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Caring for a Pet Rat

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A white pet rat being held in a hand.

Rats are intelligent and, if well cared, for make great pets. This is a guide about caring for a pet rat.


Solutions: Caring for a Pet Rat

Read and rate the best solutions below by giving them a "thumbs up".

Tip: 5 Reasons to Get a Pet Rat

A white pet rat being held in a hand.Here are the five pluses of keeping rats, an often overlooked pet.

  1. Rats are affectionate.

    Unlike most small animals, such as hamsters and gerbils, rats know how to love and even how to recognize their caretakers. Some rat owners, such as my myself, claim that the affection some rats can give can rival that of a dog.

  2. Rats don't take up a lot of space.

    Rats only require about two square feet of space, a bit more if you decide to buy them a larger cage.

  3. Rats can be affordable.

    Rats don't break the bank when it comes to money. Food and bedding costs run low if you find the right store, and money can be saved if you potty train your rat (yes, it can be done!) and feed your rat a homemade diet (see Suebee's diet on the RMCA website). Toys can be made at home too - a pant leg from slacks or a chicken bone make good toys for rats.

  4. Rats make excellent first pets for children.

    Hamsters aren't always the best choice when it comes to first pets for children, choose rats instead! These easygoing creatures don't mind if they get awoken while taking a nap and are "a lot" less aggressive than most other small animals. However, please supervise young children when they handle rats or any other animal.

  5. Rats are low maintenance.

    Rats need their water and food bowls cleaned and filled daily (include fresh food). Rats only need about 30 minutes of attention from you a day (compare that with a cat, dog, or ferret). And of course, your rat could use a yearly check up from the vet and a clean, disinfected cage every week.

By Misha

Tip: Don't Buy Pet Rats from Pet Store

I remember when I was young I had these wonderful rats! We must have bought them from the pet store, and they mated and had babies.

From the time the babies were young, we played with them. We had them out and loved them and they were tame.

Now, forward to many years later, when I go to the pet store and wonder if I can do this again, in a word, NO.

The rat babies at the pet store are treated roughly and they come to hate human contact because of this. I have been bitten so many times. I wondered why this was. I finally realized that the reason our early rats were so wonderful as pets, was because they were socialized. If you have rats that are socialized, then advertise them and sell them. You will be saving someone lots of trouble down the road. Other than that, you can look up rat fanciers and rat breeders to get one from them. Even though the rats at the pet store that sells snakes are cheaper than breeders they have not been socialized or cared for in a way that would make them suitable pets. Of course, there are always exceptions.

    By Robyn [366]

    Article: Pet Rats and Mice Information

    Description: Children have always been fond of keeping mice and rats as pets, especially young boys. Intensive breeding over hundreds of generations has resulted in many colorful and interesting species. Rats and mice are generally inexpensive and easy to care for. With regular handing, they are easy to tame and even grow to enjoy human interaction. Because of their size, these pets require delicate handling and are not suitable for small children.

    Size: Mice (1.1 oz); Rats (10.0-17.0 oz). In both species, the males are larger than females.

    Compatibility: Mice and rats are social. With enough space, rats can be kept in same-sex groups of pairs or trios. Mice can be kept in larger groups of the same sex, although the bucks (males) have a tendency to fight. Rats and mice are prolific breeders. Different sexes should not be combined unless you are intentionally trying to breed them.

    Appeal: Rats and mice are the least expensive "pocket-pets" to keep and need the smallest amount of room. They are generally lively and interesting to watch. Most can be easily tamed and are easy to care for.

    Drawbacks: Mice and rats have short life-spans. They are prolific breeders. When frightened, mice and rats can bite. They can be easily injured and are not suited to small children.

    Diet: Rats and mice should be fed a balanced or "complete" seed mix or specially formulated pellets.

    Problems & Health Issues: These rodents are more susceptible to respiratory infections and tumors.

    Lifespan: Mice and rats have short life-spans. Mice typically only live 2-5 years and rats from 3-4 years.

    Interesting Facts: A female mouse can be biologically ready to breed within an hour of giving birth.

    By Ellen Brown

    Tip: Setting Up A Rat Habitat

    In many ways, setting up for a pet rat is similar to preparing housing for other small furries -- rabbits, guinea pigs, or ferrets.

    You can house your rat in a cage or a large aquarium. Cages are generally more popular because they offer climbing opportunities and good ventilation -- aquariums have poorer circulation, which can lead to health problems for your rat. If you choose to outfit a cage for your rat, make sure that the bars are close enough that a baby or young rat can't squeeze out.

    When it comes to cage size, a good rule of thumb is to allow two cubic feet for each rat. But really, the bigger the cage, the better. Your rats will love having the space to climb and play!

    A plastic tray for litter at the bottom of your rats' living area will make life a little easier for you -- especially when it comes to cleaning. Your rat habitat should be thoroughly cleaned every three to five days. All tubes, toys, shelves, and litter trays should be removed and washed. You may need to pick up food waste and excrement every day. Soiled or wet bedding should be removed as soon as you notice it.

    Your rat habitat will need a nest box -- somewhere for your rat to sleep. Choose a bed that is warm and secure, like a small plastic basket or even a cardboard box. Your rat may even like sleeping in a hammock! Offer bedding like shredded paper, chopped straw, or old linens. Try to avoid cottony, fluffy bedding, as your rats can get their toes tangled or even choke on the fluff.

    Make sure your rat has access to water at all times! A gravity feed water bottle works very well with a cage. If you choose to provide a bowl for water, be prepared to wash it frequently -- the rats may use it as a bathtub. And make sure your bowls (for food or water) are heavy enough not to tip when your rats lean or climb on them. Ceramic, stainless steel, or plastic bowls should work well. You should provide separate bowls for dried food and fresh food.

