Just like humans, rats need a good diet and exercise to be healthy.
It is important that your rats get a good nutritional diet and plenty of exercise. Most rats will eat just about anything, but that doesn’t mean they should. Aside from eating, rats love to romp around. It is your duty to ensure that they get plenty of play time outside of their cage, otherwise they will get bored and will not be happy rats.
The basic rat diet may consist of lab blocks made especially for rats, although there are many rats that refuse to eat lab blocks. Low protein dog food may be substituted for lab blocks along with some other ingredients. Nutro Natural Light dog food is a good one to try. This should also be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Other things to add to your rat mix may consist of grains/bread, dried oats, cooked or uncooked pasta noodles, sweet potatoes (cooked), raspberries and blueberries, cereal (low in sugar), unsalted pretzels and other various nutritious foods. One very good rat mix is Suebee’s Diet.
You can determine what is good for them in much the same way as you determine what is good for yourself. Not too much fat or sugar and plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. Be careful of the amount of protein your rats get. Ideally there should be no more than 18% protein in the daily diet balance. Excess protein may cause your rats to itch, causing painful scabs on their skin, particularly in males.
Treats should be given as well, either to reinforce good behaviors or to just give them a little something extra. Yogurt Drops (yogies) and sunflower seeds make wonderful rat treats – they love them! Be sure to limit their intake of treats as most have many sugars and fat, but the occasional treat is good for them and makes them very happy.
Now that your rat is eating hearty meals it is time for exercise. Your rat should receive time out of the cage on a daily basis, if possible. About 30 minutes to an hour is good, but even longer is fine with them, the more the better. This gives them an opportunity to stretch their muscles and interact with you and the other rats.
Be sure that the area they are allowed in is rat-proof. This means removing any wires within rat reach, blocking holes and crevices they may be able to escape through and picking up any clothing or belongings on the floor that you do not care to have redecorated by your rats.
A good place to start play time is on the bed. Put down an old sheet or blanket to protect your bed. Old shoe boxes, Kleenex boxes, shirts and balls make great play accessories. Rats love to tunnel through blankets, chew on cardboard and just jump around like crazy. They are very intrigued by feathers or strings that “run” past them and they will chase after it. Floor space in a closed off room is also a great place for rats to run. But, again, make sure there is nothing that will harm them if they chew or jump on something. Make sure that they cannot escape from the play area. Ensure that they will not be able to jump off the bed or squeeze under a door.
You can also buy exercise wheels for rats. Some like them, some don’t. Usually rats that are introduced to the wheel as a baby are much more interested than adults. Be careful when buying a wheel. Wire wheels can be dangerous due to capturing feet and tails. There is a great product called the Wodent Wheel made specifically for rats. It is fairly cheap and can be ordered online and come in lots of fun colors. They disassemble for easy cleaning and are perfectly safe.
The challenge for you, then, will be capturing all your ratties when play time is over. They have a knack for knowing when you are just picking them up for loves and when you are picking them up to send them back to their cage. Usually one shake of the treat jar will have them all running to you.