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Pet Rat Care: FAQ, Tips, and Tricks

Updated on November 12, 2017
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Katleigh 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. The article includes choosing a cage, feeding, handling, and other issues.

Rats, mice, and other small rodents are incredibly social creatures and crave the companionship of their own species.
Rats, mice, and other small rodents are incredibly social creatures and crave the companionship of their own species. | Source

What Cage Do I Get for My Pet Rat?

The best place to keep your rat is in a wire cage (Blue Cross).

  • Size. A good rule of thumb is two 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, consider solid flooring for your rat.
  • Bedding. Even if your rat has a solid floor, it is important to keep bedding in their cage.

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.

Rats enjoy soft, fluffy towels just as much as their human counterparts and will be delighted to have them as their main bedding.
Rats enjoy soft, fluffy towels just as much as their human counterparts and will be delighted to have them as their main bedding. | Source

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 in 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.
  • Shredded paper.

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 have an omnivorous diet, 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 it commonly contains 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.

Rats and mice love grains, pasta, and bread - but make sure you give them these treats in moderation.
Rats and mice love grains, pasta, and bread - but make sure you give them these treats in moderation. | Source

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 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 for example 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.

There are many different kinds of games rodents love to play with their humans.
There are many different kinds of games rodents love to play with their humans. | Source

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.
  • 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.

Works Cited

“Caring for your rat.” Blue Cross, www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/caring-your-rat.

© 2017 Katleigh Merrier

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