IN THIS ARTICLE
- Pet Rat Nutrition Basics
- Caloric Needs of Pet Rats
- Essential Nutrients for Pet Rats
- Commercial Rat Foods
- Hydration and Your Rat
- Feeding Young, Adult, and Senior Rats
- Foods to Avoid in a Pet Rat's Diet
- Understanding and Monitoring Your Pet Rat's Eating Habits
- Building a Healthy Diet for Your Pet Rat
Nutrition is one of the most important parts of basic rat care. It can be challenging for new pet parents to determine where to begin when it comes to selecting the right diet for their rats, especially because there are so many options at the store and different diet suggestions online.
In this blog, we’ll be going over the core basics of rat nutrition, including their daily intake, crucial vitamins and nutrients, if they can have fresh fruits and vegetables, and how their diet needs change as they age.
Pet Rat Nutrition Basics
Like humans, pet rats are omnivores and require a balanced diet of both proteins and vegetables. This wide variety of food allows them to get their needed intake of protein, carbohydrates, and fat needed to remain healthy.
Caloric Needs of Pet Rats
There are several factors that determine any type of pet rat's caloric needs, but the biggest one would be their age. On average, an adult rat needs 60 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight. This averages out to about 15-20 grams.
A good rule of thumb for young rats is to feed 5 to 6 grams of food for every 100 grams your rat weighs. For a six week old (around the time breeders will give baby rats to their new families) they weigh about 150 grams and should be eating around 7.5 grams.
Essential Nutrients for Pet Rats
Below are some of the essential nutrients a rat requires to be healthy, while you can and should supplement with treats, the bulk of these nutrients will be provided by lab blocks or pellet food
Protein should make up a good amount of a young and adult rat's pellet or block diet. In pellet blends, you should look for a 15-16% protein content. Supplementing with treats like cooked scrambled eggs, or animal protein like mealworms and cooked lean meat is especially important for rats under 7 months old.
While fat should be given in moderation, it is an important part of a rat's diet. The fat content in pellet blends should not exceed 8%, and ideally be in the range of 4-6%. Fatty foods like unsalted seeds (such as pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds), small amounts of cheese (avoid blue cheese, as the mold used to make it is toxic), and pea sized amounts of avocado are all healthy treats in moderation.
Rats are dependent on carbohydrates in order to obtain the essential amounts of fiber that they require to be healthy. You should look for a pellet or block that is composed of 80% carbohydrates. Safe carbohydrate based treats for rats include oats, cooked brown rice, and cooked whole-wheat pasta.
Vitamins and Minerals
In general, rats need a lot of the same vitamins and minerals that we do, but they do require a lot more manganese, calcium, and vitamins B12 and K. As with many of the core nutrients they need, rats will get these vitamins and minerals from rat pellets and blocks. When consumed in moderation, cooked sweet potatoes, kale, arugula, and cooked pumpkin can supplement their vitamin needs.
A Typical Healthy Diet for Pet Rats
As mentioned above, a majority of a rat's diet should be filled with lab blocks or pellets. They should be fed twice a day, with half of their required 15-20 grams at a time. Occasional treats should be given in small amounts 1-3 times per week.
It is recommended that rats get access to a small amount of fresh vegetables each day to give them a complete diet.
Treats that are acceptable include small amounts of fruit that are rat safe (cranberries, strawberries, and watermelon). vegetables like asian greens (bok choy, napa cabbage, and pea shoots especially), cooked squash, and bell peppers. And protein rich treats like mealworms and eggs. It’s vital to ensure that you are giving your rat fresh foods in any type of treat you give them.
Also, you should make sure that the food is given to your rat in ceramic food bowls, since they are more difficult for your rat to turn over.
Commercial Rat Foods
Types of Commercial Rat Foods
- Lab Blocks/Pellets
- Rat Seed Mixes
Lab Blocks and Pellets are considered by many to be the best kind of rat food as these are formulated specifically to meet your rats basic dietary needs. The benefit of these blends specifically is that your rat doesn’t get to pick and choose from what they want to eat, which can cause nutritional deficiencies.
Rat seed mixes are not as recommended due to the fact that they lack the diversity of foods and nutritional profile that rats need, as well as being incredibly fatty. All of this leads to an unbalanced diet that is very hard to supplement with.
