Alternatives to Culling
- Unabridged

Mary Ann Isaksen
From the Jan/Feb 1997 Rat & Mouse Gazette

Culling - what a personal and controversial subject. No matter what side of the issue you stand on, you're sure to upset someone by declaring your beliefs. Although I respect each persons decision whether or not to cull, when done in a humane manner, nothing would make me happier than to see the practice of culling cease to exist for all eternity. Wanda Wilson of the Northeast Rat & Mouse Club International posed the question "How do you do it?" in a recent issue of the Journal, so I'm taking this opportunity to try to convince people that culling is not necessary.

Not only do I not cull, but I also rescue more rats than I should. Of course, this practice has made it difficult for me to continue with my own breeding programs at times. All of my rats are pets, and each has their own special name. I breed very selectively, and only enough to continue my lines. My current numbers are around 50 rats, plus five Giant rats, which sometimes makes me feel very guilty because I cannot spend the kind of time with each pet that I believe they deserve. I believe that when you have and raise any kind of animal, there is a certain amount of guilt that will be involved, but I'm not willing to add to that guilt by culling them, so these are my suggestions to those breeders looking for alternatives.


I think the most important thing is to pick a few colors or markings that you really like and concentrate on perfecting them. When you try to breed too many different colors, markings, or varieties, you end up with far too many animals to place in good homes and are left wondering what to do with them. I have found that I can breed more colors by breeding animals together that I know will produce more than one color in each litter. For example: I will breed a Blue Agouti to a Blue so I get both Blue Agoutis and Blues in the litter. Occasionally, the litter will also contain Pink-Eyed Whites - another beautiful show quality animal. In a recent litter, I bred a Black female to a Blue male and got Blacks, Blues, PEW's, and Minks. Many of them were show quality. Although I breed very selectively, I have still managed to produce many Best In Show rats and therefore, have accomplished what we, as hobby breeders, set out to accomplish.


Many breeders put animals together until they are sure the female is pregnant, forget to remove the male in time, and whammo, an unwanted litter. Since all of my rats are pets, I cannot afford to take my male away from his cagemates that long and risk not being able to put him back in with them, so I plan my breeding, check the female nightly until I find her in season, and put them together for no longer than overnight. His job being done, the male can return to his cagemates right away and so can the female, until a few days prior to giving birth. I also make sure that I never have more than two litters at the same time and try to breed at the perfect time for the babies to be ready for a show. It's always easier to find homes for babies when it's showtime, but even then, I make sure that the babies are going to people who will love them, make sure that they get the treatment they deserve, and will never be snake food!

Many breeders also believe that they need to breed multiple litters of the same color or marking at one time. I knew one breeder who had nine litters of Siamese all at one time (all semi-related). In my opinion, this was clearly breeding in excess with full knowledge that most would end up as snake food. A couple of litters at one time would be sufficient to continue the lines, and would be much easier to place in good homes.

We all know that there really is no money in breeding rats for show or pet, so unless you are a snakefood breeder (meaning that is your occupation - how you make your living), it's best to leave that job up to those who are. I think it is really tragic that our "fancy" produces so many feeders. After all, we in the "fancy" are supposed to be "hobby" breeders (people who are doing it for the love of the animals and for fun), and with that goes a certain responsibility to the animals we say we love so much. Numbers of animals bred shouldn't be our main concern, however, quality of life should be, as stated by David Jordan in a wonderful article that recently appeared in the Northeast Rat & Mouse Club International's Journal and in Rat & Mouse Gazette.


After handling the babies to make sure they will be excellent pets, some pet shops will buy fancy rats with pedigrees at a higher price than feeder rats, and therefore, must sell them for a price that will ensure they will not be snake food. Motivation must still be the welfare of the animals rather than the money, because they won't normally take too many of them, and quite often, they will sit in the shop for months. Unfortunately, these same pet shops still accept rats from professional feeder breeders who don't care about the health of their animals, and many of these pedigreed rats end up with viruses or other diseases that can kill them, or kill the other rats or mice in an unsuspecting purchasers home, so this is still not a great alternative.


