So you want a pet rat. These critters are lots of fun and make wonderful pets. But they do need some specific care.
Let’s explore what it takes to have a pet rat.
The Rat Home
Just like we wouldn’t want to live in a cramped room, your pet rat will want a spacious cage. Choose a cage with horizontal bars (these are great for climbing on) and one that measures at least 12 by 24 inches (30.5 by 61cm) of floor space. Cages that provide added height are perfect as you can add shelves and hammocks for extra space.
Remember: The more room the better and AVOID cages with wire flooring. This can cause harm to your rat’s feet.
You will also need some other items to make your rat’s home great. These include;
- Bedding – Line the bottom of your enclosure with tissues, paper towels, or plain paper. Do not use corn cobs, cat litter, wood shavings, newspaper, or things with heavy perfumes.
- Nest Box – Rats like to sleep in a den-like object. Small cardboard boxes may be used, but will need to be replaced when soiled or chewed. You can also buy one in a pet store.
- A ceramic food dish
- A drip water bottle
- Rat food
How to Set Up a Rat Home
Before you bring home your pet rat, you have to get its home ready. Here’s how to set up a rat habitat.
Step #1 – Step the cage up according to the instructions on the box.
Step #2 – Place the bedding on the floor of the cage.
Step #3 – Rinse the drip water bottle, then fill with fresh water. Hang on the side of the cage, so the drip portion is inside the cage and low enough for your rat to reach.
Step #4 – Rinse the food dish and fill with food (more on that latter). Place in the cage (not under the water bottle).
Step #5 – Add in any toys or hiding places you want to use. Rats love to climb and will make good use of ladders, ropes, hammocks, tunnels, and platforms. Toys like blocks of wood for chewing, cardboard tubes, and toys designed for ferrets or parrots are also useful. Use toys made from rope or wood since they will stand up to any gnawing or chewing your rat may do.
If you want to use homemade rat toys, try simple items like large cardboard mailing tubes, crumpled paper, paper bags, and cardboard boxes.
Remember – Rats are very intelligent and need to be challenged, so rotate the toys on a regular basis to avoid boredom.
Step #6 – Place your rat’s cage away from drafts, and direct sunlight. Choose a place that is quiet and relaxing, yet still close enough to the family so it doesn’t get lonely.
Feeding Your Pet Rat
Feeding your pet rat is easy as there are pelleted or block type diets available that have been formulated to be nutritionally complete.
Carefully choose a rat block that is low in fat and calories and has soy meal high on the ingredient list rather than corn. These rat blocks should comprise the basic diet; however, a variety of fresh foods can also be used as a supplement. These include;
- Packaged loose mixes – rats tend to pick out their favorite bits from the mix, which may mean they are not eating a balanced diet.
- Small amounts of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grain pasta and bread
- Brown rice
You can also (on occasion) give your pet rat low-fat cooked meat, mealworms, cheese, seeds, nuts, and dog biscuits.
Remember – It is important to keep rats on a high fiber and low-fat diet. Limit higher fat foods such as cheese, seeds, and nuts. Rats also have a sweet tooth but resist the temptation to feed sugary foods or junk food, including chocolate.
Choosing a Pet Rat
Rats come in a wide range of colors and color combinations including white with pink eyes (albino), cinnamon, blue-gray, and multi-colored.
There are also “fancy” rats that are available only from breeders. Fancy varieties include the curly haired Rex, the tailless and hairless rats, and the satin rat with its shiny coat. Dumbo rats, of course, have larger ears while bristle coat rats have stiff coats.
Ordinary rats can be purchased through a pet store or a rescue organization. Look carefully at your prospective pets to be sure they are active and healthy with a clean, well-groomed fur. If possible, watch to see that your pet is eating and drinking properly. Finally, check to see that the other rats with which it is living are also healthy, active, and clean.
Remember – Rats do very well in pairs, so you may want to consider adopting two; however, be sure they are both girls or both boys or you will soon have baby rats!
Bringing Home Your Pet Rat
After you have chosen your rat, the person at the store will put him in a small carrying box for you to take him home in.
When you get home, open the door of the cage. Carefully open the box and place it in the cage. Allow your rat to walk out of the box and into his new home.
Remember: Your new friend will be very nervous, so allow him to investigate the cage and all his new stuff without being disturbed.
Playing With a Pet Rat
Always approach your pet rat calmly and with a soft voice. You don’t want to scare him. Now gently cup your hands around your rat and lift him slowly from the cage.
Always play with your pet rat on a safe surface. This is especially important, as a drop or fall could seriously injure your new friend.
When you let your pet rat roam free, the play area outside the cage needs to be rat-proof since they will chew on just about anything they can get their teeth on. For this reason be sure all electrical wires are out of reach or encased in plastic tubing.
Also ensure your pet rat cannot access anything that is toxic, including poisonous plants.
Remember – Rats also tend to scent mark as they roam (leaving little drops of urine). The odor is not offensive, but you may want to cover furniture with a throw while they are out of the cage. They will also do this to their owners, so be prepared!
Cleaning Your Rat’s Cage
Once a week you will need to clean your rat’s cage. To do this, you will have to relocate your furry friend to a safe location – this is a good time to let him play in his rat-proof location.
Once your pet is safe, take apart the cage. Throw away the old bedding and any uneaten food, or chewed up toys.
Now mix light dish detergent and warm water in a bucket or a laundry tub. Scrub down the cage, the bottom, and all the plastic toys.
Allow the habitat to dry or use a towel to quicken the process.
Replace the bedding, ladders, hammocks, and toys.
You’re now ready to put your pet rat back into his clean home.
Want to know what your pet rat is trying to say? Check out this infographic.
Now that we know what it takes to keep a pet rat, do you still want one? Let us know in the comments section!