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Keeping Rats as Pets: The Beginners Guide

Updated on October 1, 2017
KarmaWolf profile image

KarmaWolf is an animal lover who is passionate about taking the best care of her pets and making sure they're happy.


Choosing Your New Rat

Rats may give some people the willies, but those who can get past the tail know them to be loving and wonderful pets. Choosing your first rats is exciting, but you should know a couple things before you do.

You want to choose a rat with bright clear eyes, who isn't wheezing or sneezing. Who also has no visible scrapes or bite marks. You should always adopt rats in pairs, because one rat alone will get lonely and may develop behavior issues. For first time owners I recommend getting a younger rat, young rats can becomes accustomed to handling and having their cages messed with by little hands. Unlike hamsters (who I do not recommend as first time pets for small children) Rats will not bite you. The only way a normal healthy rat will bite is out of pure self defense. This however does not mean they do not nibble occasionally.

This nibbling is not painful, though it may surprise you at first. New rats usually nibble at fingernails, which will retain the smells of foods you've eaten. Your rat will quickly understand that your fingernails are not food and will learn to lick you instead of nibbling, Nothing is better then those little ratty kisses.

You will want to adopt a rat pair of the same gender to eliminate the possibility of unwanted babies. There are thousands of unwanted rat babies in the world trying to find homes, I know those little babies are cute but you will quickly be over the cuteness and faced with the task of finding new homes for anywhere between 6 and 20 babies. Just enjoy your new pets as they are and don't force them to contribute to the already over populated pet problem.


Choosing Your Rats New Home

Since your getting two rats you should buy a cage that can comfortably fit your new little friends. An aquarium is not recommended, as it does not circulate air efficiently and will trap bedding dust and regular house dust in your rats cage for them to breathe in. This can cause your rats to develop respiratory infections. Its not easy finding a vet who knows how to treat rats, so its easier for all involved to just skip the aquarium and leave it for the fish.

Your looking for a wire cage, preferably one with a second level or a half level, that will have enough space to hang hammocks and other toys in if you wish to. Cramped rats will fight, no matter how well they know each other. You want a cage with enough space to give the rats space to "get away" from each other if they feel the need, more often then not they will be snuggle buddies but its best to give them the space if they need it.

Feeding Your Rat

Choosing your rats diet can be tricky. Most pet stores carry a small variety, but you want to make sure you buy food that says it's specifically for rats.Often times people assume that if its :"rodent" food (for hamsters or gerbils) that it will work fine, and then wonder why their new ratty isn't thriving. You'll also want to pay attention to the amount of protein in your pet rats food, too much protein can cause your rats skin to be itchy and can cause other health problems. Your rat can also eat a large variety of human food for snacks and treats. Male rats should never be fed citrus, as this can cause them to develop health issues.

For a more extensive list of rat safe foods, check here:


Behavior and Training

Enjoy your new pet. Rats are smart pets and will actively seek out your attention and affection. Most will love snuggling on your shoulder waiting for the occasional snack or scratch under the chin. You can actually teach rats tricks if you have the time and patience to train them. Most rats are like little dogs and will lick you and want to play with you. They need stimulation during the times when you aren't home or when you can't play with them. There are lots of toys you can buy and make to keep your little buddies occupied in your absence. A happy well occupied rat has no need to try to escape its cage or bite at the cage bars out of boredom.


  • Choose a healthy rat pair of the same gender, rats really need a buddy to keep them happy and occupied when your not there.
  • Find a cage that will fit your buddies comfortably and allow them to get away from each other if they need to, you wouldn't want to be stuck in a closet with your brother or sister for the rest of your life, so keep that in mind when selecting a cage.
  • Feeding a low protein rat appropriate food is essential to your new pet's health. Feeding the wrong food can cause skin problems and general health issues.
  • play with your rats for a few hours a day, tote them around on your shoulder and give them toys (home made or store bought) to keep them occupied.

If you follow all of these guide lines and information in the article then you will have two very happy, very healthy pets who will bring endless joy to you and your family.

© 2012 KarmaWolf


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    • KarmaWolf profile image

      KarmaWolf 11 months ago from Indiana

      It could be possible, rats are very social creatures so they usually do best in small groups or pairs. I'd go in prepared to keep them separate if things don't work out but introducing them slowly and in neutral territory (don't put one right into the others cage at first) and seeing how they react to each other is a good start. ^_^

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      Sarah 18 months ago

      I adopted a rat recently who had been separated from her sister due to an upper respiratory infection. Because she had been away from her sister for a while they did not reintroduce them. Would it be safe for me to purchase her sister and place them in the same habitat? (They are both close to a year old) Thank you.