We adore guinea pigs (obviously!) but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for other small, lovable, gorgeous pets as well.
Rats are a delight to keep as companion animals.
This guide is dedicated to keeping rats: find out about their intelligence, their personalities, how they differ from guinea pigs, their health and of course, their needs and wants while they live with us as much loved family members.
Rats as Pets: Pros and Cons
Getting any new pet requires thinking long and hard about whether you have the time, money and dedication to look after them properly.
And rats are no different!
They need a good diet, regular cleaning, health care, and a comfortable and safe environment to live in.
If you’re considering getting some pet rats, this is an exciting time. Weighing up all the potential pros and cons will help make your decision clearer, so you can be sure that you’re going to do the right thing for you, and your potential new little companions.
Rat Breeds and Types of Rats
Pet Rat Species
The species is the original wild animal that a domestic animal has been bred from over generations. In this case, most of the pet rats seen in captivity today are descended from the Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus), also called the Norway Rat (which is a little misleading as it is believed to have originated in Asia).
Pet rat breeds have not been extensively cultivated and well developed in the same way as dogs and cats have over the decades and centuries. But there are some different types of rat varieties out there, although whether they can be considered true “breeds” depends on who you ask.
Various rodent clubs, most of who are involved in the breeding and showing of rats (e.g. “fancy rats”) will recognize different types of rats. Some of the most commonly recognized types are:
- Standard Rats
- Rex Rats
- Hairless Rats
- Tailless Rats
- Dumbo Rats
- Satin Rats
- Bristle Coat
Then are the types that are mainly there to describe the coloring or marking of a rat, rather than any other features.
Groups like the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association will have standards that are applicable to the types of rats that they recognize and are eligible to compete in their showings and competitions. Think of it as similar to the American Kennel Club for dogs. The AFRMA currently recognizes 7 types of domestic rats, which are the seven listed above.
Not every rat owner has an interest in these specific types though, and many of us just want to rescue, adopt or acquire loving pet rats no matter their type of coloring. So it’s certainly not necessary to be familiar or knowledge of the different recognized rat types unless that’s an area of interest for you.
Best Rat Cages & Enclosures
A good cage for rats is similar to what we look at when it comes to choosing a guinea pig cage or enclosure. Many of these cages are suitable for both rats and guinea pigs (not together of course).
Giving your rats the best possible setup with an awesome enclosure or cage to live in when they’re not out and about with you is a great feeling.
You can have the peace of mind that they’re happy, they have lots of room to move, plenty of space to put enriching accessories, cool hiding and sleeping spots, and an overall safe and comfortable life.
You’ll also get a kick out of watching them enjoying their cage (when they’re not out and about having fun with you!).
Most importantly though – it’s about making our rats happy, comfortable and cozy in their new home.
How big should a rat cage be?
Obviously, the more rats you have, the larger the cage will need to be. But it’s not that simple really. Even if you only have 2 rats, a large cage is going to provide them with a considerably higher quality of life than a tiny little travel sized cage. In fact, we don’t promote those cages at all for live-in cages (only for transporting), so you won’t see any recommendations for little cages from us.
So what type or style of cage is the most awesome and suitable for rats?
Multi-level rat cages are the best choice. These are widely available, affordable, and allow ample room for multiple rats to live comfortably while being able to exercise the freedom to access different levels as they please. Cages with multiple levels (usually 3 or 4) are now pretty much the standard choice for caring rat owners.
Check out the ones below that we recommend the most, and what features to look out for. We also discuss any issues we’ve come across for each cage, and for cages in general while you’re deciding on one.
All of our reviews are based on extensive research and many hours spent trawling through comments, reviews, problems, and any other data we can find from real people who are buying and using each cage. We update these reviews and guides regularly so you’re getting the most recent information (remember, some manufacturers will change their cage designs or materials over time but still call them by the same name).
This will hopefully save you a lot of time and energy when it comes to researching your new rat cage – so you can have it all ready to go and set up for your rats sooner!
Once you’ve got your cage chosen and assembled in your chosen spot, the fun starts: fitting it out with accessories and toys so your rats can move in!
Tents and Hammocks for Pet Rats
Rats love to cozy up in a warm , soft hammock, bed, tent or other structure – and these are the simplest, cheapest, most convenient things you can put in a rat cage without taking up much space; because many of them hang right from the roof.
For this guide I wanted to focus on some of the more unique hammock and bed designs out there. Your rat might not care too much about how their hammock looks – but you’ll certainly appreciate the awesome and cute designs that can brighten up a rat home by providing so many interior decoration options!
Can you put a harness on your rat?
Not every rat is going to be comfortable wearing a harness and it would be nothing short of cruel to continue trying to force a rat to wear one if they are clearly not making any progress, and it’s causing them anxiety and stress. Sometimes we just have to accept that some individual rats aren’t going to be compatible with wearing a harness and leash, and that’s OK.
A rat who has never had anything to do with a harness or leash will need to be trained, and this takes time and patience. Leash and harness training a pet rat has great rewards though, provided you have the time to do it right and ensure that they aren’t experiencing stress or fear. Once a rat is trained well, their world can open up as they can have supervised outdoor time with you, and go on adventures wherever you go, with the peace of mind that they won’t take off and that they’re well secured.
Risks of Taking a Rat Outside with a Harness and Leash
It doesn’t come without risks, of course, after all we are dealing with very small prey animals who have an ingrained flight or fight response to perceived threats, and this can kick in at any time, even for the most tame and calm of pet rats! So one risk is the one of panic: a panicked rat can quickly become entangled in a leash as they desperately attempt to release themselves. Some rats will attempt (and even succeed) in tearing off a harness completely (they could do this just for fun as well, if given enough time – hence the need for constant supervision).
