Pet Rat Care: Comprehensive Tips for Your Lovable Fur Face

by Morgan Mulac

Pet Rat Care: Comprehensive Tips for Your Lovable Fur Face


Owning a pet rat can be an absolutely wonderful experience for both you and your furry friend. Luckily, with the right care and bonding, you can ensure you have the longest and happiest life with your rat.

In this blog, we’ll cover all the basics you need to know to ensure your rat is happy, healthy, and well taken care of including bonding, nutrition, nurturing their mental stimulation, and more!

Pet Rat Behavior and Communication

Pet rats are incredibly social animals and have their own unique way of communicating with their owners and each other. Understanding these behaviors and communications is an important part of rat ownership. While there are many things to pick up on, there are a few key vocalizations and behaviors to know.

The majority of rat vocalizations are only audible to other rats, but there are a few that are audible to humans and can clue into how your rat is feeling. High-pitched squeaks are usually indicative of rats playing together. Sounds like bruxing are a sign of happiness, but they can also indicate stress so it’s important to clue into your rat's body language. Most other noises like hissing, huffing, screams, or long squeaks indicate anger, stress, fear, or pain.

Although we will discuss grooming later, there are some grooming-related behaviors that you need to be aware of. One of the most crucial ones is to know the difference between grooming and barbering; barbering is a form of obsessive grooming that can cause bald patches and even cause sores. Excessive ear cleaning and paw shaking can also be signs of something being wrong.

One of the most important things to know is the signs of an aggressive rat, as you don’t want to pick up your rat when they are already agitated or stressed out. Signs can include hissing or exposing teeth, attempts to flee or hide when you get near, lunging towards you, and puffing themselves up to look larger.

How to Bond With Your Pet Rat

Bonding with your rat is one of the most important first steps to take when for a new rat owner. Having a good bond with your rat will make a lot of care tasks much easier, as their trust in you will make it easier to handle them.

There are many things you can do to bond with your pet rat, one of these aspects is cage placement, making sure your rat cage is placed in a quiet area that you frequent often. This will allow your rat to get familiar and comfortable with your presence.

Playing with and gently handling your rat are two other important aspects of bonding with your rat and getting them to trust you. Types of playing can include using string toys meant for cats, or treat-based hide-and-seek on occasion.

Positive reinforcement is a vital part of building trust between you and your rat, whether that comes in the form of treats or new toys, or simply extra petting. Doing this can also help train your rat to engage in positive behaviors.

Creating a Suitable Living Environment

Choosing the right cage is one of the most important steps in making your rat's environment safe and comfortable for them. The best type of cage for your rat is a powder-coated, open-air wire cage with a flat bottom that is at least 24x14x20 inches in height, length, and width respectively. We don’t recommend tanks due to the lack of ventilation they provide, but with the right add-ons like this one, they can be suitable temporarily. Ensure that the wire spacing in the rat cage is too small so that they cannot escape.

It is ideal to keep a rat cage somewhere that you'll walk by often and that is not in direct sunlight as sunlight can cause extreme temperature fluctuations in your rat and affect their eyesight as well.

What you put in your rat's cage is equally important as the type of cage itself. Safe cage bedding includes absorbent materials such as kiln-dried pine or aspen wood shavings, unprinted and shredded paper, and strips of cardboard. Options that should be avoided include cedar shavings, corn cob bedding, and cotton as these can be dangerous. Rats' respiratory systems are especially vulnerable to cedar shavings because of their chemical composition. For nesting materials, bedding and items like hay, torn-up paper bags, and strips of toilet paper rolls are acceptable options.

There is another essential cage aspect that you need to take into consideration, and that is the selection of the right rat accessories, not only for what goes inside but also for the material out of which these items are made.

For the basic items you need, we recommend two glass water bottles on your rat’s cage – the reason for this is so your rat still has access to fresh water in case the ball bearing in the sipper tube malfunctions – as well as ceramic food dishes, a litter box, and nesting materials.

Last but not least, toys can play an important role in keeping your rat happy and healthy. Your rat needs mental stimulation and exercise, and toys provide them both. The good news is no matter your price point, you can easily provide them with a variety of engaging toys.

We recommend having a good number of items that your rat can use either for cage playtime or rest, such as nesting boxes, foraging toys, climbable toys, and our personal favorite: the Hedgie Spin exercise wheel.

Although the Hedgie Spin’s namesake comes from hedgehogs, this spinning wheel is the perfect size for rats and allows them to run at any time of night. Additionally, its solid metal design is ideal to prevent your rat's feet from getting caught in between any holes that other exercise wheels may have.

