I am an avid animal lover and expert in rat husbandry. I love to write about animals.
Pet Rat Care Supplies: Do You Have What It Takes?
Pet rats have been around for hundreds of years, and research and developing studies have revealed the care that is necessary to ensure a long and happy life for our pets. Your rat's health depends on a variety of factors, like their diet, the toys in their cage, any supplements or vitamins you give them, their veterinarian, and other needs. The big question is: Do you have what it takes to be a good rat owner?
1. List of Important Phone Numbers for Veterinarians, Breeders, and Pet Sitters
First and foremost, you should have a list that includes a phone number for a great rat veterinarian in your area, locations and phone numbers for reputable pet rat breeders, and phone numbers for pet sitters who will be watching your pet rats in case of emergency.
Finding a reputable veterinarian may be hard, so you can find out this information from fancy pet rat breeders in your area. Breeders of fancy rats, such as hairless rats, tailless rats, and rex rats, will usually have a trusted vet's phone number in case of emergency. Professional rat breeders know things can go wrong very quickly with a sick or injured rat. If you do not have a good resource, try calling several vet clinics in your area to see if any practice pet rat medicine.
2. Proper Cage or Enclosure
Your fancy pet rats are going to need the best of cages. Since rats love to play and explore, your cage should be as big as your room and budget allows. The bar spacing needs to be under 1/2 inch if possible, to keep your rat from becoming injured in the bars. Rat head injuries can become common with too wide of spacing; they will try to force themselves through and get stuck.
You also need to have a solid metal, plastic, or hardwood bottom in the rat enclosure, something that they cannot chew through. It should be leak-proof as well, and preferably nonporous. A porous bottom will allow the cage to harbor odor. The Kaytee Multi-Level is one of my personal favorites. Cheap rat cages are easy to come by as long as you know what you're looking for, and you can even build a DIY rat cage all by yourself.
3. Rat Vitamins for Optimal Health
Pet rats should have vitamins and supplements to ensure that they stay healthy and live longer. Rats require a vastly varied diet, but most of the time owners cannot provide it. It may even be hard to find the proper rat formula to feed rats in your area. By giving your rats vitamin supplements, you can help to fill in gaps in the rats' diets. Many veterinarians recommend supplements for our animals' health, and vitamin supplements for rats are usually added to the water bottle or mixed in with the food.
4. Healthy, Safe, Nontoxic Bedding and Litter
One of the biggest causes of respiratory illness and failure in rats, as well as fatalities from toxins, is using the wrong bedding. Many wood beddings are NOT suitable for pet rats. They can poison the rat, or drastically reduce respiratory health. Avoid these beddings at all costs.
Recycled cardboard bedding is a good option, as well as some natural litters. Many rat owners use fleece as a cage liner, and simply wash the liners after a few days of use. Any litter that gives off a strong smell, is dusty, or litter that could harm the animal if ingested is a very bad idea. I find that Carefresh bedding, which is widely found in retailers across the country, is an exceptional choice and often used with rats.
Dangers Posed by the Wrong Bedding
Here are some rat health problems that may arise from dangerous bedding:
- Rats will wheeze and begin to sneeze a lot.
- They will develop discharge from the eyes and nose.
- They may seem to constantly cough/choke/wheeze no matter what they are doing.
- Rats develop labored breathing.
5. Proper Formula for a Balanced and Complete Diet
If your rats are not getting the right foods, they will not be healthy. Just like humans, pet rats need a balanced rat diet that will give them all of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that their growing bodies need. The most reliable staple food we can give them is a rat lab block formula.
This needs to be supplemented with fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. Yes! Even meats! Rats are omnivores and need a steady supply of protein in their diets.
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6. Quality Rodent Water Bottles: Avoid Illness and Stinky Cages
A good water bottle will take a rat owner a very long way. It should be made of a sturdy plastic, with a metal ball and nipple. Rats are natural-born chewers, and this metal design will keep them from tearing it apart and ingesting it. Usually, the bottle is made from plastic, making it easy to see the water level. I advise against using water bowls because rats can be fairly messy. They will walk through their water, potty in it—it just becomes a major hassle, to tell you the truth.
A quality water bottle will be much less likely to develop a leak. As a rat owner and breeder, I have owned the dreaded drippers. The drippers will leak water into the cage, causing a big funky mess that the rats will parade through, stirring up what would be considered sewage. This is VERY stinky. Hopefully, your lesson is learned BEFORE attempting to use a cheap water bottle or a bowl! You're welcome!
