The Chilean Rock Rat
Species: aconaemys fuscus
The Chilean rock rat is native to the mountains of central Chile and Argentina. These dark brown rodents live high above the ground, where the mountains are covered with deep snow over half a year. These animals make their underground tunnels in open woods and among barberry shrubs in well-drained soil. They can also be found higher up the mountains, in open grasslands.
The length of the Chilean rock rat ranges from 14 to 20 cm, and the tail is extra 5-8 cm. The back of the rock rat is dark brown, the belly can be red-brown or white. The fur is quite long and silky. They have big heads, pointed noses, large and rounded ears. The legs are quite short and toes end with long and sharp claws.
Chilean rock rats are very sociable, they live in groups. They tend to dig communal burrows. They are nomadic, they move to new areas when their food supplies are exhausted.
Like most rodents, Chilean rock rats are skittish and cautious towards people. On the other hand, they are extremely curious and you should use this feature for establishing relationship with them. In order to gain the rodent’s trust, you will need to have patience and to follow some simple rules. When you approach the cage, you should speak to the animal in a quiet and calm voice. Before you open the cage, the animal has to see you, your presence shouldn’t come as surprise. When you hand-feed the rock rat, you should move your hand with the treat in it very smoothly towards the animal. If the rat runs out of its cage and stays on the hind legs when you call it, you should put the treat in your open palm and let the animal approach you.
Before acquiring the Chilean rock rat, you will have to set a proper home for it, so that the rodent feels comfortable in your house.
The most important thing is to prepare a good house for your rat. The ideal option is a wiry enclosure or a well-ventilated cage with the bottom area of 1 sq.m. and the walls about 70 cm high. Another option is a plastic cage, but it is not the ideal choice, because a curious rodent will gnaw on it and can get poisoned or else can escape. The cage mustn’t ever be located under direct sunlight and be away from radiators, windows, TV, loud music and strong smells. It is not recommended to keep the rock rat outdoors since they are not adapted for life in our climate. You should install in the cage a house for your pet, many shelves, stones, logs and driftwood for the rodent to chew and to gnaw on. These animals love having many hiding places.
Near the cage you should install an exercise wheel: these animals are very active and have to move a lot. Also you will have to put in the cage two food bowls: one for pellets and the other for vegetables, a water bottle and a hay net.
It is best to use shredded paper, rags or pressed corn cobs for litter, because rock rats can be allergic to wood cuttings. Everything in the cage has to be fixed tightly so that you pet doesn’t drop the objects and get injured.
You should clean the cage when it gets dirty. But you will have to wash the bowls and take away the uneaten food daily. Check the house and wooden platforms, and if you find dried feces and dirt, it has to be removed. The general cleaning that involves changing food and water bowls and disinfection of the house shall be performed once a month. Regarding the sand baths, you should put the bowl with sand in the cage once a day and remove it after the bath.
You can let the Chilean rock rat out for walks in the house, but before that you will have to take away all plants, materials and other objects that can harm the rodent. Also you will need to cover the electrical wires, since degus chew everything they see.
These animals don’t need any specific or complicated care. They are very neat animals. They take good care of their coat and as a rule don’t require any extra grooming. So you don’t have to comb them. Sand baths help to remove grease from the rat’s coat. You can add to the sand one teaspoon of talc powder: it will prevent skin irritation. You mustn’t ever wash your rock rat. If it gets very dirty, you can wipe it carefully with wet towels. You don’t have to cut the claws of the rock rat, since they grind when animals run around on rough surfaces. However you might need to cut the claws of old animals.
The Chilean rock rat’s menu in the wild mainly consists of grass, grains, leaves, roots and hay. They don’t like moist or juicy food.
In captivity you can feed them with commercial dry mixes aimed at degus, their close relatives. Sugar and sweet food are forbidden for them.
It is best to feed the rock rat with small portions several times a day. Then they digest food properly. You must control carefully the condition of food in the cage and take it away every day so that it doesn’t rot. Don’t change the rat’s menu abruptly, it inevitably results in dysbacteriosis.
Your pet must always have a bowl or a bottle with fresh cleaned water. You will have to change the water daily. The water must be of room temperature.
Until recently scientists believed that the Chilean rock rat hibernates in winter, but the latest research has proven it wrong. They are active throughout winter and even come on the surface. They are skittish. In captivity they tend to chew and gnaw on everything they see, so careful control is required.
The most common health issues are respiratory diseases, hair loss, fungal diseases, diarrhea.
Average life span is about 5 years.