Although rats have been given a bad reputation, domestic rats are completely different from their wild relatives. They are curious, friendly, smart and fun. They’ll ride on your shoulders, nap in your lap and love to snuggle. Rats even have the ability to recognize you! And rats can be great pets for kids since they are fairly easy to care for.
Rats should live indoors. They are very social animals and get lonely and unhappy without a cage mate, so get a pair. Two boys or two girls from the same litter will work best together.
A room kept below 68 degrees Fahrenheit should be comfortable for your rat. Make sure the cage is easily accessible for clean-up. And put the cage in a place where your rat can interact with lots of people.
Because they enjoy climbing, rats do best in wire cages. A cage that is 2’ x 2’ x 2’ or larger is recommended for a pair of rats – a cage with a solid bottom and multiple levels for climbing and jumping is ideal.
Because they love exercise, rats need a running wheel. Make sure that the wheel has a solid surface without wire rungs so their tails won’t get caught. As they sometimes like to exercise together (quite fun to watch), make sure you get a large enough wheel to hold both rats! Rats love to jump and climb ladders, so a multi-level habitat is optimal. Adding a hammock is also a fun feature and great for nap time!
They also like to hide, crawl and sleep inside enclosed spaces, so put a small box with an entrance hole, a medium-sized never-used flower pot and tubes (cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper will do fine) in the cage. Rats love to gnaw, so put unpainted, untreated pieces of wood, rawhide chews, dog biscuits or safe chew toys in the cage.
The home for your rats should be lined with carefresh® complete all natural paper bedding or carefresh® custom Hamster & Gerbil bedding for added absorbency and odor control. Do not use cedar chips, as aromatic oils in cedar bedding have been shown to have adverse health effects on small pets.
Rats also love to nest! Provide them with nesting material, such as colorful and fun carefresh® Nestables. Spread them around the habitat, and they will forage for the springy shreds and gather them into a comfy nest.
Remove soiled bedding, droppings and stale food from the cage daily. Clean the cage completely once a week by scrubbing the bottom of the cage and soiled accessories with warm water and a gentle soap and replacing dirty litter and bedding. Make sure to rinse and dry everything completely before returning it to the cage.
Rats require a diet low in protein and fat, and high in carbohydrates. Specially formulated rat diets – consisting of pellets, block and grains – are best for your pet. carefresh® Complete Rat & Mouse food is nutritionally complete, and your rat will love it!
Rats love to try new things including table scraps such as small bits of egg or chicken, even pizza crust.
Rats are particularly keen for plain popcorn, tomatoes, cooked white rice and pasta. Broccoli and garbanzo beans can be given in moderation, but avoid chocolate and onions.
Most importantly, all foods should be fresh to maximize necessary vitamins and minerals, and should be introduced slowly to avoid digestive issues.
Care & Handling
Even though rats are friendly by nature, they may not be comfortable with you right away. Start by feeding them small treats. After you’ve earned their trust, you can handle your rats, with one hand supporting the bottom and the other over the back.
Once your rats are tamed, let them play outside of the cage in a safe, secure area for an hour or so every day to keep them mentally stimulated and physically fit. Make sure the play area is free of house plants, electrical cords or other hazards to your rat, including larger pets!
Health & Veterinary Care
Take your rat to the veterinarian for a new pet exam, and every six months after for wellness exams. If you think your rat is sick, seek medical attention immediately. Common symptoms include sneezing, lethargy, weight loss, dull eyes, diarrhea and difficulty breathing. Also, rats are particularly susceptible to external parasites such as mites. If you think your pet is infested, you’ll need to treat the animal, housing and surrounding environment.