When you are deciding to adopt a new pet it is essential to know what to expect when taking care of them. Through this article, we will discuss the difficulty level of taking care of rats along with the specific requirements of day-to-day care. By the time you finish the article, you will be able to confidently assess whether or not pet rats are for you.
Are pet rats easy to take care of? To put it simply, yes rats are relatively easy to take care of as long as you understand and meet their care requirements. Rats need to be adopted in pairs or more and require mental stimulation through toys, play, and interaction from you and their living environment.
There’s a lot to know about taking care of pet rats, but it’s not difficult to learn. Pet rats are very easy creatures to take care of and they add a lot of joy into any family they join. Before going and purchasing a rat, please consider and prepare for all of the following information.
How Easy Are Rats to Take Care Of?
The two things you as a rat owner are responsible for is making sure your rat’s needs are met and that they get enough attention and interaction to remain happy. Now, just as different dog breeds need different amounts of food, exercise, and interaction, there are various rat varieties (varieties is what rat come in as you don’t get breeds as such), and some types are easier than others to take care of.
For example, hairless rats (often called sphinx rats) can be significantly harder to take care of as they are missing that natural protective layer of hair, and the owner has to be careful about keeping the rat warm. The sphinx rat is also known to have various health issues which could lead to high vet costs and complex issues.
However, all rats with fur have relatively similar care requirements. From this point on, we will mainly be discussing care for rats with fur.
The difficulty you will face also depends on your experience and age. If you are buying the rat for a child, they should be able to take care of the rat under adult supervision, but may struggle to remember to do everything without reminders.
Rats are NOT a pet that you can leave alone except for feeding and cleaning. On the other hand, if you have had other pets, especially other small rodents, and have had success with them, rats should not be too much of a challenge for you.
You should also consider the financial challenge. While rats most likely won’t rake up the same charges as a dog or cat, there is a monetary requirement. Before buying a rat you have to obtain a cage, things for inside the cage, food (which of course is a continuous cost), and then the rat. Before purchasing a rat, be sure you not only have the funds to buy the animal but to buy all the things required for proper care.
What Does it Cost to Have a Rat?
First, of course, is the cost of the rat itself. Most rats cost between ten and twenty dollars depending on age, while hairless rats can cost closer to fifty dollars.
It is also important to know that rats are social creatures, so many reputable breeders will only sell them in pairs. Whether you are buying one rat or multiple, the cost of the animal itself is not that expensive. To find out more about why rats need to be kept in pairs or groups please read this informative article I wrote.
The next expense is the cage; these generally range anywhere from $60 to $400 depending on the size and quality. The bigger the better when it comes to buying a cage, your rats will spend at least 23 hours per day in there.
Rats love toys and things to run around in, so you will probably want to get some before you bring your rat home, and you may find yourself buying more afterward. Toys cost from $2-10, and wheels usually cost around $7. Before you bring the rat home, you will probably spend $25-$50 on toys.
After you bring your rat home, you will start to have vet bills as needed. Standard vet bills for a rat is $35 to $40 with any procedures costing significantly more. Rats can be prone to getting tumors, and tumor removal typically costs $200-$300 dollars depending on where you live. Finally, if you want to get your rat spayed or neutered, that will cost around $60-$100 per rat.
Finally, there are costs that you will have to pay regularly after you get your rat. First, you will have to buy dust-free bedding for the bottom of your rat’s cage. You can get this at most stores that sell pet supplies and a bag costs around $7-10.
Additionally, you will, of course, have to buy your rat food regularly. Typically, rat owners buy name-brand food at pet stores for around $10-15 a bag, but experts recommend owners buy more nutritional food for $20-$25 dollars. Your monthly cost for food and bedding can range from $20-$35.
How Big of a Cage Does a Rat Need?
Pet rats will spend a lot of time in their cage, so this space must be conducive to a healthy living environment. Although rats are fairly small rodents, their cage should be at least two and a half cubic feet per rat, expanding from there.
Many rat owners decide to use multilevel metal cages; the extra levels help the rats to get exercise during their time inside. It’s important to measure how close the bars are set to one another because rats can sometimes get their heads stuck!
Some cages will have 1inch bar spacing, this tends to be fine for adult males, however, young and some smaller females could either escape or get their heads stuck.
Glass aquariums must be avoided due to poor ventilation which will lead to the build-up of ammonia.
