What is a rat?
Rats are active rodents who love to explore, enjoy interaction and are very intelligent. Females will typically be on the move whereas males are likely to be happy to have a cuddle on the sofa. They're very social so need to be in groups of 2 or more.
Lifespan: 2-3 years
Colour: brown, white, black, sand, cream, grey or ginger
Most active: nighttime as they're nocturnal
Diet and nutrition
A rat’s diet is super important and a main part of their care – rats love to eat and will try to eat anything and everything.
A balanced and healthy diet helps promote a long and happy life as rats are prone to obesity due to their owners overfeeding them, or feeding them too many unhealthy foods.
A typical rat food usually comes in one of two forms: a rat pellet/block, or a food mix such as the one from Rat Rations.
Consider supplementing diets with small amounts of fruit/vegetables/cooked egg/grains/seeds, given as part of their daily ration.
Accomodation and environment
The minimum recommended cage size for pair of rats is 159 x 63 x 95cm. Bar spacing should be 1cm or less for babies and 1.5cm for adult rats.
Your rats enclosure should be the biggest you can get - big metal cages are best, as rats can chew through plastic.
Rats must be kept indoors.
Rats love to explore, climb and be mischievous. They will need a large cage to live in with lots of enrichment to keep them happy and healthy.
Recommended cages for mice include: Savic Suite Royale XL, Aventura (or the Cosy Pet version), Liberta Explorer, or large self builds.
Rats need to be rats! To meet all their welfare needs rats need to engage in natural behaviours such as running, climbing, digging and foraging.
To allow for this rats need lots of enrichment, both in their cage and outside it in their free-range area.
Check out our top tips and ideas for how to enrich your rats' lives and enable them to display their natural behaviours.
Rats have very delicate respiratory systems which are easily irritated by dust, drafts and scents. Your rats should be housed in a quiet area free from drafts, chills, artificial scents, extreme heat and sudden temperature changes.
Suitable substrates include:
kiln-dried wood shavings e.g. Bedmax
paper pellets e.g. Back2Nature (great for litter trays)
coco coir (see our bioactive tips!)
All substrates should be dust extracted and any shavings must be kiln-dried; ordinary sawdust / shavings are a no-no as they contain harmful phenols which are toxic to small animals.
How to health-check your rat
Rats are prone to a number of serious health conditions and can go downhill very fast if not treated straight away. They need to be checked every day and taken to the vet straight away if you notice that something is wrong.
One of the most important aspects of caring for rats is making sure you have a rat-savvy vet. While most vets are expert at treating more common pets like cats and dogs, many vets don't have much knowledge or experience of treating rats and their specific ailments. To ensure your ratties get the correct treatment it's a good idea to make sure you have a genuinely rat-savvy vet on hand before anything is wrong. For this you may have to travel.
Before getting your rats, it's important to consider whether you will be able to afford all the veterinary care they may need in their lifetime.
Wood Green Animal Shelter have created this great video that provides guidance on how to give your rat a health check:
Rats and children
Small animals are often mistakenly thought of as good easy pets for children.
They may be small, but rats have specialised needs and caring for them requires just as much time, commitment and love as caring for a cat or dog.
While rats may be suitable pets for responsible older children under supervision, they may not make very good pets at all for younger children.
Children often lose interest in pets and then parents need to take on the responsibility for their care, for the rest of the animals' lives.
Before bringing any new pets into your home it's a good idea to research the species thoroughly first - thousands of pets go into rescue every year because people did not really understand what they were taking on before they got their pets.