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6 Common Mistakes New Rat Owners Make

I've been a pet owner my whole life and a pet writer for 6 years. I enjoy reading and learning all about small pets, especially rodents!

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New rat owners often find themselves confused about what they need for their new pets and how to best care for them, and the advice they get from a pet shop is not always beneficial. It can be hard to get properly educated on rat care as there aren’t many high-quality resources available to teach people what their new furry family members need to thrive.

If you’re a new rat owner and unsure if you’re doing things right, look at our list of six common mistakes new rat owners make to see if there’s anything you can improve!

1. Getting a Cage That Is Too Small

This is the number one mistake I see new rat owners make, and it’s not surprising, considering that often small cages are recommended in pet stores.

As a general rule, each rat should have at least 2.5 square feet of space in the cage, although the minimum cage size should be 8 square feet. So if you have 2 or 3 rats, aim for a cage of at least 8 square feet. Your cage should have at least 10 square feet if you have four rats. Now add 2.5 square feet for every additional rat.

To make it easier, you can simply enter the cage dimensions in this rat cage calculator to see how many square feet it has and how many rats can comfortably live inside.

2. Getting Only One Rat

Rats are extremely social animals. They live in large colonies in the wild and should not be destined to live alone as pets, either. They need company of their own kind to socialize and play, and no amount of time spent with their human owner can replace the interaction rats get from having another rat friend.

Always get at least two rats when adopting, although three is even better. Rats are prone to health issues; if one of the three rats dies early, the other two would still have company. Don’t worry, caring for three rats is not much different than caring for two. The cost of keeping 2 or 3 rats is pretty much the same, and so is the amount of time spent on cleaning or hanging out with your pets.

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3. Not Properly Introducing Pet Rats

If you’re merging a pair or a group of rats from two different sources, it’s not enough to pop them in the cage together, thinking they’ll live happily ever after. Rats must be correctly introduced and bonded before they can start living together, or they can start fighting and being aggressive toward one another.

One of the most popular methods of introducing rats is the Carrier Method.

4. Not Rat Proofing All Free-Roam Areas

Rats have sharp teeth and aren’t afraid to use them.

Before letting your rats free-roam in your place or a small designated area, do the following things:

  • Remove electrical cords and cover any holes or vents where they can squeeze through and escape.
  • Keep the toilet lid down if they have access to the bathroom.
  • Keep the garbage bin closed so your rats don’t eat something they shouldn’t.
  • Rremove or protect everything you don’t want your rats to chew on, such as curtains or furniture.

Rat-proofing your home before letting your new pets free roam will save you lots of headaches and money on replacing damaged things.

5. Not Finding a Vet on Time

Finding a vet is something many pet owners start to look into only when one of their rats gets sick. Rats are very good at hiding pain, and if you see these signs of illness, it often means that your rat is already very sick indeed and needs a vet visit.

Unfortunately, finding a vet that treats rats is not as straightforward as with cats and dogs, so finding one can take some time. You’ll need an exotic vet, so it’s best to prepare and find a vet for your rats as soon as you adopt them. Call around and try to find a vet experienced in treating rats.

Finding a vet on time can make a huge difference and help you start treatment for your sick rat on time and, consequently, even save their life.

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6. Cleaning the Cage Too Often or Not Often Enough

While you would expect that cleaning non-stop would make the rat cage less smelly, this can actually have the opposite effect. Cleaning a rat cage too often can result in more odor.

That is because if you’re fully cleaning your rat’s cage every day or every other day, you’re stripping all of their smell off the cage. By rat logic, they have to “redo” the work of spraying and peeing to mark their territory.

So cleaning too often can have a contrary result than what you’d expect.

On the other hand, not cleaning the cage often enough also makes it smelly, and it’s not healthy for the rats, so don’t go two weeks without thoroughly cleaning the cage either.

If you’re a new rat owner, you can start by fully cleaning the cage weekly until you find what works best for your situation. Depending on the cage size and the number of rats, the frequency of cleaning will vary for each individual.

Many new (and existing) rat owners made some of these mistakes, but you shouldn’t feel bad about it. We all make mistakes—the important thing is that we learn from them and work on improving and fixing them.

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© 2022 Monika Flora