Caring for a Pet Rat

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

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A white pet rat being held in a hand.
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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

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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

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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.

Pet Mice and Rats

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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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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 objects you have around the house.

    Rats in Hammock

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    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.

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    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.

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    Pets RatsFebruary 21, 2012
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