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Rats As Pets

General information

RatRats are suitable pets for both adults and children. They are very social and intelligent creatures. They are used to living in large colonies. Thus having more than one rat as a pet meets their need to play and interact. Despite being nocturnal, rats can easily adapt their sleep cycle to meet the needs of their owner. Care must be taken when introducing two males from different litters to each other; do this gradually, allow time for them to get used to each other’s smell, character etc. Rats are easier to handle than most other rodents. Their average lifespan is 2.5 to 3.5 years.


Unlike humans, food needs to be available to your rat at all times. Like humans, rats are omnivores. As a base-type food, rats can be fed on a pellet mix (e.g. Burgess Supa-rat). Additionally, they can be fed fruit and vegetables such as apples, grapes, banana, broccoli and carrots. It’s important they are fed on something they can chew/ gnaw on, as this aids in dental health and general upkeep. It’s important their water source (bowl or water bottle) is refreshed daily.


By their very nature, rats enjoy the odd gnaw. So it’s important to choose a suitable cage to withstand this activity e.g. wire cage with a solid plastic floor, an aquarium with a mesh room etc. Whatever the cage design, it’s important there is airflow through the cage, to prevent the buildup of toxic substances produced by the rats like ammonia (a normal product in their urine). The cage should be properly cleaned out at least once a week. The cage should be of an adequate size (height and width) to allow the occupants to exercise (the more rats, the larger their cage needs to be!). Ensure your rat has plenty to keep himself occupied with in his cage when you’re not around. Provide shelter for him to hide during times of stress (empty cardboard boxes, plastic houses etc). The floor of their cage should be covered in an absorbent material (e.g. sawdust, wood shavings) to allow their urine to be absorbed. Having more than one floor to their cage can be fun for the rat, allowing them to climb and explore.


Rats rarely bite, however be cautious when handling them, especially for the first time. The more they familiarise themselves with the owner, the better with handling they will become. When picking your rat up, grasp the shoulder gently with one hand, and with your other hand support their back end. If the rat is in a particularly aggressive mood, it can be picked up gently by the base of its tail.

Common conditions

Signs of illness include: inappetance, unusual behaviour (biting & hissing), unkempt coat, weight loss, decrease in activity and chromodacryorrhoea (‘red tears’). Common conditions to be aware of include:

  • mammary tumours (up to 50% of older female rats can develop this, the tumours are usually benign)
  • respiratory disease (e.g. pneumonia, especially in poorly kept, poorly ventilated cages)
  • dental disease (especially when fed the wrong type of diet)
  • gastrointestinal disease (diarrhoea)
  • skin diseases (mites, lice and fleas)
  • neurological disease (e.g. head tilt, often linked to chronic respiratory diseases)

Fun facts

Rats have been found to make a laughter-like noise when tickled and dream while sleeping. Rats also use their tail to control their body temperature because they can’t sweat.


For further information on your pet rat, or if you’re concerned about them having any of the conditions/ symptoms mentioned above, come in and see us at your nearest Pets‘n’Vets surgery.

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