People will often worry that some of the bigger rat cages are too big, but there is no such thing as a too big rat cage. Rats can get bored easily, especially if you do not get them another rat to play around with, so giving them lots of toys to play with and room to roam will keep them happily entertained.
When they get bored, rats can get sad and are even more prone to getting sick. If you decide to start with a cage on the smaller end, make sure you take them out of there cage rather often. Pet rats will need at least 1 hour per day outside of their cage to keep them stimulated and healthy.
What Items Does a Rat Cage Need
Another consideration is what to use for bedding. Rats are likely to mark, chew, and generally destroy the bedding they’re given, so choosing something functional and affordable is the best choice. Some rat owners use scraps of fleece or other cloth to make custom bedding sets, whereas others prefer to purchase recycled paper pellets or wood chips. Whatever choice you make, be sure the bedding you chose is dust extracted.
If wood chips are the desired bedding, avoid all cedar and pine chips. Cedar and pine release toxic chemicals that, when inhaled or ingested, cause damage to the rat’s internal organs. Aspen is a safe wood chip to use instead.
Another area of the cage that needs attention is the bathroom location. Rats will naturally elect a corner or two to do their business. If a litter box is placed in these spots, rats begin to get the hint and will start using the designated boxes for their wastes. This way, you can replace the litter substrate regularly between full cage cleans which will help reduce any odor from the cage.
The best litter material will absorb excess moisture and lock in odors while being pet safe. Clumping cat litters and other dusty varieties should be avoided as they can cause respiratory issues for pet rats. Instead, pellet litter is a common choice. Ultimately, the litter used in the rest of the cage must be different than the litter chosen for the litter box; this will help your pet rats differentiate where they should go to the bathroom.
Hideouts, Hammocks and Houses
Rats also need a cozy place to sleep. Providing sleeping dens, tunnels, hammocks, and anything else that can be crawled into for a nap will ensure your pet rats don’t feel stressed out. Rats are known for marking their beds profusely, so don’t be alarmed if these spaces (or items) end up getting more wear than others.
One of the hammocks my pet rats use is a beige color, the inside of this gets quite dirty and also stained pink/red with the porphyrin produced from my rats eyes and nose while sleeping.
Where do you keep the cage?
Finally, the pet rats’ cage must be somewhere that they will be interacted with daily. Rats are supremely social animals and thrive when they’re able to bond with their caretakers and cagemates. Cages do best when kept out of direct sunlight or away from windows. Being nocturnal, rats can appreciate low light and prefer a more relaxed ambiance.
What Does a Rat Need to Eat?
Pet rats aren’t picky folk, and their diet is really easy to maintain. Specially-formulated pellet food should make up the majority of a rat’s diet. Other fresh foods can be offered to entice a rat’s appetite and round out their nutritional intake.
Pellet food and loose seed mixes are the most common foods found in pet stores for rats. While there’s nothing wrong with most loose seed mixes, the problems arise when rats become too choosy and only wish to eat their favorite bits. Pellet, or block, food should always be offered and due to its formulation, rats can’t avoid necessary nutrients!
Figuring out which pellets are best for your rat can take some research and trial and error. Your rat will probably like some brands of food better than others. More nutritional food will generally be more expensive, but it is not only better for your rat’s health but better tasting as well.
Avoid diets formulated for other rodents such as gerbils or hamsters as the nutritional requirements differ from animal to animal.
A wide variety of fruits and veggies can also be offered to pet rats. Their serving sizes are small, beginning around a teaspoon, and can be a great way to bond and make food time fun with pet rats. Keep in mind that rats shouldn’t be overfed these treats, otherwise diarrhea or potential weight gain may result.
How to Entertain and Stimulate Your Rat
Pet rats need a lot of mental stimulation. When they’re not sleeping, they’re investigating their surroundings and exploring curiously. Considering the amount of time rats have on their paws, it’s necessary to keep their lives stocked with toys and miscellaneous playthings.
Firstly, rats are infamous chewers. Their teeth never stop growing and, as a result, they must chew to keep them in shape. Toys that aren’t designed to withstand rat teeth will quickly break or fall apart. Offering a few chewing blocks or other toys will help care for your pet rats’ teeth but also give them something to take their dental frustrations out upon.
When most folks picture a rodent cage, we imagine there’s a running wheel included somewhere. This great bit of cage furniture helps pet rats to get their daily exercise and to burn off excess energy. Look for rat-safe wheels which should be made out of solid materials, not wire and at least 11iches in diameter. Wire wheels can snap tails and trap paws which could lead to injuries.
