Simple Guide: From Acquiring To Caring For Pet Rats
When people hear the word “rat” they picture that rat that scuttles around at night in trash. Yes, there are such rats, but there are other domesticated rats, which are social and intelligent and believe it, they make wonderful pets. The most common are Dumbo rats and Top eared rats. Top eared rats/ fancy rats are cheaper than dumbo rats just because dumbo rats look cuter with their big ears. Caring for pet rats is quite easy!
Pet Rat Lifespan
Pet rats will live for 2-5 years. WITH PROPER CARE!!!!
Where do I get Pet Rats?
Where Can I Get Pet Rats?
- From A Trusted/ Reputable Pet Store.
- Reputable Pet Rat breeders.
- Reliable Adoption Agencies/ Rescues.
It is up to you, but Breeders are recommended. Why?
The minimum recommended age to acquire a young pet rat is 5-12 weeks old. You can always get an older one if you want. Getting a baby rat (below 4 weeks) away from its mother is not good.
Can a Pet Rat Live Alone Or Does He or She Require A Companion?
Is It Okay to Get One or Do I Need More Than One Ferret?
A pet rat needs a friend, therefore, get at least 2.
DO NOT mix genders, otherwise you will get baby rats.
If you want both females and males, you can have separate cages.
Alternatively, you can have males neutered and they can live in the same cage as the females
Do I Get a Male or Female Rat?
This video gives a really nice detailed answer.
Pet Rats Are Suitable for children aged?
10+ years is okay. However, it depends on how your child handles things.
Handling Pet Rats
Rats like to be held. DO NOT lift them by their tails. You can always scoop them and let them walk on your arm and climb onto your shoulder.
Is A Pet Rat Nocturnal?
During the day, rats will sleep on and off. At night they will be active. We can say that they are not entirely nocturnal neither are they entirely diurnal.
Pet Rat Housing
PET RAT CAGE
A cage with solid floors is the BEST. We do not want your pet rats getting sores or bumps on their feet (bumble feet).
HEIGHT is also very important. You can never go too tall/ high with rats.
Ground space is also important to fit supplies (accessories).
Meshed/ barred tops and sides are important for ventilation, to hang accessories like hammocks and toys and for your rat to climb. (BAR SPACING 0.5 INCHES MAXIMUM!!!!) If you get wider this is what happens, see clip.
Minimum dimensions for cage 80x50x60 cm (32” x 20” x 24”)
How to know the number of rats to fit in a particular cage– 1 rat requires 2 square feet per rat or see rat calculator here.
Different Cages Recommended by Many Pet Rat Owners and Experts.
The more pet rats you have or intend to have, the more room you (will) need, therefore, the bigger the cage or more cages you (will) need:
#1. Midwest Critter Nation Single Unit with Stand (If you have to go the cheap way, go with this option. The cage is of high quality, will last for long and has enough space for even 5 pet rats. Better yet, you do not have to make any modification that will make it lose its aesthetic value).
#2. Midwest Critter Nation Double Unit with Stand cage with 0.5-inch bar spacing you can get a single unit, but double is recommended
#4. DIY cages- We understand that not everyone will be able to afford most of these cages, therefore, the need for DIY. Creativity is needed here.
- You can use a combination of C&C grids, coroplast. small space mesh or wood (poplar or kiln dried pine).
Disadvantage of tank or plastic side (bin cages) cages
- Your pet rat will not be able to climb, which is important for them.
- Rats need proper ventilation which tanks do not offer.
Pet Rat Bedding
Caring For Pet Rats (Recommended Pet Rat Bedding)
This differs for everyone, however, rats are susceptible to respiratory problems, therefore, AVOID anything that has cedar or pine. Be careful with substrate bedding and take caution with dust. If you are not sure, just go with fleece.
From research, we have found these as best for your pet rats.
We recommend going with some cheap anti-pill fleece fabrics and U-HAUL Furniture Pads. When using fleece for pet rats, throw in an old t-shirt that you do not wear anymore so that your pet rats do not chew on your fleece. They will chew on the t-shirt instead.
See video of chewed up fleece: It can be avoided.
