Just because they’re small, don’t go thinking that you can give a rat any less care, commitment and love than you’d give to a bigger pet. In this guide, we show you by far the best way to give your pets the time of their little lives – which usually last around two years.
The more you get to know your rats (Latin name Rattus norvegicus), and get to know about them, the better. There’s more fun to be had, and more reward, every single day.
Rats make excellent pets, especially for older children and adults. They’re clean, friendly, inquisitive and highly intelligent. They love a bit of problem-solving – and you can even teach them tricks. They bond well with people and rarely bite.
Although rats are sleepy-heads all day long, they’re usually up in the late afternoon and evening. Bright-eyed, long-tailed and ready for action – absolutely ideal for when you get in.
Wild rats can be found all over Europe, although they originated in Asia. The population spread across the world when the rats were sneaky stowaways on merchant ships. The domestic or fancy rat is descended from the Brown Rat (also known as the Norwegian Rat) and is thought to have originated from Asia moving into Europe in 1553 and then onto the US in 1775.
Domesticated rats are very clean, intelligent animals. They are very different to their wild cousins.
There are many different colour variations among rats, and three types of coat – smooth-haired, rex and hairless.
Choosing Your Pet
Rats make good family pets. They’re generally very clean, highly intelligent and are ideal for older children. Whilst rats are inexpensive to keep, you should buy as large a cage as possible. Rats often sleep during the day but are not fully nocturnal like hamsters. They’ll enjoy spending time with you during the day or evening. On average, rats live between 2 and 21⁄2 years.
Dumbo rats are a special variety of the normal fancy rat and have larger, differently positioned ears. Fancy rats are available in a variety of colours.
All pet owners have a responsibility to look after and care for their pets. If you’re thinking about having rats as pets, learn as much as you can about how to care for them beforehand. You should take your lifestyle and household into account when deciding whether you can offer them a good home. This leaflet explains rats’ basic needs so you can decide if they’re right for you…
We strongly recommend that rats are kept in same sex pairs or groups as they’re very sociable and human contact alone is not enough. You should buy your rats at the same time as they’ll already be friends, although new rats can sometimes be introduced later.
Home and Equipment
To take the best care of your rats, you’ll need all these things:
Large multi-level cage
Tubes and other toys
Suparat complete food
Ceramic food bowl
Pet Safe disinfectant
Rats need lots of exercise and stimulation and love to explore so housing them in a large cage is important. There are many types of rodent cages available. However, it’s essential that you buy a cage that is designed for rats and NOT for smaller rodents such as hamsters. Ideally, you should buy a large, wire multi-level cage as this will provide lots of interest and allow your rats to use the bars for climbing.
Rats are extremely agile and can jump two feet or more!
Position their home away from radiators or windows to prevent sudden changes in temperature. Cover the base of the cage with a paper-based or other suitable little. Avoid using woodshavings or sawdust as they can irritate rats’ eyes and noses and cause allergic reactions. Provide your pets with a private space to sleep in filled with nesting material to keep them cosy. Avoid using straw as it’s too sharp and may damage their eyes and mouths.
In the wild rats are scavengers and will eat a wide variety of foods. Pet rats should also be provided with a varied diet containing all the necessary food groups. Whilst in our care we feed them Burgess Suparat nuggets which contain all the nutrients they need in every mouthful. Nuggets prevent selective feeding. This is a common problem associated with muesli diets where your pets eat the bits they like and leave the rest, resulting in nutrient deficiencies. We recommend that you continue to feed your rats suparat nuggets to minimise any stress caused by a change of food at the same time as being taken to a new home. If you do wish to change your rats’ diet, introduce new food slowly over a period of about 10 days, phasing out the old food completely.
You can feed your pets fresh food such as cooked egg, cooked chicken scraps and washed fruit and vegetables such as apples, carrots and sprouts to supplement their basic diet and provide different flavours for them to try. It’s nice to treat your rats too – hanging seed sticks or hiding treats or monkey nuts around their cage provides fun and tasty challenges as well as stimulating natural behaviour! When feeding your pets any of the additional foods mentioned here, you should do so in moderation to avoid stomach upsets and weight gain, restricting treats to one or two a day.
A ceramic or metal food bowl is best for your pets – they’re gnaw-proof, hard to knock over and easily cleaned and disinfected. Remove left over food and wash their food bowl thoroughly everyday before re-filling it. Rats tend to drink more water than other rodents so a large water bottle is essential. Provide fresh water daily.