Some people say a Shunamite diet is best for rats, however we discourage homemade blends as even the most careful pet owner cannot ensure their rat is getting all the nutrition they require.
There are two brands of rat food we recommend, Oxbow and Mazuri. These two brands are specially formulated to ensure your rat gets everything they need day to day.
Hydration and Your Rat
It is extremely important to have your rat hydrated in order to prevent dehydration from occurring, which can be deadly for rats. Signs of dehydration include lethargy, lack of appetite, and duller coat and eyes.
Rats should be given constant access to fresh water in their cage. We recommend glass water bottles over a bowl of water, as water bottles are less prone to get dirty or flipped over like a bowl of water is.
Feeding Young, Adult, and Senior Rats
You should be aware that rats of different ages have different dietary requirements that must be met. All of the advice above is with the average adult rat in mind.
Younger rats require less food, but do require more protein than adult and senior rats. It’s important that any protein treats you use to feed your young rats be cut into smaller pieces so prevent choking.
For older rats, their need for protein goes down, as their kidneys begin to struggle with processing the protein and often gets stored as excess fat. Things you can do is find a pellet blend on the lower side of the protein content, as well as including less phosphorus foods.
Foods to Avoid in a Pet Rat's Diet
It is true that rats can eat a wide variety of human foods, but there are also some foods that are dangerous that you need to keep in mind.
You should not feed your rats green bananas or ones that are underripe, as they cannot digest them properly, causing severe stomach pains and illness. As long as there is no green skin on your bananas, they should be safe.
Citrus fruits are one item that is often up to debate, as in male rats, there is a higher link to kidney diseases. Female rats can typically safely ingest citrus, but it is best to keep them away from male rats.
Items that shouldn’t be given to your rats under any circumstance include any food that contains poppy seeds, raw meat, undercooked/raw beans, stone fruit with the pit still in them, green potatoes, and sticky foods or foods with lots of sugar like candy.
You can use the rule of thumb that if it's junk food for humans, it's also bad for rats when selecting food items for your pet.
Tips for Transitioning Your Pet Rat to a New Diet
Whether your rats current diet isn’t working for them, or you’re simply switching brands, making sure you transition their pellet or block diet slowly is vital. If you don’t, the new diet can cause severe stomach upset amongst other digestive issues.
The best way to transition them is in 25% increments, starting with 75% of your rats old food, and 25% of the new food you’re introducing them to, and after a week, give them a 50%/50% ratio, and continue this process until they’re entirely on the new food. If any stomach upset happens (diarrhea, pica, or lifting their head in a way that resembles a gagging motion) it is important to take a break on transitioning until symptoms subside.
Understanding and Monitoring Your Pet Rat's Eating Habits
As rats can often hide problems well, it can often be helpful to keep an eye on how they eat as well as how frequently they eat. This can often be the most effective way of identifying any illness in your rat.
Aside from this, monitoring your rats' diet can also help you determine whether they are getting the nutrition they need from the current diet and if any changes need to be made.
Symptoms of nutritional deficiencies can include a lack of appetite, lethargy, patchy fur, and low activity levels. The first thing you should do if you see any of these symptoms on your rat is to take it to an exotic vet so they can help you figure out the next step to take.
Building a Healthy Diet for Your Pet Rat
Rats are incredible creatures that need a varied and mixed diet. As they’re omnivores like us, they need to get their nutrients from a mix of animal protein and fruits and vegetables.
The best diet for your rat is one that is primarily made up of pellets and supplemented with occasional treats. With these basics down and the right supplies, you can be sure your furry friend will live a long and happy life with you!
What can I feed my pet rat?
Rats should be fed a primarily pellet diet with 15-16% protein, 4-6% fat, and approximately 80% carbohydrates. You can also give them small treats of their favorite foods as a supplement.
What do pet rats eat on a daily basis?
Rats typically eat their pellet mixture day to day, supplemented with treats 1-3 times a week.
What fruit do pet rats eat?
Rats can eat a variety of fruits including cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, and watermelon.
How often do rats need vegetables?
Rats need small amounts of fresh vegetables everyday for a varied diet.
Have Questions About Rat Nutrition?
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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. https://morganmulac.com/