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Basic Rat Care Guide and F.A.Q.

So, you'd like to have pet rats?

Congratulations! Rats make great pets; they're intelligent, cute, fun, and all have their own personality.
But before you adopt your pet rats, please make sure you understand what you're getting into!

  • Rats are social animals and need other rats to stay happy! If you're thinking of owning a pet rat, please make sure you adopt at least two. A pair of rats is not much difficult to care for than one, and as a result you will have happier rats. Rats can get depressed if they do not have other rats to befriend and socialize with.

  • Are you prepared for a rather high up-front cost? Despite their tiny size, rats can have a surprisingly high up-front cost. A cage big enough for two cats can cost anywhere from $70 to $100 dollars, and we're not just talking about the fancy ones either.

  • Do you have a veterinarian nearby who can work with rats? Rats are considered "exotic animals" by veterinarians, so rat vet bills can get a bit pricey.

  • Please remember rats are living creatures who have feelings and emotions. These bullet points aren't meant to discourage or frighten you from having rats, but instead to prepare you in order to give your new pets the best possible life they can have.

Rat Care Guides

Adopting Rats

The best place to adopt a pet rat is from a reputable breeder in your area. These rats may cost more than pet store rats, but they have a much greater chance to be friendly and socialized and healthy.

Rats from the pet store can be just as sweet, but there is a high chance they will be unsocialized and afraid. Petco has been known to sell their rats as "feeder rats," so purchase at your own risk. Some rats can become socialized, but others may just be permanently afraid in their nature.

Males or females?

  • Females are typically more energetic and stay that way for most of their lives. They're more likely to run around and explore.

  • Males are typically more cuddly and calm, usually increasing those traits as they get older. Male rats can be messier than females, and sometimes can get territorial in individual cases.

Rat Habitats

Cage

  • Size: Cages will ideally provide two cubic feet of space per rat. Here is a Rat Cage Calculator in order to give you a guideline of how many rats your cage can hold. Keep in mind that your rats will be spending a majority of their life in their cage, so it's important to give them enough room to be comfortable.

  • Material: Cages that are all metal or plastic are usually recommended, with narrow wire bars and a solid floor to hold in bedding. Glass aquariums are not recommended as they hold in the dust and ammonia, which can irritate a rat's respiratory system. Wires that are powder coated or PVC coated are a higher quality and will keep the metal from rusting and trapping odors.

  • Make sure the wire spacing is small enough to keep your rats in! If a rat's head can fit through a gap, then surely enough they can squeeze their body through as well.

Read more about rat cages from this guide.

Bedding

  • Avoid cedar and pine bedding. The phenols in these bedding types have been found to affect rats respiratory systems!

  • CareFresh: Carefresh is made from paper pulp. Be careful with formulas with baking soda in them, as these have been warned to irritate respiratory systems of rats.

  • Aspen: Aspen is a nice choice. Soft and decently odor-absorbent. The only difficulty with aspen bedding is that it has a really high tendency to stick to fleece and clothing very easily!

  • Yesterday's News: An alternative cat litter made of recycled paper.

Read more about rat bedding from this guide.

Cleaning

Clean your rat cage anywhere from one to three times a week, depending on how dirty your rats are. Some main sources of odor are the bedding/litter any fleece hammocks. Be sure to wipe down the platforms with a wet paper towel. If the platforms are extremely dirty, try letting some white vinegar soak for a few minutes and wipe them down again.

Rat Diet

Main Diet

Your rat's main diet should consist of a reliable rat food. Oxbow Regal Rat Adult Rat Food is a good choice. They're small triangles pellets that you can pour into your rat's food bowl and let them munch away for as much as they need. Dog food or cat food is generally not acceptable due to the high protein content.

Treats

The general rule of thumb is if you can eat it, so can your rats. However, there are some exceptions.
Make sure you give treats to your rats in moderation to make sure they don't cause diarrhea.

  • Make sure to give your rats mainly healthy treats. Don't give them too much processed sugar and fat.

