American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the WSSF 2004 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

Kids Q & A

Science Fair Rat Dietetics Project

By Carmen Jane Booth, D.V.M.

Stephanie Hatfield, 7th Grade, Lawson, MO
QMy name is Stephanie Hatfield and I am in the 7th grade at Lawson Middle School. I am writing to you about my Science Fair Project.

For my project I am going to do a Rat Dietitian Experiment. In my experiment I will feed one rat (my control rat) only healthy, well-balanced meals. I will feed the other rat (my test rat) only unhealthy, unbalanced meals. I will conduct this research for a maximum of 6 weeks. During these 6 weeks I will also test tail length, eye color, fur color, weight, and length. I will also test their physical abilities every week by putting them in a maze and recording how long it takes for them to find their way through.

After the experiment, I will begin to feed both rats healthy, well-balanced meals.

My request is that you send me information (as much as possible) regarding the care and diet (especially diet) of mice and rats.

I will appreciate any help that you can give me.

AI want to answer this very delicately. This experiment might be considered inhumane by members of the club and general public. First off, nothing is likely to be affected as long as each rat is getting appropriate protein and calories. Rats can survive on almost anything as long as their protein, carbohydrates, and micronutrients are being met. This being the case, there is unlikely to be any physical difference other than from individual variation or any mental differences (beyond the natural differences between the two rats). However, if the test rat is not receiving appropriate micronutrients (calcium, phosphorus, vitamins etc.), there can be serious problems. If the diet was so poor that the rat suffered a nutritional deficiency, then the rat could suffer permanent harm or die and this would in my opinion be cruel and not appropriate for a school science project. Short-term effects would be increased susceptibility to disease; long term effects from poor diet would be increased cancer. What is the hypothesis—that a poorly fed rat will perform poorly on the mental tests? In a true experiment you need at least six animals per group to see any statistical differences. Also, both groups would be tested multiple times prior to the diet change, to account for natural differences in individual ability. In my opinion, no animal should be intentionally harmed in a school science project. I think that this experiment is very flawed and would be subject to much criticism from people who care about animals. The question I would ask the young person, would you do this experiment on your dog or cat, or is the value of a rat any less? Is it worth the risk of harming an animal needlessly for a science project? This child is likely to incur harsh criticism from her classmates and parents should she actually do this experiment as described. Just my two cents.

Although I do research using animals, I am loath to cause them pain or distress needlessly. If there is going to be any potential for pain, they are given pain killers. Any experiment that could cause pain or distress has to be carefully thought out and shown to have scientific merit and all procedures justified and approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. This experiment would not be approved in my opinion.

Sorry to be so negative, but I think that this poses serious problems and shows a general disregard for animal life not appropriate for a science project. Experimental manipulation of animals is different than for example, feeding snakes, and the person doing experiments should be held to a higher standard. A snake has to eat too, and the food chain is part of life.

(See the Rat Diet article from the Summer I ’98 issue for a complete list of nutrient requirements of rats.) [Update: see also the article Nutritional Requirements in Rats] *

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May 6, 2015