7. Proper Cage Cleaning Supplies
You will absolutely regret it if you don't invest in cleaning supplies. I always used Dawn dish detergent and super hot water to clean my cages, cage décor, and rat dishes. This worked very well for me! Clorox bleach is also important to have in case a severe illness breaks out in your colony. It should be mixed with water first. After the cage/décor has soaked in the bleach solution, it needs to be rinsed and allowed to air dry.
If you want to, you can also invest in specially made cage cleaning solutions for rats and other small animals; but truth be told, I never thought it was worth the extra cash. Dawn is only $1, bleach is only $1, and nothing performs as well as bleach does. Dawn is 100% nontoxic as well. Hopefully, this makes sense!
Do You Use Bleach?
8. Safe, Warm, Cozy House
Just like every other animal and human, rats need their personal space, and a place to call home. After all; the cage is more like a yard. There are several different houses that can be used for rats: from the classic igloo home, to edible homes, and even the handy dandy cardboard box. Yep, rats love cardboard boxes to hide away in just like cats do!
Keep your rat happy and pampered with a hammock. This might not seem like a needed rat cage accessory at first. However, almost all experienced rat owners keep hammocks in their rat enclosures. Why? Because rats are OBSESSED with their hammocks! Rats love to lounge in high places. A hammock is the perfect place to hang out for them, and they might even abandon their house for it. Rats are much like us; they like to have their options.
10. Rat Salt Licks and Mineral Wheels
While this is not a complete necessity, salt licks and mineral wheels for rats are a great idea. They don't use them very much, but they are a very cheap investment that will probably last a lifetime. Certain minerals might not be in their food, and they can supplement their diets with a rat mineral wheel. They are similar to the salt and mineral licks that many equine owners use for their horses; an addition to the diet just in case!
11. Safe and Healthy Shampoo
We all know that sometimes, our animals just downright need a bath. Like dogs, pet rats can get a bit stinky. Both male and female rats have stinky urine, and use this urine to mark their territories. Rats will even mark their humans. All of this urine will get on their paws, tails, and fur; giving them a not so pleasant odor. You should choose a safe, non-toxic shampoo brand for your fancy rats; this way, they will stay clean and smelling great.
Certain rats, such as rexes, double rexes, hairless, and patchwork hairless are all going to need a little extra care when bathing. Rexes have brittle, dry hair; patchwork hairless and double rex both have extremely brittle hair as well, and you may notice that it falls off during bathing which may be completely normal. The two types of rats tend to shed most of their hair, and it regrows.
Hairless rats have sensitive skin which is prone to becoming dried or irritated; a homemade, nontoxic oatmeal bath is probably your best bet for hairless rats or any rats with sensitive skin for that matter.
12. Sturdy Food Dishes
Rats continuously chew, and most of their cage accessories will become victims of the rats' incessant chewing and gnawing. This means that whatever food dish a rat has should be able to withstand chewing. I highly recommend strong, ceramic styled bowls. These tend to perform fairly well, and never seem to be chewed on. They are also heavy, which makes them much less likely to tip under the rat's weight when feasting.
13. First Aid and Injury Care
As you already know, small animals will sustain injuries from playtime and accidents from time to time. If your pet rat becomes injured, you will need to have a good rat antiseptic on hand. You should be very careful with the antiseptic you use. Bactine is a WONDERFUL solution I have found; it prevents infection, promotes healing, and easily rinses off to avoid ingestion.
Using Bactine With Rats
- Apply the bactine generously to the affected area.
- Allow the rat to hang out in your hands as you prevent the rat from licking the sore.
- After the solution has been allowed to soak into the wound for 3–5 minutes, rinse the wound with warm water, dab with an ice cube to bring down inflammation or slow any bleeding, and lightly blot it until dry.
Usually, rats are NOT very friendly with bandages. They tear them up quickly and can easily get out of any sort of bandage.
When to Use Antiseptic on Your Rat's Wounds
Know when to use an antiseptic on your rat's sores, cuts, scrapes, and other injuries. The indications include:
- Small cuts on your rat's legs or paws that are actively bleeding.
- Cut or torn ears on your rat (CAUTION: Do NOT get antiseptic or water inside of the rat's ear.)
- Bite wounds. (Severe wounds may require stitches.)
- Infected scratches, insect bites, or hot spots on your rat.
Avoid using antiseptic around your rat's face, nose, mouth, eyes, and ears unless you are certain that you will not get the antiseptic in these delicate areas.
14. Makeshift Nursing Bottles for Orphaned Kits
When breeding and raising baby rats, all breeders need to be prepared to hand-raise orphaned or abandoned kits. When you breed fancy rats, there is the risk of the mother dying from infection or other causes, and there is the risk of the female rat abandoning her kits. In other cases, the mother may not be able to nurse her kits—but takes good care of them otherwise. No matter what, the baby rats have to be able to nurse. By having a baby rat nursing bottle on hand, you can take over hand-feeding.
