How Long Do Pet Rats Live? Expert Tips to Extend Their Life

by Marissa Prizio
How Long Do Pet Rats Live? Expert Tips to Extend Their Life


Domestic rats are lively and social animals that require regular care and attention for a long and healthy lifespan. But you might be asking yourself just how long do pet rats live. Taking care of one can be a fun and rewarding experience. However, there isn't exactly a one-size-fits-all answer for your rat's life expectancy, as this depends on various factors such as genetics, environment, diet, and proper care.

This article seeks to answer the question, "How long do pet rats live?" and includes some expert tips to extend their life.

Understanding the Average Lifespan of Pet Rats

Like other small rodents, rats tend to live shorter lives because of their genetic makeup. But, to understand their lifespan, we'll need to differentiate between wild rats, or Rattus Norvegicus, and domesticated rats, or Rattus Norvegicus Domestica.

Domesticated pet rats typically live an average of two years, while wild rats have an average lifespan of 12 months. However, it isn't genetics that's the critical factor at play here, but the environment. For example, wild rats have a smaller chance of reaching this average because predators surround them.

The natural habitat of a wild rat is less than ideal for a long life. They're more exposed to extreme fluctuations in temperature, diseases, and lack of food. On the other hand, domestic rats can live up to two years longer than their wild counterparts with the proper care.

Potential rat owners should also know about the lifespan variation of different species of wild rats. While Brown Rats can live up to two years, Black Rats will only live up to 12 months. Female rats also tend to outlive males in captivity and the wild by a few months.

Life Stage Age Range Characteristics
Baby (Pup) 0-3 weeks Rat pups are born hairless and with closed eyes. They begin to grow fur after a week, and their eyes open around two weeks. They are weaned at around 3 weeks, at which point they can eat solid food.
Juvenile 4-8 weeks Juvenile rats continue to grow and develop. This is a crucial time for socialization.
Adolescence 9 weeks-5 months Rats reach sexual maturity during this phase. They are very active and curious, and their personalities fully form.
Adult 6 months-2 years Adult rats have fully developed bodies and minds. They are less hyperactive but continue to engage with their environment and their human companions. Regular health checks become important during this phase as some health problems may start to appear.
Senior 2 years onwards Senior rats are less active and may start to show signs of aging, such as weight loss, decreased mobility, and health issues. They require more care and regular vet visits.

How Long Do Rats Live in The Wild?

Rats are intelligent and nimble, but they are also small and plentiful. Wild rats in natural environments often find themselves towards the bottom of the food chain, which means the life of a wild rat is less likely to be as long as their domesticated relatives.

The same applies to wild rats in less natural areas, like cities. Fewer wild predators and more food sources may sound like a recipe for success, but that isn't always true for a wild rat. Rats in these areas can find foods that are not naturally compatible with their physiology, and humans often seek to eliminate rats from these areas. Both of these scenarios can result in poisoning.

Domesticated rats and wild rats may have the same genetic potential for survival. Yet, they have vastly different life expectancies generally. It all comes down to their care.

How Long Do Rats Live in Captivity?

On average, a pet rat can live between two and three years. This average life span is highly dependent on how well the rat is cared for and the medical decisions made by their owners. This life expectancy can drastically decrease if a pet rat's needs are not appropriately met or they escape their home.

Two to three years old may seem like a relatively short life, but this is the average lifespan for many small rodents that are kept as pets. Also, most rat owners know that a short life doesn't make for an unsuitable companion. As long as you know how long your rat may live and are prepared to care for them throughout that time, their companionship can be just as fulfilling as any other pet.

Pet rat in a cage

The Life Stages of an Average Rat

Rat years and human years are vastly different, and research has shown that rats age faster during some stages of their life. This means the ratio of rat years to human years depends on your rat's life stage. Let's break down the life stages of a rat so you are better prepared to make the most of your time together:


This is the earliest stage of life during which rats mature the most rapidly. This life stage generally lasts about six weeks and contains life events like weaning, which happens around three weeks of age for young rats. During this phase, one year in a rat's life is equivalent to 42.4 days compared to a human's lifespan.

