Rats haven’t had the best reputation throughout history, but the domestic variety (also called “fancy rats”) can make truly wonderful pets. Pet rats have been bred since the late 19th century, and these smart, curious, cuddly, and surprisingly clean rodents can be excellent companions for children and adults.
Rat Care 101
Caring for a pet rat is fairly straightforward, but you want to make sure to provide the right environment, nutrition, veterinary care, and entertainment. Before bringing home a new little buddy, take a moment to read up on rat care and make sure you have what it takes.
- Housing – A large wire cage is ideal. If possible, purchase one with horizontal bars that allow your rat to climb on the sides. The larger the better, especially if you plan on having two or more rats living together. Include ramps and platforms to provide enrichment. Avoid cages with wire flooring, as this can injure a rat’s feet over time. Situate the cage in a quiet spot where your rat can still view the activities of the family. Avoid sunny or drafty locations.
- Bedding – Rats need nesting material to feel comfortable. Tissues, paper towels, inkless paper, hardwood shavings (avoid cedar and pine shavings) work well. Check your local pet supply store for other safe bedding options. Rats tend to designate one spot as their “bathroom,” which will need to be scooped daily and replaced with bedding as needed. Once a week, clean the whole cage and replace the nesting material. Your rat will also need a nesting box to feel at home. This can be store-bought or DIY (e.g., a cardboard box, jar, or flowerpot turned on its side).
- Food and water – Rat pellets or blocks formulated for nutritional completeness are available at pet supply stores and should make up the bulk of your pet’s diet. Rats also benefit from small amounts of healthy people food. Try fruits, veggies, whole grains, plain yogurt, seeds, cheese, nuts, or mealworms. Healthy dog biscuits can also be a good alternative. Keep supplemental foods low in fat and sugar, as rats gain weight easily. Install a water bottle with a sipper tube in your rat’s cage, and make sure it’s always filled with fresh water.
- Commitment – Although rats don’t live very long (their average lifespan is 3 years or less), they need and deserve just as much time and love as more conventional pets. They also require stimulating toys and games. Try teaching your rat a trick or two (they’re highly intelligent and love to learn!) or provide them with food puzzles. Rat-proof an area outside their cage and let them explore from time to time.
Veterinary Care for Pet Rats
Rats are prone to specific health problems, most notably breast cancer and respiratory infections. Pet rats should be seen yearly by a veterinarian to receive a full physical examination, including a check of their teeth, weight, respiratory tract, and breast tissue. Your veterinarian will also review dietary recommendations and address any questions or concerns you might have.
If you’d like to know more about pet rats or other good options for animal companions, please don’t hesitate to contact the staff at Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital.