American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the Fall 2000 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

Breeding – Beyond the Basics: Ethics

By Nichole Royer

* Breeding to improve on the parents should be the goal.

* Breeding is and should be far more than just putting two rats together.

* Many people breed rats and mice for reasons that are NOT appropriate.

* Breeding any animal is an art form.

* The old adage of “first you have to breed them right, then you have to feed them right” is very true.

* Breeders should put a lot of time, effort, and planning into each breeding and much thought should go into what the litter will produce.

Though it is hoped that this series of articles will be of interest to all rat and mouse enthusiasts, they are written with the serious fancier and breeder in mind. The author welcomes questions, comments, and other views which can be presented and discussed in future newsletters. As always, the views presented are those of the author and do not represent any policies held by AFRMA as an organization.

The Ethics of Breeding

Every year millions of animals are killed simply due to the lack of proper homes. Numerous rats and mice are among these numbers. Then there are the millions that sit in pet shops in horrible conditions waiting to be dinner for some snake. The question becomes, “How can we justify breeding more rats and mice if there are many out there needing homes?” This is a question all rat and mouse fanciers have to face.

In my mind, there is only one valid reason to breed a litter of rats or mice. Simply put, the only reason to breed is to create babies that are a distinct improvement upon their parents. This is a view held by breeders and fanciers of many other kinds of animals as well. If you are going to breed, you do so in order to produce an animal that comes closer to meeting the standard of excellence set out by any of the organizations dealing with your particular species, while maintaining excellent temperaments and striving to reduce or eliminate health problems. Breeding is and should be far more than just putting two rats together.

Many people breed rats and mice for reasons that are NOT appropriate:

To make nice pets — No responsible breeder that I know of would breed any animal that was not healthy, and that had a poor temperament. Because of this, all the babies should be healthy and should be good pets. Since you can find animals that fit this description from pet shops and get them from rescue organizations, we breeders have to do better. Breeders have to aim to produce rats and mice that are not JUST nice pets and that are MORE than healthy. Breeding any animal is an art form and breeders should be aiming to produce an animal that is not “just a nice pet” but that is also a beautiful example of its variety. Doing this is much more difficult than just producing nice pets. The old adage of “first you have to breed them right, then you have to feed them right” is very true. Half of a breeder’s efforts are in breeding the best they can, and the other half are in raising the resulting babies under the best of conditions.

Naturally, not everyone cares to own a show rat/mouse, and many are very happy to have that wonderful pet that is otherwise unremarkable. I am in no way maligning those fantastic animals, nor putting down their owners. Instead, I would suggest that these are the people that should be encouraged to adopt a rat or mouse (from a rescue organization or humane society) that is desperately in need of a home. Breeders should not be breeding rats or mice just to fill this need. There are so many “nice pets” out there already, there is no excuse for creating more.

Breeders of fancy animals fulfill a specific need. While their animals are “wonderful pets” they are also something more. The people who choose to own them tend to want the assurances that come from buying from a breeder. They want a rat or mouse of a certain variety, or of a known parentage. They want the guarantee that their rats/mice come from a healthy background, and the breeder stands behind their health and temperament. If a breeder doesn’t care enough to strive to produce the best rat or mouse they can—above and beyond just being healthy and friendly—then they are unlikely to offer the other assurances that someone buying from a breeder is going to want. Any litter of rats or mice produced by a responsible breeder will contain both animals that represent the improvement the breeder was trying to make, and animals that do not. Thus, any litter will have some animals in it that would be considered non show quality. These animals can then be made available to individuals who are not looking for potential show prospects. There is nothing wrong with this; however, creating this quality of animals should not be a breeder’s goal. They should strive for far more.

Breeding to make money — Very simply, if you breed quality rats or mice in a responsible manner and if you provide for all their needs to the best of your ability, you cannot make significant money. On the other hand, if you skimp, if you provide the minimum of everything—the least expensive feed (grain or inexpensive dog food), cheap bedding (cedar or pine), clean out as rarely as possible, breed in huge numbers, and sell to the commercial pet industry (pet stores), you can make money. You would not, however, be considered an ethical or responsible breeder.

Breeding because you love your pets — While you may love your pets and may want more just like them, this is not a good reason to breed them. Are you prepared to care for the huge number of babies (up to 20 in some litters)? Do you have space to keep all of them yourself? What will happen if all those friends that want babies from your rats, decide they don’t want them after all? What if they decide they don’t want them a year from now? The pet shop will most likely sell your babies to feed a snake—can you send them there? What happens if your female has trouble with the delivery? What if she dies? How will you feel?

Breeding to make more of a color — We hear it quite frequently, and it’s one of those things that truly bothers most responsible breeders. Someone will tell us that they are breeding their animals and when asked why, the response is, “I want to make more of that color.” It is true that most responsible breeders will specialize in a particular color or variety; however, breeding JUST to make more of that color is not an acceptable goal.

Breeding is so much more than just “making more of this color rat or mouse.” None of our colors are truly rare, and none are really difficult to produce more of. To breed just to make babies of a particular color without factoring in the health, temperament, and conformation of the parents, is not responsible breeding. Breeding to improve on the parents should be the goal . . . even if that means not producing any babies of the color you want. Breeding litters of Blue or Siamese or ones full of cute markings just because people want to buy them, is not responsible.

The list of reasons NOT to breed could go on and on. I have just touched upon the ones we see with the most frequency. As I said in the beginning, breeding any kind of an animal is an art form. It is not something to be taken lightly. Breeders should put a lot of time, effort, and planning into each breeding and much thought should go into what the litter will produce.

True breeders and fanciers do have an important role to play. In no way do I suggest differently. I do feel, however, that many people are breeding litters that do not necessarily need to be bred. Breeders need to plan carefully and think about their breedings before they take place. They also need to educate the folks who purchase their babies on the ethics of breeding and provide mentorship to those who would like to pursue the idea of becoming breeders themselves. These folks are the future of our fancy, and it is through educating them that we will see the rat and mouse varieties we love become the best they can be. *

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Updated March 18, 2014