Rats: Species Profile and Basics of Care  

little mouse eating

Over the past decade, rats have become increasingly popular pets, and with good reason. This article summarises some facts about the species and how to best care for them.  

Scientific name: 

  • Rattus rattus (yes, really!) 

 

Lifespan: 

  • Up to 3 years 

 

Behaviour: 

  • Rats are very intelligent animals 
  • They enjoy, and even crave, socialisation with people 
  • They are very clean (a surprise to many!) 

 

Choosing a rat: 

  • Ideally, source a rat from a reputable breeder with healthy animals. 
  • Ever considered adoption? This is a great option too! 
  • Observe the rat before you purchase it. Ensure it looks clean, in good condition. Watch it eat and interact with other rats. It should not be fearful or aggressive – if it approaches you inquisitively, this might just be a sign that he or she is the one for you! 

 

Housing: 

  • A large wire cage is best; it should have horizontal bars so the rat can climb and a hard-floor for him/her to walk on. Wire cages should be 75cm x 45cm x 70cm.  
  • Ramps, toys, ropes and hammocks are all good additions that your rat will enjoy. 
  • Place the cage somewhere in the house that is quiet, but not isolated. Rats like to know what is going on! Avoid exposure to direct sunlight or air-conditioning.  
  • Limit interaction with dogs and cats – as you can imagine, this will be very threatening to the rat.  

 

Bedding: 

  • Clean newspaper or paper towels are best. Avoid cedar and pine-wood shavings, which are toxic. Absorbent pellet products are also available, and these are an excellent option. 
  • Your rat will most likely have a corner or space in the cage where he or she toilets. Ensure this is cleaned regularly. 
  • Clean the entire cage and bedding at least once a week. Use warm soapy water and lots of elbow-grease – spraying with disinfectant isn’t enough! 

 

Water: 

  • A sipper bottle or dripper is best for water. Ensure there is always access to water, and that the water is clean/fresh. We recommend this water dispenser for your pet.

 

Food: 

  • We recommend buying a commercial rodent diet, you can purchase here.
  • Rats appreciate variety; yoghurt, fresh/dried fruit, seed mixes and cereal are all good options 
  • It’s also important to provide them with wood or something to chew on to keep the front teeth worn down (they are always growing). 

 

Common health problems: 

  1. Respiratory disease – this is the most common reason for people taking their rat to the vet. It is usually caused by a combination of bacteria and viruses. Disease prevention is best, as ongoing treatment is very expensive.  
  1. Bumblefoot – technical term “pododermatitis”. This is caused by ulcers on the bottom of the feet, and secondary Staph infection.  
  1. Tumours – mammary tumours are very common in female rats. Again, surgery is possible but costly. 

 As always, find a good exotics veterinarian and build a relationship with them! They’ll help you get on top of any health concerns early.  

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