Domitrius Barkwood

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Feeder rats

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The debate on feeder rats is one which has taken place at some point or other on every rat forum I have been to. People on both sides of the fence have strong views and, like abortion and religion, it’s one of those subjects that always gets tempers flared.

I will admit now that this will not be an unbiased page. But I will present the argument that the other side puts forward so you can make your own mind up.

Firstly, what is a feeder rat?

If you live in the UK, you’ve probably never heard of them since we don’t officially have them.

A feeder rat is one which is bred with the sole purpose of serving as live food for snakes.

Since live feeding is illegal in the UK, we don’t see them but I wouldn’t be so naiive as to suggest that just because it is illegal no one does it.

Im fairly positive that some UK snake owners will buy live rats to feed to their snake, even if they don’t make it known that thats what they’re doing.

If you go into a UK reptile based pet shop and see a tank of rats for sale, it can be a pretty safe bet that they’re not there to be sold as pets, but they will not be advertised as snake food due to the law.

However, in the USA, feeder rats are a fairly common sight in a lot of pet shops. They are often sold in various sizes from ‘pinkies’ to ‘jumbos’, who are fully grown adult rats.

As feeders are not viewed as a viable pet by most shops, they are often not kept in good conditions.

Now, no rat lover in their right mind would disagree that feeder rats are wrong. Thats one thing people on both sides of the argument agree with. Frozen food is another matter, but live is frowned upon by nearly all rat lovers and knowledgeable reptile owners.

Feeding live food to your snake is not only inhumane, it is actually dangerous to the snake itself.

A rat, or a mouse, is not defenceless and they will not sit and wait to be eaten. If the snake isn’t quick enough, the rat can seriously injure, or even kill it. Below is a picture of a ball python that was attacked by a mouse it was supposed to be being fed on:


If this is the damage a single mouse can do to a snake, you can imagine what a fully grown rat can do. Some reptile owners will insist on feeding live since they think it is more natural.

This is not so.

There is nothing natural about putting a prey animal in with the predator in a small glass box.

In the wild, the rat would have the chance to escape.

Other reasons that people continue to feed live is that they believe their snake will not eat pre-killed, and it’s true that a snake which has been fed on live its entire life will sometimes have trouble adjusting to pre-killed, but it IS entirely possible to switch them over.

Feeding live is always a bad idea, and many reptile owners will not even consider it since it poses such a risk to their snake.

But the debate is not wether feeding live is right. Most rat owners would agree that it’s certainly not. The debate is whether it is right to buy a feeder rat as a pet.

It is hard for any rat lover to walk into a pet shop and see a tank of rats who they know are destined to die in a horrible way. The temptation is to take them out of that situation. But is it right to do so? The people who oppose the buying of feeder rats as pets initially appear to have valid reasons.

Whenever you buy a feeder rat as a pet, you are freeing up space for one more rat to come and take it’s place.

You cannot rescue them all.

By buying a feeder rat, you are providing business for the shop and giving them the impression that there is a market for live rats and they will continue to sell them.

This is the main crux of the argument for people who oppose buying feeders as pets.

They will maintain that it’s better to not enter the shop at all and not put yourself in the position where you are tempted to rescue the feeders.

This is the no-nonsense approach to feeders and on the surface, it sounds like a valid argument.

But in actuality, it isn’t as sensible as it sounds. Feeder rats are bred, and stocked, for one reason and one reason only: as snake food.

Thusly, the people who keep the market for feeders alive and well are NOT the people who buy the odd one or two as pets, but the people who regularly go in the shop and buy rats for their snake.

It would make no difference to the shop if everyone who bought feeders as pets suddenly stopped doing so since the numbers of people who do are so insignificant compared to the number of people who buy feeders for reptile food.

Simply put, resisting the urge to buy a feeder rat is not going to make a shred of difference to the market as long as the reptile owners are still buying.

But it will make one hell of a difference to the rat you save.

Some people who are against the purchase of feeders as pets will compare the system to puppy farms. We’re all tempted to take hom the puppy we see in the pet shop window, but we know that buy doing so, we’re fuelling the puppy farms. This is an inaccurate similie when it comes to feeder rats since there is one market and one market alone for puppy farm dogs: the pet industry.

Therefore, if everyone stopped buying puppies from petshops as pets, then the puppy farms would have NO other punters.

If everyone who bought feeder rats as pets suddenly stopped, the industry would still thrive because people are still buying them for snake food.

It isn’t until the reptile owners stop buying that we will see a change in anything.


It upsets me greatly to see people who have rescued feeder rats get abused for their decision. It makes me wonder if the people who do the abusing have a heart at all, or how great of a rat lover they actually are.

Im generally a down to earth person myself, but even I cannot see how taking a rat out of a lethal situation can be seen as anything but just and right.

I do not advocate making feeder rats your only source of pet rats.

I advocate buying from a breeder or rescuing if possible, but if you walk into a shop that happens to sell feeder rats, and you fall in love with one, it isn’t going to make a difference to the shop if you walk out with it or without it.

If you don’t buy it, someone else will buy it for their snake. It is not a case of ‘don’t buy the rat and the shop will see that it has no business’ because it does still have business: reptile owners.

If you do take on a feeder, be prepared for some backlash from certain rat owners. Some people are quite rude in their critisizm of your choices.

Personally, I say ignore them and concentrate on the little life you have just saved. The feeling of knowing that you have spared an animal a horrific death is like nothing in the world.


However, be aware that if you are going to take on feeder rats now and then, they don’t often come without problems.

Since they are intended as food, and thusly not expected to live long, no thought is given to how healthy they are. If you take on a feeder, be prepared for the fact that he may not be the most healthy specimen and may result in costly vet’s bills.

Also be careful when taking on female feeder rats as they are often lumped indiscriminately in with the males and may very well be pregnant. Of course this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take her, in fact, it is probably a good idea since you will be saving not only her but her babies, but be prepared to find homes for the babies and do a little research on looking after a mother rat.


Do I advocate buying feeder rats regularly as a matter of course? No, not really.

Do I advocate taking home the one you’ve fallen for in the local pet shop who would otherwise have a terrifying and painful death? Absolutely.

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