Pet Care

How do I look after my rat

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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:

  • protection from pain, injury, suffering and disease and to be treated if they become ill or injured.
  • the ability to behave naturally for their species eg. Play, run, dig, jump, fly etc.
  • suitable companionship - to be housed with, or apart, from other animals of their species, as required.
  • a suitable diet for their species, age, and life-stage.
  • a suitable environment with a comfortable place to rest and hide as well as space to exercise and explore.

  • 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:

  • Dental disease: Rats’ teeth are orange/yellow and this is normal. They grow throughout their lifetime and if not provided with things to gnaw to keep them down they can overgrow and cause issues.
  • Respiratory problems: Rats can be prone to respiratory infections, keep their environment clean and low in dust, with good ventilation to try and help avoid this.
  • Skin issues: Hair loss/itching due to mites or other parasites are common, as are some skin infections and allergies.
  • Obesity: Rats have a large appetite and often a sweet tooth, so care should be taken not to overfeed them!
  • Abscesses: can result from trauma or fighting and can be difficult to treat to full resolution.
  • Tumours: are common, especially mammary tumours in both males and females. These can become very large if not addressed promptly, and it is not unknown for the tumour to grow larger than the rat itself.

  • 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:

  • Change in activity level (quiet/huddled).
  • Not eating/reduced appetite.
  • Change in poo - passing smaller amount, size or none at all, or diarrhoea.
  • Hair loss/coat changes including broken hairs.
  • Changes in weight - unexplained loss or gain.
  • Red staining around the eyes or nose (although this isn’t blood, it can indicate stress or illness).

  • Are rats the right pet for you?

    Rats are intelligent and very rewarding pets if kept properly. If you think that you may have the space and time in your family to offer a home to a rat we encourage you to contact your local rescue centre and offer a rat a new start.