Sexual Maturity & Adulthood

Young rats become sexually mature around six weeks, but this is only a physical form of maturity, and the exact age varies depending on the individual. This form of maturity is more closely associated with adolescence and gradually develops into adulthood. You can see this shift displayed by increased social behaviors and risk-taking. These behaviors can last into adulthood, and during this phase, 10.5 days are equal to one year of their life.

Once rats are socially and sexually mature, they can be considered adults. At this phase in their life, the ratio of rat years to human years may decrease. Still, it is dependent on internal and external factors. Rats can experience early aging, much like humans, if not adequately cared for or predisposed to genetic conditions.

Old Age

Between 15 to 20 months of age, rats experience biological changes equivalent to changes in humans considered to be old. After these hormonal changes are complete, female rats only live another 485 days on average. Compared to humans, this makes a rat year in the tail end of its life equivalent to 17.1 days.

Common Rat Species and Their Lifespans

Before settling on a pet rat, you'll have to settle on the most suitable species. However, you should know there aren't many differences in life expectancies with types of domestic rats. Rats such as Dumbo, Feeder, and White Rats aren't technically distinguishable species though they differ in appearance.

Let's take a closer look at some of their life expectancy:

  • The White Rat. This rat can have a lifespan of two to three years, just like any other. However, they're frequently used as lab rats in scientific experiments, which can drastically shorten their lifespans.
  • The Dumbo Rat. This rat is a type of fancy rat characterized by having big round ears due to mutation. Dumbo rats tend to live about two years, just like other domesticated brown rats. Their lifespan can possibly be extended to three years with the proper care.
  • The Fancy Rat. Fancy rats are the most common types of domesticated rats kept as pets. If properly cared for, they can live up to four years. However, this varies amongst individuals as genetics plays a key role.
  • The Albino Rat. You might be wondering it albino rats have shorter lifespans because of their condition. However, if cared for properly, they can live to about three to four years, just like any other rat on this list.
  • The Feeder Rat. These rat types are essentially bred to be food for other pets, such as snakes. Like other rodents, Feeder Rats can technically live up to three years. However, most don't reach this age as pet owners buy them while the animals are young.

On the other hand, specific wild rat species will have a wide range of life expectancy. While the common Brown Rat can live up to two years, Black Rats live 12 months, while the Naked Mole Rat can live an impressive 30 years.

Factors That Influence Pet Rat Lifespan

While rats have a typical lifespan of two years. However, with the right factors, pet rats can reach four years of age. Some of these factors include diet, nutrition, environment, and exercise.

Diet and Nutrition

If you want your pet rat to live longer, you must optimize its diet and nutrition. Rats benefit from fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and clean water. It's also important to have high-quality rat pellets from the pet store. With the right rat food, you'll be able to increase its lifespan.

However, you should avoid giving rodents foods high in salt, spices, fat, or sugar. Owners may also want to look into giving their rats small amounts of lean meats for a healthy protein source. A balanced diet can increase a rat's lifespan by up to one or two years.

Environmental Factors

One of the main reasons domestic rats live longer is because of optimal living conditions and their environment. When caring for your rat, ensure adequate housing. You'll need a cage with at least 2 cubic feet in size and proper ventilation.

Proper bedding is yet another consideration. Ensure your rat has nesting material you can replace every so often. This can be shredded paper, tissue, or clean cloth. Rats are also sensitive to extreme temperatures, and the optimal temperature range is 65-75°F (18-24°C), so avoid exposing them to temperatures not within this range.

Social Interaction

Rats are very social animals. Like most pets, they'll benefit from interacting with others of their kind. Introducing your rat to other pet rats can help increase their well-being and also reduce stress. This will result in a longer lifespan.

Since rats thrive on social interaction, consider buying two at a time. Together, they'll engage in the most natural social behaviors, such as grooming and playing.

Two pet rats in a cage close to each other peeping through their cage door

Exercise and Mental Stimulation

You'll also want to provide your rat with plenty of mental stimulus. Doing so will keep your rat from becoming bored and depressed. Exercise will also prevent potential health problems from developing.