Another wise idea is to always have two female rats giving birth at the same time. This is a hugely successful security measure for all rat breeders. When two females are bred at the same time, there is an adoptive rat mother available to adopt in babies in case of rejection, feeding difficulties, or death of the mother rat.
15. Emergency Foods for Sick and Injured Rats
When a rat becomes so sick or injured that they lose their interest in food, it may become necessary to hand feed the pet rat. You will need to maneuver the syringe into the rat's mouth, towards the back of the tongue. Be careful not to choke the rat. Most rats will agree with you when you do this, by ingesting the food as you squeeze the syringe plug lightly.
Always remember: You should aim for high protein, high-calorie content, B vitamins, and carbohydrates in an emergency food. I also recommend adding a small dose of small animal vitamins to the emergency food before feeding. Emergency rat food can help to save your rat's life by ensuring that his or her digestive system doesn't shut down during the course of recovery.
Recommended Emergency Foods
- Protein and carb-rich jarred baby food.
- Kitten milk replacement formula.
- Human infant milk replacement formula.
- Pureed peanut butter, bananas, enriched white bread, and yogurt.
16. Extra Aquariums and Enclosures
No matter what, you should always have 1 spare aquarium or rat enclosure for every occupied rat cage that you own. Especially as a breeder! A pregnant female fancy rat is going to require 2 extra cages: 1 for her birth and to raise the kits in, and then both extras will be used to house the babies in during the weaning process (males and females separated). Therefore, you're going to need plenty of temporary homes for the mothers-to-be.
If you own many rats, you need the spare cages in case of injury, illness, or aggression. Injured rats need to be separated so that cagemates and toys in the cage do not further complicate the injury. Isolation is also required for ill rats, so that the infection, parasite, or disease does not infect other pet rats. As for aggressive rats, they should never be kept with other pet rats. An aggressive pet rat could injure or kill its cagemates. Hairless rats and double rex rats, along with dwarf rats, are susceptible to aggressive rats and are easily injured.
17. Travel Crate (Small Animal Carrier)
Should you decide to go on a trip, move between houses, or take your pet rats to a family member's home for a while, you're going to need a travel carrier. Small animal travel carriers are important—they are small, sturdy, and protective. They give the animal enough room to move around, but not enough to become injured during a quick stop. Many small animal carriers are enclosed with fabric and have little windows, allowing the small animal to hide or see the world around it.
18. Pet Health Insurance and Home or Renter's Insurance
This one might sound a little off, but let me explain: pet rats, especially breeding rats, can be a very expensive investment! Veterinarian bills can pile up quickly, and a single incident can cost well over a couple hundred dollars. Pet insurance has become very common, and is a great way to minimize veterinary expenses in the future.
Now, homeowner's or renter's insurance might seem like it's a stretch as well; but how much have you spent on your rat cages, rat toys and decorations, and even the rats themselves? If something happens to your home, that investment is gone. That goes for everything in your home. It's wise in general to have coverage, but the sheer amount of money that you invest in your rats is one more good reason. Don't forget about them!
19. Treats, Treats, and More Treats
This one should be very clear. All pets love treats, including rats. That cute little dumbo rat sitting in the corner isn't going to be able to buy his own treats! You can buy them, or make them. Or, you could simply give them human treats, too. Rats can enjoy many treats that we do, including chocolate. Just be careful and mindful of the dos and don'ts for the ratty diet!
20. Lots and Lots of Love
This should have been #1—but what better way to end our list? Pet rats, baby rats, breeder rats, rescue rats, AND show rats ALL need tons of love to prosper and be the best human companions that they can be. You should always shower them in love, and spoil them to no end. Share your pie with them. Buy them that fancy hammock that you know they're just going to rearrange anyway. Give them the rat mansion deluxe for a home.
No matter what it is—you're sure that they will appreciate it. Enjoy your newfound best friends, and never forget—they'll always need your love and compassion!
- Top 10 Reasons to Have Rats as a Pet
Want to have rats as a pet? Rats are great pets, and have so many different benefits. If you have decided to have rats as pets, here are some reasons as to why you've made a great decision!