Some rats simply won’t warm to wearing a harness or being attached to a leash. Pushing a rat beyond their comfort levels during training does no benefit to them, or to us, but rather we should accept that this isn’t going to be compatible with every single individual rat.
Some rats will also just be master escape artists, or at least attempt to be, by squirming until they are close to getting out of the harness completely.
Tips for taking your rat out with a harness and leash
A rat on the ground outside is a rat at risk, so unless you have complete control of the environment (i.e. no dogs or cats or other predators around), and are prepared to supervise the entire time, a harnessed and leashed rat is often best sat on your shoulder – and this makes it much more safe and comfortable to have them hang out with you outside the house rather than having them sit on the shoulder unrestrained.
Can Pet Rats Give You Diseases?
One of the first questions that people who are totally unfamiliar with the concept of keeping rats as pets is: can they give diseases to people?
Anyone who has loveable pet rats, and who has had to deal with the questions and let’s face it, ignorance that comes from most people concerning just why we love our rats, has inadvertently had this question put to them. And to be fair, it’s a serious question that shouldn’t be ignored or ridiculed, even if we know it’s not the first thing that should come into mind when thinking about rats as pets!
Nonetheless, being as educated and knowledgeable about the topic as you possibly can makes it easy to answer such questions, and to put aside any concerns or preconceived ideas that non-rat people may have. We’ve known people who will not let their children visit the home of rat owners simply because they are paranoid about the “risks” – not surprisingly, such apprehension never comes about when cats and dogs are the subjects.
This is simply down to the fact that to people who have no experience or familiarity with domestic rats, they are just “rats” – those rodent pests you’re horrified at finding at home and aim to get rid of with any means possible. Many people do not see any difference in wild living rats, and those who live with people as much loved pets inside their homes.
So questions like this do give us the opportunity to try and educate the uneducated and hopefully open people’s eyes to the many positive aspects of beautifully friendly pet rats.
A disease that can be passed from an animal to a human is known as a zoonotic disease – or zoonosis. Probably the most famous zoonotic disease is rabies.
The chances of a person contracting any illness from a pet rat is extremely low. Unfortunately ignorance and media hysteria can often have people unduly alarmed and paranoid – but with quality care and hygiene, rats certainly pose no greater risk to people than a dog or cat does.
Wild rodents have a much higher risk of passing on disease, and it’s when pet rodents have contact with wild animals that the risk increases in the home – however responsible rat owners certainly never allow their pet rats to have any contact with wild rodents or any wild animals for that matter.
Toilet Training Rats – Does It Work?
Can you toilet train a rat?
Would you even want to train a rat to use a “toilet”?
We know rats are exceptionally intelligent, so with a bit of thought and patience, there’s no reason at all why you can’t train any rat to use a preferred toileting area.
Why would you want to toilet train your rats?
The main reason, naturally, is to encourage them to do all their business in the same one (or more) spots, to make cleaning and odor control easier. Rats will tend to select their preferred toileting spots in a new enclosure pretty quickly, but some rats will be less fussy and go whenever and wherever they please, leaving a trail of brown pellets and random wet patches.
What kind of toilet will a rat use?
A lot of us just use plain old cat litter trays, with cat litter in it (quality and safe litter only). So that’s one path to follow, or you can look at one of the small animal cage attachments which are designed to be used purely as a toilet (i.e not for sleeping in). These are usually made for all types of small animals, so not all will be a suitable size for rats with some being far too small for comfort. So I’ve gone to great effort to find and talk about only the most rat-suited cage toilets here for your convenience.
I also want to include some that are not particularly ideal, even if they are the right size. While these are not high cost items by any means, every cage accessory adds up so you obviously don’t want to be buying stuff that the ratties won’t use!
Doxycycline for Rats
Anyone who keeps rats for a while is likely to become familiar with the medication Doxycycline.
What is Doxycycline?
Doxycycline is a broad spectrum antibiotic in the tetracycline antibiotic class. Being broad spectrum it is used to treat many different types of bacterial infections in people.
In adult rats (4+ months), doxycycline is often used to treat the symptoms of the common respiratory illness mycoplasma. It is often the first recomended course of treatment when the first signs of the illness (such as sneezing) are noticed, and in more robust rats it can be effective in eliminating the infection and avoiding further treatment for the time being.
However, more advanced signs of respiratory illness then usually requires a stronger combination of antibiotics – usually Doxycycline and Baytril being the most common.
Can you buy it over the counter?
No, you can only get this medication from your vet. The dosage of doxycycline must be carefully planned and adminstered under the advice of an experienced rat veterinarian.
Seizures in Pet Rats
Seeing your rat having a seizure is a distressing experience. You feel powerless and confused – and so does your rat. Sometimes, seizures aren’t even noticeable at all.
What causes a rat to have a seizure and what should you do when you see it happening?
Mites on Rats – What Can You Do If You See Mites On Your Rats?
What are mites?
Mites are some of the tiniest insects and can be under 1mm in length – often invisible to our eyes. Some mites live on the blood or serum of their hosts, while others don’t suck blood at all.
So while mites can be an annoying and irritating problem, it rarely presents major health issues for a rat unless in extreme cases.
So how can you tell if your rat has mites? What are the signs of mites?
This is actually a relatively common problem in rats and in fact, many rats have small numbers of mites that go unnoticed – not only by their owners, but by the rats themselves.
These are called ectoparasites, which means that the mites live their lives on another animal but they do not kill the animal.
A healthy rat can have a small population of mites on them without it causing any problems, and they control the numbers through normal grooming. But when a rat is immune compromised, sick or otherwise in poor health that the numbers of mites are unable to be controlled, that’s when a mite infestation problem can become noticeable and irritating for a rat.
How to Prevent Mite Problems on Pet Rats
We can’t prevent all mites, and small numbers don’t present problems to healthy rats. We can help prevent larger outbreaks of mites by keeping our rats healthy and their environment clean.