Honestly, I believe that the only way to ensure that you do not have to cull is by limiting the number of animals being produced in your ratteries and mouseries, and being prepared to keep your unwanted babies if you cannot place them in good homes. I know this is impossible for some people to do, so as a last resort, a humane method of euthanasia should be used.

Breeders of any kind of animal, or people who just have a lot of animals should have a really good rapport with a veterinarian. I have been seeing the same vet for over 16 years, and he gives me special privileges and deals that he wouldn't dream of giving the average pet owner. If you work with one vet and make sure your vet knows your entire situation, he/she should be willing to help make your hobby more humane. After all, a good vet wanted to be a vet because they love animals - for good vets, the financial end of it is secondary (but that's not to say that they still don't need to make a good living).


If you can still get chloroform in your state by prescription, talk to your vet about obtaining a prescription. You might even want to talk to him/her about getting an even better inhalant like halothane, or about getting a really good price to have him put them down humanely for you (with an inhalant, not an injection!). Don't be afraid to talk to your vet about this subject! I truly believe that inhalant anesthesia methods are the only humane way to put an animal to sleep.

If you absolutely cannot get your vet to cooperate with you, then the next best thing would be to use the dry ice method, making sure that the dry ice never touches the animal. I don't like this method as much as the inhalant anesthesia because the animal does die from asphyxiation, although it is very fast (so I'm told--I've never used this method). People wishing to use the bodies as food for other animals frequently use this method. A better solution would be to find a vet who will work with you!


There are lots of other methods being used to cull unwanted animals, most of which are very inhumane.

  • Cervical dislocation: Should not be done unless you are an expert and should never even be considered for a rat.
  • Flushing down the toilet: What a horrible way to die. Before even thinking about doing this, contemplate if drowning would be a humane way for you to die.
  • Freezing: Hypothermia is neither short nor painless. I remember reading about a fellow club members (Brian Lee) near death experience by freezing. He went through it step by step for us to better understand how inhumane this method is. Yes, in the end the animal appears to have died peacefully, but the steps leading up to that death are horrendously painful. Think about how your bare hands begin to feel in a winter snowstorm before they go numb - pretty painful. Imagine how you would feel if someone you knew and loved put you in a giant freezer, turned out the light, locked the door, and went away. Imagine your terror! What an agonizing and lengthy way to die.
  • Releasing in the wild: These are domestic animals we're talking about. They have no experience being in the wild. The fear alone from being dumped in an open space, after living in a tank, is inhumane. Then think about being ripped apart by a cat, a hawk, or some other animal. Not very comforting.
  • Selling or using for live reptile food: Animals in the wild have a chance to escape this horrible death, but an animal put in live with a reptile suffers not only the death, but the unnecessary fear of being in with that reptile until the reptile decides to eat it (sometimes for days). If a rat or mouse has been handled by humans and has grown to trust them, I believe it is really dreadful (unconscionable) for a human to put that poor trusting little creature in with a reptile. I know a lot of people don't think that animals can reason, but I believe that they can, and can even love, trust, and fear.


There really aren't any good answers to the overpopulation problems we face, except ensuring that we don't get overpopulated to begin with. This country has campaigns in place to try and educate the public about spaying and neutering our dogs and cats to stop the senseless deaths of those animals. Why should rats and mice be any different? (And with the proper supervision, unwanted litters are totally controllable even without spaying and neutering.) Dog and cat breeders that show their animals do not breed in excess like some people in the rat and mouse fancy. They breed to perfect the breed, but also limit the numbers. Maybe we should take a lesson from them.

If we wish to continue breeding large quantities of animals and not feel like murderers in the process, then we need to spend a lot more time and effort educating the public about the wonderful attributes of rats and mice as pets to open up more pet homes to be able to place all of our animals in, and give them the respect and love they deserve.

From Webster's Dictionary Hobby: A pursuit outside one's regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.

Key word is relaxation. Your hobby shouldn't make you feel like a murderer!