Dani is an avid animal lover with a special penchant for poodles, ponies, and rats.
This is a quick guide on how to care for your pet rat. While they are low-maintence pets, rats require the same basic needs as any other pet. The article includes tips on choosing a cage, feeding, handling, and other issues.
What Cage Should I Get for My Pet Rat?
The best place to keep your rat is in a wire cage. It isn't recommended to keep your rat in a glass aquarium tank as these don't provide adequate ventilation.
- Size. A good rule of thumb is two cubic feet for every rat. While they are very small creatures, they have active minds and bodies and will begin to feel isolated if kept in too small of a cage.
- Floor. In order to prevent bumblefoot and make your rat feel more secure, choose solid flooring for your cage. This can be thin wooden boards, plastic, or even cardboard—the important thing is that there is something between your rat's delicate feet and their wire cage.
- Bedding. Even if your cage has a solid floor, it is still important to line it with bedding. Cloth is a common and inexpensive option but can require frequent maintenance to wash and keep clean. Newspaper is another viable option. Avoid pine and cedar chips for your rat's bedding, as these have been known to cause respiratory issues. This can become especially dangerous if you have a glass tank.
While their wild counterparts can tolerate cold and hot weather quite well, domesticated rats need to be kept in the same environment as you. Garages aren't suitable for rats unless they are properly heated and cooled like the rest of your house.
What Sort of Bedding Do I Need for My Pet Rat?
There are many bedding options for the cage or habitat of your pet rat.
- Cloth. I would consider this the best option, both for the health of your rat and your wallet. A soft, absorbent towel folded neatly in the bottom of the cage can suffice. You rarely have to buy new towels for your rat's cage, but you should change and wash their bedding at least once a week, and two to three times a week if your rat is not toilet-trained. It is also important to make sure there are no loose threads to make sure they don't get tangled up in their feet. If you choose to use towel or cloth bedding, be sure to use a gentle, unscented detergent to prevent respiratory issues.
- Shredded paper. This is also a relatively inexpensive option. Shredded paper creates little dust, which keeps their delicate respiratory systems safe. It's also easy to make. Phonebook pages, newspaper, and discarded office documents can all be shredded to make for disposable rat litter or bedding. Glossy paper isn't as absorbent as matte and is much more expensive, so it's okay to stick to lower quality paper. Just be careful if you have white or lightly colored rats, as newspaper ink has a tendency to stain fur.
- Hay. One of the least expensive options is hay. It is suitable for most cages but can be dusty and cause respiratory issues if used in a poorly-ventilated cage. However, it is relatively easy to clean and has little to no odor.
Do not use cedar or pine chips in your rat's cage. The fumes can damage your rat's sensitive respiratory system.
What Should I Feed My Pet Rat?
Rats are natural scavengers and are omnivorous by nature, so they should have a varied diet. While plenty of foods are suitable for treats and snacks, rats require a specific ratio of macronutrients. The bulk of their food should come from nutritional pellets. This makes it especially important to pick a high-quality food made specifically for rats and not other small mammals. Be especially sure not to buy rabbit or hamster food, as these commonly contain alfalfa, which causes digestive problems and can be dangerous to rats.
An excellent choice is Oxbow Essentials Adult Rat Food, which can be found in most major pet retailers. It is the right combination of chewy and crunchy texture that rats love and is also one of the most complete nutritional diets on the market.
What Treats Can I Give My Rat?
Rats eat all kinds of food and absolutely love getting treats from their human. Here is a short list of treats you can safely give your rat without worrying about health problems.
- Fruit. Fruit is a healthy treat for rats and most can be given to your pet without any problems. Just be sure to remove seeds from larger fruit like cherries and grapes, and be sure to cut them into rat-sized pieces.
- Vegetables. Many rats love a variety of veggies. Green vegetables like broccoli are healthy choices and provide an extra crunch to their diet. Squash is also another choice if the squash is fully cooked.
- Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are healthy sources of protein for your pet rat, but be careful. Raw peanuts and soy nuts can be deadly to rats, while raw cashews are fine.
- Lean meats in moderation. While this tidbit of advice is up to the owner, small amounts of lean, cooked poultry, especially chicken, can be a delicious treat for your rat. In fact, chicken bones can serve as a good chew toy to keep their teeth trim and clean. Beef and ham are not recommended for rats, as the protein content can be too high and the nutritional value can be too low.
- Pasta and bread. Just like with humans, whole wheat is much better for our furry friends than the white, bleached variety. Enriched pasta or those made with vegetables are an even better choice, as it adds both extra flavor and nutritional value.
Can I Keep Just One Rat?
In short, no. Rats are incredibly social creatures and thrive on companionship. While rats make great pets and love their humans, they definitely need to be around others of their species. Even if you are at home for most of the day and have hours to devote to them daily, they can become sullen and withdrawn without the company of other rats. These social creatures require constant interaction. Even if you have hours a day to devote to their love and affection, it is highly recommended to buy a pair of rats.
It is best to keep a pair of same-sex rats as they reproduce quickly. Unlike other species of rodents, male rats don't tend to be aggressive towards each other and can be safely kept in the safe habitat unless there are females around.
How Much Time Do I Need to Spend With My Pet Rat?
As much as possible! Rats are incredibly social creatures and love to spend time with their humans as well as each other. They are active and love to play a variety of games, and many like to snuggle and spend time relaxing on the couch.
You should spend at least one hour a day in physical contact with your pet rat, and more if you have only one.
How Do I Play With My Rat?
Rats are intelligent, social creatures, and keeping them entertained is one of the most important parts of taking care of your rat. Rats love to play, both with each other and their human. Some of the games rats like to play with their humans are very physical, so make sure that he feels safe and secure in his new home so you don't scare him.
- Wrestle. Most rats love to wrestle with your hand. Chase them around across the bed or floor and turn them gently on their belly and tickle him or scratch his belly.
- Toss. Pick your rat up gently, supporting his belly and hindquarters and toss him onto a soft surface. If he runs back to you, he probably wants to be tossed again.
- Grooming. Grooming is a social behavior present in almost all animals, humans included. Scratch and brush your rat to mimic their grooming behavior and let him groom you too. Be careful though, some rats nibble or pull at hair and jewelry.
- Toys. Just like Fido and Fluffy, your pet rat will enjoy playing with toys. Empty toilet paper rolls, ping pong balls, and small boxes are all fun and interesting toys for rats. Not only will they play games with these gifts, they will often show off their keen sense of interior design and decorate their cage with their presents. Don't be surprised if their "furniture" is changed around every time you take a look in their cage.
“Caring for your rat.” Blue Cross, www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/caring-your-rat.
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why does my younger rat bite and pull on my older rat? I've had to separate them, but I got the younger rat for company for my older rat.
Answer: If they're both the same gender and you've had the older rat longer, they may be establishing a hierarchy. The younger rat, especially if he is a male, is probably trying to assert dominance. It is best to get rats of the same age at the same time to avoid this problem.
© 2017 Dani Merrier
Ziegelheafer Yvonne on August 10, 2020:
My new rat is making lots of sneesy sounds I’m afraid it’s respiratory? How go I tell ..
Miapegasi on August 09, 2020:
Thank you for the tips! I needed to know how to play with my rats and this gave me a few tips on how! My four rats will love being tossed!
erica on March 15, 2020:
I love rats and other rodents! they are so underestimated and often mistreated so thank you so much for this quality article.
Jane on March 09, 2020:
I’m considering having 2 rats but the best place for a large cage would be in my sitting room. I’ve been reading and researching about looking after and keeping rats happy, entertained and apparently the fact I have a telly in my sitting room could stress the rats, is this true because I wouldn’t want to stress them! Thanks Jane