Bumblefoot in Rats
The technical medical name for bumblefoot is ulcerative pododermatitis. Sounds a lot more painful than “bumblefoot” doesn’t it? This condition is painful for rats and it shouldn’t be ignored.
Leaving bumblefoot (or any type of infection) untreated leaves the animal in pain, and can eventually lead to their death. So it goes without saying that bumblefoot is a condition that you should be seeking veterinary help, if you don’t have the required supplies on hand to treat it at home.
Rabbits, birds and rodents are the most common animals known to suffer from this bacterial infection in captivity. The infection leads to painful inflammation on the feet.
It’s given the curious name of bumblefoot due to the appearance of the feet when a rat (or other animal) has this condition: noticeable sores or so called “bumbles” go alone with the painful swelling. The first indication that this problem is occuring are small red bumps on the feet which continue to get larger and more inflamed.
What is the cause of bumblefoot in rats?
Unfortunately, this condition is almost always caused by unsanitary and unsuitable living conditions. When a rat gets a cut or other sort of skin opening on the foot, it’s left open for bacteria to enter and replicate rapidly. The infection then continues to get worse and worse when treatment is given.
Poor or non-existent sanitation, toe nails that are overgrown and wire floored cages are big risk factors for a rat developing bumblefoot. All of this points to extremely poor husbandry which can and should be considered abuse. Rats living in these conditions have a poor life prognosis, with bumblefoot being just one risk factor.
People who rescue rats from less than ideal places are more likely to come across this foot condition, than those who have purchased young rats from a quality breeder.
Should Your Rat Have an Exercise Wheel?
Obesity is a big problem for pet rats.
Unfortunately, so many rats become overweight through the double hit of too much high calorie food (or just too much food in general because rats will eat whatever they can see available), and lack of physical activity. It doesn’t take long for a rat to get fat, and when they start putting on weight they are at much greater risk of serious health problems like arthritis. Overweight rats are also unlikely to live as long as those who are kept at a healthy weight throughout their life.
So there’s certainly great incentive to keeping our pet rats at an ideal weight!
So how can you help to keep your rats trim and lean and in great shape for life?
The big area is of course food. This is completely within your control so providing a balanced diet of a suitable quantity is key to keeping our rats slim.
The physical activity part is of course a little harder to control. But there are definitely things we can do to encourage more movement and more calorie burning, and every little bit counts!
A lot of people want to know whether an exercise wheel is suitable for rats. We know mice love them, but are they safe or even useful for rats to use?
More and more exotics vets are leaning towards the recommendation of providing an exercise wheel for pet rats. However, this is only one of many enrichment items in a quality rat enclosure and not something to be relied upon as a sole source of activity.
So if you’ve decided to go ahead with a wheel, what do you look for in the right one? What risks can a poorly designed or built exercise wheel pose to rats? This is really important to think about and be aware of, and we plan to cover all possibilities in this article. Not all exercise wheels are created equal, and if we’re going to encourage our rats to use one, we need to have the peace of mind that it’s safe and secure.
Size of the Exercise Wheel
Most wheels are made for mice or hamsters. Don’t go buying a tiny mouse sized wheel because this is not going to work for our rats. At best, they just won’t even bother trying to use, but at worst they could injure themselves. So size is the first thing we’re looking at with a quality wheel or spinner.
We used to just have the plain old classic wheel style to choose from, but now things have progressed in the world of small animal exercise wheels and we have some more innovative designs to choose from! They’re not all about looks either – different designs have different benefits, including safety. Many are wheel-styled, but different types exist like spinners which can be a little more solid. Some wheels are open designs, while others are more enclosed. Some are made of wood, but many are made of plastics. Some are high quality, while others look like they’ll last five minutes; there really is little point buying the cheapest option, not only from a “it won’t last long” perspective, but the cheapest of cheap products are so much more likely to pose a safety risk. The “buy once, buy properly” rule can really apply here, so take some time to think about your budget to balance up the pros and cons.
Sick Rat Symptoms – How To Tell If Your Rat Might Be Unwell
Picking up the sometimes subtle signs of a rat who isn’t feeling well can mean all the difference in getting the treatment they need for a recovery, and leaving it too long so that recovery is less likely.
How can you tell if your rat might be sick?
If you suspect your rat isn’t well or is in pain – book an appointment with your exotics veterinarian. This is the only way to find out what is definitely wrong, and to start the path of any required relief and treatment.
Spaying & Neutering Pet Rats – Should You Desex Your Rat? Pros & Cons
You’ve heard about the two certainties in life: taxes and death. Well, there’s a third. And that is that rats will make babies when males and females are kept together. That is a given. And while that might sound cute, the speed at which rats breed quickly leaves people overwhelmed. Unfortunately, inexperienced rat owners can be caught out, but those with experience or who have done the research know that your only true options are to either:
1. Keep males and females separately, or only choose to keep one gender.
2. Desex your rats (spay or neuter)
We know that spaying and neutering procedures are safe in dogs and cats, but what about our little rodents? Can they handle the surgery well, and recover from it without issues? What behavioral changes might it cause?
These are some of the questions people have when thinking about going down the path of desexing pet rats.
Firstly, it’s vital that you only consider having this procedure done through an experienced exotics veterinarian who has good working knowledge of rats. When it comes to the small intricacies of rats, and ways that they might differ from dogs and cats, your pet will only be in the best hands, and have the best chance of surgical success and recovery without complications, when the procedure is being performed at a rat-experienced vet clinic.
Its not just to stop breeding that we desex pet rats.
Almost every rat knowledgeable vet will tell you that there are health benefits to doing a spay or neuter procedure on a rat.