- How To Get Pet Rat Cages Cheap
Have you been wondering how to get pet rat cages cheap? Here's a few ideas and tips to avoid spending lots of money!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2013 angryelf
sophie on June 19, 2020:
Rattielover on July 11, 2019:
I cringed basically the whole time reading this. So, so much of this information is false and potentially dangerous. DON’T bathe your rats and DON’T keep your rats in an aquarium. Those delicate respiratory systems can’t handle the ammonia build up that aquariums are notorious for. The rest of the information didn’t seem too wrong but after reading the suggestion for an aquarium I couldn’t trust any of it. Do your research before you buy any pet and don’t trust one source as demonstrated by this article.
byson hassan on November 15, 2018:
i owned 25 rats dumbos and top eared, i love them as they are awesome companions, very inteligent and affectionate. They can also be very entertaining as well to watch, female rats are more playful and active than the male rats as they can be quite lazy at times.lol.
but overall amazing pets to love and enjoy!
Tawny on August 03, 2018:
I do not own a pet rat yet im gonna get one next month so im trying to learn everything about them is it okay to use any kind of carefresh bedding or does it have to be a certain kind or does it not matter as long as it is that brand
ChristyPlayz on January 01, 2018:
*Most* of this information is false i am extremely disappointed if you want actual TRUE information u should check out Ratgirl44 or TheRatGuru or even Peachypetparadise on youtube
Ruth Dandrea on September 27, 2017:
TY! so much for this info. I have had many different kinds of pets. I absolutely love my Zero. He has my ❤.
brenda gates on March 04, 2017:
This is a wonderful article, I give Izzie granola bars and he loves them not the ones with almonds or peanuts. but there are so many different kinds out there that I find ones he loves. and yogurt drops he loves them. he hated the hammock but loves his glass cookie jar. I use flannel in his main cage and shavings in his side cage and grass I grow in an old aquarium for him to play in. I have a piece of left over drainage pipe he loves to play in that. he likes different places to hide and nap in. he loves plastic balls and a little rope toy I get him bird toys he love them. also the bird chew bars he loves the seeds. he adores organic dried turkey jerky and chicken jerky great source of protein. he lives in a really big clear plastic tub with a tube attached to a second tub which is his play tub. he can see everything that is going on and its easy to clean in the shower.
I use ferret tubes to connect the tubs. we drilled a hole and used plumbers tape to attach them which makes it easy to remove them at cleaning time. he is hairless so he wears little tiny flannel shirts I make him for winter. its important to keep him warm! I made his little house out of pine boards. we drilled holes in the tub up high so he wouldn't chew them. the first tub had holes all over it and he chewed on them so we had to start over and we only put the holes near the top and in the lid of his play tub but not his sleep tub because we wanted him to be warm so it has a solid lid. warm the drill bit and the plastic wont crack.
Marsh on January 09, 2017:
They loooove toys!!! Tunnels, they love tearing up wrapping paper and toilet paper. They absolutely love food. Apples and Grapes are great for them
Samantha on December 22, 2016:
Dont forget chews and lots and lots of toys, for rats need enrichment to have a happy life.
Peyton on May 26, 2015:
Always give your rats as much as you can :) the bigger the cage, the better. They prefer climbing to running so I would advise tall cages rather than long cages. My favorite is the double critter nation cage that I have five girls in. The cheapest I've found it is on 1800petsupplies.com but it may be more than going to petco or petsmart after shipping fees. If you sign up for the website emails they always have good deals going on, especially around the holidays!
Peyton, Reptar, Kratos, Maribel, Jade, Aria, Bellatrix, and Sapphira
angryelf (author) from Tennessee on January 02, 2015:
Indeed they are :) I've raised them gor going on 14 years now. Since i was only 11. I actually had the same nickname as your clscreen name when i was in middle school- that's a blast from the past! Thanks for visiting my page! :)
RatGirl on January 02, 2015:
Rats are amazing clean great pets they can be litter trained and if you want to persuade your parents to let you show some cute rat pictures and say that pet rats carry less diseases than pet dogs or cats which is totally true if they say no ask why? if they smell say that you will clean the cage every week if they say other thing that they will escape and stuff make up reasons.Also a male rats has wiry hair and is not soft and doesn't have bright fur but females have soft silky smooth bright coulerd fur.Also when you are buying a rat don't pick the one in the corner pick one wich is playfull not aggressive and has yellow teeth because white teeth means they are stressed and have dental problems if need any help about rats write bellow. HOPE this helped;)
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 29, 2014:
This is certainly an in depth hub about how to properly care for pet rats. I would not be tempted to have them as pets as I prefer dogs and cats, but if they make people happy then it is good. UUI votes and will pin this to my animals board on Pinterest.
Georgie Lowery from North Florida on December 25, 2013:
A good friend of mine has pet rats. I find them creepy, but they make him happy. I guess there are a lot of things to know before adopting one. I'll pass on your information. :)