White rat on a black background

Feeding and Nutrition

While we have a more comprehensive article on rat food and giving them a balanced diet, the basic diet of a rat is fairly simple. Rats should eat 90% of their diet from pellets or rat blocks specifically designed for them. A good blend should contain 10-15% protein (ideally 16%) and a 4-5% fat content in order to provide all the nutrients a rat needs every day. For a varied diet, rats also need small amounts of fresh vegetables (mainly greens) every day.

Shunamite diets are recommended by many online forums, however, we cannot advise this, as even the most careful owner cannot ensure what their rat is getting is truly safe.

The other 10% of your rat's diet should be made up of rat-safe treats. A young rat needs treats like mealworms or scrambled eggs that are high in protein, while an older rat needs treats like fresh or cooked vegetables because their bodies have difficulty processing protein as they age.

While rats can eat bits of table food, it’s important to know which are safe and which aren’t. The quick list of rat safe foods include fresh fruit (such as strawberries, cantaloupe, and watermelon), cooked brown rice, and unsalted seeds. It is also important to make sure you give them fresh foods, as their immune system is delicate and they could get sick from old or expired food items.

Overly fatty foods should be avoided, as obesity in rats can bring on a multitude of health issues including diabetes, bumblefoot from the pressure of their weight, and kidney disease. Sugary and sticky foods should also be avoided for similar reasons.

The quantity of food you give them is equally important as the type of food. It is recommended that adult rats eat no more than 15 and 20 grams of pellets per day. In order to allow them to consume pellets evenly throughout the day, they should be fed twice a day: half of their pellets in the morning, and half in the evening. As mentioned earlier, bowls for food should be made out of ceramic, as these are harder to tip over than other alternatives.

The importance of hydration for rats cannot be overstated. Rats should drink approximately one ounce of clean water each day. It is recommended to use glass water bottles instead of water bowls for your rat because water bottles are less likely to get dirty or tip over.

Social Interaction and Enrichment

As mentioned before, rats are incredibly social animals and need a proper amount of interaction to have a happy life. This is why it’s vital to adopt rats in pairs, so even when you can’t provide them with the interaction they need, they have a cage mate who can.

Generally, rats don't like being held, but there are times when you need to pick them up and handle them. First and foremost, you must make sure your rat trusts you. You can do this by sitting near their cage and letting them get accustomed to your presence. If you want to give them treats during this, do so in moderation.

You should scoop your hand underneath your rat's belly and place the other hand on their lower back to add stability. Picking up your rat by its tail is extremely dangerous since rats can induce degloving to escape danger.

Enrichment is another important part of keeping your right happy, and this can be done with a specific set of toys. Foraging toys placed in cage enclosures are great for providing them with the proper enrichment they need, as you can give them treats or other toys within the foraging toys to find.

It is also crucial to provide enrichment outside of your rat's cage. Providing your rat with a safe playpen is a great way to keep them active and stimulated mentally. It is best to schedule out-of-cage playtime during cage cleaning time, so your rat is not in the way while you’re wiping items down.

Health Care for Your Rat

It's important to schedule regular check-ups with an exotic animal vet to ensure you're not overlooking any health issues your rat might be experiencing. Rats require special veterinary care, so finding a vet who has experience with exotics like rats is essential.

A few diseases are more common in rats than in other mammals, such as chronic respiratory diseases, kidney disease, and parasites such as pinworms and mites. You can prevent rats from getting sick by maintaining a healthy diet, cleaning their cages regularly, and scheduling annual check-ups.

Rats tend to exhibit a lot of the same symptoms regardless of the disease or illness they suffer from. Common symptoms of any illness include lethargy, weight loss, increased porphyrin (red staining around eyes), and a dull coat or hair loss. For respiratory diseases, labored or noisy breathing, sniffling, and sneezing is common. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should take your rat to the vet to get them checked out and treated.

It’s also important to monitor your rats' eating habits closely. Since rats are prey animals, they’ve become very adept at hiding illnesses. This means that monitoring how much and how often they eat can help you catch illnesses sooner.

Many vets also recommend spaying or neutering your rats, in addition to the benefit of preventing unwanted pregnancies, you can also prevent uterine cancer and uterine infections in female rats, and testicular cancer in male rats. As reproductive cancers are very common in rats.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Keeping your rat's cage clean is vital. At least once a week, clean their cage, replacing dirty bedding and wiping down any stained areas with warm, unscented, soapy water and rinsing them with clean water to remove any residue. Daily cleaning activities include swapping out uneaten food for fresh food, and spot-cleaning soiled toys.

