Background Information on Rats
Domesticated rats can be low-maintenance and entertaining pets. They are clean, friendly, playful, and quiet. Of all the “pocket pets”, they are considered uniquely responsive to their owners. Through selective breeding, many different color and coat pattern mutations have been developed. The average body length of adult rats is 9-11 in (23-28 cm) with an average tail length of 7-9 in (18-23 cm). The average body weight for rats is 350-450 grams (0.8-1 lb) for a female and 450-650 grams (1-1.4 lb) for a male. The average life span is 2-3 years.
Diet Recommendation for Rats
Providing the proper nutrition to your rat is an important part of his care. The recommendations include:
- A rodent ration containing 12-16% protein and 4-6% fat, either in pellet or block form, is recommended for pet rats.
- **We recommend Oxbow products, which are available at most pet stores.
- Commercially available seed-based diets may also be offered as an occasional treat, but should never be the majority of the diet. These seed diets predispose rats to obesity and nutritional deficiencies, even if labeled as nutritionally complete or fortified.
- Supplement the diet with small amounts of freshly washed salad greens, fresh fruits such as apples, bananas, and grapes, and raw vegetables such as broccoli and corn-on-the-cob.
- Occasional healthy treats can include:
- low sugar cereals (i.e. Cheerios®, General Mills; puffed wheat, rice, or millet cereals, or spoon-size shredded wheat)
- Plain popcorn, dry oatmeal, cooked pasta, and whole-wheat bread
- Avoid cheese as it is high in fat and rodents cannot tolerate large amounts of lactose.
- Make fresh water available in a water bottle. Position the sipper tube low enough to allow the pet easy access.
- Rats will only drink a fraction of the total bottle volume, but the bottle should be emptied, cleaned, and filled with fresh water daily.
Below are recommendations for providing the most comfortable cage and housing for your rat.
- Provide the largest cage possible for your pet rat.
- Rodents are notorious chewers so cages of stainless steel, durable plastic, or wire are recommended.
- Avoid cages constructed from wood or soft metal.
- Cages with a solid plastic base with closely spaced metal bars are ideal for both containment and ventilation purposes.
- Aquarium tanks do not provide sufficient ventilation and should be avoided.
- Provide ample nesting material and deep bedding for burrowing, resting, and soaking up urine. Select clean, absorbent, non-toxic, and odor-free bedding.
- We recommend recycled paper products (i.e. CareFRESH®, Absorption Corp) or aspen shavings to make the best lining materials.
- There are a number of beddings that should be avoided:
- Cedar shavings contain chemicals that are toxic and can cause irritation.
- Corncob bedding has a tendency to mold and can lead to intestinal obstruction if ingested.
- Sawdust or any pine shavings can cause irritation to the eyes and the respiratory tract.
- Also, provide shredded paper towels or tissue as nesting material. Avoid commercially available fluffy cotton wool products as these materials are indigestible and can lead to intestinal obstruction if eaten.
- Provide tunnels, exercise wheels, and nest boxes to help maintain the mental well-being of your pet. Offer cardboard tube rolls and wood blocks as chew toys.
- The optimal temperature range for rodents falls between 65-78°F (18-26°C), with a relative humidity of 40-70%. Keep the cage out of direct sunlight and away from other heat sources, such as a radiator, or drafts.
- Rats are sociable creatures. Adult males should be housed separately unless they are littermates or introduced at a young age. Females or mixed-sex pairs do well together. If keeping mixed pairs, we recommend having the male neutered, as rats will readily breed.
- The best way to pick up your pet rat is to place one hand over the back, just behind the head. Gently grasp the rat around the rib cage and lift it upwards. The rat can then be gently cradled against the handler’s body, using minimal restraint.
- Do not pick your rat up by its tail as it can be seriously injured if the tail is not grasped correctly.
Resources for Additional Information on Rat Care
- LafeberVet: http://www.lafebervet.com/downloads/education/Care_of_the_Pet_Rat.pdf
- Oxbow Animal Health: http://www.oxbowanimalhealth.com
- Veterinary Partner: http://www.veterinarypartner.com
We hope this information helps you care for your rat.