The Health Benefits of Desexing Rats
– Lower the risk of mammary cancer
Even male rats can get this type of cancer, though it is naturally more common in females.
– Potentially lengthen your rat’s life
By reducing the risk of several types of potentially fatal diseases, a spayed or neutered rat has a higher likelihood of living longer than an entire rat.
Best Bedding & Litter for Rats
Setting up your rat cage is a lot of fun, and keeping it clean and comfortable is so important for the health of your rats.
Deciding on the base or bedding to use is one of the core considerations. It doesn’t have to be complicated though – a lot of rat owners simply use newspaper (which is of course usually quickly torn up with great pleasure) as it is odor-free, non toxic, relatively absorbent, cheap and easily replaceable. You could line a whole cage with newspaper and that would be fine.
Others make use of a combination, such as newspaper and fleece blankets in some areas for extra comfort. You could use fleece as an entire lining for the cage, just keep in mind that they’ll absorb any urine odors so will need regular washing.
What other options are there for bedding for rats?
Let’s think about what bedding actually means vs lining the entire cage, which can be multiple levels. Bedding is the main areas that your rats hang out, sleep and socialize. The main comfort zones of the cage. This could be in boxes or hutches, or any hideaway spots. Making these sleeping spots extra comfy is a great idea, and you might choose to use a softer material than in other more open parts of the cage.
Using bedding material in a similar way as you would use cat litter is an approach many rat owners take. Specific types of substrate can provide increased odor absorption and can allow you to leave the bedding or substrate in place for longer than if you were just using newspaper, soft blankets or other materials.
Paper based cat litters are an option, just make sure they are of the completely natural type with no additives, perfumes or unnatural materials and that they are a no dust type of litter.
Alternatively, natural bedding made especially for small animals like rats and guinea pigs makes it really easy because they’ve been developed with our little friend’s needs in mind – in particular, being low in dust which is vital for rats, and they material is just the right size for small critters.
What to look for in rat bedding:
- Material: What’s it made from?
- Dust: It must be dust-free to be safe and healthy rats and their delicate respiratory system
- Absorption: How much urine will it absorb and how often will it need to be replaced?
Then consider whether you’re going to only use it in a litter box area, or thoroughout more of the cage.
What not to use as litter or bedding for rats:
We need to be really careful of what we let our rats sleep on, play in or breathe in. Their respiratory systems just can’t cope with a lot of things that we might think are safe, and at the top of the list when it comes to bedding are many types of wood shavings. In particular, completely avoid softwood shavings and products made of pine and cedar.
Aspen on the other hand is considered a safe wood shaving type to use for rats.
We also need to completely stay away from any clumping cat litters
Top Brands for Rat Bedding
If you’re going commercial for some or all of your litter and/or bedding needs then there’s a few brands that you can’t look past (and quite a few more that you can).
Carefresh has a solid repuation amongst rat owners for being a quality bedding or litter material, with no dust and a nice soft surface for rats. Carefresh Ultra is a good option and it’s also low cost for a pretty large bag.
Lightweight, dust-free cat litter can also work well and this provides you with more options outside the standard “small animal” litter category as there are so many cat litters available (not all are good for cats, let alone rats though). Yesterday’s News is a top litter choice for rats which is an unscented recycled paper based litter shaped as small pellets which are soft and comfortable enough for rats to use safely.
10 of the Best Chew Toys For Your Rats
Rats love to chew. No, scrap that. Rats NEED to chew. Gnawing at things is the way for a rodent to keep its teeth trimmed down. If they have nothing to gnaw at, their teeth will grow to the point where they can’t eat properly, and health problems will appear. Besides the physical need for chewing, it’s also vital mental stimulation for a rat as well.
So what can and should rats safely chew on?
Well, there are a lot of great chew toys for rats as well as objects that can be used as chews! Safety first: never give your rat something to chew on that is potential toxic or dangerous.
A suitable rat chewing toy has to be:
- Firm enough to be chewed on without breaking in seconds
- Safe if it is ingested by your rats; in other words, it’s edible
Apart from the plethora of small animal and rat-specific toys available, there’s a whole bigger world of objects that are safe, enriching and awesome for our rats to have as toys to chew on and play with in their enclosures. In particular, making your own toys at home with suitable objects, and looking at the huge range of bird toys available commercially. Birds are sensitive animals as well, and are at high risk of toxicity when unsafe materials are used in their toys. So bird toy manufacturers, big and small, go to great lengths to ensure these toys are completely safe and non toxic. And this is great for our rats, because there are so many different types, styles, shapes and sizes of bird toys to choose from ranging from hanging cage decorations and climbing apparatus, to things small enough for your rat to hold.
Do Your Rats Have These Accessories & Toys In Their Cage?
Rats love a fun and stimulating environment.
Decking out your rat’s cage or enclosure with awesome, safe toys and accessories gives them plenty of options for things to do, things to chew on and places to hang out.
We’ve created a whole separate guide about hammocks for rats – that’s who vital these accessories are! Every rat cage needs at least one hammock. But most of us want more than one – generally I prefer to put at least one on each level (depending on the size of your enclosure and how many rats are in there, of course).
Caves and Igloos
What Are The Best Greens For Rats?
When we are planning what to feed our rats to give them a healthy life, we can consider it in similar ways to what we humans eat (with some notable exceptions).
But what about leafy greens? We know they’re great for us, but what about our rats? Do they need them? Would they like them? If so, which greens and how much?
Yes, rats can eat greens.
Unlike some other small pets like rabbits, rats aren’t grazers of greenery by nature. They are omnivores, so greens can make up a part of an overall varied diet.
Which greens are good to give to your rats to nibble on?
- Asian leafy greens: Bok choy, Choy sum and so on
- Broccoli (including the leaves)
- Spinach (see note below)
Important: Always thoroughly wash any greens you’re giving to your rats to remove as much pesticide residue as possible. Of course, you can always grow your own fresh organic garden greens and have the confidence that they’re completely chemical-free!
