Thinking about getting a pet rat and wondering what you might want to buy or keep around the house for them? We’ve pulled together everything you might need and don’t worry, most of it is not very expensive and very easy to get hold of. Rats are fantastic pets and caring for them doesn’t have to be complicated.
The 22 things you need for a pet rat are a home, bedding, food, water bottles, a vet’s contact, rat breeder’s details, pet sitters contacts, vitamin & mineral supplements, cage cleaning materials, alternative mini-housing, hammocks, salt/mineral lick, shampoo, food dishes, antiseptic cream, a first aid kit, nursing bottles, food for sick rats, a spare cage, a travel cage/carrier, a health insurance policy, treats and patience, care and love.
What Do You Need For A Pet Rat?
So, let’s take a look at all 22 things that you need for your pet rats.:
A Home For Your Rat – A Rat Cage
Possibly, the most important thing you will ever buy for your rat is its home. We’ve got a whole guide to what to look for when buying a cage and some cost-effective cages elsewhere on the site, so here we’re going to stick to the basics.
- Spend as much money on a cage as you can but make sure that you’re buying extra floor area with that money – the more room your rats have, the happier they will be
- You want the bars to be approximately 1/2” apart because if they’re any wider than that – you will spend a lot of time wondering where your rats have gone. If you intend to keep baby rats in the cage, then go with ¼”.
- Make sure the door locks properly – rats are way smarter than most people realize, and they can learn to open the cage door and run away if the cage door is too easy to open.
- Don’t use a fish tank for a cage – unless it’s very temporary to try and rescue a lost rat – they don’t have enough ventilation to keep your rat safe and the ammonia in their pee can end up overwhelming them and harming them or killing them in a fish tank
- Try to avoid cheap plastic in the cage as your rat will happily gnaw its way through that and you will need to buy more
- Consider spending some extra money on some cool stuff to go inside the cage, the more fun it looks, the more fun it will probably be for your rats
Cages don’t need to be hugely expensive but you really want to ensure that you invest in a solid cage, as a good one will last a long time and give you as much pleasure as it will give your rats because you’ll be able to watch them frolic about and play in it.
A Spare Rat Cage (and potentially an Aquarium too)
Every home that has rats should have more than 1 cage. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to buy another rat cage for every occupied cage that you own. Yes, that’s right you want a 1:1 ratio – 1 cage in use, 1 hanging around waiting to be used.
If you breed rats this stops being a guideline – you will need to separate the mother and babies from the other rats, and you can’t do that without a cage.
Now, you cannot use an aquarium as a long-term residence for a rat. We’ve already pointed out that the ventilation isn’t good enough and it will cause them real harm if you do. However, if you do have a spare aquarium, do hang on to it – if you need to build a little house in the middle of the floor to try and bring a lost rat back to the fold – it’s fine to use an aquarium.
As for the spare cage? Well, you may need it if your rats get sick, if they fight too often or they are injured for any reason.
You remove injured rats so that they don’t accidentally get hurt in play with other rats. You remove sick rats to prevent them from passing on their illness.
As for the overly aggressive rat – they’re a bit of a rarity but if you do get one, you can’t keep them in the same cage as the other rats. They can kill or maim if they’re left alone for long enough.
If you keep dwarf rats, double rex rats or hairless rats then you have chosen rats which produce aggressive members more often than most other breeds. So, keep an eye on them.
A Travel Cage For Your Rat
Yes, you need another cage but this time a completely different design. Sometimes, you have to take your rat elsewhere and if you transport it in its ordinary home that can be fairly problematic (rat cages are too large to easily carry about and you might drop or lose items from it – plus your rat might find the whole experience of a flying house quite terrifying).
So, you need a small animal carrier which is designed to transport your rat. Most of the time, you will probably use this to take the rat to the vet, but you might use it to move it from college to home in vacation time or to move home in too.
There’s quite an impressive selection of carriers out there but the choice you make is nowhere near as important as it is with living quarters. We like to use one that has a window in the side, so that our rats can get a sense of where they are going (rats don’t have great vision – so, they won’t be overawed by this). Just remember never to leave the window in direct sunlight.
Bedding For Your Rat – That Is Safe
A rat’s bedding is also something of a big deal. Rats spend about as much time (or possibly more time) in bed as human beings do and as you might expect – if you wrap up in something all day, it ought to be safe for you to use.
Rats have particularly delicate respiratory systems and you want to ensure that the bedding you choose won’t trigger any kind of injury to this system.
That means no wood-based beddings. These can seriously harm their respiratory system, cause toxic shock or poisoning and are simply to be avoided no matter what they tell you in the pet store.
We like paper/cardboard based beddings but only if they are made of 100% paper and have no added perfume or other potential contaminants. You can also use cloth which is nicely recyclable if you want.
You might also decide to opt for a natural litter, but we’d urge caution with these as choosing the wrong one will harm the rat’s respiratory system.
Never buy anything that has a strong scent or is prone to give off dust. If the material is poisonous to rats when ingested – don’t buy it because you can guarantee that they will eat some of it.
