Keeping a Pet Rat
Wed, April 21, 2021

Keeping a Pet Rat

Rats could be kept as beloved pets, too / Photo Credit: Good Free Photos

 

Rats are among the most social little creatures in the wild. Despite being domesticated for decades now, the animals have not lost this instinct. It’s because of this that people became interested in keeping them as pets. Having rats as pets may seem like a strange concept to many people. After all, rats are more known as pests that can destroy entire farms and things inside the house. They are mostly found in dark and dirty places. However, they have also proven to be smart and friendly creatures. It's just that they are not given a proper home and have someone to take care of them.

 

Basic Knowledge About Rats

Just like with any other pet, future owners should do their research first before adopting one. Knowing their basic requirements is essential in prolonging their lives and making sure that they receive the best care. Common pet rats that you can adopt are called Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) and are also variously known as the brown rat, street rat, sewer rat, Hanover rat, Norwegian rat, or wharf rat. A typical adult Norway rat is nine to eleven inches long while their tail is an additional seven to nine inches long. Moreover, these rats can be recognized through a wide range of physical characteristics such as standard/smooth, rex, hairless, and tailless.

Rats are also considered nocturnal, meaning they are more active at night. Male rats, also called bucks, are normally larger than females. While the female rats, called does, are smaller and tend to be more active and playful. Pet rats can live for an average of two to three years. They enter the puberty stage when they are six to eight weeks of age. Owners should take note that it's not the appropriate time for males and females to mate. Female rats go into heat for about 24 hours every four or five days once they reach puberty. During this phase, they will appear to be agitated or restless. 

According to North Star Rescue, an online site that provides honest reviews and information about products, rats are extremely social, so it's better to keep them in pairs or groups. They are also omnivores and their teeth grow throughout their entire lives. 

 

Common pet rats that you can adopt are called Norway rats /Photo Credit: Pixabay

 

Basic Care Requirements for Pet Rats

Although it's quite easy to own a rat, that doesn't mean that they are low-maintenance. There are a handful of things to consider before deciding to keep them as pets.

 

Housing Rats

Your rat’s cage should be as interesting and large as possible. Owners should make sure that it is always clean, and escape- and predator-proof. According to The Spruce Pets, an online site that offers practical, real-life tips and training advice to help you care for your pet, it is best to keep pet rats in a large wire cage with horizontal bars. If you are planning to keep more than two rats, it's highly recommended to place them in a tall cage with ramps and platforms. The minimum space for cages should be 12 by 24 inches. Owners should also provide their pet rats shelves and/or hammocks for extra space. Also, it is advisable to not use cages with wire flooring. 

Pet rats should also have some nesting materials in their cage such as inkless paper, tissues, or paper towels. Cedar and pine wood shavings should be avoided. They should be given new litter and bedding once a week. To make your pet rats even more comfortable with their space, provide them a nest box using a cardboard box, flowerpot, or jar turned on its side, or a section of PVC drain pipe.

 

Feeding

Feeding pet rats is not difficult. However, it is still important to know what’s good and bad for their health. For instance, they should be provided a variety of fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grain pasta and bread, brown rice, yogurt, and occasionally low-fat cooked meat, mealworms, cheese, seeds, and nuts to keep them healthy. They also have to be fed with high fiber and low-fat diet foods. It is advisable to use heavy ceramic food dishes because these are easier to clean.

 

Pet rats should be properly fed with fresh, high fiber and low-fat diet foods / Photo Credit: National Park Service

 

Exercise and entertainment

According to Blue Cross, a leading animal charity helping sick, injured, and homeless pets since 1897, pet rats need at least an hour’s playtime outside their cage every day. However, owners should make sure that the room is safe. Doors and windows should be kept closed as well. Pet rats love to do a lot of activities so make sure you provide them with ladders, ropes, hammocks, tunnels, and platforms inside their home. For them to enjoy more, give them toys such as blocks of wood for chewing, cardboard tubes, and toys designed for ferrets or parrots.

 

Health issues

Owners should make sure that pet rats are given a good diet to protect them from common health problems. However, just like other pets, they can’t avoid some health issues. For instance, they can acquire an infectious respiratory disease, but this can only be passed from one rat to another. Thus, it’s better to adopt or buy a rat from an authorized store. Also, owners should check them every day for any general signs of ill health, such as loss of appetite or lethargy. They can suffer from mites, snuffles, spots, and tumors. If you notice these signs, it’s better to bring them to a vet.