    And rats love to play. They can spend hours climbing, crawling, and exploring. Your rat's particular tastes may vary, but you can try tubes and tunnels, ladders, shelves, ropes and swings, or even a wheel. Use your imagination to make your rat's home a fun one.

    By Catherine Forman

    Tip: Turn Cage Into Luxury Rat Condo

    Pet accessories can be very pricey, and aren't always made of the safest or best-quality materials. Don't despair! Rather than let a pet sit in a boring cage, you can outfit your pet's domain with unique toys, decorations and even pet 'furniture' from objects you have around the house.


    • A cage with metal bars (tall, narrow birdcages work wonderfully) *Warning! Old cages may contain lead or other harmful metals that would make your pet sick!
    • A kerchief/bandanna
    • Split rings and/or small carribbeaners
    • A small teacup or creamer
    • A whisk
    • A piece of wood cut to fit the width of your cage OR a piece of Tupperware, close to same size. If you use wood, make sure to sand any sharp edges.
    • Craft wire
    • Nail/screw for making holes
    • 3 grommets


    I have two rats, and one thing I've come to understand about them is their curiosity and love of anything novel that they can interact with. Once our girls grew up, we upgraded them to a large metal birdcage that initially seemed too empty. It was boring, and the girls didn't have much to do, so I had to get creative and make their new home into a fun and exciting place. These are just a few ideas to help transform your basic rodent cage into a playground for your pets.

    The cage I bought came with two plastic perches that bisect the cage and fit into the vertical bars on either side. I used these perches to create a foundation for a '2nd floor'. I found a cheap Tupperware box, and sat the lid on top of the two perches. Then, I made two small holes near the edge of the lid with a screw, and hooked a pet ladder (which I found at a Dollar store) to the lid, via the holes. I made two holes, one in each far corner of the lid, and strung wire through them to ground the lid to the cage bars.

    Rats in Cage Shelf with Ladder

    If your cage does not have perches to use for a foundation, you can easily have narrow dowels cut to fit your cage at a hardware store, and use them in the same way. Alternately, it would be easy to make two extra holes on the front corners of your plywood or lid, and secure all four corners to the cage bars with wire.

    A note regarding wire: Make sure that no sharp ends are accessible to the rats. You can use a small piece of duct tape to cover the exposed wire. Keep in mind that rats and other rodents can (and will) find opportunities to gnaw anything, and you may have to replace the wire from time to time. Voila! A second floor, with a ladder for access!

    What I did next was make two 'chains' with sturdy split rings. I attached a small metal creamer to one chain via its handle. I attached a whisk to the other chain, via the loop at the end of its handle. Both of these items hadn't been used for ages, and were on their way to the trash, so I'm glad I was able to recycle them. I hung the chains from the two corners facing the second floor, high enough so both the creamer and whisk were 5 or 6 inches from the cage floor. I've been using the creamer to hide small amounts of treats in. The rats will climb up to it, swing from it and even attempt to hide in it. The whisk has worked out great. I've stuffed paper towel and other nesting material into it, and the rats shred and tug to their hearts' delight. It would also work well as a hopper for veggies.

    Rats in Hammock

    For an inexpensive rat hammock, find an old bandanna, or cut a large fairly even square of fabric. Fold it in half diagonally two or three times, until you have a well-reinforced triangle that's about 5-7 inches wider than the cage. With scissors, make a hole in each corner and place a grommet in each hole.. Attach three split rings to the triangle via the grommets.

    Next, you'll need to attach the hammock to the cage somehow. If your cage roof is detachable, you can easily hang the hammock from the roof using the jump rings.. Find three bars that, when the three corners are hung from them, will allow for drape. You don't want the hammock to be stretched taut.

    Your cage may open in a variety of different ways, it might have a roof that lifts off, or sliding doors. Usually, cages can be disassembled conveniently for cleaning purposes. If your cage roof doesn't come off, attaching the hammock may be matter of removing the bottom/tray and coming at the roof from below. Wherever you decide to hang the hammock, make sure there's a fairly loose drape so the rats can easily climb in and out of it.

    By Jess Hampton

    Tip: The Rat Fan Club

    This website has a lot of information for people with pet rats. "The Rat Fan Club, founded in 1992, focuses on rats as companion animals. The club currently has about 460 members in Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, Switzerland, and the U.S. Our goal is to share our love of rats, promote them as companion animals, and spread information about their proper care."

    Recommended by Robyn

    Tip: Trust Training - Training Your Pet Rat to Have Fun

    Trust Training: "If you have a baby rat who doesn't like to be held, remember that baby rats tend to be very active and often don't want to hold still to be held. Instead they want to run around and play and explore. See if your rat wants to play a game with you instead of being held. Then, wait until she is feeling sleepy to hold her. When rats are feeling sleepy, they are more willing to be held." - The Rat Fan Club

    By Robyn

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    Below are photos related to this guide.

    Bandit (Rat)

    Bandit is a 1 year old rat, who we bought at the pet store. She loves to run around on the couch and in the bathroom. She likes climbing all over me. She is very friendly.

    Rats get a bad rap. People automatically get squeamish when I say I have a rat for a pet. Rats are very clean animals. They are always washing themselves. They are affectionate and become attached to their owners like a dog or cat.

    By Judy from Waterloo, IL

    White rat with black face on the back of a couch

    Lady (Rat)

    Lady is one year old and she is my Pet Rat. She was born to the pet rats I have at home. Lady enjoys playing with me and riding on my shoulder. She is the boss of all the other pet rats I have.

    By Denise1955 from Lincoln NE

    Photo of a pet rat named Lady.