Rats can make very friendly pets. They’re generally very clean, highly intelligent and are ideal for older children. Domesticated rats come in a wide variety of colours.
They tend to live between 2–3½ years and a healthy adult should weigh between 225–500g depending on sex and age.
Rats love the company of other rats, so it’s best to keep them in same-sex pairs or groups. Do not house with any other species as they may fight.
A wire cage with a plastic tray floor are the best cages for rats. Rats are extremely agile and can jump two feet or more, so a large cage is essential. Ensure you buy a cage made for rats, and not for smaller rodents such as mice or hamsters.
Provide your rats with lots of wooden toys to gnaw on, and lots of other playthings to bite, hide in, and generally run around with! Another fun game is to hide treats around the cage for them to forage and find. Rats love to climb, so provide branches to climb, or suspend rope from the roof of their cage for them to climb. They also love going through tunnels, so provide plastic or cardboard tubes for them to run through (and chew!).
You will need to have a deep layer of paper-based litter for burrowing and using one area of the cage for a toilet. Do not use wood-shavings or sawdust, as they can irritate rats’ eyes and noses. Have a nest box with nesting material inside, but do not use straw. Rats tend to use one area of the cage for urinating, so this area will need to be cleaned frequently (perhaps daily) and the whole cage will need to be cleaned once a week. Keep the cage away from direct sunlight and draughts, and away from loud noises (e.g. TV, radio).
Although rats are friendly once tamed, they can be timid to start with, so you will need to earn their trust before handling them. When you approach them, crouch down and speak very softly. Let them come to you–perhaps hold a treat in your hand for them to have and be patient. They may not come to you the first time you try this. Once they are happy for you to have your hands near them, gently scoop the rat with both hands.
NEVER wake your rat up abruptly and pick it up as this could frighten them and they may react by biting you.
NEVER pick your rat up by the tail.
Rats are relatively clean animals so do not need to be groomed regularly.
Neutering is not routinely performed in rats as any anaesthetic can prove risky for them. If you do not want your rats to have litters, then keep males and females in separate cages.
You should be feeding your rat a good quality pelleted food. Ensure you choose a ‘nugget’ food, rather than a muesli-style. With the muesli-style diets, they pick out the parts they like and leave the parts they don’t, which means that they may not get all of their required nutrients. Nugget-style pellets prevent this selective feeding, as each pellet has an equal amount of nutrients. Finally, you can also give your rat some fresh greens, but not too many! Try to choose foods that are low in fat, such as carrot, apple and broccoli. They also love sunflower seeds, but these are quite high in fat so be careful not to give them too often. Take care if you are thinking of changing their diet, and always ensure you change foods over gradually, over a period of 10 days.
Common Health Problems
Rats are susceptible to tumours, especially mammary tumours in females. 90% of mammary tumours in rats are benign (not harmful), and they can grow quickly. Surgical removal can be performed when the mass is very small, but if left too long then surgery is no longer an option.
Breathing difficulties in rats are common and usually caused by poor living conditions. Always ensure you clean toilet areas every day or two, and the entire cage every week (at least).
If your pet is in any way unwell, contact your vet immediately to book an appointment.