Are Pet Rats Expensive? Let’s Break It Down

You may have heard that rats make for amazing pets (and they do) and now you’re wondering if you can afford to get some rats of your own? If so, we’ve got some good news for you – the cost of owning a rat is very low, indeed, and we can prove it.

It costs roughly $14 a month, $184 a year on average to own pet rats. This covers the initial cost of the rats, cage, water bottles, toys, and bed. And regular costs such as food, bedding, and litter. Pet rats will cost slightly more to keep than mice and hamsters, however, they are much cheaper to own than a cat or dog.

Of course, we can’t say whether that’s “expensive” to you or not but we can show you how we came to this figure, so that you can make a decision about buying a pair of rats for you or your family.

This article will cover:

  • Cost to buy a rat
  • Food
  • Bedding/litter
  • Toys
  • Cages and sizes options
  • Water bottles
  • Other potential hidden costs

The Cost Of Buying Rats To Get Started

The best place to begin with the cost of owning rats is the cost of the rats themselves. After all, all the other expenses are moot if you haven’t forked out enough cash to actually acquire some rats.

Why rats not rat? Well, rats are social animals. While there is no law that requires you buy more than one rat when you start out with rats – if you don’t buy at least 2 rats, then you are going to find you have a very depressed rat on your hands.

A depressed rat is more susceptible to developing health problems that can lead to vet visits and possibly a shorter life and it wont actually cost much more at all to buy two rats in the first place.

A suitably sized starter cage 30.5 x 18 x 30in for one rat will be ideal for two and the cost to feed them will be marginally more (you won’t even notice it) that the only other thing to think about as they share water bottles, toys and beds already.

We have luckily written another article covering why pet rats should live alone that you can read here.

This means that your rat is unlikely to live to a ripe old age and you will soon be out buying another rat anyway, so it makes sense to buy 2 or more rats.

Reputable Breeders Agree

We’d also note that a reputable rat breeder is not going to sell you a single rat unless you can demonstrate that you’re buying it to keep a young and recently bereaved of companionship as company. Even then, they may prefer that you purchase 2 rats and grow your rat community at home.

The good news is that rats aren’t expensive to buy. A pair of rats should cost no more than $20 and a single rat no more than $15. That means your baseline cost of rat ownership is very low, indeed. There are no pedigree rats in this world which means you won’t be out paying thousands of dollars for a specific rare breed, either.

Feeder Breeder Warning

The bad news is that there are unscrupulous breeders out there which are often known as “feeder breeders” in the rat keeping world. These breeders aren’t interested in the welfare of their rats mainly because they breed their rats for food for other creatures.

These breeders are likely to sell you unhealthy, unhappy rats and are much more likely to sell you a single rat than an ethical breeder. You buy from a feeder breeder at your own risk, they will normally keep the rats in big plastic buckets, and they have not been properly socialized.

You may find that these rats are extremely skittish or alternatively extremely aggressive and there is a very high chance that they won’t live out their full life span.

Which brings us to our last point.

Rats can be expected to live for 2-3 years. They’re not the longest lived animals out there and there’s not much you can do about that, but you will find they live longer if you acquire them from ethical breeders.

So, let’s break down the cost of rat buying in the first instance:

Initial Outlay for Rats: $20 (2 rats)          

Equivalent Monthly Cost of Ownership: $0.42 per rat (assuming a 2 year life expectancy)

Equivalent Annual Cost of Ownership: $5 per rat (assuming a 2 year life expectancy)

The Regular Costs Of Rats

However, the up front cost of owning a rat is not the only cost that you have to take into account and there are three fairly regular expenses that the rat owner must anticipate having to lay out for. They are food, bedding, and toys.

The good news is that given that rats are not exactly enormous creatures – these costs are not likely to bankrupt you. In fact, the ongoing costs of owning a pet rat are much lower than costs of keeping pet dogs, cats or even rabbits.

So, let’s take a close look at each of those expenses in turn:


Many people buy rats assuming that they can live on scraps from the dinner table. After all, don’t rats forage for food and eat pretty much anything in the wild?

While it is true that the average wild rat and even the average domesticated rat is not a very fussy eater that doesn’t make the idea of feeding them on your garbage a good one.

The trouble is that your domesticated rat is not a wild rat. It won’t be running around outside all the time. It won’t be fighting off predators. In fact, if you care for it, your domestic rat might live to the ripe old age of 3, whereas a wild rat would be extraordinarily lucky to live as long as its 2nd birthday before something else killed it.

