Rats are generally inexpensive to keep and make good pets as they enjoy contact. They are highly social and form bonds. New rats can be integrated into a cage but it is often easier to purchase them in pairs, preferably the same sex. To ease them into their new surroundings, you should give your rats a couple of days to settle in, explore and calm down, before handling them too much. After this, you’ll find that by stroking them and allowing the rats to get used to you, they’ll enjoy your company – one thing to remember is that however many times you’ve seen it, rats DO NOT like to be picked up by their tails!
As with other pets, it’s always good to be careful when it comes to diet. Rats are able to eat fresh fruit, vegetables and certain scraps, but in order to keep them healthy, there are specific foods available from your pet store. Rats are also natural foragers and so hiding treats in their cage will not only vary their diet, but will keep them active and help mimic their behaviour in the wild. Unlike humans, rats are not fussy drinkers! They like water and drink lots of it, so keeping them supplied is important. Very much like humans however, rats can be clumsy and have a tendency to spill or knock things over. It’s always worth checking that the food you supplied for them is still in its bowl and your water bottle is operating correctly.
General cleanliness is required and it’s advisable to clean out your cage at least once per week with a suitable cleaning solution. You may find that your rats decide to use a certain part of their cage as their own private lavatory – once they’ve made their choice, place a litter tray in this area to save yourself time and clean this out more regularly.
Rats are no better or worse than other small mammals when it comes to illness. They need to be active to avoid putting on weight and must be supplied with suitable toys to gnaw on, as their teeth grow quickly. Keep a look out for general symptoms such as skin irritation, loss of fur or a change in behaviour and contact your vet if you’re concerned.
Rats are constantly on the go and their preferred living environment reflects this. You should purchase a large cage with multiple levels (ensuring that it’s a cage for rats, a hamster cage will not be suitable) and they should have plenty of room to exercise, climb and explore. Many cages have tunnel systems or ropes and you can buy a multitude of toys for your rat, including exercise balls. A sleeping area within the cage where your rats can feel warm and secure is also a good idea.
What you’ll need
- Suitable cage
- Litter tray / materials
- Food bowl (metal or ceramic preferred)
- Rat food
- Water bottle
- Cleaning supplies