompatibilities or other factors. Something we can do is make sure that we are not subjecting rats, especially older rats, to undue stress during the winter season, for example, we can avoid big changes in their routine during this time, that is, avoid new ones introductions to other rats or change cage / group. dynamics, etc. Avoid mating / reproduction as females would naturally conserve their own energy during this time. If you are thinking that our rats are indoors and therefore unaffected by the seasons, it is simply not true. They are energetic beings and intrinsically linked to the greater whole. They are affected by the bio-rhythms of nature, even if they are not “in” nature. That is why people can see the effect the moon has on the behavior of their rats. And why the solstices and equinoxes often create a portal for many animals to transition. Everything is in the network and the flow of energy, yin and yang.
In the wild, animals are hibernating at this time of year or kept close to home, they are not in “breeding” mode. Nature knows that it is time to withdraw and use as much energy as possible to accumulate reserves and maintain resistance to cold. It’s a natural “build and rest” time, which is why most of us put on a few extra pounds during the winter / holiday season. Energy is needed to stay warm and the focus of the heat is within. Trees lose their leaves in the fall so they can conserve sap to sustain themselves through winter.
You may notice how your rats sleep more in winter, this is their way of conserving energy and staying in tune with nature’s ‘slowdown’. The time will come again in spring when they come out of their slumber and return to high levels of activity again. I’m not saying they don’t play, far from it! I’m just saying that levels can fluctuate based on environmental factors / seasonal changes. There is always much more activity around the full moon, for example. Therefore, by being aware of environmental stress / seasonal changes and making any necessary adjustments, we can help to further boost the immunity of our rats during the winter months.
A whole food diet of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in chlorophyll like kale, will provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that will help protect against cancer and also boost the immune system. Think in terms of availability, like seasonal organic fruits and vegetables, and if you can provide a good ‘rainbow’ dish of these, it will cover most of the nutrients needed for balanced health. Here is a list of some of the essential supplements that you might consider adding to your diet.
Multivitamin / mineral – always a good backup to provide essential vitamins / minerals that might otherwise be lacking in the diet. However, I would not use them on a daily basis. Overuse of vitamin supplements is easily done and wasteful. Only add them when you feel like they need a boost. Otherwise, if you are feeding a diet rich in fresh produce, simply use vitamin / mineral supplements as deemed necessary. I think they are most essential for young growing bodies and old rats.
Omega 3, 6 and 9 (A good oil like fresh oil, flax, or hemp oil will provide a rich source of these), as well as hemp, flax, and chia. Flax and chia seeds absorb many times their amount when soaked in water. I don’t recommend giving them dry to rats. You can grind them first and just add pinches to food or use in cookies etc. Or soak them first and use them in your recipes. If you already use them, comment below how you use them, I’m interested and I’m sure it would be helpful for other readers to know. J
Selenium (a good source is Brazil nuts) stimulates the production of natural T cells that fight viral and bacterial infections. Selenium helps produce antibodies and, in my studies, I have found that it is one of the essential minerals in cancer prevention. I like to grate Brazil nuts over rat dinner or pasta like ‘parmesan’
Vitamin C – We all know that vitamin C supplementation is recommended for humans, but apparently rats are capable of making vitamin C on their own. Although I have heard this, I still think that any additional vitamin C they can get will only be beneficial and in fact if you are feeding fruits and vegetables they are already getting a reasonable supply anyway. I feel like it’s nice to be mindful and if you want to give them rosehip tea or something then go for it. I just bought rosehip / hibiscus tea for myself and the rats are enjoying it too. I sweeten it with agave and dilute it a bit and they enjoy sipping it freely. So just because they can produce vitamin C, I wouldn’t stop giving it to you anyway, you can’t go wrong! And recent studies have shown that very high doses of vitamin C are needed to prevent cancer and other viral infections.
Echinacea – It is the echinacains in echinacea that stimulate the immune system by promoting the activity of white blood cells that destroy bacteria and viruses. Many studies have been done with echinacea and it seems that it really helps protect against colds and viruses. I use capsules and just mix a little of the powder with my food.
Probiotics – help regulate acidity in the intestine and promote the proliferation of friendly bacteria, thus preventing “unfriendly” bacteria from multiplying. They also produce natural antibiotics, which stimulate the immune system to produce antibacterial antibodies. Many people feed yogurt because of the probiotics, but yogurt forms mucus and acid, and possibly has several hormones and dairy vaccine variables. I do not advise it for rats. You can buy the probiotics on their own and add a capsule to a nut milk and then use that in your food / meal preparations.
Supplements that increase immunity – There are many “ ready-to-use ” immune system supplements now available that contain things like medicinal mushrooms, vitamin C, astragalus, etc. These mixes can be very helpful. You can take them yourself and add small amounts to your rat’s food.
Iodine – this is my “must-have” supplement. It tastes bad so I just put a few drops in my own smoothie or milk and then share a little bit of that with the rats. Other ways to add iodine to your rat’s diet is by providing a good variety of sea vegetables or by using a little seaweed powder in food or soaking water for legumes / wheatgrass. In studies with rats, iodine was shown to prevent tumor development and to have natural properties to stimulate the immune system. It is anti-viral and antibacterial. Many of the additives in our foods deplete iodine from the body, so adding it back is essential. I will write more about iodine later.
Thyme – my rats like to nibble on fresh thyme, so I hang a twig in its cage. Thyme has thymol as an active ingredient which is very good at cleaning mucus passages and it also has antiviral properties. You can also try brewing thyme tea for rats with colds. I have also put thyme in a small bowl of boiled water and the steam that comes from this can help any rat with respiratory problems.
Pau d’Arco – a Peruvian tea that helps build resistance to infection and boosts immunity. I like to have this in abundance for my rats. Helps fight candida and has been recommended for cancer prevention. It has anti-viral properties.
Consider the ‘stressor’ in your rat’s lifestyle and find out how you can reduce it
Be ‘environmentally’ aware of seasonal changes and prepare ahead of time
Eat a healthy diet rich in ‘rainbow’ foods
Add supplements when necessary, especially those that strengthen the immune system.
Think about how you can boost immunity and continue to do so (the lifestyle / dietary considerations mentioned above and herbal teas, etc.)