Kim Sheridan was interviewed by Anabrese Newman, author of The Natural Rat, on the subject of rat diets and health. This interview was originally published on Anabrese’s blog. We thank her for giving us the opportunity to present this information on vegan rats. Below you will find a wealth of information, including what the ratties at the Rat Refuge thrive on.
Q: How long have you been feeding vegan rats and what do you feel are the benefits? Have you seen any longevity effects, improved health etc?
A: I’ve been feeding rats vegan for over 15 years now. I feel the benefits are twofold: 1. No other animal has to suffer in order to feed my own beloved companion animals. In other words, my actions don’t cause other innocent animals to suffer in ways that I’d never wish upon my own loved ones. 2. While I initially felt that the vegan ratties would be able to live just as long as rats fed a non-vegan diet, what I’ve actually discovered over the past 15 years is that vegan rats actually tend to live longer, healthier lives than rats who are fed animal products.
Q: How do you manage to achieve an overall balanced diet for vegan rats? What are the main food groups you feed daily to achieve this balance?
A: It’s really quite simple to achieve a balanced diet. As long as they get a good variety of organic veggies and fruits, along with some grains, a small amount of seeds, and other vegan protein sources, they do great! Variety is the key, and this could be said for any dietary regimen.
Q: Do you regularly include a source of EFA’s in your rats diet? Which ones?
A: Their main source of concentrated EFA’s is in the form of whole flaxseeds, which we grind up and put in their breakfast most mornings. They also get the EFA’s that occur naturally in the whole, organic foods they consume, including the superfoods in their morning Mush.
Q: Many rat owners feed a staple dry mix as part of their rats diet. Do you include a grain/seed mix as the dry aspect of the diet?
A: Not anymore. I used to think it was necessary, but now I realize it was just a habit engrained (no pun in intended!) in me by the pet food industry. Organic oats mixed in their morning Mush, and the occasional serving of organic rice, millet, buckwheat, or quinoa – or a bowl of hot-air-popped popcorn (a special weekend treat) – is the extent of their grain consumption. Flaxseeds are their main seeds, and they occasionally have other seeds such as chia or sunflower seeds. But I keep seed consumption pretty low, as seeds are high in fat. Rats don’t have gallbladders and are susceptible to fat-induced tumors, so I keep their dietary fat consumption very low.
Q: Can you tell us what some of the staple foods are that your rats enjoy?
A: For breakfast, they have Green Mush mixed with purified water and one or more of the following: Mashed organic banana, Organic aflatoxin-free peanut butter, organic oats, organic flaxseeds, and/or a little bit of gluten-free miso.
Q: Do you include any bee products eg bee pollen, raw honey?
A: Bee products are not a regular part of their diet. However, occasionally, if I have access to some truly cruelty-free honey from a bee caretaker who does it right, then the ratties might indulge in some sort of honey-sweetened homemade treat. I’ve actually mostly used cruelty-free honey (and yes, there is such thing as cruelty-free honey, thankfully) for medicinal purposes. Mixed with cinnamon, I’ve used it successfully for a rescued rat with ringworm and one with cancer. Please note: Just for the record, this is not a medical claim; I don’t wish to be harassed by the Medical Cartel. This is merely an anecdotal firsthand report of a real life experience. 😉
Q: Many people feel meat is necessary for rats because they would eat it in the wild. What reasons do you feel support NOT feeding meat to pet rats?
A: I could go on at length about this. First of all, companion rats are not in the wild. They are in captivity, so they have the luxury (hopefully) of eating whatever their human caretakers choose to feed them. They are no longer in survival mode, so basing their diet on what they’d eat in survival mode is somewhat irrelevant, other than just making sure they get all their basic nuts-and-bolts nutritional requirements. But the main thing is, rats really don’t eat very much meat in the wild. They are omnivorous, meaning that they’ll eat whatever they can get for survival. You’ll never see a rat going out and attacking a cow, yet many commercial rodent foods contain dead cows. And you’ll never see them sucking on a cow’s – or a goat’s – udder, yet such milk products are often touted as necessary for rats. The main animal products that rats actually tend to eat in the wild are insects. However, insects often carry parasites (not to mention the fact that they feel pain, too), so we’re all better off leaving them in the wild! The protein obtained from eating an insect (or any other animal product a rat might come across in the wild) is better obtained from high quality plant-based sources. This includes algae products such as spirulina and chlorella (which are included in their morning Mush), beans, nuts, and seeds. Ratties love these foods, and they’re extremely healthful, so there’s no deprivation or suffering going on here! 😉
Q: Rat kittens need extra protein and fat in the rapid growth phase, how do you do this vegan style?