So, you need to feed your rat food which was designed for rats to eat and that means their main diet should be shop bought rat food.

This isn’t particularly expensive. You can buy small bags of rat food from pet stores which cost around $6 a bag but if you want to save money, and give your rat a better formulated diet, you can buy laboratory quality rat food on Amazon or from other supplier such as Mazuri. This costs about $20 for 25 lbs of food!

That is enough pellets to last 2 grown rats about 189 days or just over 6 months! That means that buying high quality food for rats is incredibly cheap.

So, let’s go back to our pricing forecast for our rats:

Initial Outlay for Food for 2 Rats: $20 (for 6 months of food)

Monthly Cost per Rat: $1.67

Annual Cost Per Rat: $10


There are four types of bedding that are generally considered acceptable for use with pet rats and they are:

  1. Paper pellet bedding. These are incredibly cheap, and they make for great bedding for your rats. Their only disadvantage is they get a bit mushy after the rats have peed on them (which they will) but as long as you regularly replace the bedding (which you should) then you shouldn’t find that it builds up enough to make your home smell like rat wee.
  2. Straw pellet bedding. If you’d rather go for something a little less processed then you can skip the paper bedding and go for straw, instead. Straw is completely non-toxic and rats seem to really like it. It’s also very cheap.
  3. Shredded cardboard bedding. If you’re unable to locate any pellet style bedding then it’s OK to go with shredded cardboard. It’s not quite as attractive or as easy to clean but it’s every bit as safe and cost-effective as paper-pellet bedding though it has exactly the same drawbacks as paper pellet bedding too.
  4. Cloth bedding. If you have plenty of spare cloth there’s no reason that you shouldn’t give your rat a cloth bed or if your rat appears to be allergic to the other types of bedding that you’ve bought – you can use cloth. However, it should be a whole piece of cloth as shreds and scraps can end up tangling around your rat’s limbs and causing accidents.

You need to be careful when choosing the correct bedding for your rats as some can be toxic. For the complete guide on bedding why not read our article here 14 Best Bedding Options.

You should be able to buy a bag of bedding for about $7 and it should last a month.

So, for our pricing:

Initial Outlay for Bedding for 2 Rats: $7

Monthly Cost per Rat: $3.50

Annual Cost Per Rat: $42


What Litter Should I Use?

Whatever material will be used in the litterbox should not be used on the cage floor; this may lead to confusion as to where the boundaries of the litterbox end and the rest of the cage begins.

  1. Pellet Bedding: there are many varieties on the market. Pellet bedding is produced from 100% recycled paper, cellulose fiber, or compressed kiln-dried wood fibers which will expand and absorb moisture on contact.
  2. Shredded Paper: this material will have to be changed frequently as it tends to turn to mush when wet. Varieties found in pet stores are usually 100% recycled material that is dust-free but be sure to read the label (important for preventing irritation to the respiratory tract of our pet rats).

You should be able to buy a bag of litter for about $10 and it should last 3 months.

So, for our pricing:

Initial Outlay for Litter for 2 Rats: $10

Monthly Cost per Rat: $1.66

Annual Cost Per Rat: $20


You won’t need to buy toys for your rats every month, but you will need to replace them over time because nothing lasts forever, particularly, if it’s being chewed and clawed by a rat.

Rats need toys because they’re smart creatures with an active urge to play. If you don’t give them toys to play with, they’ll get bored and sooner or later they will get depressed.

Now, if you’re on a super tight budget – you can make toys for them. They love tunnels to walk through, wheels to play on (but not exercise balls which prevent a rat from smelling its surroundings and cause stress and confusion when they’re placed in them), climbing toys, shredding toys, push toys, carry toys, and foraging toys.

However, assuming that you’re not the DIY kind – we’d recommend that you spend roughly the same on toys each month as you do on bedding. That’s $7.

Initial Toy Outlay for 2 Rats: $7

Monthly Cost per Rat: $3.50

Annual Cost per Rat: $42

The One Off Cost Of Owning Rats

There are, of course, some one-off expenses when it comes to owning rats and the two main ones are the cage and their feeding equipment.


Kaytee 30 x 18 x 30 inch Multilevel Exotics

You should buy a cage designed for housing a rat if you’re going to keep rats. We recently wrote an article on why this should not be an aquarium or fish tank but an actual wire metal cage for rats.