You will know if bedding is a problem because:
- The rats will start to sneeze all the time
- They may start to wheeze
- They will have discharge coming from their nose and their eyes
- They will cough or choke at random times with no obvious source of discomfort
- They will start to struggle to breathe
For the complete guide to bedding why not read our article 14 Best Bedding Solutions for Rats.
If you notice these symptoms – clean out the cage and change the material that you are using for bedding.
Alternative Mini-Housing For Rats
OK, this isn’t quite so important, but it is a nice touch. Rats quite like a little space to hideaway in that they can call their own. If you think of their cage as the neighborhood that they live in, then a little house can be very nice.
You can buy plastic igloos, houses, and even edible homes at pet stores or on Amazon. You can also make one from a cardboard box (though it will need replacing regularly). It’s just a nice thig to do and rats will really appreciate it.
Hammocks For Chilling In
Rats are funny things and in the wild they love tunnels and they love climbing trees. What we haven’t seen them do, however, is come up with an alternative to hammocks. Which is odd, because if there’s one household item that rats absolutely love – it’s hammocks.
They love to kick back in a hammock so much that they’ve even been known to move out of their homes to live in hammocks. The good news is that hammocks are very cheap and while they do eventually need replacing, your rat will get a lot of use out of them before you do.
The Materials To Clean The Cage
You should always be ready to clean a rat’s cage at a moment’s notice. We generally remove bedding and litter every day and then do a deep clean about every 7-10 days but you might end up with a sick rat, a dead rat or some other minor disaster at any time and then you’re going to have to spring into action and get cleaning.
You should always have soap and water to hand, we’d hope. But make sure that the soap you use around your rats is as natural as possible and has no scents – you don’t want to hurt their lungs when you clean the cage. Some people prefer white vinegar to soap as it can neutralize the ammonium smell of rat urine.
You also need rubber or plastic gloves. These should, ideally, be disposable to make life easy but if not, they need washing every time you use them.
You should have a face mask for when you do a deep clean, you don’t want to breath in rat poop or bedding material because it can make you sick.
You also need some plastic bags to put things in before you throw them away – that goes for bedding, litter, gloves, mask filters, etc.
If you have to deal with a dead rat – you cannot throw that in the bin, you need to talk to a vet about proper disposal, but you can wrap it in a couple of plastic bags until the.
You might also want to buy some cheap non-toxic bleach to keep on hand because if severe illness breaks out – you may need to completely sterilize the cage.
Food For Your Rat – That Is Designed For Your Rat’s Health
Rats are funny little creatures when it comes to diet. You see because they can eat almost anything, it doesn’t mean that they should eat almost anything. We’ve got a good article here about what rats can and can’t eat in general terms here.
However, the easiest way to feed a rat and keep it healthy and at the right weight is to buy a specially formulated rat food. This will have the low protein, low carb and low fat approach that rats need all from a single source.
Now, if your rat is pregnant you may want to buy a fortified version of the rat’s food until she was weaned in order for her to get the additional nutrients that she will need for the babies.
You can then add treats of a little meat, fruit and vegetables on top. Though “treat” is the operative word – treats shouldn’t make up a large percentage of your rat’s daily consumption.
Good Quality Water Bottles – Avoiding Dehydration
Rats need water and if they go longer than 2 hours without it – they start to become dehydrated which is a fairly dangerous position for a small animal to be in. That means you want to buy a good quality water bottle.
Cheap water bottles tend to disintegrate on first contact with your rat. The rat is a world class chewer and when it gets cheap plastic in its teeth – it bites through it.
Don’t go with a water bowl. It might seem like a good idea but it’s not. The rat will end up walking through it, going to the toilet in it, etc. It’s just not hygienic.
As for drippers? Don’t. They leak. All over the cage. The cage starts to stink to high heaven and your rat will be basically wading in rat sewers. It’s not nice.
Good Quality Food Dishes
Again, the rat’s urge to chew comes into play when it comes to food dishes. Cheap plastic dishes will be lucky to make it through a week or so before you need to go and buy new ones, so it’s best to invest in some decent quality bowls for your rats to eat from.
We like to use ceramic bowls, that’s because they tend to be quite heavy which stops your rats from upending them and sending food all over the place. However, metal or heavy duty plastic may also serve the purpose.
Vitamins and Mineral Supplements For Rats
If you feel that your rats aren’t getting everything that they need from the food stuffs that they eat – then you might want to consider giving them some vitamin and mineral supplements. You can discuss this with your vet before you proceed.
These are very cheap, and they are usually recommended by vets who feel that these supplements can bring about a marked improvement in the animal’s day-to-day health.
A Salt Lick/A Mineral Wheel
These are definitely not compulsory, but you should only need one for the entire lifespan of your rat. By and large rats tend to use these things very, very infrequently and only when their bodies are feeling particularly salt deficient (often in hot weather).
Salt licks are common with other animals such as goats and horses, so your rat won’t be the only pet in the world to occasionally need a bit extra salt in their diet.