Here's how you can keep your rats physically fit and in a happy state of mind:

  • Install ladders, ramps, levels, and platforms within their cage.
  • Use puzzle toys and treat dispensers.
  • Consider training sessions and schedule playtime with your rat.

Health Concerns and Preventive Care

Giving your rat the right cage and food is an excellent start to ensuring a longer lifespan. However, it shouldn't be your only strategy. Domestic rats can suffer from various illnesses, genetic or otherwise. Owners should pay close attention to their rats for signs of abnormalities, such as pain or lethargy.

Pet rat being held by a vet in blue surgical gloves

Common Health Issues

There are certain health concerns and illnesses that are commonly found in rats. For example, they're especially susceptible to developing tumors. You'll recognize this if your rat suddenly shows signs of lethargy, has problems with moving, or develops noticeable bumps on its body.

It's also common for rats to develop respiratory issues after contracting various bacteria. This is precisely why keeping your pet rat and cage clean is essential. Owners can recognize this if a rat exhibits shortness of breath, coughing, sniffing, and sneezing.

Some other potential health concerns you may run into include the following:

  • Dental problems and difficulty eating
  • Eye diseases and trouble with eyesight
  • Sudden changes in coat and loss of fur

Regular Vet Visits

Avoiding the potential health issues above will require seeing a vet for regular checkups. This can significantly increase your rat's lifespan and also eradicate any possible diseases from developing.

Through these checkups, vets might administer vaccines and treatments and check for parasites. At the very least, you should take your rat for an annual checkup. You can increase this number to twice yearly once they become older.

Proper Hygiene and Cleaning

The final step for a long and prosperous rat life centers around hygiene and cleaning. Proper sanitation prevents diseases from developing in your rat and negatively affects its life expectancy. Here are a few sanitation considerations:

  • Clean your rat's cage: You should thoroughly clean and disinfect your rat's cage at least once weekly. To do so, you'll first need to remove all items, such as toys and bedding, while replacing their water bottle and food supply with a fresh batch.
  • Change the bedding material: When cleaning a rat's cage, swap out the old bedding and nesting material with new paper.
  • Change the litter box daily: Rats will tend to defecate at a preferred spot in their cages. Set up a litter box with material and scoop out the droppings daily.
  • Only bathe your rats when necessary: Rats will typically not need constant bathing as doing so could wash away the necessary oil from the skin. However, use a cloth to gently pat room-temperature water and unscented baby shampoo on your rat if it becomes dirty. Be sure to rinse the cloth and your rat afterward.
Peeping rat

Quality Cage: A Better, Longer Life for Your Rats

When getting a pet rat, owners must consider many factors to extend its life as much as possible. Most of these small rodents tend to live two to three years. However, a rat can live up to five years with the proper treatment and care. This would depend on the individual rat and their particular genetic makeup. Some of the things you can do include regularly taking your rat to the vet for checkups, providing it with the right environment, and cleaning its cage weekly to ensure proper hygiene.

Quality Cage will give you the necessary rat supplies for a longer life. This includes food, accessories, toys, and rat cages. With plenty of choices, navigate to our product page to find everything you need to make your rat happy and healthy.


Can pet rats live for 5 years?

Domestic rats typically live for two to four years if you care for them properly. While it is generally rare for rats to live this long, it is possible through favorable genetics, nutrition, health protection, and the environment.


Can a rat live for 12 years?

No, rats typically live two years and have at most lived seven years in extreme cases.

Do rats recognize their owner?

Yes, rats are intelligent and social creatures. They remember their owners by sight and voice. It's entirely possible to make a lifelong bond with your pet rat.

What is the longest-living pet rat?

The longest-living pet rat, named Rodney, lived seven years.


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Author: Marissa Prizio
Marissa is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire with a degree in Bio Medical Pre-Veterinary Medicine. During her education, she enjoyed classes that ranged from scientific research to storytelling. Now, she blend those skills with her work experience in animal care to create written educational content for pet owners.

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