What Do Rats Eat? What's Good And Bad For Them To Have

by Marissa Prizio

What Do Pet Rats Eat? What's Good and Bad Image 

In the wild, rats are seen as opportunistic omnivores that will happily eat any food they can find. Their domesticated relatives may be equally excited and opportunistic when it comes to food, but that doesn’t mean they should be given every food that catches their attention. Domesticated rats, like cats and dogs, tend to live longer and healthier lives when they are fed a well-rounded diet.

As pet parents, it is our job to define and provide a healthy diet. This may seem like a daunting task, but there are plenty of resources to guide you in the right direction when it comes to food for pet rats, and you're not alone. Plenty of people find themselves asking, “What do rats eat?” when they consider these rambunctious rodents as pets. Let’s break a rat’s diet down into pieces that are much easier to digest so you can learn how to control their health through nutrition.

What should a well-rounded rat diet include?

When determining the best diet for any animal, it is important to consider what their species has evolved to eat. Rats are omnivores, meaning their bodies are designed to digest nutrients from both plant and animal matter. To create a healthy diet for your rat, you will need to provide foods that cover the nutritional spectrum of both plant and animal-based foods.

Rat pellets may not be on the menu for wild rats, but they are a convenient and well-rounded source of nutrients for a pet rat. There are plenty of rodent kibbles on the market, but rats should only be feed pellets specifically designed for rats. Look for kibble with a protein content of at least 16% and a fat content of 4% to 5%. It is often recommended that pellets make up about 90% of a rat’s diet.

Vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber are all wrapped up in these little nuggets, but rats should not eat exclusively kibble. Fresh foods provide enrichment and natural nutrition that can not be supplemented and should make up about 10% of your rat’s diet. Your rats’ menu can include fruits and vegetables like the ones listed below.

 Rat in a pile of food Image

  • Sweet potato (cooked)

  • Carrots

  • Apples

  • Cabbage (but not red cabbage)

  • Broccoli

  • Pears

  • Peas

  • Ripe bananas

  • Cucumbers

There are plenty more fruits and vegetables that are suitable for rats, but there are also some that can be harmful. Healthy fruits and vegetables will be rich with fiber and nutrients without being too sweet, fatty, or watery. Harmful fruits, beans, and vegetables will be noted in an upcoming section and should be kept in mind.

Animal protein also comes in healthy and less healthy forms. Lean meat, cooked eggs, and mealworms are a few common animal protein sources for rats. Since the pelleted portion of a rat’s diet meets most of their protein needs, these items should be fed sparingly. High fat or raw meat should be avoided as a precaution.

What treats are safe for rats?

 Rat eating pomegranate Image

Treats may not be the most nutritious or healthy items for rats, but they are important for mental stimulation and encouraging natural behaviors. Items that are considered to be treats for rats generally include food items that are safe in small quantities and potentially damaging in larger quantities. These foods generally include items that are high in carbs, fats, or sugar.

These three factors can make foods very alluring for rats, and since they are rather intelligent they will often select these unhealthy but delicious foods over more nutritious foods. This is why you should always feed treats in small amounts and separate them from nutritious meals.

Seeds and nuts are high in fats and can lead to obesity in large quantities. However, in small quantities seeds and nuts promote normal foraging behavior, making them a great treat. The same is true for cooked beans, cereals, cooked whole wheat pasta, sweet treats marketed for rats, and cooked rice if they are hidden or scattered about.

Treats don’t have to be entirely edible, as long as they are rat-safe. Rats need to chew to wear down their teeth which grow continuously, so rat-safe chews can be another fun treat for your pets. Coconut shells, cardboard, compressed hay blocks, and even untreated rodent-safe softwoods are great ways to encourage natural chewing behaviors.

What foods can be toxic to rats?

Some of our favorite foods can actually be toxic to rats, which is why we should ask the question “What can’t rats eat?” as often as we ask “What do rats eat?” Many of the foods known to be toxic to or irritating to canines are also harmful to rats. These food items include:

 Rats in food storage room Image

  • Walnuts

  • Raw beans

  • Chocolate

  • Raisins

  • Grapes

  • Citrus fruits

  • Rhubarb

  • Licorice

  • Raw potato or potatoes with green skin

  • Avocado

  • Dairy products (especially soft cheeses, milk, or products including mold)

  • Mangos

Rats are much smaller than humans, dogs, and even cats, so it is important to remember that a seemingly small portion of any toxic food can be very impactful on rats. If your pet rat is found eating any of these foods you should call a trusted veterinarian for guidance.

Why is my rat getting fat?

Rats are prone to obesity, especially when they are fed an unbalanced diet without an adequate amount of fresh vegetables. If your pet rat is gaining an unhealthy amount of weight, then it is time to examine their food. If you feed your rats pellets, check to ensure the fat content is no higher than 5%. If you are feeding your rats a mixed diet, check to see if they are picking any one food item over the others. This is common with diets containing seeds and can result in rats eating primarily fat-dense seeds.

 Rat eating pumpkin Image

You can cut back on sugar-filled fruit and sweets by feeding healthy vegetables in fun ways. Feeding less carb-heavy treats is another easy diet change to combat obesity. This swap may also help to encourage more activity amongst your rats. This will keep them fit and help them burn the energy they obtain from their food. Food puzzles or foraging set-ups are a great way to engage both your rat’s mind and body as they eat.

How can I know that I feed my pet rat properly?

If you have nutrition concerns regarding your pet rats, then it is best to consult with a trusted veterinarian. They can help you determine a healthy weight for your rats and advise on how to maintain it through food and exercise. While veterinarians are the best source of knowledge regarding your pet's nutritional needs, you can also look to the feeding suggestions on well-balanced rat pellets. The packaging should provide serving size suggestions, weight control, and other helpful information.

As long as you can differentiate between safe and dangerous foods you are halfway there! Providing proper ratios of balanced pellets, fresh fruits, veggies, and occasional treats becomes easier as you grow accustomed to your pet’s specific eating habits. Over time you will find that you can easily explain what rats eat, and more importantly, what your rat eats.

Rat food list Image

Citations:

- https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/rodents/rats/diet
- https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-should-i-feed-my-pet-rat/
- https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feeding-rodents
- https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/looking-after-your-pet/small-pets/your-rat-sdiet

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