Shampoo For When You Need To Bathe Them
You shouldn’t bathe rats on a regular basis – they’re very good at grooming themselves. However, occasionally just like all other pets, rats end up in a bit of a state and one that they won’t be able to groom themselves out of by themselves.
In this case, it’s time for you to give them a bath. Now, if you’ve never bathed a rat before, we’ve got a complete guide on how to do so here on the site. But to cut things short for our “what you need” list – you need a nice gentle, safe, completely non-toxic and unscented shampoo (or in a pinch a dish washing liquid with the same properties will do).
There are some rats (such rexes, hairless, etc.) that need very particular care when being bathed and, in those instances,, you should probably consider using an oatmeal based shampoo which doesn’t irritate their skin.
Antiseptic Creams For When Your Rat Injures Itself
Rats are quite agile and they’re quite prone to both play fighting and fighting. This means that they have a tendency to hurt themselves quite a bit – the most common injuries to rats are, thankfully, very minor and they tend to consist of sores, cuts, scrapes, etc. and nothing more serious.
You should keep a gentle antiseptic agent around for when this happens and be prepared to use it on:
- Any cuts on the body that are bleeding
- Any bite wounds (if a bite is very bad – you might need to go to the vet and get it stitched)
- Any infected scratches or insect bites
You can also treat cuts or tears on the outside of the ear but under no circumstances should you ever put antiseptic, water, or anything else inside a rat’s ear without direct instruction from a vet. A rat’s most valuable sense is its hearing and if you damage it, they may find their lives ruined as a result.
Our recommended brand of antiseptic is Bactine which works very well and is low cost and easy to obtain.
It’s easy to use – simply apply plenty of it to the problem area and then hold the rat for about 5 minutes preventing it from worrying or licking at the wound. After that, rinse the area in warm water, dry, use an ice cube if there is any swelling or if the wound is still bleeding. Then dry again.
Don’t bother trying to bandage up a rat. It will shred a bandage within a couple of minutes of you applying one.
Medical Contacts For Your Rat (A Good Vet)
We hope that your pet rat lives a long, happy life without ever needing to see a vet but we’d strongly recommend that whatever your hopes are – that you have a vet’s telephone number at the ready for emergencies.
It’s always best to track down a vet with real experience of working with rodents. They have some peculiar quirks and a vet who treats rats on a regular basis will know these quirks and be able to work around them.
A List of Local Rat Breeders
If one of your rats passes away, you will need to get another rat (or maybe two) to keep the surviving rat company. As social creatures, rats get very sad if they are left on their own and while they will love having you around – they also need their own kind.
So, make sure that you have some numbers for reputable and ethical breeders in your area if the worst happens. Please try to avoid feeder breeders, not only is what they do kind of cruel – it can also leave the rats quite distressed and harder to socialize when they arrive in your home.
A List of Local Pet Sitters
Sometimes, we plan to go away. Sometimes, it’s thrust upon us. It’s better to be safe than sorry and just have a list of local pet sitters to hand, so that when you know you have to go somewhere – you can arrange care for your rats without any hassle. It keeps stress to a minimum when traveling.
Nursing Bottles (For Dealing With Orphaned Rats)
If you decide to breed or raise rats, then you need to be prepared for the idea that sometimes a mother will die before she can raise her children. So, you need to keep some rat nursing bottles on hand so that you can feed the babies.
Some rat breeders try to keep two rats pregnant at the same time so that one can act as a wet nurse for the other if something goes wrong. However, not all rats are happy to take over nursing another rat’s babies.
Emergency Food For Sick Rats
Sometimes, a rat is so ill that it can’t feed itself and then you’re called upon to feed them. The way to do this is to use a syringe and some high protein, high calorie, high carb liquid food. We like canned baby food for this because it lasts forever until you open it.
A Rat Health Insurance Policy?
Yeah, it sounds ridiculous – right up until the moment that the vet lands you with a hefty bill for your little one’s care. Pet insurance is a real thing and it’s reasonably affordable and an excellent hedge against a huge bill in the future.
This is particularly true if you’re breeding rats and have the possibility of them all getting sick at once. Then the bills can skyrocket.
Treats Because Rats Love Treats
Every rat owner soon leans that it’s important to have a near endless supply of treats to persuade, cajole and bribe their rats with. Diced veggies, fruits and meat are all good for this and there is a nice list of things that rats should and shouldn’t eat here on our site.
Patience, Care and Love
Finally, rats are pets, the same as any other pet and it would be remiss of us to fail to point out how important it is for you to give your pets your love, your care and your patience. It is these things that help you to form the bonds with your rats that will give you and those around you joy and happiness for the lifetime of your animals.
Hopefully, our list of 22 things you need for a pet rat has reassured you that owning a rat doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. Most of these items only need to be obtained once and then they will last for a very long time. Many of them are free.
When you have this stuff, it will make owning a rat an enjoyable and relatively stress-free experience. Which is the way it should be.