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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.


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