Cleaning any toys and accessories you use is just as important as cleaning the cage itself. For toys that are not made of wood, you can soak them in warm, soapy water and scrub them, for wood toys, you can make the soapy water mixture and dip a scrub brush or rag in the water and scrub the spot that is dirty.

Typically, rats groom themselves meticulously without much assistance. The grooming process can largely be left to them as long as you provide them with a proper cage setup and toys to file down their nails and teeth. The only exception is if a vet believes your rat needs extra assistance, such as in the case of bringing them in for tooth trimmings if they have overgrown teeth or malocclusions.

Training Your Rat: Basic Commands and Tricks

The process of teaching your rat some basic commands can be both fun and useful for you and them. This can be used as enrichment as it gives your rat an objective, and commands like teaching your rat to come to you when called can help you find them if they escape.

To teach your rat to come to you when you call, you can start by holding a treat in your hand and calling your rat's name. Once they have that down at a close distance, you can start to take a few steps backward until they run to you when you call.

There are many different tricks you can train them to do in a similar way, including standing up on their hind legs, returning to their cage, and even jumping into your hand.

Rat peeping through a hole on a carton box

Pet Rat Mental Stimulation

As mentioned a few times above, providing your rat with proper mental stimulation is vital. Since rats are highly intelligent, they need proper stimulation to prevent boredom and stress. Rats who don’t get enough stimulation will often become agitated, and this can display as acting out and chewing on cage bars.

Referring back to the toys and accessories section, toys are a wonderful way to give them this kind of stimulation. Since we’ve touched on items that can be bought at pet shops, let’s look at some DIY options you can choose from.

DIY foraging toys can be made with cardboard boxes or tissue boxes and nesting materials like paper towels, shreds of unprinted paper, and toilet paper. Another foraging toy you can DIY is a toilet paper roll stuffed with tissue paper and their favorite treat or a small wooden toy.

If you have some sewing skills, you can also make your own hammocks and tunnels for your rat to enjoy. PVC pipes with smoothed-down edges can also make for great tunnels!

Many of these toys can be placed and kept in your rat's cage until the next time you clean them, however, if you notice excess debris from these toys or your rat getting stuck, they should be taken out.

Dealing with Loss: When Your Pet Rat Passes Away

The thought of parting with your furry friend is something that no pet owner wants to think about, but it is a sad reality that we sometimes have to face. There are many things you can do to make the grieving process easier on both you and your other rats.

Many online forums offer some beautiful memorial ideas, one of which is either a clay or ink imprint of their paw. Many owners will also ask their vets for whiskers or fur clippings.

The death of a beloved rat can also be hard on the other rats in your cage. Many sources recommend letting your other rats examine the body of the passed rat, as this lets them recognize their companion has passed and hasn’t simply disappeared, it is important to monitor this process as sometimes rats will attempt to dispose of the body themself.

Introduction of a new rat into the pack should be slow, starting with putting the new rat in a cage beside the current rat's cage, and then introducing them in neutral territory and monitoring how they behave with one another. Once rats can be in neutral territory for half an hour together, you can begin to introduce the newcomer into the current cage.

Several sources suggest that you use small amounts of vanilla extract on your rats if you notice that they are acting aggressively toward each other.

Pet Rat Care Made Easy

Taking care of your pet rat can be a rewarding experience. With proper care, nutrition, and enrichment, your rat can live a happy and healthy life. If you are considering getting a pet rat, remember that it is important to be prepared and informed about their needs and behaviors. With a little love and dedication, your pet rat will be a loyal companion for years to come.

Check out some of our other blogs on the site to learn more about how to care for these wonderful creatures.


Is it hard to care for a pet rat?

No, caring for a pet rat is not difficult. With proper nutrition, enrichment, and love, your pet rat will be a loyal companion. However, it is important to be prepared by doing research and learning about their needs and behaviors before getting a pet rat.

Do rats make good pets?

Contrary to popular belief, rats can make absolutely wonderful companions. They’re clean, incredibly intelligent, and very sociable once they feel at home.

Do pet rats like to be handled?

Due to their nature as prey animals, pet rats are often reluctant to be handled. Eventually, however, they will become comfortable enough to allow you to touch them after you earn their trust.

What size cage do you need for 2 rats?

The minimum size cage for two rats should be 24 inches in height, 14 inches in length, and 20 inches in width, this is the standard sizing for cages as it is recommended to adopt rats in pairs.


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Author Bio: Morgan Mulac

Morgan Mulac has been working as a freelance writer for five years and has developed a passion for exotic pets. Dedicated to learning about exotic animals from all over the world, she seeks ways to share her knowledge with new owners about how to better care for their animals. If Morgan is not researching or writing about exotic pets, you can find her enjoying a cup of coffee and planning her next adventure.

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