Are there any greens to avoid giving rats?
Avoid giving rhubarb to rats.
Spinach, one of the most widely available and well known greens, is only recommended to be fed in small moderation to rats.
Because rats are the most widely studied animal on earth in terms of laboratory science (something we are absolutely against on animal welfare grounds here), a huge amount is known about the effects on their bodies of just about every substance on earth.
One study has shown that rats have a high absorption rate of iron from spinach, even when increased oxalic acid was added to the diet (spinach contains its own naturally high levels of oxalic acid, which is a reason some people believe it should only be consumed in small quantities, either by rats, humans or other plant eating animals).
The worry of spinach, and some other high-nitrate high-oxalate vegetables like lettuce, celery, almonds to name a few, of inhibiting calcium absorption is another consideration and certainly something that gets spoken of regularly amongst rat owners. When in doubt? Ask your exotics vet. However, in small amounts these foods do provide health benefits and don’t need to be ticked off the list.
If you have a somewhat abandoned garden, don’t think it has no value! Rats will enjoy dandelion greens (a true superfood), young thistle leaves, chickweed and other safe herb “weeds” – just make sure you’re confident in identifying them first.
Rats & Essential Oils
Are essential oils safe to use around rats?
People who like using essential oils might not even think twice about using them with pet rats in the house. Some people think to use essential oil diffuser products to cover up or remove the smell of rats in a room. However, rats are not smelly animals and the best way to eliminate odors is to simply keep the rat cage or enclosure clean and free of urine build up.
But what are the effects and potential harms to be aware of?
Rats have sensitive respiratory systems. They also have an exceptionally good sense of smell. Any aromatics or burning oils are going to be felt by a rat.
Constantly exposing rats to these oils may have unknown consequences. Essential oils, in particularly, are highly concentrated oils and while they might seem pleasant to some people, for a small animal like a rat they can be extremely overpowering.
Studies have also shown that essential oils can play havoc on a rat’s metabolic system.
Aromatherapy is not a veterinary approved or recommended activity for rats. Air fresheners, deodorizers, scented candles and essential oil diffusers all should be seriously reconsidered for use within the vicinity of rats.
The risks far outweigh any perceived benefit.
Essential oils, including diffusers, can not only be irritating and potentially harmful to rats, but also to other animals as well such as birds. For the sake of your rats’ health and safety, avoid the use of any essential oil or aromatic products.
The Importance of Finding a Good Rat Vet
Having a knowledgeable, caring, reliable vet you can count on in time’s of need for your rats is so vital.
We’ve all heard stories of loving rat owners taking their rats to a local vet, only to have a negative experience. This can be in the form of a vet having very little knowledge of the specifics of rat health, or even more alarmingly, being told that rat’s are simply “pests” who are not worthy of professional veterinary treatment.
If you’ve ever had this experience with visiting a vet with a poor attitude towards rodents, or ever have the misfortune to in future: run a mile.
Doing your research on quality vets that are happy to see rats ensures you avoid these unpleasant experiences. Most vets who advertise themselves as “exotic” vets are more than happy to see our rats, and many have a passion for pet rodents.
You might live a great distance from the nearest exotic vet clinic though, and for some people it’s just not possible to get to a far away vet of choice. In these cases, researching local vets who have a positive reputation for customer service and care is a step in the right direction.
Even if they are not rat specialists, or don’t often see pet rats, a good vet will not hesitate to make contact with more experienced industry colleagues in other practices to ask questions about your case. This is the next best option if you’re unable to physically get to an exotics vet clinic.
Hairless Rats: What You Need To Know About Furless Rats
What is a hairless rat?
A rat without fur – often called a hairless or sphynx rat, is a specially bred type of fancy rat. Just as hairless cats and dogs exist as a breed, some breeders of rats have chosen to promote the genes that cause hairlessness as as a trait in rats. This doesn’t come without controversy, and opinions are often divided on whether this is a humane trait to purposely breed in rats.
Most rats without the usual layer of fur are not totally hairless, and they usually have a soft, thin layer of fuzzy fur that is very light. The skin however is able to be easily seen through this hair. There are however some that have a more pronounced and noticeable lack of hair, resulting in what essentially looks like a completely naked rat. These totally hairless individuals won’t even have any whiskers – no hair whatsoever exists on the body.
Rats that don’t have hair require extra care and attention to ensure that their skin remains healthy and just as importantly – kept warm.
Some of the health issues that can arise with furless rats includes drying of the skin, abscesses, scratches and eye related defects.
If you have acquired a hairless rat that has sadly been bred for laboratory use, or the offspring of one such rat, they are highly likely to have an exceptionally short life due to the immune deficiencies that have been bred into these animals, and such animals struggle to fight off any sort of infection or health problem when they are living in a non-sterile environment.
Another complication can come about when rats without hair are housed with regular rats. The normal rats may pay close attention to their hair-free companions, and excessive grooming or even scratches can cause damage to a rat with no fur much easier than those with hair.
IN general, hairless rats have a much smaller gene pool than our regular ratties, and this naturally lends itself to animals who are not as strong immune-wise, coupled with the risks that having no hair brings.
However, furless rats can and should live happy, normal rat lives in a loving home provided they are given the extra special love and attention they need, and that their unique requirements are catered to as best as possible.
How do I know if my rat is pregnant?
Do you suspect that one of your female rats might be pregnant?
If you’ve recently rescued a rat (or rats) from somewhere where their background is unknown, or you’ve simple acquired rats from someone who has had males and females together and who can’t give you a guarantee that the females are not pregnant, you’re doing the right thing by considering this possibility.
