Let’s face it… purchasing a new pet is a big commitment so it’s always a good idea to do a little research before you take that leap. One of the most common questions I hear is, can pet rats live alone? Well, luckily we have great experience owning and caring for rats so you are in the right place.
Can pet rats live alone? No, pet rats shouldn’t live alone. Rats are extremely social animals, in the wild, they live in large groups with complex hierarchies communicating via sight, smell, ultrasonic chattering, and touch. Pet rats are no different and should be kept in pairs or groups to replicate this environment.
Fortunately, we now understand far more about the rat species than we did a number years ago. If you would like to learn more about these intriguing creatures and the fascinating new information we have found out in recent times about their social complexities then please read below.
Rats Need to Live with Their Own Kind
Rats extremely intelligent and highly social animals, they live in large complex groups in the wild. Much of their enjoyment comes from their rat pals. They will spend most of their time mutual grooming, playing with each other, cuddling and sleeping together to keep each other warm.
Recent studies have found that rats communicate socially through a rich repertoire of ultrasonic vocalizations. Rats produce complex sequences of ultrasonic vocalizations in a variety of social and motivational contexts. The complex sequences are yet to be deciphered but this groundbreaking discovery demonstrates how intelligent and social these animals are.
Rats will breed really easily, it only takes a matter of minutes for a male and female to be together for the female to get pregnant, so make sure you keep your rats in same-sex groups to avoid unwanted litters.
The other option would be to get the males neutered and female spayed if you want to keep them both in the same cage.
There are added benefits to keeping rats in pairs or groups, they are actually easier to look after as they will look after each other and tend to each other’s needs. From grooming each other to providing social and mental stimulation to just being an extra little bit of company for when you are not around.
Your rat will spend around 22 to 23 hours per day in its cage, can you imagine how bored you would be if you were forced to live in that kind of environment with only yourself to entertain you.
Even if you can spend 10 hours per day with your rat this still doesn’t replace the true companionship another rat provides, you don’t speak their language, you can’t groom them properly or steal their food. They need that company in their own home.
Rats that live with other rats or part of a group are known to live longer, there are of course exceptions to this but statistically, it’s true. The happier your rat is then the healthier your rat will be.
A rat living in solitary confinement could also develop neurological or behavioral problems due to its unnatural environment.
When getting a pet rat it’s really important that you get them another rat buddy to live with at home, whether that’s at least one of or a few. They will really thank you for it.
Remember. a happy rat is a healthy rat.
Won’t it Cost More Money Owning More Than One Rat?
Let’s face it when we are considering which pet to adopt the cost can play a large part in that decision, but how much do pet rats cost to own. A common response I hear when someone finds out that rats shouldn’t be kept alone and they really do need to be kept in pairs or more is that it will cost way more money. This isn’t actually true at all.
The biggest outlay you will have when purchasing new rats is the cage cost, this is alway the largest single outlay. When looking to purchase a cage you need to make sure you provide them a cage which is nice and tall with plenty of levels so they can run around and climb everywhere. A cage providing this environment for a single rat will easily house 2 rats.
The general rule of thumb is providing 2.5 cubic feet per rat, you can use this cage calculator here from the fancyratforum. A cage 35” x 20” x 25” will be an ideal size for two rats but to be honest I would buy the biggest one you can afford and of course fits in your home.
Other costs you will have are; food, bedding, food, bedding, toys and other small treats you wish to provide your pet rats will be negligible – you won’t even notice the difference between the cost for two rats compared to one. If however, you brought home half a dozen then that would be different.
If you can’t adopt more than one rat due to cost or you feel you don’t have space to accommodate them, then you should really look to consider buying another kind of pet, one that naturally lives a solitary life like the Syrian Hamster.
My Rat is Aggressive to Other Rats, He Needs to Live Alone
There are occasions when a rat might need to live on its own, unfortunately. Some times male rats can be quite aggressive to other rats while going through puberty but your rat should grow out of this. If the aggression persists or worsens then neutering your rat will almost always solve this issue, it’s just a build-up of testosterone.
Rehoming a rescue rat can also be a challenge, you might find that the rescue centre has advised that the rat is aggressive hence why it needs to live alone. However, this aggression might actually be the result of the environment the rat is living in. Bringing the rat home and introducing it properly to other rats who are the right age might resolve the issue.
If the rat is really too grumpy and no matter what you try the best alternative could be to house the rat in its own cage next to other rats. This way they can still smell and communicate with each other.
Cage Buddy Passed Away, What Should You Do?
Unfortunately, there will come a time when one of your rats will sadly pass away. This will be a tough experience for both you and your other rat or rats. Rats can experience grief just like humans and this can have a really strong negative effect on their health and quality of life.
Luckily, introducing new rats to a group or even a single rat is relatively easy it just takes a little bit of patience to allow them to settle in.
However, if you aren’t looking to continue owning rats then you might end up with one of the group left on its own once the others pass away. There are a few options to consider:
- If your rat is older, say 1.5 years old or older then he might be slowing down and quite happy to chill about on his own
- You could foster a pet rat from someone you own, off Craigslist or from a shelter, once your rat passes then they can be given back to their owner
- You may want to give them up for adoption, this would necessarily be one of my options as I couldn’t imagine giving any of my rats away to someone but that’s a personal choice. I do understand it might be your only choice so it does depend on each and everyone’s own personal circumstances I guess.
Will my Rat Bond with Me if He Lives in a Group
The simple answer is yes, your rat will still bond with you no matter how many pet rats you own. This, of course, is providing you do commit some time to socialize with your rats. So please don’t be selfish and only buy one rat so it only has you to provide some company, no matter how much time you can afford them, they need their rattie friends.
To be honest, I have found having more rats is actually better for a number of reasons. When socializing your rats they all have different personalities and some are more confident than others. A timid rat will benefit massively from another rat in its company and it will help settle them.
Cleaning Requirements for Multiple Rats
On top of your initial cost concerns, you might start to worry that your cleaning regime will double in effort and time now since you have more than one rat. This isn’t actually the case. As good practice you should try and spot clean your rats cage daily and place any poops into their litter tray (if they happened to miss the tray) or remove it completely but this won’t really be much extra work.
A rat cage should be cleaned out weekly anyway and the cost won’t change if you have two rats, so the cost of litter and bedding won’t actually increase, and neither will the time you spend on cleaning activities.
Can rats die of loneliness? Rats won’t die directly as a result of loneliness, they may, however, become depressed and live a stressful more unnatural life in they live alone. As a result, they could develop health and behavioral issues that could lead to an early death.
How many pet rats should I get? This is purely down to personal choice and circumstances, the most important things to consider are; whatever you do always get more than one rat; make sure the cage is large enough; provide a play area outside their cage for playtime and be able to give at least one hour per day of your attention for socializing and playing.