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Pet Rats Are Awesome! - Rat Care Tips

Updated on November 10, 2011

Domesticated rats are a pretty disputed topic. Few people are on the fence; you either love rats or you don't. The funny thing is, the rat hater's reasons have been debunked over and over (they're diseased, filthy, gross -- all false), or that their tails are hideous (rat tails are actually functional for them in balance and temperature-control.) And I find them cute.

Then there are the rat lovers, who fight for the right to paaaaaaaartay with their rats!

Rats make the best companions. They're great for children, teenagers, adults, and make great companions to the elderly. They're a versatile animal, great for anyone who will give them the time and care they require. They're for the most part, low maintenance, and the love they give can equal that of a dog's love!

Then there are those who are considering a pet rat. What does it take to care for them?

1. Rats Need LARGE Cages

The bigger the better! Rats need a lot of room to climb, jump, run about, and wreak their little rattie havoc and nothing is better than a large multi-story wire cage. The spacing between the bars should be no bigger than 1 inch, otherwise your ratties might try to squeeze through. Rabbit and Chinchilla cages are a huge no-no for rats, unless you have adult sized males (or rather large adult females). If you plan on having rat babies (though I'd advise against that unless you had homes lined up for every pair of rats... and rat litters are big!), you'll need even smaller spaced bars as baby rats are tiny and can squeeze through almost anything. Aquariums are the safest for a mommy and her young until weaning. The large wire cages, like Martin's cages, are the best kind of cage as they are well-ventilated and provide rats with more adventuring opportunities. You can also have an easier time hanging hammocks, toys, and the like.

Now Aquariums... they too have their place in a rattie world. They are warmer, and they are perfect for a mommy rat and her rittens, but if you go this route, make sure to keep a top on the cage because rats are escape artists. You MUST clean aquariums MUCH MUCH more often than wire ones as it lacks ventilation, and ammonia from rat piddles can build up fast and is harmful to your furballs. While I prefer wire cages, if you opt for the aquarium, you really should invest in a cage topper as it provides more room, and they can climb, which is something rats love to do. A ten gallon aquarium is insanely too small for two rats, go twenty gallons and up. For those who are creative and have the means, building your own cage may be right for you. Keep in mind the safety first and foremost, as a poorly constructed cage can be fatal!

The placing of your cage is also very important. If it's in a cold area, your ratties could get sick, and you certainly don't want to fry your rats in a hot space either! Find a place with a comfortable temperature in a high-traffic area. Rats like to be involved! Keep them in an area where there are people constantly!

High Quality Harlan Teklad Lab Blocks
High Quality Harlan Teklad Lab Blocks

2. A Rat's Diet

Rats in the wild will eat anything they can get their hands on. They're foragers, thieves, and gluttons when the chance arises... so does this mean your pet rat can eat like a garbage disposal? NO! Domestic rats are different from their wild counterparts, and this is just one of the many differences. A pet rat's main diet should be of a high quality rat lab blocks or pellet chew forumulated for their metabolism. Harlan Teklad is a great brand, as is Mazuri. Gerbil/Hamster food contains much higher calorie content. Avoid buying rat food which also says 'gerbil/hamster' food. A high caloric intake can lead your rattie to a future with tumors. Look for brands that list soy meal as the main ingredient - this food should be their staple food - available at ALL times, along with smaller helpings of veggies and fruits: peas, carrots, broccoli, apples, bananas, banana chips, and pears are recommended often. Avoid feeding rats caffeine, soda, coffee, chocolate, oranges, lemon, and avocado. If you're unsure about a particular food, look it up. Always better to be safe than sorry. Rats also look forward to treats, so try incorporating the healthy stuff, along with yogies (rats LOVE 'em), into their daily diet. Remember: Rats can't vomit, or burp, so nothing that can get stuck in their throat - like peanut butter, and nothing carbonated!

Make sure fresh water is available at all times. Water bottles that cling to cage wires or fit over a tank casing are essential as water dishes get beding/rat stuffs into them, getting dirty and contaminated fast. Rats do like playing in water, so having a water bottle and a water dish for play is another idea.

Cloth bedding and a Chinese takeout nestbox.
Cloth bedding and a Chinese takeout nestbox.

3. Bedding

Please, please don't use pine or cedar chip bedding. These shavings may smell nicer than the alternatives, but it is not worth the risk to your pet ratties. Respiratory problems arise with these two types of bedding- asthma, inflammation, allergic responses, and even changes in the liver. If you're planning on getting your bedding from a pet supply store, look for Aspen shavings or Carefresh. Carefresh does not use pine or cedar oils, is absorbent, and made from recycled gentle materials. The only issue I've had with Carefresh is that it requires you to clean the cage more, due to the lack of strong fragrance. But I grew fine with that, because it betters the health of my pets. These beddings can be spendy, which is why a lot of rattie owners are turning to homemade beddings like shredded soy-based newspaper (don't use regular newspaper, the ink can be harmful) or cloth bedding. Cloth bedding (made from cotton especially) is just as easy as throwing the bedding into the wash (use un-scented and color safe detergent. and dry without a dryer sheet) and replacing the old bedding with another bunch of cloth pieces. You can use old clothes, cloth strips, and items you can find from thrifting.

4. Toys!

Rats love toys! Hey, who doesn't? All the different types of toys are endless for a rattie. Rodent wheels, hammocks, tunnels, nestboxes, and that's the tip of the iceberg! While you can find all of these at any pet store, many of these toys can be homemade, or be found around the house. Rats love to recycle! Hammocks can be made from crochet, or cloth pieces sewn together, and nestboxes can be made from pop tart boxes, kleenex boxes, and so on! They will get destroyed fast - as rats are avid chewers, but the fun they have while doing it is priceless.

