Pet Rat Care

I currently own several rats and have picked up a few things that I thought I’d share. The following is based off of my own experiences, as well as what I have learned via my own research and from others in some rat groups.

This information is meant as a guide to help assist in the general care of pet rats. As I learn more on the subject, I will update this page. I’ll make a clean printable doc in the future.

As always seek the advice of a vet whenever you question the health of your rat.


Rats?!

I have come to find out that not a lot of people enjoy rats nearly as much as my daughters and I do. In fact, they are a bit repulsed by them. It’s a shame because they can really make wonderful pets. They are very smart and affectionate.

How Many? Boys Or Girls?

Rats actually do get lonely and depressed if they don’t have a cage mate. Even when you constantly play with them, they need their own rat companionship as well. The only exception to this, is if you have a rat that gets aggressive towards other rats. We have one of those that has lashed out a few times, but this last one was pretty brutal. That’s when we decided Cedar needs to be on his own for the safety of others. While every rat’s personality is different, girls do seem to be smaller and more adventurous, while boys are more chonky and laid back. I’ve also read that boys tend to be messier and will piddle more on your things.

Cage and Accessories

Since you are now looking at getting at least two ratties, this means you will need a large enough cage for them. Definitely do not use an aquarium. Rats are extremely susceptible to respiratory issues. A tank doesn’t allow for enough air flow to get through properly. A lot of people love the Critter Nation cages, but they may cost more. You can sometimes snag a good deal on the Facebook Marketplace on a decent cage. I got mine at the pet store and Amazon. I have also used a bird cage and made several DIY cage bins when needed.

Whatever kind you get, it should give them lots of room and have multiple levels. They love to explore and will also need things like toys, hammocks, space pods, ropes, baskets, tissue boxes, paper towel rolls, and more. I don’t recommend a wheel, but if you decide to get one, please make sure it’s the largest size. Otherwise, it can actually hurt their spines. Same thing with the exercise balls. From what I’m reading, they are not good for them at all. I didn’t realize at first and already bought one. So I attached it inside the cage.

See recommended items below.

Adoption Time

Although I’ve read great success stories about pet shop and feeder rats that have been saved, it’s better to adopt them from a rattery if that’s an option. A rattery knows the age and history of the rats, and most likely has several generations invested in the line. They are taken better care of and they tend to have a longer lifespan since they may be healthier. They should also be temperament tested prior to adopting. They are also housed in proper cages to prevent respiratory infections. There will usually be a rehoming fee anywhere from $15 to $45 each from what I’ve seen.

Bonding

Once you have chosen the right ones for you, and get them home, it’s time to start bonding. You are going to want to handle your new rats as much as possible. Be careful that they don’t wander off or jump away in the process. They are very curious. If you have other animals, gently introduce them at some point. We have a large black lab/pit bull mix and a kitten who interact with our rats without issues, but always with close supervision at all times.

General Care

Now that you have some new buddies, you want to be sure to continually interact with them. Play with them, give them kisses and pets, reward with treats, take them on shoulder rides, and let them free roam. The roaming still makes me nervous. I’m always scared they will wander off, except my Malakai. I can let him out for hours and he always stays nearby. He’s a big, super chill, chonky boy.

See below for more information regarding their health, diet, and cleaning.

Health

You want to find a nearby exotic vet as soon as possible so you have them on hand just in case. You should know their hours and procedures for emergencies. For example, a few of my rats were having trouble breathing and the exotic vet at the office didn’t work that day. No one could help me. I called every single vet up to about an hour away until I could find one that could see us.

Rats have very sensitive respiratory systems. They need lots of airflow, so a cage is ideal. Do not ever use an aquarium, even though they keep rats in them at the pet stores. Do not use any perfumes, incense, or candles around them. An air cleaner is best to have. Any signs of labored breathing, red around the nose and eyes, and barely moving could indicate a respiratory infection. The vet should be contacted immediately. This happened to us and we lost six rats, and 11 had to be medicated for two weeks.

Diet

There’s a small selection of rat foods at the pet store, but rats can actually eat a lot of what we do. They are omnivores, so they should have a diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, and meats.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Endives
  • Melons
  • Parsely
  • Peas
  • Pears
  • Stone fruits
Cooked Foods
  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Sweet Potato
AVOID

Some foods are poisonous or harmful to pet rats. Do not feed or allow your rats access to any of the following foods.

  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Any foods with D-Limonene in them, including Lemon Peels and Mango
  • Raw beans
  • Sweet potato
  • Wild insects
  • Oranges for boys
Cleaning

Rats are actually very clean animals and do not ever need to be bathed. If you notice anything dirty on their fur that they don’t seem to be getting to, you can use an unscented baby wipe to spot clean them. Some people will do pea bobbing with their rats, which can be fun and give them a little bath.

As far as the cage, you don’t want to overclean or your rats will mark it up even more. I know that’s hard to do. I’m OCD about the smell, and I currently have way too many rats in our tiny home. We have a Germ Guardian air cleaner set up by the cages. Every couple days or so, I change the bedding. I also wipe everything down with vinegar water.

The wall behind the cage often gets pretty nasty. To prevent this, I use binder clips and carabineers to attach placemats to the back of the cages.


Besides having a decent sized cage with activities, I would suggest having the following.

Amazon, Chewy, Etc

Shop around to get the best deals on food since you’ll be buying a lot of it. I’ve found some things cheaper on Amazon and some on Chewy. If I physically drive to the Tractor Supply store, I’ll save even more, but then I’m spending money on gas.

  • Attachable water bottle (Prevent spilling)
  • Attachable food bowl (Prevent spilling)
  • Variety of dry foods premixed in a bin
  • Bedding
    • I use Kaytee Clean and Cozy paper bedding.
    • Some people just use fleece, but it’s too much upkeep for me.
  • Litter Box
    • Place in the corner of the cage.
    • You can add smooth, flat “pee rocks”. (I stopped doing this, and they still use the boxes.)
Dollar Tree Shopping List
  • Bedding pans
    • Holiday bins
    • Dish pans
    • Kitty litter trays
  • Bag of river rocks
  • Pet food scooper
  • Clips for attaching things to the cage
    • Binder clips, bread ties, shower curtain clips, carabineer clips.
    • Use zip ties minimally, as they can be easily chewed.

My Cage Experiences

When we first got our rats, I bought a starter rat setup from Petco for $110. The water bottle leaked, the food dish was a waste, and the spinning wheel seemed to just take up a lot of space. *Dec’20 Update: They chewed an escape hole in the bottom corner. I patched it up. Dec’21 Update: The repair has been holding so far, and is currently being used by some new babies.

Once I realized the water bottle was leaking, I immediately replaced it with one from Amazon. It’s out of reach, and is really easy to refill. Once we had our babies, we needed another cage for separating the girls and boys, so I bought a slightly smaller cage on Amazon for only $50. It has a pull out tray for the bedding. The doors stick a bit, but it’s not horrible.


I hope this information has been helpful.
For a few of our pet rat pics, see the Ratties page.

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