Fancy Rats: Basic Care
All text Copyright Laurie Hale, 2001
Basic Rat Care Description:
An adult rat grows to approximately 9 - 11 inches (tail not included) in length and
weighs about 1 pound. Males, called bucks, are larger than females (does). Rats
come in two different ear types, 6 different coat types, many different colors. Rats can
even come in a tailless variety. Colors vary from reddish to gray, brown to gray, black,
white, creme, and tricolors. Rats have a very good sense of smell and poor vision.
Black eyed rats have better vision than light (pink, red) eyed rats. Light eyed rats will
often sway their heads back and forth to bring things better into focus.
Rats as pets are affectionate and often become very attached to their owners. They
are intelligent, can be taught to do simple tricks and are about as smart as a dog.
They do make good companions, and rats keep themselves clean. They also will
grind and chatter their teeth when they are happy to see you or when they are
pleased. This sound is called "bruxing." Bruxing is to rats as purring is to cats. Take it
as a compliment! It means that your rat is happy.
Pet rats can be active during the day, but are most active in the evening. They will
learn to adjust to your schedule. Rats are social rodents so it is necessary to have
more than one for a pet; Two males or two females per cage at least. If a male becomes aggressive
towards his cage mate he should be neutered and put with a female. You shouldn't
have this problem if he has lived with other rats from a young age. Rats usually love
the company of other rats. They love to play together, groom each other, and sleep curled up with eachother.
Rats are omnivores, they eat both meat and vegetable matter. Lab Blocks (a large
pellet made especially for rats) should be your rats' main diet. Lab Blocks are available
at most chain feed stores (PETCO, PetsMart). Rats also should have fresh fruits and
vegetables. Male rats CANNOT have any citrus fruits (orange, tangerine, lemon, lime), it
causes cancer and liver damage in them. You can feed a rat fresh vegetables and rice or pasta.
Bananas, hard-boiled eggs and lean meats are great for an occasional treat or for a
pregnant/nursing doe. Fresh vegetables that are recommended are broccoli, sweet corn, cooked potatoes, peas, and carrots. They also like apple slices, pear, watermelon, cantalope and
green grapes. Uncooked chicken bones are safe for rats to eat and good for their
teeth. Rats also enjoy unsweetened cereal, natural peanuts, sunflower seeds and
yogurt (yogurt with active cultures are especially good for rats - and people, too).
Water should be kept available at all times and changed daily. A water bottle should
Bedding is very important, only Aspen or recycled paper products should be used. I
recommend Aspen Supreme or Carefresh bedding (may not be available in the UK).
Pine and Cedar chips are toxic to rats! You must not use pine or cedar beddings or
your rat will become very ill.
A large wire cage is recommended for the pet rats. Wire is easily cleaned. Ideally, the
cage should be at least 14(w)x24(L)x18(h) with solid levels (not wire, or cover up the
The reason you shouldn't have wire flooring is because it hurts rats feet to walk on it
and can give them a condition called Bumble Foot. Also, rats have been known to get
their feet caught in wire floors, panic and break their legs.
Most wheels are not designed for rats and therefore not a good idea (Wodent Wheel
being an exception). You should also place things in the cage the rat can chew on,
such as knawing sticks or boxes.
Placement of the cage is very important, you should avoid direct sunlight or drafts.
Rats prefer a quiet place to live without bright lights, in the bedroom is great. Bedding
should changed at least once a week and cage should be completely cleaned once a
month, ideally. Chlorine bleach mixed with 1 part water works well. Don't use scented
cleaners, especially not Pinsol or Lysol, because it can irritate the rats eyes and
lungs. After cleaning, allow the cage and toys to dry before returning the rat to its
Rats display a wide range of illnesses. Tumors, Sendai Virus, Respiratory Disease, skin
irritations, Bumble foot, SDA Virus, Mycoplasma pulmonis etc. If your pet rat shows
signs of illness it is best to consult a vet. The most common signs of illness are
excessive sneezing, ruffled fur and red discharge from the eyes and nose for more than
a week. It is normal for rats to have red discharge occasionally when they are stressed
or when they first wake up, but every day may mean there is something wrong. None
of these disease are transferable to humans, only other rats can catch them, although
stay away from your rats if you have Strep Throat. Rats can catch strep from humans, and can quickly die from it. If your rat is sick, incurable and no longer enjoying life, please don't let him suffer. Do the humane thing and have him/her euthanized.