The Rat Assistance & Teaching Society says a half million U.S. households own pet rats or mice, but these little critters don't always get the consideration they deserve. Most people who keep rats care about them and want to make sure they get the best diet with correct protein levels.
Rat Digestive System
Rats are omnivores, which means they eat both animal and plant foods, including animal and plant proteins. In the wild, they eat animal proteins such as insects, frogs, fish and dead animals, along with plant materials including seeds, nuts, vegetables, fruits and grains. Their digestive systems include long intestines, which give their bodies time and ability to break down a range of materials not digested in the stomach. Although they are omnivores, rats are predatory and do have notable protein requirements.
Ideal Protein Ranges
Rats should consume a diet with about 15 to 20 percent protein. Pregnant or nursing rats may require higher levels. If rats are fed too much protein, they can develop an orange oily residue on their skin. They can also develop other skin problems, including itchy spots known as protein scabs. When designing a diet with the proper protein levels, look for whole protein sources from meats like chicken, turkey, beef and organ meats, along with fish like salmon, shrimp and other seafood.
The Rat Fan Club website suggests a diet of about 18 percent protein, and outlines a sample menu to coincide. It includes a daily mix of fruits and vegetables, along with a "molasses mix," a combination of molasses, minerals, tofu, sunflower seeds, oats, barley, rice, millet, flax seeds and nutritional yeast. Twice a week, cooked beef liver or canned oysters are served. Suggested vegetables include broccoli, kale, bok choy and others, and fruit choices include bananas, melons, apples, plums and more.
Excess fruits and vegetables can cause diarrhea or gas. Some foods are suggested as occasional additions, including cheese, pasta, rice, fish sticks, dog treats and yogurt. Some foods should never be served, including peanut butter. This can stick in a rat's throat, causing an urge to vomit, which is impossible for rats. Avoid blue cheese dressing, licorice, rhubarb and poppy seeds. Male rats should never have citrus, as it can cause cancer due to a protein present in male rats only.