It’s no secret that rats are prolific breeders – that’s why they’re so successful out in the wild. So it doesn’t take much for a female rat to fall pregnant in captivity either. This is why most pet rat owners (i.e. those who do not want to breed rats) keep males and females completely separate.
Female rats become sexually mature at only 4 to 5 weeks of age. People who are inexperienced with rats can easily make the mistake of thinking because their females are so young, there’s no way they can get pregnant. But rats have a fast life cycle, and a short lifespan, and they’ve evolved to breed rapidly and often. Hence why females are able to fall pregnant when they’re literally just a little over a month old.
Unlike some other animals, it can be hard to tell when a rat is pregnant. Most people don’t even notice the pregnancy until the tiny ones arrive. People who buy rats from a pet store or other source where the rats have not been vet checked and their history is unknown, are the people most likely to be caught unawares by a surprise pregnancy and birth.
The average gestation period for a rat is 22 days, with a normal range of 21-24 days of pregnancy before giving birth.
Obviously, a weight increase is the most obvious sign of pregnancy. BUt this isn’t usually noticeable to the latest stage where the abdomen can appear expanded, and you could even notice tiny movements from the baby rats. It’s really important not to touch or apply presure to your rat’s pregnant belly (or suspected pregnant belly), as it doesn’t take much to harm the fetuses inside.
A female rat who suddenly develops a bigger appetite, and is uncharacteristically stealing food from other rats, can be another subtle sign of pregnancy, as she is wanting more nutrients to feed the growing babies inside her as well as to keep herself properly nourished.
What Are The Best Treats & Snacks For Rats?
Rats are exceptionally intelligent, and they know when a treat or tasty snack is going to be on offer.
Some foods just aren’t suitable to be a large part of the regular diet of rats, for various reasons, but they sure can be used as enticing treats!
Rats versus Mice As Pets – What’s The Difference?
Is keeping rats as pets similar to keeping mice?
What are the main differences between these two most well known rodents, besides the obvious size difference?
Well, these are in fact two very different animals and the more you learn about them, the more fascinating it becomes!
Mice are wonderful friends too and many people who enjoy keeping pet rats also enjoy the companionship of pet mice. So having a good knowledge of both, especially the main differences between them, can only be a good thing.
Two Different Species – The Biology of Rats and Mice
First and foremost, mice and rats are obviously two different species (and there are many species of each, but we are focussing on the pet types here). Rats and mice can not procreate and produce offspring, and mice are not just “little rats”. Mice are in the genus Mus, while rats are in the genus Rattus.
This classification is how taxonomists organize the family and genetic relationships of all biological life. As we move further up the family tree, rats and mice are found within the same family, indicating a common ancestor. This family is called Muridae, and there are more than 700 species of rodents and mammals within this family.
Each genus branches off from the Muridae family, and each genus breaks off into different species. So while our familiar pet mice and rats share the same biological family, they go their separate ways at the genus level.
Rats that we keep as pets are usually the Brown Rat, Rattus norvegicus. The familiar house mouse is the species Mus musculus
It’s true that many people use the terms “rat” and “mouse” generally when referring to rodents, but there’s so much more to this wonderful family of animals!
Physical Differences Between Rats and Mice
Obviously the first difference that comes to mind for anyone thinking about rats and mice is the difference in body size and weight.
Rats are considerably larger than a house mouse. Rat sizes can vary quite significantly, but the average weight of a rat is around 300 grams or 11oz, while mice have an average weight of only 15 grams or 0.5oz. Likewise, body size differs a lot between the two, with rats measuring a length of up to 10 inches (although they can be a couple of inches smaller than that), and mice only having a body length of between 2 and 4 inches – that’s without including the tail.
The tail of a rat is a little shorter than their body length, and is rather thick. The tail of a mouse measures longer than its body length and is very thin.
Other physical traits that are noticeably difference between a mouse and a rat include:
Tail: Rats have a longer and thicker tail than mice
Nipples: Rats have 2 more nipples than mice do (6 pairs vs 5 on the house mouse)
Droppings: Rat droppings are obviously larger than those of mice.
Head shape: Mice have a noticeably pointy or triangular shaped snout or front of the head compared with rats.
Behavioral & Lifestyle Differences Between Rats and Mice
Rats can kill other animals – mice don’t.
It’s difficult to think of our gorgeous, friendly pets in this way, but the fact is that wild living rats (or those captive ones who aren’t socialized or tamed) are capable of and regularly kill and eat other small animals. People who keep birds in aviaries, for example, know very well what the awful consequences are to be if rats make their way into a bird aviary. While on the other hand, mice seek to access bird aviaries to feed and seek shelter, rather than to kill and eat the bird inhabitants.
In the wild, rats have inflicted devastating consequences on some wildlife in most countries around the world, particularly when they access nesting sites and eat eggs and young. In some cases, introduced rats have been a main or sole cause of serious decline and even extinction of species. It’s little wonder then, that so many people have negative thoughts towards rats in general, even though WE know that our lovely pet rats do not live the lives of their wild counterparts. It’s therefore important to educate people as much as we can about the gentleness and placid nature of pet rats.
Foods That Are Dangerous For Rats
What foods should you never feed to pet rats?
Rats have a reputation for putting themselves on a “seefood diet” – they’ll eat anything they see, or anything we give them. This isn’t always the case with every single rats (there’s some fussy ones around), but whatever the case there’s just no point in risking our rat’s health by giving them access to foods that are not only unhealthy for them, but potentially dangerous and toxic as well.
Unhealthy foods are pretty obvious: sugary, fatty, processed human foods have no benefit for rats.
But what about foods that pose a risk of toxicity?
Dog Food For Rats – Good or Bad?
Should you give dog food to your pet rats?
The answer is not so black and white as either “yes or no”. That’s because not all dog food is created equal (that’s surely an understatement).