A: I actually do it the way nature intended. I make sure their mama has plenty to eat, and then I let mama’s body produce the perfect rat milk that is intended to give ratties the perfect kick-start in life. Then, as they wean off their mama’s breast, they just start eating the same foods she does. Over the years, I’ve taken in quite a few rescued pregnant mamas, put them on our healthy vegan diet, and watched as they’ve raised healthy litters of babies who have gone on to live especially long, healthful lives.
Q: Do you include superfoods or supplements in your rats diet? What are they?
A: I feed them Green Mush daily. It’s their main supplement/superfood/staple. My husband and I originally developed Green Mush over 15 years ago when we took in a rescued rat named June. I’d had many rats while growing up, but she was the first rat in my life after I met my husband. By then, we were already vegans ourselves and determined to feed June vegan as well, so we developed Green Mush specifically to make sure all of June’s nutritional requirements were met on a vegan diet. When she first arrived in our lives, she was already old and not in the best of health. After a short time on Green Mush, she had a “second youth” – her once-sparse, greying fur grew back full and thick and dark and shiny, and she thrived into very old age. Based on June’s incredible turnaround, a friend of ours asked if we could make some of June’s mush and bottle it for her own ratties, and before we knew it, Green Mush had become an actual product. It has gone on to nourish hundreds of other rescued ratties – and other companion animals – over the years, and we’ve received some amazing testimonials.
Q: What dietary adaptations do you make for elderly rats, whose ability to chew food may decrease with age?
A: Well, their Green Mush is already soft; and I just make sure their fruits and veggies are chopped or mashed in such a way that they get their fill before the younger rats get a chance to stash it all away.
Q: Do you think many common ailments with pet rats are down to incorrect diet eg. kidney damage, HLD?
A: Yes, I do. While there is some genetic component, which has been aggravated by generations of laboratory experiments that have altered the gene pool in some cases, there is a lot that comes down to nutrition. Kidney damage in particular is related to a high consumption of animal products. As an example of a superior vegan protein, spirulina is actually GOOD for the kidneys and reverses the damage; whereas animal-based proteins CAUSE kidney damage. As for HLD, I’ve only seen a few cases of it over the past 15 years, and it was always in rats who lived an unusually long life. It seems that, if they live long enough, there might come a point where the hind legs start to give out. I’ve never seen a vegan rat drop dead instantly of a heart attack or stroke. On a healthful diet, they tend to just live a long, long time and then slowly wear out.
Q: Do your rats eat a mainly RAW vegan diet? If they have cooked food, can you tell us what you include?
A: Yes, their diet is mainly raw. Their morning Green Mush meal is raw, and they also get fresh, raw organic juice, salad, and fruit every day. If they do have cooked food, it’s usually at dinnertime when they might partake in some steamed veggies, grains, beans, or popcorn. But not every night. It’s more of a weekend treat.
Q: What are your thoughts on soya? Soya is often recommended for vegans, do you think it is a good protein source for vegans? Do you feed it to your rats regularly?
A: As long as it’s organic and non-GMO, soy is a great food. It’s gotten a lot of bad press, but if you trace the source of much of this, you’ll discover an anti-soy marketing campaign originally driven by the meat and dairy industries, who don’t like competition. GMO soy, on the other hand, is just as bad as any other GMO food. But organic soy is a great source of protein. While the rats enjoy the occasional organic tofu lasagne, tempeh chunks, or edamame, it’s not a regular part of their diet. But they do consume miso, which contains organic soy. Soy actually has many great health benefits, including balancing hormones and helping to prevent mammary tumors, so I think it’s a shame that so many people have been duped by the tremendous anti-soy campaign out there in the alternative health arena.
Q: Many folk feeding their rats a vegetarian diet include eggs, what do you think of eggs as a suitable protein source for veggie rats? It’s often included for it’s vitamin D and B12 as well.
A: There are a lot of problems with eggs, besides the cholesterol. They have been linked to hormonally based cancers, and they have all of the other problems associated with animal products, including kidney damage, parasites, and the risk of other food borne illness. The best source of vitamin D is the sun. If the ratties never get any sun exposure, then it can’t hurt to give them a little bit of vegan vitamin D2 (contrary to popular belief, D3 is NOT superior) mixed in their food several times a week
just for safe measure. As for B12, I’ve never had an issue. My ratties get all they need from consuming their daily Green Mush. But again, if a person is concerned, then they could always add a little bit of B12 to the rats’ food several times per week for safe measure. It can’t hurt, and it avoids all the risks (not to mention cruelty) associated with eggs. But a truly healthy functioning body produces all the B12 it needs in the gut and doesn’t need to get it from an outside source.
Q: What condiments do you use to flavor your rats food/meals?
A: Well, they get a little bit of Celtic sea salt and/or nutritional yeast flakes on their occasional popcorn; and they get a little bit of miso on some of their other foods. That’s about it. They love everything we feed them, so it’s really never been an issue.
