Rats are a popular choice of pet, especially if you live in an apartment or unit without a large backyard.
But even though they are small, their needs are just as great as any other pet, and it's very important that they're given everything they need to ensure their physical and psychological welfare.
Rats are happiest with friends
Rats are intelligent and social animals, and they enjoy interacting with each other. It's recommended that you house at least two rats together - but they need to be compatible with each other.
Remember to avoid housing non-desexed female and male rats together, as you don't want to have any unintended litters. Adult male rats housed together may be prone to fighting, but this isn't always the case - if introduced correctly and early enough, two adult male rats can have a peaceful companionship.
It's best to have a good conversation with the breeder or rescue group you are sourcing your pet rats from, to ensure you have a compatible pair who ideally already live together.
Rats need the right home to be happy
Rats are clever creatures, and need environments that provide for their behavioural needs.
Rats should be housed in a predator/escape-proof enclosure that is sufficiently large for the number of rats. It needs to have good ventilation, so cage-style enclosures are preferable to plastic or glass tub-style enclosures.
Rats love to burrow and nest, so provide lots of suitable bedding such as shredded paper or pelleted recycled paper 'cat litter' as an alternative.
Provide other enrichment items, such as cardboard boxes or plastic tunnels for hiding places and sleeping areas. Rats will enjoy eating from food puzzles, such as ping pong balls that have been punctured with a hole for treats to come out from, if the rats roll them around.
Chew toys for rats are also popular, and you can use ladders that are sold for use with pet birds to make rat enclosures more fun to explore.
Make sure to clean out the enclosure regularly, including replacing bedding to avoid ammonia build up.
Your rats will enjoy time spent outside the enclosure too - but make this is in a safe place, that is escape proof. You'll need to supervise and make sure predators aren't able to access your rats too!
Make sure to feed your rat the right food for their health
Rats need a diet that is varied, and combines fresh fruit and vegetables with small amounts of high quality rat pellets. The pellets must have a protein content of at last 16 per cent and a fat content of 4-5 per cent.
Suitable fruits and vegetables to feed include apples, pears, banana, melon, stone fruits, citrus fruits, broccoli, celery and peas.
It's very important to avoid feeding items that are toxic for rats or can result in negative health outcomes, which include blue cheese, green bananas, liquorice, orange juice, mango, raw red cabbage and Brussel sprouts, raw sweet potato and avocado, amongst others. If you're not sure about any new item you want to feed your rat, the best thing to do is to check with your vet first.
Avoid feeding your rat a seed/grain mix, because these are usually too high in fat and sugar.
Remember to always handle your rat in a low-stress manner, and never pick them up by their tail. When you're holding your rats, make sure their weight is properly supported, that they're secure, and that you limit interactions to small amounts of time to avoid stress.
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