Why choose rats as pets?
Rats are very intelligent and sociable animals; contrary to some beliefs they are actually very clean and make great pets. They are rodents and most active over the hours of darkness, dawn and dusk. Their average lifespan is around 2 years. They can form a great human-animal bond and be very rewarding.
It’s important for us to consider how we can provide the five welfare needs for all animals that we consider keeping as pets - they need:
Diet - what do they eat?
Rats are omnivores - meaning that they eat both plant and animal-based foods.
It’s really important that rats are fed a balanced diet designed for them as they have different requirements for specific vitamins, minerals, and protein from other animals. We recommend feeding a commercial balanced pelleted rat food which provides all the nutrients required. We don’t recommend feeding ‘muesli’ style diets as this can result in selective feeding (picking out the tasty bits and leaving the rest). Their diet can be supplemented with fresh foods and treats such as: small amounts of cooked egg, fruit, veg, seeds, and cooked fish. Care should be taken not to over feed rats as they can be prone to obesity (and have a real sweet tooth!).
Always ensure access to fresh water - this can be in a bottle or a heavy-based shallow bowl and must be changed at least once a day. Rats often prefer eating/drinking from ceramic bowls rather than metal (as they make a noise when they eat/drink from them).
Housing and behaviour
Rats are prey animals and this must be taken into account when choosing housing type and location. Housing should be secure, away from potential predators (such as cats or dogs) or noisy areas in the house and allow safe areas for them to hide and shelter within the housing. The housing should also be placed in a location that avoids draughts and direct sunlight.
Suitable housing types include large wire cages with plastic bases; wood is not suitable due to rat’s love of gnawing. Space is important; an enclosure can never be too large. As a bare minimum, your pet must have space to run from one end to the other and to stand to full height and stretch out in any direction. Exercise is important - you can provide an exercise wheel in the cage and when used to being handled rats should be allowed to exercise/explore/be handled outside of their cage too.
Absorbent bedding material should be used throughout the housing and cleaned regularly (soiled bedding removed daily, entire bedding changed weekly). Where possible choose dust extracted bedding to reduce the chance of bad effects on the respiratory system.
Rats are very intelligent - they can be trained to understand basic commands and need lots of mental stimulation to keep them entertained and mentally happy! This can be provided in the form of toys, games (foraging for treats etc.), areas to climb and explore (hammocks, rope ladders etc.).
Rats are very social animals and need the company of other rats otherwise they can show abnormal behaviours and even develop signs of depression. They should be kept with at least one other rat and should be introduced to each other gradually and in a safe manner. Remember that mixed-sex groups will breed even if they are littermates (brother and sister) so we recommend keeping rats in groups of the same sex to avoid unwanted breeding.
Rats very much enjoy human contact and with gentle handling and rewards (treats, hand-feeding) they will quickly learn that it is a positive experience.
Common health conditions:
Signs of ill-health
Due to being prey animals rats won’t always give you much warning if they’re not feeling themselves and they can deteriorate quickly. If they show any of the following signs or anything else that concerns you please contact your vet immediately: