Whether you’re new to rats or have owned them in the past, there is information you need to know about how to take care of a rat prior to bringing home your new friend.
This will help prepare you so you can provide the optimal environment for healthy, happy rats. Owning a rat is a rewarding experience, but it also takes some work.
How to Take Care of a Pet Rat: First Things First…
If you would like a pet fancy rat, it’s important to understand that they are social animals and will live better lives when kept in a minimum group size of two.
Rats breed very easily so you will want to stick with a same-sex pair or group of rats. Another word for a female rat is doe, and another word for male rat is buck.
If you can only keep one rat, please consider getting different type of small pet that prefers living in solitude instead of a rat.
Choosing a Fancy Rat
If your local chain pet store has live animals for sale, there is a good chance you’ll be able to find fancy rats for sale. Before picking out a pair of rats, you should check for signs of illness (breathing difficulties, lethargic, low weight) and take note of their living conditions. Fancy rats supplied to pet stores can be poorly bred and cared for leading to frequent illnesses.
To find a reputable fancy rat breeder in your area, a quick online search for “local rattery” should do the trick.
Many reputable breeders have websites or Facebook pages where you can learn more about their breeding process and how they care for their rats.
You can often find reviews from other people who have purchased rats through them and that should give you a good idea of their reputation.
What do Rats Need?
Let’s go over the essentials…
When you start looking for an appropriate cage for your rats, a minimum 2 cubic feet of space per rat is recommended.
If you have the space and money, you’ll want to purchase a cage on the larger side. This will encourage your rats to be active while still allocating plenty of room to hide, sleep, and have space from their cage mate(s) as needed.
To avoid an uncomfortable condition called bumblefoot, wire floors and layers in cages should be avoided. Instead, look for plastic trays because the finish is smooth and less irritating over time. This will also making cleaning an easier process for you because it’s easier to wipe clean.
Before getting the cage ready, take the time to pick out a suitable location in your house.
Rats can be sensitive to temperature so you want to avoid putting the cage by a heater, fan, or furnace vent. If any rooms in your house have trouble maintaining heat (like your basement) they should be avoided as well.
Due to their nocturnal nature, you should avoid housing your rats in or near bedrooms. During the night, they are more likely to be awake playing, climbing, and drinking water.
So unless you are a very heavy sleeper, you can expect to get woken up multiple times by your caged roommates.
Ideally, you would place your rats wherever they are more likely to see you. This will help them get used to you and you’ll have an easier time interacting with them daily, too. Rats should be kept away from other pets until you know how your pets are going to respond.
With healthy rats as pets, you shouldn’t have to worry about grooming at all. Rats are very clean; they clean themselves as often as most house cats and will even help clean their cage mates. Excessive grooming is called self-barbering and is usually the result of mites, skin ulcers, nutritional deficiencies, and genetic disorders.
Unless absolutely necessary, you should avoid bathing your rat. While some rats love water, bathing can be stressful and rat’s skin is sensitive. If you must bathe your rats, try to make it more enjoyable by using a small container of lukewarm water and treats to entice your rats to enter on their own.
You should never force your rats into water; doing so creates unnecessary stress and in the worst case, death. A warm, damp cloth is a better option for spot cleaning.
Choosing an appropriate bedding for your rat’s cage can be challenging due to the large selection and claims provided by each brand.
Appropriate bedding is usually made from recycled paper, aspen, paper pulp, pellets, or fabric.
You want to avoid pine and cedar because the phenols produced are toxic to rats and other small animals.
Most bedding comes in small bag making it easy to try a few different brands without spending a lot of money and being stuck with a product you don’t like.
Rats receive most of their nutrition from commercial dry pellets formulated especially for them. You should look for a protein content of 16-18% to encourage optimal growth.
Rats also benefit from the addition of vegetables and some fruit in their diet. You should try to provide a small amount of vegetables three times a week. Some popular choices are broccoli, spinach, and cucumber.
Fruit is also important but due to the high sugar content you should limit them a bit more. Popular fruits are grapes, bananas, and apples.
Your rats will also appreciate pieces of meat every now and then like tuna, chicken, and salmon but be mindful of the amount of protein you’re giving them. Commercial treats like yogurt drops are a popular choice for rats but like fruit, they should be given in limited quantities
Fresh water should be accessible daily using a hanging water bottle or attachable bowl depending on your rats’ preference.
Rats benefit from being given opportunities to exercise daily. This can be obtained by providing an exercise wheel designed for rats and time outside of their cage. Prior to letting your rats have free access to your house, it is important to “rat proof”. This will probably mean limiting access to one room for ease but you can certainly rat proof multiple rooms if you want to.
You’ll want to look out for cords, cracks under doors and cabinets, furniture, and limiting access to hard to reach areas. If you have other pets, you should make sure they are restricted from entering the room your rats are playing in. You should aim to let your rats out for 30 minutes – 1 hour each day. This can be done in small increments of time if that is easier for you.
Toys & Accessories
Rats need mental stimulation daily to live happy fulfilled lives. You can help achieve this by providing an assortment of toys and accessories for easy access in their habitat.
Rats have an inert desire to gnaw on things because their teeth are constantly growing. You can encourage your rats chewing on safe objects by providing wooden chews, ropes, and sticks. Before giving them to your rats it is important to make sure they’re made out of non-toxic material.
Another important toy for your rats’ cage is a tunnel. Tunneling is another activity that rats enjoy because it fulfills their need to hide and they will often use it stash food and treats.
One of the most essential accessories you can offer your rats is a place to nest. This can be accomplished by providing boxes, a commercial hideout, hammock, or my own rats’ favorite – a Lixit space pod!
Veterinary Care for Rats
Rats are prone to Upper Respiratory Infections (URI) and tumors (benign and malignant). This can be influenced by quality of care, how well you maintain cage cleanliness, and health of your rats’ breeding line. Whatever the reason may be, eventually your rat will likely get ill and require veterinary care.
You will probably need to schedule a visit with an exotic vet because rats require specialized care. This can be expensive so you will want to budget around $100-$300 for emergency trips to the vet’s office.
It will be easier to treat ailments if you catch them quickly so it is a good idea to educate yourself on possible symptoms.
Some symptoms of an URI include sneezing, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and puffed fur.
Tumors often require surgery so you should check your rats regularly for any abnormal lumps.
Training Pet Rats
Rats are very intelligent animals who can learn to recognize their name and respond to commands. This means that with enough patience (and treats!) you can teach your furry friends how to come when called, stand up, jump through a hoop, and more.
Some rat enthusiasts teach their rats tricks using a method called clicker training. By using a clicker and your rat’s favorite treat you can teach them to associate the noise of the clicker with receiving a treat with the goal of getting them to correlate the noise to performing a command for a treat.
Caring for rats can be a fulfilling experience but it’s certainly not for everyone. Now that you’ve read this simplified guide you should be able to make an informed decision on whether or not you can fit caring for rats into your lifestyle.