Looking after your rat
Congratulations on acquiring your new ratThere are around 30 varieties of ‘fancy’ rat in a range of coat types, colours and markings. These domesticated rats are descendants from the common, wild brown rat.
Well-kept rats live on average for two to three years. They are clean, lively, intelligent and inquisitive social creatures that like to live in groups with other rats and bond well with humans. To prevent unwanted breeding, rats should be kept in single sex pairs or small groups. Ideally, the group should consist of litter mates as they get on the best.HandlingRats are easily tamed with quiet gentle handling and they rarely bite unless scared. Children should only handle them under close adult supervision.
Let your rats get accustomed to your hand first of all. Let them investigate and step onto your hand. Once your rats are happy, you can gently scoop them up with both hands. Approach them from the front, not from above, and do not approach them in their sleeping compartment. Hold your rats firmly but not too tightly. Always take care to avoid any potential falls, as even a small drop can cause serious injury. Rats should never be picked up by their tails.
If your rat bites you and is holding on to your finger, be brave and gently lower the rat on to a flat surface where it will let go. Do not try to pull it off (it will bite harder) and do not flick it off (it will be seriously hurt).
Rats need a spacious, multi-level metal cage or a glass or plastic tank. Cages should have a deep plastic base rather than a wire base which could damage feet. Tanks need a wire mesh lid with small holes for ventilation. Remember that rats have very strong incisor teeth and can chew their way through wood. Rats need lots of space and the more that you can provide for them the better.
The cage or tank should be placed in a well-ventilated warm room away from draughts and direct sunlight or heat. Keep your rats away from constant noise (e.g. the hum of a fridge freezer) or loud noise (e.g. TVs or music systems).
Use your imagination to make the cage or tank more interesting for your rats. It should look like a cross between a crèche and an assault course! Rats like to climb, so it is a good idea to provide different levels with shelves. Untreated apple wood branches and natural ropes are great for climbing and gnawing. Cardboard tubes and egg boxes can be used for hiding, climbing and gnawing.
Activity wheels should be solid and wide. Wheels with spokes can trap limbs and cause injury. The wheel should be big enough that your rat’s back doesn’t bend.
Respiratory disease is common in rats. Selecting the right type of bedding can help to reduce respiratory problems. Wood shavings, sawdust and sand should be avoided. Cedar and pine wood shavings contain phenol whilst sawdust and sand tend to be dusty. Phenol and dust are both respiratory system irritants.
Line cages or tanks with newspaper and use shredded paper or cardboard, commercially available recycled paper bedding or hemp bedding.
The ideal bedding for nesting is shredded clean white paper (e.g. kitchen paper) and soft hay. Avoid fluffy bedding such as cotton wool, as it can wrap around limbs or cause impactions in the stomach if eaten.
Fresh water must be provided daily from a drip feed bottle with a metal spout.
Feed a good quality rat mix or an all in one complete pellet food. Rats are omnivores and like to eat a whole range of foods. Provide small pieces of fresh fruit (not citrus fruit) and vegetables, and even cooked meat. Feed small amounts of fresh food frequently and remove uneaten food daily. Rats are prone to obesity, so it is important to avoid too many high fat or sugary human treats.
Gnawing is important to wear down incisor teeth. Dog biscuits (based on egg and oatmeal without meat derivatives), gnawing blocks or untreated apple wood are good for this.
Foraging behaviour can be encouraged by hiding food in cardboard tubes and under pots.
Mice like to climb so it is a good idea to provide different levels with shelves or baskets. Natural ropes can also be used for climbing in addition to gnawing. Cardboard tubes and egg boxes can be used for hiding, climbing and gnawing.
Activity wheels should be solid and wide. Wheels with spokes can trap limbs and cause injury. The wheel should be big enough that your mouse’s back doesn’t bend.
HealthCheck your rats daily. They should be alert, bright eyed and active. There should be no discharge around their eyes, ears, mouth and nose or under their tails. They should have quiet, regular breathing with no sneezing. Their coats should be glossy with no bald patches. There should be no lumps or bumps and their nails and teeth shouldn’t be overgrown.Small Furries Health Information – Find out more: