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Caring for Pet Rats

Updated on February 23, 2010

Rats and People

There has, actually been a long relationship between rats and people- several centuries.

  • Ancient Egyptians worshipped rats.
  • In Japan, rats are considered a symbol or wealth; the people even set out rice cakes on New Years, and if a rat gnaws on the cake, it foretells a good harvest.
  • The Chinese, also, see the rat as a symbol of prosperity; Chinese folklore explains the rat's intelligence and cunning is the reason it's the first animal of the Chinese zodiac.
  • Hindus revere rats becaue of Ganesha, god of prosperity, rides on the back of rats.
  • India has a park donated for rats, and a temple dedicated to them.
  • Historically, those in Bassora, Turkey, did not allow rats to be killed because they were a sign of luck.

The first record of wild rats being kept as pets were in the 1800s in England. During this time, "ratting" was a popular sport, in which dogs were put into pits to kill as many rats as they could. But, Jack Black, was thought to have been the first to start selling them as pets.

In 1976, the first true rat club, the National Fancy Rat Society, was established.

And, in the first have of the 20th century, they were considered as a suitable pet for children.

Books about Fancy Rats

Things to Know Before Getting a Pet Rat

  • Compared to larger animals, rats have a relatively short lifespan, living an average of 3-5 years, with 2-3 being more common.
  • Rats are extremely social and you must consider having more than one- as they can suffer behavior problems if left alone. It's best to keep same sex groups.
  • Some rates will dribble urine over you and your possessions, as scent marking, while it doesn't have an offensive smell, some people may not like this factor.
  • Rats require larger cages than your may think, as they need space to play.
  • Although, relatively healthy creature, you must have a veterinarian in mind in case you must make emergency visits.

Cost of Keeping Pet Rats

Rats are relatively inexpensive to care for, and most of the charges will be the initial ones:

  • The price of the cage will depend on the style and size that you choose. Remember that bigger is better. Typically, cages will range from $60.00 and up.
  • Accessories and toys will usually cost about $2.00 to $5.00 each.
  • The rat, depending on where you purchase it, will range from $2.00- $10.00. Breeders tend to charge $15.00 to $20.00.

You upkeep will consists of food and bedding:

  • Rat Blocks generally costs about $3.00 to $5.00 depending on the brand that you purchase.
  • The cost of litter, or bedding, depends on the brand, type, and the size of the bag that you choose. Carefresh tends to be much more costly than normal aspen wood shavings. But, in general you will pay about $2.00 to $15.00, per bag.
  • Wood chew blocks are necessary to keep rats' teeth trimmed, as their teeth grow continuously. Bags of wood chews can range from $1.99 to $4.00.

Rat Growth and Aging

Here's a rat's age equivalent to a human's. (rat's age in bold)

6 weeks: 10 years

6 months: 16 years

9 months: 25 years

1 year: 30 years

1.5 years: 38 years

2 years: 45 years

2.5 years: 53 years

3 years: 60 years

4 years: 75 years

5 years: 90 years

6 years: 105 years

7 years: 130 years

Male or Female?


  • Male rats are considerably larger then female rats.
  • They are generally more cuddly, laid back, and lazy.
  • Male rats are prone to kidney failure.


  • Female rats are smaller.
  • They are generally more active, inquisitive, and endearing.
  • Female rats are prone to mammary tumors.

Choosing a Rat

The most important things to look for when choosing a pet rat is health and personality.

A healthy rat:

  • Active and curious.
  • It will have bright, shiny eyes.
  • Healthy rats will appear alert- when he sniffs the air and swivels his ears in response to any sounds.
  • When held, both babies and adults, will appear solid, neither fat nor boney.

Avoid rats who are bloated, hunched over, lethargice, or unresponsive.

Check rats for signs of respiratory infection:

  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Discharge in the eyes and nose

For more signs of a sick rat, click HERE.

For more housing information click HERE.

For more suggestions for toys and games for you rats click HERE.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Training Pet Rats

For information about how to train your pet rat(s), you may want to read How to Train Pet Rats. You will find great tips to clicker trainnig your pet rat(s).

Housing Pet Rats

When housing fancy rats, wire cages are really, the only suitable option, as they provide ventilation, ample climbing opportunities, and it's easier to interact with them.

Make sure to find a multi-floor cage, as rats need plenty of room to play.


There are several suitable bedding products that are available such as:

  • Aspen
  • CareFresh
  • Hemp derived products
  • Cardboard derived products

You should never use pine, cedar, or spruce, as they have added oils that can cause respiratory infections.


  • Food dish
  • Water bottles
  • Places to hide
  • Litter box (optional)
  • Wheel (optional. some rats do not like wheels)


Rats can find enjoyment from the commercial toys, as well as homemade toys. It's up to you to find what your rat enjoys.

I will recommend ferret toys and cat toys (without catnip).

It is important to provide your pet rats with some form of entertainment.

Rat Cage Play

Rat Treats

You can purchase commercial rat treats or use fresh fruits and vegetables as treats. In either sense, treats should not compose more than 10% of a rat's diet. Although, if you want to include fresh fruits and vegetables in your rat's diet, you can increase the percentage to no more than 20%. But, as for treats such as yorgurt drops, make sure not to overfeed them to you rat(s).

