Rats often receive a bad press and many people are scared of them. However, fancy rats are completely different from wild rats.
Don’t be taken in by all you read and hear – they make really wonderful pets and delightful companions. Some people say they don’t like rat’s tails; but cats, dogs and rabbits all have tails – and rat’s tails are just the right size and shape for them. All fancy rats are really friendly, not to mention very smart, affectionate and playful!
Rats are very social animals and get lonely and unhappy if they are kept alone. They’re easy to look after so it’s best to get a pair.
Which rat will you choose?
There are many different coloured rats, with varying markings and coat types. The most common colours include Black, Mink, Champagne and Albino. The “hooded” pattern is quite common, i.e. the coat is white and the face and head are coloured. Other patterns include Irish, Berkshire, Capped and Variegated. We suspect that the ones you choose will be the ones you fall in love with on the day you go to make your choice!
Bringing Your Rat Home
Make sure that you have everything ready before you collect your Rats, so that you can put them into their new home as soon as you arrive and it can spend the first 24 hours getting used to the new environment.
Don’t forget to talk to your Rats and keep them company because they may be missing their brothers and sisters. Allow your rats to settle in peacefully and quietly overnight without pestering them – this way your Rat will be able to familiarise itself with its new surroundings.
You’ll soon know when your Rats have settled in – they will begin to eat, drink and groom themselves.
Feeding your Rats
Rats are omnivorous requiring both plant and protein food sources in their diets (much like humans), and specially formulated diets help to meet those nutritional requirements.
Rats need feeding twice a day, every day (in the morning and in the evening). Give only what can be eaten in a day and check for stale food that they may have stashed away somewhere!
A good quality, heavy, earthenware bowl keeps food dry and clean and prevents Rats from tipping the food. Bowls must be cleaned after every use. To find out more about high quality, nutritionally complete Rat food, click here.
If you’re changing your Rat’s diet, it’s vital that you introduce the new food gradually. Mix about one quarter of the new food with three quarters of the old food on the first day and then gradually increase the new food and decrease the old food over a 10-day period. This should make sure that your Rats have no tummy upsets.
You can also feed treats such as fruit and vegetables including carrots and sultanas and occasionally some cooked eggs, meat and fish.
It is important that you handle it frequently and correctly.
It is vital that you ensure there is fresh drinking water available at all times. The best way to provide fresh drinking water is to use a gravity-fed water bottle, attached to the front of the enclosure. Use one of the large ballpoint bottles to prevent dripping and ensure a constant supply is available. Water bowls are not really suitable as they may be tipped over and can get contaminated.
Rats can be housed in a wire cage with a plastic base, a plastic Rat home or a large vivarium with a well-ventilated cover. Wooden cages should not be used, as rats will chew their way out!
The important thing to remember is that a Rat home can never be too big, as they love to explore and exercise. Multi-level cages are an excellent idea as they add interest for the Rat.
They love to hide and climb, so sisal rope, a large Rat wheel and a place for them to rest above the ground are ideal – they love hammocks. They also need a large run where they can play and exercise.
Rats are best kept indoors and careful thought should be given to where your Rat’s home is situated. The temperature in the room should be constant, away from direct sunlight and draughts, and out of the reach of any other pets. A Rat’s hearing is extremely sensitive so he should be situated away from loud noises.
Cages should be cleaned out on a regular basis. This is especially important in warmer weather in order to prevent flies being attracted to the cage.
Every day: Remove any soiled bedding
Once a week: Remove all bedding. Thoroughly sweep out all the soiled bedding. Rinse with warm water and mild detergent and wait until dry. Spray inside of enclosure with a safe cleaning product and wait until dry. Replace with clean bedding (check for signs of mould etc. on bedding and discard if necessary).
Keeping your Rat warm and cosy is very important. You also need bedding that is absorbent, which makes cleaning easier for you.
Untreated, un-threshed straw should not be used as it can scratch your pet. Do not use bedding that is synthetic as this could harm your Rat if it eats it.
It is also recommended that all bedding should have been dust-extracted as this reduces irritation to the eyes, nose and respiratory system. To find out more about suitable bedding products, click here.
It is extremely important that your Rat has the opportunity to exercise every day. You need to provide a large, secure run for daily exercise. This can be freestanding or attached to the cage.
An idea is to use a large cardboard box and put bedding on the bottom. Put in some toilet roll tubes and, as Rats also love climbing, you can hang up a piece of sisal rope.
If you put a wheel in the cage so your Rat can exercise, make sure that it is big enough. Your Rat must not have to bend its back while inside. Also ensure that it has a solid floor and not rungs as rungs can cause injuries to the feet and tail.
Although Rats sleep during the day, they are really energetic and will exercise for 3-4 hours a night, and will enjoy spending the evenings with you!
Piles of twigs (natural wood – willow, beech, hazel or apple) make platforms for them to explore or rest under. Rats will chew the wood and this will help keep their teeth in trim!
By hiding food and the occasional treat under cardboard boxes, in empty plant or yoghurt pots, or in different areas of the animal’s cage, your Rat will be forced to hunt for its food – this will keep it occupied for many happy hours and prevent boredom.
Handling your Rat
To ensure that your Rat becomes tame and affectionate it is important that you handle it frequently and correctly
Picking up a Rat incorrectly could lead it being permanently frightened and may lead to it becoming aggressive.
Remember that most small animals are prey in the wild. So, if approached from above they’ll see a large shadow and become scared. They might run and hide or try to attack you.
The best way to pick up your Rat is to talk to it as you approach – on the same level. Crouch and let it come to you, presenting the back of your hand for it to sniff.
If your Rat is confident and appears interested, slowly unclench your fist and offer your palm. It may well crawl on to your hand or you can gently scoop it up.
Cup your Rat in the palms of your two hands to ensure that it is safe and won’t be dropped. Lift slowly – picking up too quickly would be the equivalent of going up the Empire State Building in 3 seconds! To ensure it is safe at all times you should hold it over your lap or close to your chest.
Never squeeze or tighten your grip during handling. Never try to pick up your Rat by the tail as this could lead to injury and not surprisingly, it might become aggressive.
Mites – You can detect the presence of mites if you notice your rat itching, especially around the neck, shoulders and ears. Scratching can damage the skin, so be sure not to confuse scratches with injuries caused by fighting with cage mates, or a fungul infection. A veterinarian can detect the cause and prescribe a treatment.
Respiratory disease – Among the most common problems seen in rats are diseases of their respiratory tract. Typical signs include dyspnoea, “rattling” breathing sounds, snuffling, sneezing, nasal discharge and even ‘red tears’. General signs of illness such as lethargy, weight loss and ruffled coat are also present. In most cases of rhinitis, bronchitis and pneumonia more than one infectious agent may be responsible for the respiratory problems. Take your rat to the vet with the first signs of respiratory disease to try and prevent chronic problems.
Overgrown Teeth – Rats’ teeth continue to grow throughout their life. Rats need to gnaw to keep their teeth in trim. If there is a chipped tooth, or their teeth do not meet properly, this may cause overgrown teeth and they must be trimmed by your vet.
Overgrown Nails – Nails can also become overgrown and should be trimmed by a vet to ensure your rat is comfortable.
Always consult a vet if you have ANY reason for concern.
If you need to know more
For more detailed information about Rats, you can contact us and we will get back to you with our experts’ advice. However if you have any concerns about the health and wellbeing of your rabbit, you should seek veterinary advice immediately.
For grooming and health care and lots more detailed information on Rats, visit our sister site, www.smallanimaladvice.com
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