How to Care for Pet Rats

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Before you get any new pet is important to research the animal first, to check it is a suitable animal for you, and to ensure you understand the requirements of the animal. There are books on rats, although these are often out of date. The internet is a great source for finding out more about keeping pet rats.


Rats are very intelligent and make excellent pets. They are suitable for children and adults. Rats are friendly and inquisitive, and can potentially be a much better pet than other small animals like hamsters and gerbils. Rats live an average of 2 to 3 years.

Things You'll Need

  • Cage
  • Suitable bedding/litter
  • Food
  • Lots of toys/hammocks/tubes etc
  • The best place to get pet rats from is a reputable breeder (contact the Rat and Mouse Club of America (USA) or the National Fancy Rat Club (UK)). Rats can also be bought from pet shops, although pet shop rats can suffer from ill health and won't be as tame when you get them. Sometimes pet shops incorrectly sex rats, which means males and females are living together, so there is a chance female rats bought from a pet shop might be pregnant. The other place to get rats is a rescue centre. This isn't always the best option for new rat owners as rescue rats can require an experienced owner. However rescue centres may sometimes have litters of baby rats which will be well handled from a young age, and therefore suitable for new owners.

  • Rats must be kept in a minimum of a pair. They are highly sociable animals, and however much attention you give them this is no substitute for the company of other rats. Rats should be kept with other rats of the same gender. Males tend to be larger and lazier, whilst females are smaller and more active, both make great pets.

  • Rats should be fed a good quality rat mix supplemented by fresh food. Hamster or rabbit mix is not suitable for rats as they have different nutritional requirements. Rats enjoy a varied diet.

  • Rats enjoy living in a large cage- the bigger the better! Wire cages are most suitable as rats enjoy climbing. You should allow at least 2 cubic feet per rat. Contrary to popular belief, wood shavings/sawdust are not suitable bedding for rats, as it can lead to respiratory problems. Paper based cat litters, newspaper, old towels, cardboard based bedding, or hardwood shavings (aspen rather than pine or cedar) are suitable bedding for rats.

  • The cage needs to be filled with lots of toys, hammocks, hideaways, tubes, etc, to keep them entertained. Toys don't have to be expensive- a cheap box of tissues will provide them with hours of fun! Rats don't enjoy wheels like hamsters do, so a wheel is normally a waste of money. In fact, a wire wheel can be dangerous for rats as their tails or feel can get trapped.

  • Rats like to be handled every day. They are very friendly, and enjoy running around the sofa while you're watching TV, or riding on your shoulder.

  • If you are ever concerned about your rat's health, consult a vet.

Tips & Warnings

  • There are lots of good rat sites on the Internet.
  • Rats are great pets!
  • Don't keep a single rat - rats are highly sociable animals.
  • Don't mix male and female rats.
  • Rats should not be kept on sawdust/wood shavings.
  • Don't feed rats hamster food.

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