Q: How do you balance the yin/yang, sweet/savoury aspect to your rats diet?
A: Well, their morning Mush tends to be either sweet or savory, depending on what we mix into it on any given day. Mid-day they have veggie juice. And at dinner they have both salad and fresh fruit. For snacks, they might have a bowl of soaked/dehydrated buckwheat, other grains, sea veggies, or chlorella tabs. We keep a variety of plates/bowls of such foods and juices in their dining area, and this variety seems to satisfy whatever cravings they might have.
Q: How would you help a rat needing to gain weight?
A: I’d probably mix a bit of extra mashed organic banana and/or organic aflatoxin-free peanut butter (which we make low-fat by pouring the oil off the top of the jar when we first open it) into their Mush. I might also give them a small amount of organic avocado, although I don’t overdo it because of the fat content.
Q: What might your rats eat in a typical day?
A: Again, they start with a big dish of Green Mush for breakfast. For lunch, they have veggie juice. For dinner, they have more veggie juice, along with a salad (containing a variety of veggies, which we vary each day) and some fruit (again, we vary this each day) and usually a bowl of some other treat, whether it be chlorella tabs or dehydrated buckwheat or popcorn, to enjoy
throughout the night.
Q: You’re a very busy woman! Do you find feeding vegan takes a lot of food prep, are there any tips you can offer people feeding mainly fresh food? Do you menu plan at all!? Do you feed mono style?
A: Well, we usually make their breakfast/lunch in the morning while making the people food (which is pretty much the same: green stuff and juice). That’s also when most of the fruits and veggies get chopped up for the day. And the reason we made Green Mush was so that all of their superfoods/algaes would already be mixed up and ready to serve. Then, at dinner, while we’re preparing our own food, we also prepare theirs. So it’s really just a matter of incorporating their dietary schedule into our own (or vice versa, I suppose). I used to menu plan – such as oats and sunflower seeds on Monday; buckwheat and chia seeds on Tuesday; etc., etc.) but that just got a bit tedious after awhile. So now I just make sure we rotate the types of fruits/veggies they get each day, and that works out great. So I guess it’s not really mono style, although occasionally if I’m in a huge hurry out the
door, they’ll just get, for example, a bowl of mixed greens, a sliced banana, and a bowl of chlorella tablets to keep them fed throughout the day until I return home that evening. They’re just fine with that!
Q: Finally Kim, what do you feel about feeding vegan in general to our pets and why would you recommend this way of feeding?
A: Most people who have pets feel a certain love and compassion for their beloved companion animals. We only want what’s best for them, and we’d do anything to make sure they okay. When they get old and approach death, we often fall apart if we think they might be suffering; and we can struggle terribly over the painful decisions surrounding euthanasia. So if we can look into their innocent eyes and realize that they are sentient beings worthy of our compassion and respect, then we must remember that other animals out there are no different, whether they take the form of a rat or a cow or a chicken or whatever. They are also sentient beings who can feel pain and misery, loneliness and terror. The only difference is that we don’t know their names and they don’t live in our homes. But if they did, we would dote over them just as we do our own companions. Compassion is about making that connection. It’s about treating ALL animals with the same love and respect as we treat our own. And the bonus payback that comes from that selfless compassion is a longer, healthier life – for us AND our companion
Somebody from a forum wanted to ask you – ‘It is often recommend for vegans to mix foods like beans and rice to make a complete protein, is this necessary for rats?’
A: Actually, the whole beans and rice combo thing is a myth that was created and then dispelled years ago. It was originally suggested in the 1969/1971 book “Diet for a Small Planet” by Francis Moore Lappe. At that time, she mistakenly thought we needed to combine beans and grains in such a way as to best mimic the amino acid combination in meat products. That was because, back then, it was assumed that meat was a superior source of protein, and therefore, this was the preferred combination of amino acids for our own consumption. That book was read by a LOT of people, so the idea made it out into the mainstream. Afterward, it was discovered that it is not at all necessary to combine beans and grains in such a way as to mimic meat. As long as a person eats a varied diet, which includes a variety of essential amino acids eaten over the course of a day or a week – but not necessarily all in the same meal – we thrive. And this is easily accomplished by eating a vegan diet that incorporates a variety of different foods, without giving any thought at all to specific combinations. Ms. Lappe actually explained this in a future book, but apparently that one didn’t reach as many people, so the original myth stuck. Again, it was based on a now-outdated notion that we need to mimic meat in our diet in order to be healthy. What has since been discovered is that we are far healthier if we DON’T eat meat or try to mimic it in our diets. It has been proven in long-term vegan humans (such as myself for almost 25 years), vegan dogs (the oldest one I’m aware of lived to be at least 27), and for the past 15 years, in vegan rats (who tend to live an average of a year longer than their non-vegan counterparts). Long live vegan ratties! 🙂