Do not just get any fleece fabric. (Non-pill or Anti-pill fleece is recommended.) Examples are:
- David Textiles 330 Anti-Pill Fleece Solid Fabric by The Yard 60″ Wide
- Creative Cuts Anti-Pill Fleece by the Yard
- David Textiles Anti-Pill Fleece Buffalo Plaid Fabric By The Yard 60″ Wide
- David Textiles Anti-Pill Fleece Nursery Plaid Fabric By The Yard 60″ Wide
Read more on detailed use of fleece. Don’t buy fleece before you read this!!
When using fleece bedding in your pet rats’ cage, in the litter pan/ box/ tray use:
- Yesterday’s News Unscented Recycled Paper Pellet Cat Litter or
- Back 2 Nature bedding (good but expensive)
Throw in a smooth pee rock in the litter pan as well. Rats like peeing on smooth surfaces.
If you opt to use a substrate bedding, you will require some metal bass pans for your cages made by bass equipment company. The metal pans will give your cages a place to pour your substrate. See video of bass pans in critter/ferret nation cage.
Here are some recommended pet rat substrate bedding:
See video on how this is used. Those who do not like cleaning will definitely love these as they are changed out every 1.5-2 weeks. You can have 1 or 2-inch-deep bedding.
You can mix #2 and #3 together. See video above.
You can mix Kaytee clean & cozy with FiberCore Eco-Bedding Natural to save on money and below them you may or may not place a potty/pee/puppy pad.
Pet Rat Cage Accessories
Most cages come with levels.
For those doing DIY cages you can either buy or make some kiln dried pine wooden levels. Here is a video on making levels/shelves.
Hammocks or Plastic storage baskets
Plastic storage baskets make great beds. You can use zip ties, plastic chains, pipe cleaners or shower rings to fasten them in position. Put nesting material like strips of fleece in plastic storage baskets.
- Small perforated storage baskets
- YUYUSO 100 Piece Plastic C-clips Hooks Chain Links C-links Rat Parrot Bird Toy Cage
- Hyamass 200pcs Rainbow Link C-clips Hooks Chain Links C-links Children’s Learning Toy Small Pet Rat Parrot Bird Toy
You can also get hammocks. Good examples are:
- Custom Fleece 7 Piece Rat Cage Set
- Fleece 8 Piece Rat Cage Set
- CUSTOM MADE rat hammock any colour
- Cube Seamless Hammock – rat hammock
- Sannysis Hamster Winter Warm Hammock Bed
- Hanging Hamster Tunnel Bed House Nest Cage for Rat
- Coco*store Pet Small Cat Cage Hammock Bed Cover Dot Small Pet Cage Hammock Black and White
- WINOMO Pet Hammock Hamster Hanging Toy Snuggle Hut for Squirrel, Chinchilla, Guinea, Pig, Rat, Mice, Small
- Rat hammock 5-piece set – rat bed, rat cage set, pet hammock, rat accessories, pet rat, small pet bed, fleece hammock, cheap rat hammock
- Alfie Pet by Petoga Couture – Kasey Hammock for Mouse, Chinchilla, Rat, Gerbil and Dwarf Hamster
- Twin Critters Handcrafted Ferret Cave Bed – Tunnel for Ferrets
- Niteangel Tunnel Hamster Hammock for Small Animals, Tunnel Tube Rat Ferret Toy
- Ferret Hammock – Cotton Sleeping Nest for Small Animals – Pet Cage Swinging Bed & Nap Sack – Warm Cashmere Inner Lining for Winter – Durable Canvas Mat – With Rings & Spring Hooks – Machine Washable
- Marshall Pet Products Hanging Monkey Hammock For Ferrets
- Niteangel Luxury Unilateral Closed Ferret Hammock, Hanging Soft Bed Sleepy Comfortable Pad for Small Animals
- Sheppard & Greene Ferret Cage Bed Camp Tent
Pet Rat Hideouts/ Hideaways
Plastic igloos, critter space pods, wooden house, and cereal cardboard boxes will do the trick. Have many hideouts. Some hideouts you can purchase are:
- Lixit Critter Space Pod 2 Large
- Kaytee Woodland Get-A-Way Large Guinea Pig House
- Prevue Hendryx 62801 Naturals Coco Hideaway with Ladder Bird Toy
Pet Rat Chew and Play Toys
AVOID painted or treated wood.