Sprinkling treats or rat food around the cage daily will entice the rats to build their foraging skills. This can potentially provide hours of entertainment for the pet rats, who will make a task to comb through their cage to find every morsel of food and also provide some much needed exercise!
Female rats, in particular, are very fond of nesting. Nesting material can be bits of paper, fabric, tissue, fur/fluff, bits of cardboard, and other miscellaneous things. Keeping rats supplied with nesting materials allows them to personalize their sleeping quarters and feel at home. Rats will also treat this as a game, making off with bits and bobs and treasures they find along the way.
Finally, these toys can be found at most pet and dollar stores. Hard plastic toys (that can withstand being chewed upon) can be carted around and rattled. Some toys that contain small bells work wonderfully as little noisemakers, entertaining pet rats with every jingle.
For more useful tips on how to entertain your pet rats go to another one of my blogs here.
Handling and Behavior of Pet Rats
To be comfortable with humans, rats must be handled frequently from the time they’re young. To help build trust, handle your pet rats often and be calm when doing so. Petting them softly between the ears while speaking soothingly to them will go a long way to becoming friends.
Depending on the personality, your pet rats may prefer entirely different treatment. One rat can be rambunctious and rowdy, whereas their partner may be shy and mild-mannered.
Tame rats take great joy in accompanying their caretakers around the home; shoulder rides are a common favorite but other rats prefer to slouch in a pocket instead.
When pet rats feel very relaxed they’ll grind their teeth. This behavior is known as bruxing and is similar to how a cat will purr when content. Bruxing isn’t what catches new rat owners off guard though…Rats have a unique trait where their eyes wiggle and bulge during intense bruxing, this is called boggling.
Rats have a gland that excretes a substance called porphyrin and this substance builds up in the corners of the eyes and nostrils. The distinct difference is porphyrin appears dark red when secreted in larger amounts, appearing as though the pet rat in question is crying blood. It’s important to note when this happens, as excess porphyrin secretion is associated with elevated stress levels.
Typically, relaxed, healthy rats can groom themselves effectively to maintain clear eyes and nostrils. However, if your pet rat needs some assistance, look for rat-safe products to lend a hand in the hygiene department. Pet-safe wipes are a better idea than bathing rats, as most rats are stressed out by swimming or bathing.
How Do You Clean a Rat Cage?
Pet rats are much cleaner than most people realize. Rats spend an exorbitant amount of time grooming and tidying their fur. However, pet rats need help when it comes to housekeeping.
A rat cage should be cleaned out weekly, where everything comes out and gets wiped down. Spot cleaning the cage daily will help prevent odors and mess as the week progresses.
Harsh detergents can be substituted for white vinegar, which is an effective cleaner when used on urine spots. Warm, soapy water can be used on the entire cage, which should then be dried thoroughly.
Cleaning the cage is a straightforward process and doesn’t require anything special. Eventually, even your pet rats will recognize the routine!
Take care not to go overboard with cleaning the cage as this could increase marking behaviors as the rats try to replenish their scent in the environment.
Here is a step by step guide to cleaning your rat’s cage:
Step One: remove your rat from the cage. Your rat could easily escape and get lost during cleaning, so you should put your cat into a temporary enclosure where they will be safe, and you do not have to worry. Additionally, you should never expose your rat to any cleaning chemicals.
Step Two: Empty out the rat cage. Remove all the toys and wheels from the cage and wipe them down as you do so. When you have removed all the toys, you can remove and throw away all of the bedding. If you have a scope of some sort, use it, or at least a pair of gloves as the bedding will have poop, pee, and other gross things all throughout it.
Step Three: Spray down the cage with water. The water will soften any residue that has gotten stuck to any surfaces. This will allow you to wipe out the cage after a few minutes easily.
Step Four: After you have given the ample residue time to soften, wipe down all the surfaces of the cage and the toys with a dish soap such as Dawn. Dish soap does not contain bleach or other harmful chemicals that are in many cleaning products, so you can feel comfortable using it to clean your rat’s cage.
Step Five: You may find that some spots in your rat’s cage are harder to clean. If this is the case, take a scrub brush and a hose of some sort to remove all residue. Often the waste that is hardest to remove is the most important to remove.
Step Six: If there were any cloth items in your rat’s cage, make sure to wash and dry those as well. Some examples of cloth items are hammocks, towels, cloth toys, etc.