If you're going to throw something out, why not check to see if your rats could have fun using it? They aren't a picky pet, they make fun out of what they have - just bear in mind the safety and make sure it isn't toxic or harmful.

5. General Care

You should inspect the cage now and then to tidy up anything out of place. You should re-fill the food dish so it is never empty, filling their bottle with fresh water, cleaning up clusters of droppings if any, or if they're litter trained, their litter area. When it's time to clean the whole cage, do so thoroughly scrubbing down everything inside and out with an environmentally friendly cleaner and warm water. Replace with fresh bedding and clean any toys/rattie items that may need cleaning i.e. hammocks, nestboxes, etc.

A rat's teeth are no different from other rodents and small critters. They'll continuously grow! They need "chew" toys so to speak, or untreated chemical-free wood, mini rawhide chews, and other things they'd like to gnaw at - cardboard, carrots, you name it.

And like teeth, a rat's nails will grow and grow. Some people don't mind this, and it's definitely your choice, but trimming their nails is an option. It's always best to do when a rattie is sleepy or lazy, and completely oblivious to everything around them, and it's easiest to do with another person holding the rat. You just need a regular pair of nail clippers - but be careful! Trim the edges only, and stay away from the quick. Luckily the quick is very easy to spot and avoid. All the same, be very gentle and patient.

Vets! As rats grow in popularity, so are vet clinics that are expanding their practice to care for such cute pets. If you're unsure your vet has a clientele of ratties, call ahead and confirm before you pop in for a visit. When a rat is sick, you'll know. They often become lethargic, or even sad looking. Best not to wait too long, as with anything, early detection is key to the road to getting better.

You can also purchase books all about rat care and rat training through Amazon, Ebay, or any pet store, or at your local library!

Rats should always be kept in pairs or more.
Rats should always be kept in pairs or more.

Rats are amazing -- I'm not just biased. My mother, who detests most pets, grew to love the rats I've had in my life. She was so fond of them, she wanted to take them to work with her! And she is a nurse!

If my mother, the Queen of Indifference to Most Animals, has a huge soft spot for these little pets, imagine what you might be missing out on. Rats are for the most part, easy to care for, and along with the basic care, need attention and love.

If you let a rat own you, I guarantee you'll be pleased with your new family members.

Be sure to check out: Rats, are they right for you?


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    • profile image

      GalaxyRat 12 months ago

      I have 2 9-month-old males that I got the day after Christmas last year, when they were 4 or 5 months old. Sweetest little critters! One of them has a chronic respiratory disease, but, acccording to the vet book I got, caring for them won't be hard. I clean the cage twice a week because my fur baby Templeton (one with the disease), but he's doing fine. And the disease hasn't advanced to his brother Scabbers or his other 2 bros Spock and Kirk. I don't know if it's contagious.

      I love the Hub.

    • LorenaJaneAndrew profile image

      lorena frisbee 13 months ago from portsmouth

      i love pet rats i adopted two recently 6 months old the are a little nervous but are settling down always quizative and energetic climbing up and down would toilet roll centre tube be ok

    • profile image

      alicia 3 years ago

      i have two domestic rats and a pet wild rat that i rescued when he was smaller than my thumb… love them all to pieces =) =) =) they all definitely love their hammocks, especially my wild rat Popcorn… but his favorite toy is anything that makes noise at 4 AM

    • profile image

      Sky 6 years ago

      I am sure that this will really help me train, care, and love my new rat Elmo!

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      wild rats are a different animal then pet ones, that's fo sho!

    • christinepurr profile image

      christinepurr 6 years ago

      My grandma did not like rodents either. I grew up on a farm so she saw her share of wild rats getting into animal feed, but she could not deny the charms of pet ones. :) I'd catch her feeding them treats now and then, although she of course would deny it.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      I wish I could talk my wife into it. She's afraid of rodents. I'll just have to settle for dogs

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Ok - now that's funny - crocheted hammocks for rats. Unbelievable.

    • christinepurr profile image

      christinepurr 6 years ago

      Aww thank you for the comment! Life is short, you should give them a try! Hehe, I like the way your dog thinks. :D Sounds like even she was like c'monnnnnnnn, but they're ever soooo cuuuutteee!

      My grandma was dead set against the very idea of rats, and my mom didn't like the idea of them either. But I'm stubborn, and (being a teen at the time) I snuck a baby I had gotten from a friend and set her up with a starter cage. I left a note saying PLEEEASE, don't do anything. Can we talk about this when I get home from school?

      In short they let me keep her! Thank goodness, and not long, my grandma and mom especially, grew to love them. The moment it struck my grandma how cute they were was when they slept in the hammocks I'd crochet for them. (I distinctly remember her snickering, arguing with me to not waste yarn since they would never use them). But lo and behold...

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      This is a very nicely written article on rats, but there is no way I could ever be convinced to get a pet rat! Believe me, my daughter has suggested the idea over the years, but to no avail.

      We do have a dog though, and she has a certain bark she makes when she wants to be friends with another animal. The other day in the pet store she unleashed that particular bark at a rat in a cage within her view. It was funny and your article reminded me of it.

      Rats do sound like very interesting creatures, though. ~voting up and interesting~

    • christinepurr profile image

      christinepurr 6 years ago

      They certainly are! I can't wait until I get my next pair! :D

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      I grew up with pet rats. They're intelligent and fun little critters


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