If you want the cut and thrust of that piece – fish tanks don’t offer adequate ventilation for rats to be happy and can even end up poisoning your rats with an ammonia build up from their urine. Also, there’s the simple face that a rat’s cage is cheaper than a fish tank.

So, if you have a fish tank and were thinking about keeping rats in it. Don’t. Sell the fish tank and then buy a proper cage with the proceeds.

Cages are better designed to allow rats to climb and play during the day as well as offering enough floor space to ensure your rats are happy and well-socialized.

You do not need to spend a fortune on a cage and certainly no more than $100 but for a pair of rats? You can easily buy a large enough cage 30 x 18 30inch for about $60.

You can see the latest price here on Amazon for Kaytee 30 x 18 x 30inch cage.

Initial Outlay for 2 Rats: $100

Monthly Cost per Rat (amortized over 2 year life span for 2 rats):  $2.08

Annual Cost per Rat (amortized over 2 year life span for 2 rats):  $25

Of course, a cage should last pretty much forever, so if you buy more rats after the first 2, the cost of the cage is then $0.

Water Bottles and Feeding Bowls

You will also need a water bottle and a feeding bowl. These should be cleaned and changed, at least, daily if you want your rats to remain healthy.

You won’t be spending a fortune here. You should easily spend $20 or less on these two items and, in fact, you may already have a suitable bowl at home.

Initial Outlay for 2 Rats: $20

Monthly Cost Per Rat (amortized over 2 year life span for 2 rats):  $0.42

Annual Cost Per Rat (amortized over 2 year life span for 2 rats):  $5

Again, these items ought to last forever – so once you get more rats, these costs drop to $0.

The Potential Large Hidden Costs Of Owning Rats

The good news is that there aren’t very many hidden costs to owning rats. They’re not like people and won’t suddenly demand better benefits or access to your company car.

However, just like people there is one thing that may be lurking around the corner unexpected by the rat and that is illness and at that point, you may have to involve a vet.

Vets Bills

Possibly the most expensive facet of owning any pet is a trip to the vet. A basic visit will cost anything from $30 to $50 and that’s assuming that there are no x-rays or surgical procedures required.

If your rat develops a tumor it can cost as much as $150 to remove. If you want to get your rat spayed to prevent if from having baby rats, be warned that will cost at least $50 and often as much as $100.

The good news is that you may never have to visit a vet at all during the lifetime of your rat and if you do, it’s only likely to be once or twice at the most. By and large, rats are hardy creatures which don’t require a huge amount of medical attention.

They also, sadly, have quite short life expectancies, which reduces the chances of needing treatment regularly too.

So, we’re going to mark this up as a $0 expense because you can’t plan for vet visits.

The Total Costs Of Owning Rats

OK, now that we’ve seen how much it will cost for each individual expense. Let’s bring them together and see what the total cost of ownership of each rat over the lifecycle will be.

ItemInitial Outlay (for 2 rats)Monthly Cost (per rat)Annual Cost (per rat)
Water Bottles + Bowls$20$0.42$5

That means you will spend $154 per rat per year and with 2 rats you will spend a total of $308 a year and $616 over a 2 year “lifetime”.

You will need to spend $184 of that $616 upfront to ensure that all the items you need to care for your rats are in your home. After that, you won’t spend very much on a monthly basis at all.

That means owning rats is incredibly cheap compared to the cost of say a cat ($40 per month on average) or a dog ($125-$824 per month on average).

The Most Expensive Rat In History

However, just because rats are cheap pets, it doesn’t mean that a rat can’t become an expensive issue.

The most expensive rat in history was an unfortunate wild rat which snuck into a hotpot restaurant in Hong Kong and drowned in the broth.

A customer took a photo and leaked it on to social media. The result? $190 million was wiped off the company’s stock price in a single day.

Thus, this anonymous wild rat became the most expensive rat in history, and it wasn’t even lucky enough to be someone’s pet.


Are pet rats expensive? No, they’re not. In fact, at $154 a year per rat, they are incredibly economical pets. Sadly, they won’t live forever but your investments in a cage and water bottles and bowls, will last for many more rats in the future and that means if you keep being a rat owner, the cost of owning a rat can drop even lower!

Darren Black

I'm Darren Black, the owner, and author of I am from Scotland, United Kingdom and passionate about sharing useful information and tips about properly caring for an animal's wellbeing.

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