HERE you will find a near complete listing of fresh produce that you can feed your pet rat(s).

For homemade rat treats you can check out Homemade Rat Recipes and Homemade Rat Treats.

Feeding Pet Rats

When feeding pet rats, you will want to find a low-fat, low-calorie diet.

Rat blocks is the easiest diet to feed rats, as a staple. The best rat blocks will contain a large proportion of soymeal, rather than corn. Commercial rat blocks should compose at least 80% of a rat's diet. I prefer the brands Mazuri and Harlan Teklad; I try to avoid Kaytee's Forti-Diet, as it is high in fats.

You should avoid seed and grain mixes as staple diets, as rats tend to pick out their favorite bits and leave everything else, which not only wastes the food, but creates an unbalanced diet.

You may want to consider feeding your rat a combinations of nutritious rat blocks, seed- grain mix, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are important because they contain cancer- preventing compounds, enzymes, and other beneficial components that can be destroyed when processed.

Believe it or not, but rat's like a variety of foods, but remember that rat's are relatively small when compared to other animal pets, so they should receive smaller portions of fresh foods and table scraps, as an excessive amount can cause diarrhea and other health concerns like obesity.

You may consider you own seed- grain mix, versus a commercial one; although not a replacement for rat blocks, it can provide a nice variety to the staple diet. You can read more about homemade rat diets HERE.

Waterless Bath

You may consider using a waterless bath spray instead of actually bathing your pet rat(s). It will be easier on you and less stress full for your rat(s).

Grooming Pet Rats


For the most part, fancy rats keep themselves clean, but on occassion, you will want to bathe your rat(s). But, as a rule, you shouldn't bathe them often.

You can fill a bathtub with warm water, just enough to the rat's shoulder's, so he can swim if he wishes. You can use a kitten/puppy shampoo or you can purchase a small animal shampoo.

Gently, hold onto the rat, while you lather him up. Avoit getting soap in his eyes and ears.

You may want to consider providing treats as soon as your done giving him his bath.

Have a dry towel ready.

Nail Clipping

Nail clipping is not usually necessary, but if you want to, you can use small baby nail clippers to clip your rat(s) nails. Only trim the tips of the nails, as to not clip the quick, which will be painful and causing some bleeding.

If you clip the quick, you can use flour or a steptic pen to stop the bleeding.

You may consider, using a nail file, versus actually clipping the nails.

Pet Rat Tips

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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      hi kevin it took me ages to find it this is the contact and details ,ring them for help & advice , mention myself-davy fetons

      said you would get him sorted

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I bought a baby male albino rat named Kasper not that long ago. I hold him everyday although he doesnt really play, just sleeps. He actually sleeps quite often is that normal. I give him fruits & veggies everyday along with the store bought food & he enjoys turkey & cheese. I tought him his name & he sometimes nibbles on me, but hasnt bitten yet, he only does this when I enter into his cage, & he is slowly learning the word no.

      am I doing things okaye?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Hi. I have to male rats. They are super sweet and the most social rats i have ever met. They mostly clean themselves. But sometimes they don't smell so good. And they hate water. Is there any good waterless dry shampoo i can use that i don't have to rinse out with water? :)

    • Eternal Evolution profile image

      Eternal Evolution 

      9 years ago from kentucky

      Very nice hub, really enjoyed the facts at the top about people and rats. I currently own 2 dumbo males and they really make wonderful pets.People don't give rats enough respect.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      My Rat I have had since birth, his never had a cage just roams free a couple of weeks training when they can run around and a strong bond we have had him in our hands almost instantly,

    • profile image

      rat lover 123 

      10 years ago

      I would absolutely love to get a rat, but my father is allergic.... is there any way to keep his reactions to a minimum so that i acn get one?

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Georgia

      They will pee little drops. I suggest a cage at minimum of 24"L x 12"W x 24"H for 1 or 2 rats, but no more.

      Some will sit and hang out with you, where others will want to expore.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I am nervous about rats. Unfortunately, our had a giant roof rat problem a few years back, and I'm still grossed out. My daughter really wants a pet, and this sounds like the most intelligent, interactive idea. Q- Will their poop and pee be all over the place if we let them out to explore? What size cage for 2 rats? Are they hard to catch if you let them out? Are they mellow enough to sit with and read?

      I'm on the fence...Thanks for any replies

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      We just got a baby rat, oh my gosh, my family loves him already. Never thought I would actually purchase a rat.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      im getting a pet rat cos my hamster died. he was called Poco and he used to give me kisses


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I have 2 wonderful female rats. Recently they started trying to lick my face, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Is their excessive grooming of me normal?

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      i have 3 lush ratties. There amazing pets, like having a very small puppy. Btw it was Queen Victorias rat catcher that 1st began breeding them and seling them 2 Rich victorian women.

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Georgia

      Lady k, just keep an eye on the rat. sneezing can be respiratory, stress, or excitment

      cassie, it can take time for a new rat to create that bond. Plus all rats are different some are just more social than others.