There’s a lot of junk dog food out there, hardly fit for dog consumption let alone any other animal. Will rats eat it if they get half the chance? Yep. But it won’t do them any good.
Unlike cats, dogs are omnivores so they have a much lower protein content in their commercial foods compared with cat food. Cat food should never be fed to rats.
The high meat content in most dog foods automatically ups the protein level – but there are vegetarian dog foods available and these often are the ones that rat people will look at.
With that said, the protein levels in commercial dog food can still be rather high so people who do choose to feed some dog food to rats take detailed notice of the protein content of the food, choosing one that is relatively low in protein. Other aspects of any dog food to consider and pay attention to are fats, carbohydrates, and additives (which cheap dog foods are well known for). Corn is a very common cheap ingredient in a lot of low cost dog food, as is soy.
Giving dog food to pet rats can be controversial and has certainly brought about significant discussion (and often argument) amongst rat owners. We have alot of good choices for quality, healthy rat foods these days in terms of rat blocks or pellets, and the fresh foods we can provide. So why add dog food to the mix? Some people can’t find a good brand of lab block where they live, while others just believe dog food can be a good addition to the diet in careful quantities.
Best Lab Blocks & Pellet Foods For Rats
Formulated food can provide an important base diet of a rat.
Lab blocks and quality pellets can be included as a part of the diet, along with your rat’s healthy human grade foods like vegetables and greens.
The best rat blocks and pellets (and thus, the only ones we would want to feed) are developed as a complete diet for rats. Despite that, who wants to live on bland biscuits solely? We wouldn’t, and neither do our intelligent rat friends who also get great joy out of eating delicious varied foods.
So combining these commercial foods with fresh vegetables and the other items that you include in your rat’s eating plan allows them the best of both worlds. It’s important to keep in mind the content of the formulated food though, particularly when it comes to protein content and the specific ingredients used, and to keep this in mind when you’re planning on the type and amounts of fresh food to supply. If for example your rat blocks contain corn, you might choose to avoid including this in the fresh food diet.
Cheap Commercial Food vs Quality Rat Blocks
Junk food for rats? Random mixes of grains, seeds, dried fruits and other high energy, and potentially high sugar foods leads to rats selecting the few things they like and ignoring the rest. Packaged foods like this can not be considered a health or nutritionally complete diet for rats.
It’s so important to be aware of the cheap so called rat foods available, which are nutritionally very poor at best, and potentially harmful at worst. These cheap “junk food” commercial products are usually what you’d find in the pet food aisle of a large grocery store, alongside the cheap low quality bird seed and cheap low quality cat and dog food. Most of these packaged foods are labelled as “mouse and rat food”, or even just “small animal food”.
Considering the vastly different dietary requirements of all the small animal pets, this generalization shows how unsuitable these foods are; for any pet. For our rats, these packaged foods are generally little more than grains, often containing a lot of dried corn, seeds and dried fruits.
More alarmingly are the additives that are often included, like preservatives, sugar and chemicals. Items like dried corn and peanuts can also harbor fungal or mold spores which are highly toxic and dangerous for rats.
Such foods are simply not healthy for rats and should be avoided at all costs.
Quality Rat Lab Blocks – Which Are The Best?
A high quality lab block or pellet for rats can, in contrast to the packaged foods mentioned above, be considered a solid base or staple of a rat’s diet around which you can plan all the other fresh foods you provide. A good rat block ensures that your rats are getting all the nutrients they need which can be a lot easier than trying to formulate a nutritionally complete home made diet.
Unlike with the dry mixes talked about above, rat blocks can’t be picked at selectively; so your rat gets all the ingredients together.
Another added benefit of a lab block food for rats is the chewing that’s required to eat them – so they contribute to keeping a rat’s teeth in healthy shape and helps to prevent the overgrowth of teeth.
So what are the best rat lab blocks that you can buy for your rats?. The consensus of the best brands to feed center around:
- Envigo Teklad (formerly called Harlan Teklad)
Some of these you might find in local stores, while others might be easier to find online.
Amazon stocks all three of these most recommended brands at reasonable prices.
Why are they called “lab blocks”?
Because, as you’d probably guess by the name, their original formulation and concept was for use in labratory rats, so that it’s known exactly what a rat is consuming. Eventually, the concept gained some commercial value and lab blocks for rats became avaliable for the public to buy for pet rats. Now, several companies manufacturer lab blocks (which are simply large pellet type foods) for pet rats.
It’s worth taking a close look at all the lab blocks and formulated pellet foods available for rats though. What’s in them? What do knowledgeable, experienced and dedicated rat owners think of them? How are the rats faring who are eating these products?
We’ve covered an extensive amount of ground putting this guide and the individual reviews of each product below together. Scouring the web for specific reviews and comments on each brand or formula, finding out the real life experiences of people who are feeding them to their rats, investigating any scientific studies and evidence based opinion, and importantly: investigating the exact ingredients and nutritional make up of each product.
Rat Blocks and Pellets Reviews
Note: When you’re searching online for “rat blocks” or pellets, you’ll find that these terms are also unfprtunately used for rait bait products! This can bring about some confusion. Quite clearly and obviously: we are talking about food for our beloved pet rats here when we use the terms blocks or pellets.
Oxbow Essentials Adult Rat Food
This kibble type food is developed for rats aged 6 months and older.
Oxbow states that this food can be supplied in “unlimited” quantity. In other words, continually supplied in your rat’s cage for them to access when they want.
They also recommend feeding vegetables and fruits alongside the pellets.
- Low fat
- Balanced and complete nutrition
- Fortified with vitamins and minerals
Minimum crude protein: 15%
Minimum crude fat: 4%
Crude fiber: 2% – 5%
The first six ingredients in Oxbow adult rat food are listed below.
Whole Brown Rice
Menhaden Fish Meal
There are dozens of additional ingredients in this formula. Worth mentioning are soybean hulls, flax seed meal (important Omega-3 source), inulin, and a plethora of vitamins and minerals. The full ingredients list can be seen on the Oxbow website.
The main sources of protein in the Oxbow pellets are soybean and fish meal. No other animal based ingredients are used. An added benefit of the fish ingredients (along with the flaxseed) is the omega 3 and healthy fats which are important for skin and heart health.
It’s important to note that there is no corn used in this Oxbow food.
Soybean tends to be controversial amongst rat owners and some people outright choose not to feed any foods containing soybean ingredients. However, it is clearly stated that Oxbow Adult Rat Food is not intended for young rats under 6 months old; and those of that age or older are unlikely to see any issues with soybean.
If you’re looking for a food to give to younger rats, see Oxbow Mouse and Young Rat food below.
Oxbow Mouse and Young Rat Food
This food is intended for rats aged under 6 months. Once they’re close to 6 months, start transitioning them to an adult pellet or lab block, like the Oxbow Adult Rat we’ve reviewed above.
Rat Lab Block Feeders
How can you feed blocks to your rat, and how often? The good thing about a quality rat food is, besides the health benefits, that they’re low-mess and easy to serve up in their own dish. Most people who feed blocks allow free access – rats like to eat regularly and having a quality base food for them on hand ensures they’re never waiting for something to eat. You can then add other healthy foods in and out throughout the day – things that should only be accessible for a short time while they remain fresh like vegetables.
Rat Hammocks – Every Pet Rat Needs One (or more) – Top Hammocks For Rats
Rats love their hammocks.
And boy, don’t they look adorable when they’re lazing about in their cute hammock looking all the world like someone living it up on a tropical island?
It’s hard to imagine having a beautiful rat cage without a few hammock beds hanging from various choice spots around the enclosure for your rats to doze away the day in.
What to look for in the best hammock for your rats:
Safe, soft materials
Security and stability
Ease of use
Is it easy to hang on to the cage?
Some hammocks will bunch up small and tight when a rat gets in, not leaving much room for additional rats (and they do like to pile in). It’s easy to overlook the overall hammock size, but you will notice that some give more room than others.
Regardless of what size hammock you get though, you can increase the “floor space” somewhat by spacing out the cage attachment clips further apart, or create a more cozy and lower hanging hammock bed by placing them close together.
If you want a larger than usual hammock, check out the cat hammocks. These are obviously bigger, so you’ll need to plan for more space in the cage to hang it. But a good cat hammock will comfortably sleep a whole bunch of rats – without them piling on top of each other (though they may still choose to do that!).
Choosing the right hammocks for your rats
Hammocks really are simple inventions. A comfortable piece of material is suspended from each corner by a strap that has a clip at the top, and the four clips are attached to a roof in the cage.
The simple things in life are often the best, and your rats are likely to agree. So it goes without saying that hammocks are most likely going to be one of the lowest cost, yet most used enjoyed things that you ever purchase for your rats. And that’s always a good feeling.
Books about Pet Rats – Top Rat Books Reviewed
You might be surprised at just how many books out there written specifically on caring for pet rats and about domestic rats in general. This is a good thing: some of them are great; others, not so much.
Having a good book or two on hand as a reference, or just to use to get some background knowledge before you get your first rats, is a great idea. Most books won’t cover every little thing you need or want to know about having rats as pets, but some of them are quite comprehensive, and you can obviously fill in the gaps with your online research.
Our #1 Pick
Misunderstood: Why the Humble Rat May Be Your Best Pet Ever
Training Your Pet Rat
Gerry Buscis, Barbara Somerville
The Complete Guide to Rat Training
Rats – A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual (Barrons)
Rats: Practical Advice From The Expert
Kate H Pellham
Squeak’s Guide to Caring for Your Pet Rats or Mice
The Rat – An Owner’s Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet
What Do Pet Rats Eat? Giving Your Rats The Best Diet
Knowing what to feed your pet rats – and how much of it – is going to enhance their quality of life considerably. And the length of their life as well.
We worry about the naturally short lives our rats already have, so doing everything you possibly can to keep them in optimal health and at a healthy weight – with quality, appropriate foods – is going to give you the peace of mind that you’re making the best effort to keep your rats healthy.
Rats and Cats Living Together – Can It Be Done?
What can you do if you’re a rat and a cat lover?
Perhaps you rescue animals and have found yourself with these two species who are, in all fairness, natural enemies. Cats and rats spend their life in the wild chasing and evading each other in a battle for survival. So how can you reconcile this predatory-prey relationship and the natural hunting instincts of a cat, in order to safely keep both pet cats and pet rats at home?
The most obvious and most common sense, and by far the most sane and safest answer, is of course to just keep them completely separate. Even the tamest pet rats have retained their millions-year-old instincts of being a prey animal, and they know a predator when they see one.
No matter how cute, cuddly and gentle your kitties are with you, can we ever really know that they won’t in a split second succumb to their hunting instincts at the sight of a rat?
The real possibility, and many would argue, likelihood, is there, that a cat will at the very least have a great temptation to ogle, stalk, chase and pounce on a rat. So we need to keep these basic instincts at the top of mind when thinking about how to have both our rats and our cat living in peace and safety.
So what does “living together” actually mean when we’re talking about our feline and rodent pets?
If we mean “living in the same room” roaming about freely, then that is not going to be a humane way for rats to be kept.
If you can have complete separation of cats from rats, clearly there wont’ be a problem with them co-existing in the same house; so long as you can be 100% certain that an accidental open door or other error could occur where your cat could gain access to your rats.
1 thought on “Complete Guide to Keeping Rats as Pets”
These tips are pretty useful, thanks for the post!