Rats are full of personality and social creatures. These small mammals are clean, intelligent, and easy to care for. In captivity, rats can live between 2.5 and 3.5 years. These pets are ideal for people with limited space. It is best to have two or more rats as those who are alone tend to develop behavioral problems. If multiple rats are being housed together, they should all be the same gender unless planning to breed. However, rats can be spayed or neutered if needed. They are most active at night and rarely fight when adults. Rats usually do not bite unless they are in a lot of pain or extremely fearful. Since they are easily startled, it is a good practice wake rats before picking them up.
Rats in captivity typically consume a commercial rat “block” or “chow” with fresh fruits and vegetables offered in moderation. Seeds, raisins, and other foods high in carbohydrates and sugar should be avoided. Rats are known to be wary of new foods, so any diet changes must be made very slowly. Water should be available in a sipper bottle.
An appropriate cage for pet rats should have enough room for them to exercise preferably with multiple levels. A wire cage with a solid plastic or metal bottom is ideal since it is well ventilated. Rats are nocturnal creatures, so their cage should be located in an area that is quiet during the day and preferably dimly lit. However, they are also very social and keeping them near a social center is recommended. The temperature should be between 65 and 75 degrees fahrenheit with humidity between 30% and 70%. Recycled newspaper or aspen shavings make ideal bedding while cedar or pine shavings should be avoided. A cardboard box for rats to hide in adds a feeling of security and safety. It is important that rats have environmental enrichment. They enjoy shredding newspaper, burrowing, and utilizing exercise wheels.
Veterinary and Preventative Care
Annual wellness examinations with fecal screenings for intestinal parasites are important to keep pet rats healthy and diagnose any medical conditions early. It is recommended that female rats be spayed as mammary tumors are common. Nail and teeth trimming may be necessary if rats do not wear them down on their own. Other medical conditions common in rats include respiratory infections, head tilt, obesity, chronic renal disease, and salivary gland inflammation.