How to Care for Your Rat

Rats are affectionate and intelligent animals. They often form strong bonds with their owners, and will thrive when given plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Keep reading to find out the best way to care for them.

RSPCA NSW’s six-point guide will help you care for your rat. Just remember, if you have any concerns or questions, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Companionship

Rats are very sociable, so are happiest when kept with other rats. However, you should be careful when keeping two male rats together, as they may fight. And if you keep males and females together, make sure at least one gender has been desexed.

Diet

Rats are omnivores, so eat both animal and plant materials. They need a protein level of at least 16 per cent, no more than four per cent fat and a fibre content of at least 18 per cent. To ensure your rat stays happy and healthy, you should feed him:

  • fresh fruit and vegetables, such as apples (without seeds), bananas, beans, berries, bok choy and other Asian greens, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, citrus fruits, cooked Brussel sprouts, endive, fresh corn, melon, parsley, pears, peas, stone fruits and tomatoes
  • a small amount of good quality commercial rat pellets or rat cubes, which you can supplement with muesli
  • chicken or other raw bones
  • access to clean, fresh water at all times. A bottle-type drinker works well, as the water won’t get dirty.

Do not give your rat a diet based on grains or seed mixes. Bread, breakfast cereal, biscuits, cereals, cooked pasta, cooked rice, seeds and sweets should be considered occasional treats.

  • avocados
  • blue cheese
  • green bananas
  • green potato skins
  • liquorice
  • mangoes
  • orange juice
  • raw artichokes
  • raw Brussel spouts
  • raw dry beans and peanuts
  • raw red cabbages
  • raw sweet potatoes
  • rhubarb
  • seaweed
  • sticky foods, such as dried fruits, peanut butter and some lollies

For more information about feeding your rat, please click here.

Enrichment

Rats are very intelligent, so will enjoy playing with toys. Try putting treats into an empty kitchen or toilet roll tube, and stuffing both ends with paper for him. You can also give him a hammock to swing in. Some rats will also enjoy pea fishing: simply fill a shallow dish with water, put some peas in and watch him fish them out.

Handling

Never pick your rat up by his tail – always put one hand around his torso, and one supporting his hind feet. With gentle, regular handling, you’ll soon find your rat will happily curl up on your lap for a snooze. He may also enjoy exploring the world perched on your shoulder.

Health

By ensuring your rat is given a good diet, you will help protect him from many common health problems. These include obesity and obesity-related diseases, such as joint and mobility problems. Keeping his cage clean is also vital.

Rats can suffer from mites, snuffles, spots and tumours. If you spot any of these, speak to your veterinarian immediately.

Dental disease in rats is usually related to trauma, as well as chewing on cage enclosures or attempting to eat food which is too big or hard. Broken teeth can cause discomfort and pain.

Rats are very susceptible to heat stress, which can be fatal. Make sure his cage is in a sheltered area which is well ventilated, and kept out of direct sunlight and strong winds. He must always have access to adequate shade.

For more information about preventing heatstroke, please click here.

Housing

Your rat’s cage should be as interesting and large as possible. Ensure it is always clean, and both escape and predator proof. It must also protect him from cold, heat, rain, wind and other environmental dangers. Birdcage-type enclosures are usually better than glass or plastic tubs.

Rats love to burrow and nest, so your new friend needs lots of suitable bedding, such as pelleted recycled paper cat litter, or shredded paper. Do not use sawdust. Change his bedding at least every two days.

Your rat also needs cardboard boxes or similar objects to hide and sleep in, and a block of untreated wood to chew. You can also give him old pieces of towels to use for sleeping material.

Your rat’s enclosure should never smell. It needs cleaning regularly, and should be disinfected with a rabbit or rat cage cleaner.

For more information about housing your rat, please click here.