Examples of good chew and play toys are:
- 8 In 1 Pet Products SEOP84002 Ecotrition Small Animal Cheesie Chews, 1-Ounce
- 4 in. PVC DWV Hub x Hub x Hub Sanitary Tee
- 4 in. PVC DWV 90-Degree Hub x Hub Elbow
- Assortmart 144 Washable Plastic Beer Pong Balls 1 Gross
- KEVENZ 50-Pack 40mm Beer Ping-Pong Multipul Color Balls,Washable Plastic Glow In The Dark, Plastic Table Tennis Ball
- Ware Manufacturing Fun Tunnels Play Tube for Small Pets
Pet Rat Climbing Toys
Ropes and ladders. Good examples include:
Pet Rat Food bowls
Get a dish that will clip to the bars or a ceramic one. Good recommendations include:
- Living World Lock and Crock Dish, 6-Ounce
- MidWwest Homes for Pets Snap’y Fit
- Marshall Snap ‘N Fit Small Animal Food Bowl 2 cups
- Living World Ergonomic Dish
- Petzilla Cat Ceramic Bowl for Food, Heavy Base Feeding Dish, Prevent Tipping or Spill Over
- Kaytee Paw-Print PetWare Bowl, Colors Vary
Pet Rat Water bottle
Hang the water bottle outside the cage, with sipper tube in cage. Good recommendations are:
Pet Rat Exercise Wheel
For exercise, a wheel 12” + in diameter is recommended. Get the
- 15″ Chin Spin – Chinchilla Wheel – Handmade in USA
- Rodent – Semi-Enclosed Exercise Wodent Wheel ‘Wobust’ 12″ Lavender, wodent, wheel, rodent, exercise
- Exotic Nutrition 15″ Chin-Sprint : All-Metal Chinchilla Wheel
Pet Rat Litter Pan
Good recommendations are:
- Hamster Potty corner Litter Tray for Mice Hamster Gerbil Cage House
- Harrison’s Small Animal Corner Litter Tray 16cm Ideal for (Gerbills, Hamster and Mice)
- ROSEWOOD Corner Rabbit Litter Tray, Medium
- Trixie 6255 Corner Toilet F³r Small Cage
- Clean ‘N’ Tidy Corner Litter Tray – Medium Fun Colours
- Kicode TOPmountain Pet Corner Toilet Litter Pee Tray Box
Pet Rat Feeding
Caring For Pet Rats (What, when and How to feed your Pet Rats)
- Fresh Clean Drinking water
- Recommended!! Good healthy food – mixed vegetables–cooked food is always better carrots, peas, cooked squash, kale, cooked oats, cooked beans, celery, cooked corn, zucchini, cooked pasta, cooked salmon, sunflower seeds (do not feed daily), cheese (do not feed daily), cooked rice, cucumbers among others. Always check if your pet rat has hoarded any of this as it can go bad. You can also give sparingly to avoid hoarding.
- Fruits- Apples, completely ripe bananas, grapes, moderated citrus fruits to ONLY female rats. Give sparingly to avoid hoarding.
- Treats– (not to be fed daily/ can be used during training)-sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, yoghurt drops, popcorn, cheese, chicken bones and cheerios
- Commercial food or lab blocks– The age of your pet rat matters when considering commercial food. We will give the best rat food options derived from pet rat experts and owners’ opinions:
Before mentioning the food, it is important to know rat ages. We have:
- Young rats- 2 months and below
- Young adult rats- 2-6 months old
- Adult rats- 6+ months old
Most people praise oxbow brand.
Young Rats/ young adult rats (-6 months old)
- Oxbow Essentials Mouse & Young Rat Food
- Mazuri Rat & Mouse Food (Ideal for female rats) It has high protein, therefore, don’t give it to adult rats.
