Foods That Are Poisonous to Your Rat
Do You Know What NOT to Feed Pet Rats?
Who doesn't enjoy giving their pet rats treats?!
You can find great treats from the bird and small animals aisles at the local pet store, but you can also share foods from your dinner plate. (My husband is a really good cook; I want little Rattie to try some, too!) But not all foods are safe for feeding pet rats, though. Do you know which foods are safe, which foods should be fed only once in a while, and which foods are poisonous to pet rats?
Below, you'll find answers!
Fact or Fiction?
"Pet rats instinctively know what to eat and what to avoid."
Rats are scavengers. In the wild they eat extremely cautiously and generally stick to foods they know are safe. But when foods are scarce, rats are forced to try new foods. A single rat samples a small bit of a new food and returns to the pack where the rest of the rats can inspect the tester's muzzle, breath, and well-being. The pack then decides if the food is safe. If a food is determined unsafe, the rats avoid it indefinitely. These preferences are shared throughout the pack and passed to offspring.
Pet rats, on the other hand, have learned to trust humans and are not cautious like their wild brothers. Pet rats will generally take food from the dish or the kitchen floor without a second's hesitation. This is why it's extremely important to control what foods your pet comes into contact with.
Foods Rats Should Eat Only in Small Amounts
- Avocado: The skin and pit of the avocado are toxic. Don't feed them the flesh near the skin and pit, either. For the safest bet, skip avocado altogether.
- Carbonated Beverages: Rat's can't burp, so carbonated beverages can cause a lot of discomfort.
- Chocolate: In large doses, chocolate is like a poison to some animals, causing foaming at the mouth, diarrhea, seizures, and death. Evidence has not proven this applies to rats, however many vets still caution its consumption in large doses. Dark chocolate, with its higher caffeine content, is especially cautioned.
- Citrus Fruits: D-limonene, a compound in citrus skin that also contaminates the juice during squeezing, can cause kidney damage and kidney cancer in male rats. Clean citrus fruit after peeling it to remove remaining oil, or skip the fruit all together for your safest bet.
- Mango: Like citrus fruits, mango skin contains d-limonene.
- Potato: Potato flesh (not the skin or eyes) is safe unless it's green. This green contains the toxin solanine, so be careful not to feed you rat any potato that is green.
- Sugary Foods
- Fatty Meats and Foods: Continuous excessive fat consumption can cause, at best, oily fur and at worst, diarrhea, fatty liver disease, and death. Excess fat also interferes with nutrient absorption, including the digestion of calcium.
- Sticky Foods: Sticky foods, especially thick ones like peanut butter, can cause choking. Cut peanut butter and similar foods with a liquid and supervise eating.
- Fluorinated and/or Chlorinated Water: Fluorine can cause brain damage in rats, and chlorine is also toxic. Only use filtered tap water or non-fluorinated bottled water unless unfiltered tap is all that is available.
Foods You Should Never Feed Your Rat
- Alcohol: Some curious pets like to drink out of glasses, so keep wine and other alcoholic beverages inaccessible. Alcohol depresses organ systems and can cause death.
- Green Bananas: Green bananas inhibit starch-digesting enzymes.
- Beans (Raw or Dried): Share well-cooked beans with your rat but never uncooked or dry beans which contain hemaglutin, which is a very toxic anti-nutrient that destroys vitamin A and enzymes needed to digest protein and starches. This causes clumping of red blood cells.
- Blue Cheese: The mold in blue cheeses is toxic to rats.
- Caffeine: Keep caffeinated beverages such as soda and tea out of rat reach. Consumption can lead to cardiac malfunction, fast heartbeat, arrhythmia, and cardiac arrest.
- Citrus Peels: D-limonene in the peels can cause kidney damage and kidney cancer in male rats.
- Dried Corn: Dried corn can contain high levels of fungal contaminates shown to cause liver cancer.
- Insects: Insects may carry internal parasites and diseases.
- Licorice: Possibly causes neurological poisoning.
- Potato Eyes and Skin; Green Potato: Plants in the nightshade family have healthy fruits but toxic leaves and stems. Potatoes, a member of this family, are safe unless green appears near the skin. Always keep your rat away from potato eyes and skin or potato that is green or near this green color.
- Raw Sweet Potato: Raw sweet potato contains compounds that form cyanide in the stomach.
- Spoiled Produce: Spoiled produce, or even produce and other foods not visibly spoiled but still old, contain deadly toxins and can have unseen bacteria and mold spores that cause digestive upset and possibly death.
Foods Rats Can Eat When Cooked (Not Raw)
- Brussels Sprouts
- Red Cabbage
- Sweet Potato
Plants That Are Poisonous to Rats
- Christmas Rose
- Lily of the Valley
- Plants in the Nightshade Family
- Tomato (green only, not fruit)
Plants in the nightshade family have healthy fruits but toxic leaves and stems, which contain the toxin solanine.
What Makes a Healthy, Balanced Diet for a Rat?
Every species on our planet has a body has different requirements, and rats are no exception. Like humans, rats need a diet with lots of variety; different nutrients come from different foods, after all. Plus, we'd all get bored eating the same thing every day. But unlike humans, rats need a very different proportion of carbs, fat, and protein.
According to RatClub.org, pet rats need a diet consisting of 75-80% carbohydrates (think whole grains, fruits, and veggies), 12-20% protein (think nuts, cooked beans, and meat), and around 4-6% fat (think . . . well . . . nuts and meat).
Additionally, approximately 80% of a pet rat's nutrition should come from a commercial rat food (hamster or mice foods don't cut it) and the remaining 20% from fresh fruits, veggies, and treats.
Rats also require a supplement of animal protein. Technically, not all types of rats need any animal protein at all. Pet rats were bred from brown rats, though, which do. Try giving little Susie a piece of your well-cooked grilled chicken or Nibbler a piece of hard-boiled egg. Not too often, though! Too much animal protein can lead to skin problems and allergies.
Quality lab block products specifically formulated for rats are great because they provide a balanced diet and something hard on which to gnaw. Multi-colored rat mixes are healthy, too, as long as you wait for your rats to eat all the food in the dish before you replace it; otherwise, rats will pick and choose their favorite pieces and leave the rest, creating a nutrition imbalance. Of course, like human baby formula, we can't be certain these lab formulas are perfect, so it's imperative to supplement with fresh foods. Additionally, consider the most recent research in GMO corn and soy and non-organic ingredients before choosing a particular brand of lab block.
Buscis, Gerry and Somerville, Barbara. (2000). Training Your Pet Rat (Training Your Pet Series). Barron's Educational Series.
Ducommum, Debbie. (2002). Rats: Practical, Accurate Advice from the Expert (Complete Care Made Easy). Irvine, California: BowTie Press.
Gerd, Ludwig. (2010). My Rat (My Pet Series). Barron's Educational Series.
Rat & Mouse Club of Maerica: Can I Make My Own Rat/Mouse Diet?
Rat & Mouse Club of America: Chocolate and Rats
Rat Care Guide: Diet
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.