Step Seven: Make sure you rinse off and dry all the toys, exercise equipment, and the cage itself. Though the soap is safe for cleaning, you do not want your rat ingesting it. Additionally, you want to dry the cage to prevent mold and mildew from developing.
Step Eight: Put everything back in the cage. Start by putting in clean bedding, then add the toys and exercise equipment, and finally place your rat back into the cage.
What Are Some Challenges of Owning a Rat?
The pet rats we keep nowadays are much more durable and healthy than their wild brethren. Nonetheless, it’s still important to seek out a proper vet.
Rats can be prone to several expensive health problems. The two main issues you may face are tumors and respiratory problems. Tumors are reasonably easy to catch (watch for any abnormal growths), but they can be expensive to treat as you will have to get your rat surgery to remove them.
Respiratory problems can also be caught by listening for wheezing or shortness of breath when playing with your rat. With both types of health problems, it is, of course, best if you can catch them early. Regular vet checkups can help you catch these and many other issues before they become problematic and expensive.
Peet rats need vet checkups just the same as other household pets. When they’re young, taking pet rats to the vet yearly should be enough. As the rats’ age, bringing them into the vet twice annually will suffice. During these checkups, the vet will look at weight, coat quality, skin, and teeth, amongst other things.
Rats are primarily nocturnal creatures, which means at night, they will be roaming around and making noise. Owners can find this problematic for two reasons.
One: if you keep your rat’s cage in or near the space you sleep, the noise of them eating, drinking, and scurrying around could keep you up at night. If you are a light sleeper, it would be best for you to keep your rat in a space other than where you sleep.
Two: some owners, especially kids, may find it frustrating that the rat is sleeping during the day when they want to play with it. Now, rats will not sleep all day, so you will have a chance to interact with it, they will tend to seek your attention and get to know your routine.
Rats live between two and three years, which owners find problematic for two reasons. First, some owners do not fully grasp that they will have to spend two or three years of their lives caring for another creature. Some people find this commitment to be difficult as their life can change significantly in two or three years.
Before you buy a rat, think about any changes you now are coming in the next few years and consider those. On the other hand, rats have a relatively short life span compared to may creatures, so some people find it heartbreaking to have to say goodbye after such a short period.
What Are Some Tips For Caring for Rats?
Give your rat time to get used to you. Though your rat will eventually love to crawl all over you and play, go slow when you first get your rat. Allow it to come to you instead of picking it up and be patient if it is scared. You are new and big and scary, so it may take a little while for your rat to get used to you.
Replace their food and water every day with fresh water. Just like you do not like eating and drinking old water that has been sitting out, your rat won’t want to eat old food and water. Empty and refill the water bottle and food dish every day.
Remove soiled bedding daily. Other than cleaning the cage once a week, remove any soiled bedding and spot clean daily. This will help keep the cage clean for a more extended period.
Take your rat to the vet. People often do not take small pets to the vet like they do dogs and cats, your rat should still be taken to the vet regularly for . checkups if you want it to live as long and as healthily as possible.
Overall, pet rats are no harder to take care of than a regular cat or dog. In most cases, rats are a less demanding pet to keep and are much more affordable than other household animal companions.
Pet rats don’t require any large changes to be made to the home, and they’re independent enough that rats can be trusted to entertain themselves throughout the day. Making a point of handling them daily is adequate to begin building a relationship and forming a bond, which isn’t hard to commit to consistently.
In terms of housing accommodations, rats don’t need a large amount of space in comparison to other pets and are quite happy in their multilevel cages. They’re also quieter and less noticeable, so make great pets for those living in smaller spaces or shared living areas such as apartments.
Rats eat a simple diet and their daily care routines are simple and effortless; no walking outside in the cold to take them out to pee or having to scoop a large litter box.
Toys are plentiful, easy to find, and are sold at any pet store. Even without commercial support, entertaining toys can be made out of everyday materials. Nothing could be more simple than a cardboard tube or a bit of tissue.
Although rats don’t have a long lifespan, this could be a potential benefit to those who are unable to commit to a pet who lives for many years.
Finally, pet rats have an incredibly simple cleaning routine. This makes them excellent pets for families and those with responsible children. Pet rats have friendly dispositions and respond well to receiving plenty of attention, another popular draw for those seeking interactive pets.
Pet rats are easy to take care of and their outgoing nature makes them fit in well with a wide variety of homes. Simple care plans and easily remembered rules make taking care of pet rats effortless.