    • profile image

      cassie gardiner 

      11 years ago

      my partner just brought a rat and i liked him so much that i had to get one but she doesnt seem to like me very much. will that change if i am consistent with handling her or how do i make a strong relationship with her please help me because my partners rat loves him and i dont like it that mine wants to run away from me

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Back to the sneezing...we got our rat a few months ago, and he seems to sneeze a lot. It's been going on since we got him, and he's never seemed ill. Could it be possible to just have a sneezy rat? LOL He's very active & loving, so we've never really thought he might be sick...

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Georgia

      With adult supervision over care and feeding, there's no reason a rat wouldn't make a great pet. Remember that they generally do better in pairs as they are quite social, but that doesn't mean they can't be along.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      I am thinking about getting a rat for my grandaughter, she is 8 years old, do you think that is too young?

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Hey! I love this site. I have two rats and this site really helped. i had been using pine bedding for about 4 days now and then i saw your site so i stopped using it. thanks so much!!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Thanks for these comments, I don't actually like rats. But my child wants a small animal so we check your sight out. Thanks for your great advice.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      hello i have been a rat lover for about 19 years now. forthe person that has the sneezing rat u should take him to the vet it sounds like he has a bacteria infection, the vet will weigh him and give him the proper meds to clear it up. it is very important that u do this because he will get sicker from it and it could also be passed to any other ratties that come in contact with him.

      as for the bathing i would not recomend it during winter months also i wuld let ur rat decide to experience water on his own before u throw him into a bath it can be a very scary thing. i used a clean unused paint tray to start with and let mine explore it on his own. u can also put treats and ur ratties fav toy in to help incourage him in

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      This site really helped me out, thanks! I really want a rat. My dad is allergic to pretty much all cats and dogs and I think this would be a great pet for me. I am a beginner so are there any basic things I need to know?

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Georgia

      Hamsters should never be given a bath. If you do not properly dry off a hamster, a rat, or any small animal, they can freeze to death.

      More than likely the hair won't go back white. Rats with white fur can easily get stained if the cage isn't cleaned properly or if the rat sleeps on the bedding. The staining won't come off no matter how hard you try to scrub.

      Letting rats play in water can be fun, if they like it, but not all rats like it. You'll want to towel dry, and then let them run around until fully dried before putting them back in the cage.

      If you opt to use soap, purchase a small animal soap, unscented is best

    • profile image

      Kori A. 

      11 years ago

      I have three rats, and i love them so much, and i would like to try the bath thing, but my friend gave her hamster a bath and froze to death the next day... any drying advice? because tutu's hair is not so white, and i would like to give her a bath... but i'm scared. and coco is having hair loss. what can I do for that?

      please, please help me. thanks...

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from Georgia

      Were they fighting or were they just rough housing? If they were just rough housing, then don't worry about it. If they were fighitng, there's not much you can do but separate them.

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      I just bought two rats about a month ago.they are both females and they came from the same litter.I just saw them fight and they've never fought before.I was wondering if you knew why they might fight and how to make them stop?

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from Georgia

      That's actually incorrect. They have fairly sensitive respiratory systems which makes them prone to many illnesses.

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      It is fairly uncommon to get sick from rats.

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      i recenty got a pet rat and lately she has ben sneezing a little bit, she is energetic and looks quite healthy, but i am worried that she may have a resperatory disease! do you know any home remidies that can help her? or is thia normal? i bought her from a pet shop but the people who own it breed them and have a large farm of them... also can humans become infected? or is our amune system alot stronger?

    • profile image


      13 years ago

      Rats are so great... Most rats are smarter than most dogs, the average rat is as smart as a 2 1/2 year old human... I own two rats and my family is sick of me because I talk about them nonstop... PS. Did you know rats can chew through concrete, swim a mile, and squeeze through holes the size of a quarter?

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      13 years ago from Georgia

      It's rat food that comes in block shapes.

    • profile image


      13 years ago

      what are rat blocks?

    • Rat707 profile image


      13 years ago from California for 1 year

      Wow! Love the Growth and Aging table. Good for people to understand. =)

    • compu-smart profile image

      Tony Sky 

      13 years ago from London UK

      Haha, Life is so funny! Maybe someone could enlighten us!..

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      13 years ago from Georgia

      dwglobal- I do find rats as one of my favorite animals. Thank you for reading.

      compu-smart- I think it's slightly ironic that the UK finds rats as pests, as they were the ones who first had rats as pets. If I remember right, the Queen (not the current one but in the past) was one of the firsts to actually keep rats. I could be wrong.

    • compu-smart profile image

      Tony Sky 

      13 years ago from London UK

      Rats here in the UK are often seen as infested objects that should not exsist but i have a softspot for rats and this page has been very informative..


    • profile image


      13 years ago

      It seems you know a lot about rats. Is it one of your fave animals? lol. Thanks for sharing a great information about these cute little rats.

    • prasadjain profile image


      13 years ago from Tumkur

      O.K. Why can't you write a small book on your experience with rats?It will be fine , funny and special.Perhaps you can unveil 'humane' face af rats!


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