As winter approaches, it’s important to turn our attention to how we can boost our rat’s immunity against infection and give them the best defence possible during what is often a vulnerable time for rats, especially the elderly.
High humidity, coupled with the cold can create the conditions that affect the respiratory system of a vulnerable rat. This is due to the increase in the water element which can aggravate mucus conditions or those susceptible to them. It’s important to be aware that there is a greater need to balance the water element within the bodily system at this time, so that we can increase the body’s ability to cope with damp and coolness.
In Ayurveda (an ancient Indian healing system based on maintaining balanced health), there is more aggravation of the water element during the winter months. There is a tendency for more mucus conditions to flare up. Therefore, it’s important to try and offset this tendency by creating ‘internal’ balance within the body whilst adjusting ‘external’ conditions to lower stress. We can do this by addressing the environmental factors that may aggravate a watery condition e.g. by using a dehumidifier, also avoiding sweet wet food, 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 who have already been having recurrent respiratory issues. These rats are going to be more susceptible at this time but it’s important that all rats will need some extra help during this season.
Following are some ideas for you to help boost your rats (and yours too) immunity. I always recommend and personally use human grade supplements because I believe that the whole family’s health is where the focus needs to be on. Many of the supplements created in the pet industry are not that great and have a certain ‘novelty/profit’ value. I feel it’s wiser to seek out better quality supplements that we ourselves would be happy using and then just ‘tithe’ some of these to our rats. Our rats need us to be healthy to look after them so I figure it’s better and less wasteful to buy the kind of supplements that we can all benefit from.
Stress is a big factor in the body’s defences becoming rundown. Often rats are under stress because of group incompatibilities or other factors. Something we can do is to make sure we’re not putting rats, especially older rats under any undue stress during the winter season e.g. we can avoid big changes in their routine during this time i.e. avoiding new intros to other rats or changing cages/group dynamics etc. Avoid mating/breeding as females would naturally be conserving their own energy during this time. If you’re thinking that our rats are indoors and therefore not affected by the seasons, it’s 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 their rat’s behaviour. And why solstices and equinoxes often create a portal for many animals to take their transition. It’s all in the web and flow of energy, yin and yang.
In nature, animals are hibernating at this time of year or keeping close to home, they are not in ‘breeding’ mode. Nature knows it’s a time to withdraw and harness as much energy as possible for building reserves and keeping up resistance to the cold. It is a natural ‘build and rest’ time, which is why most of us put on a few extra pounds during the winter/holiday season! The energy is needed for keeping warm and the focus of heat is within. The trees shed their leaves in the Autumn so that they can keep the sap for sustaining themselves during winter.
You might notice how your rats sleep more in the wintertime, this is their way of conserving energy and keeping in tune with the ‘slowing down’ of nature. The time will come again in Spring when they emerge from their slumber and return to heightened activity levels again. I’m not saying they don’t play, far from it! I’m just saying that levels can fluctuate according to environmental factors/seasonal shifts. There’s always a lot more activity around a full moon, for example. Therefore, by being aware of environmental stress/seasonal shifts and making adjustments accordingly, we can help further boost immunity for our rats over the winter months.
A whole food diet of seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables, especially those rich in chlorophyll such as kale will supply vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemcials that will help to protect against cancer and also boost the immune system. Think in terms of availability as in seasonal, organic fruit and vegetables and if you can provide a good ‘rainbow’ plate of these, it will cover most of the nutrients needed for balanced health. Here is a list of some of the essential supplements you might want to consider adding into their diet.
Multi-vitamin/mineral – always a good back up to provide essential vitamins/minerals that might otherwise be lacking in the diet. I wouldn’t use them daily though. Overuse of vitamin supplements is easily done and wasteful. Just add them in when you feel they need a boost. Otherwise, if you’re feeding a diet rich in fresh produce, simply use vitamin/mineral supplementation as you feel necessary. I would think they are more essential for young growing bodies and elderly rats.
Omega 3, 6 and 9 (a good oil such as cool oil, flax or hemp oil will provide a rich source of these), as well as hempseed, 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 up first and just add pinches into food or use them in biscuits etc. Or, soak them first and use them in your recipes. If you already use these, please comment below as to how you use them, I am interested and I’m sure it would be useful for other readers to know. J
Selenium (a good source is brazil nuts) stimulates the production of natural T-cells which fight viral and bacterial infections. Selenium helps to make antibodies and in my studies, I have found it to be one of the essential minerals in cancer prevention. I like to grate brazil nuts over the rat’s dinner or pasta like ‘parmesan’
Vitamin C – We all know that vitamin C supplementation is recommended for humans but rats are apparently able to manufacture vitamin C themselves. Although I’ve heard this, I still think any extra vitamin C they are able to get will only be beneficial and indeed, if you are feeding fruit and vegetables, they are already getting a reasonable supply anyway. I feel it’s just good to be aware 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 little and they are enjoying slurping it during free range. So, just because they can make vitamin C, I wouldn’t hold off giving it to them anyway, you can’t go wrong! And recent studies have shown that very high doses of vitamin C are needed to ward off cancer and other viral infections.
Echinacea – It’s the echinacains in Echinacea that boost the immune system by promoting the activity of white blood cells which destroy bacteria and viruses. There have been many studies done with Echinacea and it seems that it really does help to protect against colds and viruses. I use capsules and just mix a little of the powder into food.
Probiotics – help to regulate the acidity in the gut and promote the proliferation of friendly bacteria thereby preventing the ‘unfriendly’ bacteria from multiplying. They also produce natural anti-biotics, encouraging the immune system to produce anti-bacterial antibodies. A lot of people feed yoghurt because of the probiotics but yoghurt is mucus and acid-forming as well as possibly having various hormones and vacci
ne variables from the dairy industry. I don’t advise it for rats. You can buy the probiotics themselves and add a capsule to a nut milk and then use that in your food preparations/meals.
Immunity boosting supplements – there are many ‘ready-made’ immune system supplements now available that contain things like medicinal mushrooms, vitamin C, astragalus etc. These blends can be quite useful. You can take them yourself and add small amounts into your rat’s food.
Iodine – this is my ‘must have’ supplement. It tastes foul so I only put a few drops in my own smoothie or milk and then share a little of that with the rats. Other ways of adding iodine into your rat’s diet is by providing a good variety of sea vegetables or by using a little kelp powder in food or the soaking water for pulses/wheatgrass. In rat studies, iodine was shown to prevent tumours developing and has natural immune boosting properties. It is anti-viral and anti-bacterial. Many of the additives in our food deplete iodine from the body and so it is essential to add it back in. I will be writing more about iodine later.
Thyme – my rats like to nibble on fresh thyme so I hang a little sprig in their cage. Thyme has thymol as an active ingredient which is very good for clearing mucus passages and it also has anti-viral properties. You could try making thyme tea as well for any rats with sniffles. I have also put thyme in a little bowl of boiled water and the steam that comes from this can help any poorly rat with respiratory issues.
Pau d’arco – a Peruvian tea that helps builds resistance to infection and boost immunity. I like to have this in good supply for my rats. It helps to address candida and has been recommended for cancer prevention. It has anti-viral properties.
Consider the ‘stress factor’ in your rat’s lifestyle and work out how you can reduce it
Become ‘environmentally’ aware regarding the seasonal changes and prepare ahead
Feed a wholesome diet rich in ‘rainbow’ foods
Incorporate supplements as you feel necessary, especially immune building ones
Think how you can boost immunity and keep doing that (the lifestyle/dietary considerations mentioned above and herbal teas etc)