The Rat as a Pet:
Rats have their own unique personalities. Females are generally more active and love to explore, while males, once full grown, are more likely to be lap rats and prefer human attention more than exploring. Rats are social animals and live in groups in the wild, therefore it is not recommended to keep only one rat. Same sex pairs work best and they will easily get along with one another if raised together. If you get two rats that were not raised together, you will need to go through proper rat introduction steps to ensure a successful bond between the rats. Also see our guide for adopting your first rats for tips on choosing the right rats for you.
When raised properly, rats are very gentle, curious and loving pets. Rats very rarely bite and if they do it is usually due to being scared or injured. If your pet rats are kept in a cage, be careful when putting your fingers through the bars. They don’t have the best eye sight and could mistake your finger for food.
Rats are very curious and need toys to keep them from becoming bored. They don’t have to be expensive store bought toys – they will greatly appreciate paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, cardboard boxes, etc. and will have a blast exploring and chewing on them.
Rats can be spayed or neutered if you want to keep males and females together. Males and females will breed, whether they are related or not. Females can get pregnant again as soon as the first litter has been birthed and babies must be separated into same sex groups at four weeks, otherwise you’ll have a lot of rats! Neutering males often helps with aggression that some males develop as they get older. This aggression is generally towards other male cage mates.
Rats don’t need vaccines or to go to the vet unless they have health problems. That being said, rats are very prone to respiratory infections and diseases and female rats are very prone to developing tumors – cancerous and non-cancerous. They also can contract lice and mites through other rats that are brought in or through certain beddings. Luckily, treating lice and mites in pet rats is pretty simple and fairly cheap.
Pet rats are all the same breed, but they come in a wide array of different varieties based on colors, patterns, markings, and other traits.
There are lab blocks made specifically for rats that give them all the nutrition that they need. There are also homemade diets that work just as well using particular types of dog food and fresh fruits and vegetables from your local grocery store. Rats should only be given the amount of food that can be consumed in a 24 hour period so what they eat can be monitored and the food remains fresh.
Rats will eat as many treats as you give them, so it is smart to give them healthy treats and maybe a less healthy treat every now and then. The most healthy treats are fruits and vegetables. Rats can eat just about anything that you can eat, except carbonated drinks or foods that cause gas. Rats can’t vomit or burp and gassy foods will cause them discomfort.
Rats require fresh water at all times. Water bottles are the best choice so the rats can’t dump the bowl or step in it. See our full article on Rat Diet and Exercise.
Cage & Bedding:
Rats can be kept in aquariums or in cages. Aquariums are ideal if you have drafts in your house, however cages tend to be best choice as they are easier to clean, allow ventilation and allow the rats to climb onto different levels. A 20 gallon tank will house no more than two rats and would need to be cleaned twice a week due to ammonia build-up and lack of ventilation. Cages must be large enough for the amount of rats you have and bar spacing must be small enough that they can’t squeeze through the bars. If the rat’s head can fit through, the rest will follow. For a full pro and con list, see our cages versus aquariums guide for rats.
Bedding can be anything from a small animal bedding to shredded paper to towels and other fabrics. Bedding should be changed out weekly. Always avoid pine and cedar for all small animals!