- Envigo (Formerly Harlan) Teklad Global Rat Food Pellets 2018
- Envigo (Formerly Harlan) Teklad Rat Food Pellets 8604
Adult rats (6+ months old)
- Oxbow Essentials Adult Rat Food
- Oxbow Animal Health Essentials Regal Adult Rat Food
- Envigo (Formerly Harlan) Teklad Global Rat Food Pellets 2014
DO NOT GIVE- Excess cheese, poppy seeds, red meats, onions, garlic, rhubarb, almonds, raw peanuts, raw beans, raw squash, raw sweet potatoes, raw Brussels sprouts, unripe bananas, citrus fruits to male rats, iceberg lettuce, candy, no junk food- chocolate, fries, cake, pizza…, pet food not meant for rats, CONSIDERED BAD Kaytee and Wild Harvest!!
How often should I feed my pet rat?
If you acquire your pet rat from a breeder, ask him or her about the feeding schedule. He or she will be in a position to give you the right meal schedule.
If you acquire your pet rat from a pet shop or you end up adopting or rescuing one you have three options:
- Option 1: For 4-10 weeks old pet rats. Give lab blocks or commercial food in the morning (9-10 am), fruits or vegetables at lunch time and commercial food or cooked food for dinner (9-10 pm)
- Option 2: For 10+ weeks old pet rats, only feed once at 9-10pm. (considered healthy). You can give commercial food, cooked food or lab blocks it is up to you. In addition, give vegetables and fruits sparingly.
- Option 3: Free feed, this means that their food bowl will never stay empty (it encourages overfeeding and hoarding).
Do Pet Rats Smell?
There will be a smell if you fail to clean well. Read below under cleaning pet rat cage section.
Can Pet Rats Be Trained?
Yes. Get a litter box.
When they poop outside their litter box, collect the poop and put it in the litter box. They will eventually start pooping in it.
As for urinating, place pee rocks in the litter box. The rats like to pee on smooth flat surfaces.
Cleaning Pet Rat Cage
Caring for pet rats (cleaning cage)
Every 2-3 days– Remove some of the dirty bedding and also clean up your rats’ poop.
Every 7 Days– Completely clean your cage i.e. remove all the dirty items including bedding and wipe your cage accessories down with vinegar and water solution. Wash the fleece bedding with hot water and vinegar.
Bi-Monthly/ Monthly– deep clean. Soak items in hot water and vinegar for 30-60 minutes.
Avoid commercial cage cleaners especially those with artificial scents and harsh chemicals. They will irritate your rats. The rats will end up urinating more to cover the smell.
Steps in cleaning
- Remove your pet rats from the cage (place in a carrier cage)
- Take out accessories
- Remove litter tray, wipe it down with water and white vinegar and put in fresh litter (yesterday’s news)
- Sweep out or vacuum poop
- Remove fleece fabric and U-Haul Furniture Pads and shake thoroughly. Put in laundry basket to wash later. Machine wash and either sun dry or machine dry. DO NOT use scented detergents or any kind of softeners!!! DO NOT use dryer sheets!! You can use unscented free and clear detergent like All Liquid Laundry Detergent, Free & Clean. Also, add in white vinegar.
- Wipe down surfaces and trays with water and white vinegar with a clean rug and make sure they are dry. The ratio of mixture water to white vinegar 50:50
- Wipe the exercise wheel and accessories as well.
(When everything is clean and dry, put it back in the cage and add in something old and dirty to make the rats feel or smell like the cage belongs to them. A cardboard box or cloth soiled by their urine, but dry is okay. They will not feel like they need to mark their territory and thus not pee a lot.)
- Put in clean fleece and U-HAUL Furniture pads. (you will need to have a number of sets to be replacing each week).
- Put back the accessories.
- Clean water bottle and replace water. Also, add some food.
You should not get any smell after this. However, if you get a smell, you can get an air purifier- place it near the bottom of your pet rats’ cage or in between if you have two cages. Point the inflowing air at the bottom of the cage. DO NOT use ionizing setting and DO NOT point the outflowing air to your cage.
Videos On Cleaning
Monthly/ Bi-Monthly deep cleaning
Can You Bathe Pet Rats?
Yes, but not always. A pet rat is bathed only during certain circumstances.
- When your pet rat is overweight, injured, sick or old
- For medical reasons
- Dominance urination (peeing on each other)
- To wash off buck grease
- During introduction to other rats
- To control odor
- If your pet rats are very messy
What rat shampoo do I use?
#Option 1. Just use regular DAWN DISH SOAP (dawn pure essentials, dye free)
#Option 2. The rat whisperer has given ingredients to making rat shampoo.
- 1 cup of dawn liquid pure essentials that is dry free
- A cup of water (distilled is recommended)
- 1 cup of apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup of glycerin
- 1 tablespoon of liquid vitamin E
You can house this mixture in a jar.
What does each ingredient do?
- Dawn kills fleas that may be on your pet rat.
- Vinegar helps with your pet rats’ coat’s pH balance. It also eliminates any odor (for example, pee) and rinses their special sheen.
- Glycerin is mainly for your pet rats’ coat fur and also keeps your homemade shampoo rich
- Vitamin E mainly alleviates itching caused by dry skin, fleas or mites
How to bathe a rat?
Most rats ae very scared of baths and that is why they should not be washed unless in the above circumstances.
Most people suggest putting them in a shallow bath with rat shampoo/ dawn soap, while some hold them under running water.
See some rat bathing videos.
Pet Rat Travelling
Before thinking of travelling with your pet rats, think of hiring a pet sitter or letting a family member or friend take care of him or her.
If you are moving house, going to the vet, then here is what you need to do:
Get a good rat travel cage minding the spacing of the bars or holes.
For pet rats, good recommendations are the:
If you are travelling for a short distance and will not be long, with 2 or 1 rat:
- IRIS Animal Carrier
- IRIS Small Animal Carrier
- Catit Design Cabrio Multi-Functional Carrier System (Amazon.com)
- Catit Design Cat Cabrio Carrier Warm Flight and Airline Approved (Amazon UK)
If you are travelling for a longer distance and you will take quite some time or you have more than 1 rat get this:
- Hagen Zoozone Indoor Guinea Pig / Rabbit Cage
- Zoozone Habitat, Medium, Blue
- Zoozone Habitat, Medium, Pink
Inside the carrier
- Place fleece bedding or some towels to absorb urine.
- Scatter some commercial pellets.
- Put in cucumber chops, these will be a source of water (water bottles leak as you move).
If you are going on holiday or if you frequent to a relative’s place for a couple of days, get a friend or family member to look after your pet rats. You can also hire a pet sitter.
Pet Rat Health Care and Vet
Perform health checks (once or twice a week)
Things to look out for when getting or caring for a pet rat
- Eyes, ears and nose– look for discharge, crusty eyes and running nose or eyes. Look inside their ears to make sure they are clean and no bugs, fleas or parasites are in there. Discolored eyes are a problem, check for bulging/ protruding eyes as well. Eyes should be clear and bright.
- Fur- They should not have hair loss, no bald patches.
- Respiratory health– Check how they are breathing. You should not see any wheezing or heaving. A healthy pet rat will breath lightly, barely noticeable.
- Mouth– You should not see any drooling. Gums should be pink and there should be no odor from the mouth. Swollen mouth is a problem and so is difficulty in eating.
- Teeth– Check if there are broken or missing teeth. Teeth should be well aligned, with an orange to yellow color. Bright white teeth are a problem.
- Weight– Check their weight weekly to make sure it is not dropping rapidly.
- Body- Blood on the body. It shows presence of a parasite or shows he or she is fighting with another pet rat. Check for lumps and cysts as well.
- For males check if they are too greased. (Its normal, but too much they will need a bath. Baths should be very limited, maybe bi-monthly)
- Tail– It should be long, cylindrical and thick at the base tapering to a point.
- Feet-You should look out for inflammation and sores
- Anal and genital area- should not be bloody, should not have any discharge, should not have faeces stuck to the fur. Check for abnormal droppings in the cage.
Look out for, inactivity/lethargy (pet rats should be active and explorative). Loss of appetite and weight is also a problem. Limps are not also good. Tilting head is also not good, neither is paralysis, agitation, seizures, jerking or circling.
Try and get a pet rat savvy vet not just a random one. (See a vet once or twice a year or when you notice something wrong with your pet rat)