  • Do not give orange or mango to male rats, this can cause kidney damage or kidney cancer.

  • Do not give anything that is rotten, moldy, or smells off.

  • Feel free to try small bits of dairy products like yogurt or cheese. Some rats can be lactose intolerant, so make sure to test the waters first!

  • Do not feed raw sweet potatoes! Cooked are fine.

  • Avoid sticky foods like peanut butter - rats cannot vomit and can choke on the food.

  • Avoid caffeine!

Read more about rat diet from this report and this article.

Bringing Your New Rats Home

Hooray you got your rats! Now what?

Assuming you got them in a little cardboard box, or you brought them in your own pet carrier. The best thing to do is to put them in their new cage with plenty of food and water, and let them get acclimated.

You might be eager to play with the new rats, but understand that you're a weird, smelly, loud creature seven times larger than your new furry buddies! And they're now in a new environment. They are most likely nervous. Let your new rats get used to the cage for a day or two, make sure to replenish their water and food, and you can try giving them little treats and let them smell your hand.

Try moving the cage close to an area you regularly use - like your computer desk. That way the rats can get used to being around you. You can also try putting in an old article of clothing that smells like you in their cage (as long as you don't mind it getting ruined and dirty) so they understand your scent.

Read more about befriending your new rats from this article. There are lots of great resources out there for bonding with your new rats!

F.A.Q.

How long do rats live for?

Typically, rats live for an average of two to three years. Some rats have been known to live even longer! Making sure your rat has a good diet and plenty of exercise can help your rat live longer.

My rats are fighting and squeaking.

This may be normal play-fighting behaviour. As long as there is no blood, then they are just playing and you can let them be.

There's red bloody stuff coming out of my rat's nose or eyes.

This is called porphyrin. It's rather normal, so don't worry too much about it. However, excess porphyrin can be a sign of illness. Some rats get excess porphyrin from stress, and some rats get some around their eyes after sleeping.

Can I litter train rats?

Yes, you can! VoyagerXyX provides a good guide on litter-training:

Make sure to hold them often when they are young. If they grow up without being handled daily they wont be as much fun to play with and take out as adults because they wont be accustomed to you. Also, play with them in 15 minute spurts. If you ever notice that you put them in and they pee right away take them back out immediately. Keep doing this each time extending the amount of time all the way up to a half hour or forty minutes and your rats will be potty trained! They will learn not to pee while out of the cage and will let you know if they need to go back to relieve themselves by acting antsy! :) Good luck, post pictures when you get them!

3 years ago by eggpl4nt with 5 comments

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  • VoyagerXyX (edited 3 years ago)
    +3

    I'd like to sincerely thank you /u/eggpl4nt for taking the time to write this up! This is vital information and I am really very happy to see it stickied here on /t/rats. I hope many people find it as useful as we know it to be. There is not a very good understanding of rats amongst your average pet owner. Thanks again. I really appreciated seeing this.

    Additionally it may be worth it to add about potty training:

    Make sure to hold them often when they are young. If they grow up without being handled daily they wont be as much fun to play with and take out as adults because they wont be accustomed to you. Also, play with them in 15 minute spurts. If you ever notice that you put them in and they pee right away take them back out immediately. Keep doing this each time extending the amount of time all the way up to a half hour or forty minutes and your rats will be potty trained! They will learn not to pee while out of the cage and will let you know if they need to go back to relieve themselves by acting antsy! :) Good luck, post pictures when you get them!

    • eggpl4nt
      +1

      Aw, thank you. :) Yay~!

      I will definitely add a section about litter-training, thanks!

      • VoyagerXyX
        +2

        Any time! Looking forward to contributing here, I love my ratties! :D

  • NameTaken
    +2

    Thanks for writing this up, as someone who wants to get a rat, this is very useful.

    • eggpl4nt
      +1

      No problem! Glad it could help. I'll be adding and editing it as questions and suggestions come through the tribe. :)