Pet Rats

Can you get attached to these sweet creatures? Absolutely, yes! Watch this very sweet video about pet rat ownership within a music video.

Lab Technician Becomes Pet Rat Owner

First a true story…
Rat Takes Time to Smell the Flowers

Rat Takes Time to Smell the Flowers

Once upon a time, long, long ago, the author, Howard Lichtman, worked at a laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health, made infamously famous from the movie: The Secret of NIMH (Based on the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH). Occasionally lab animals escape and we would do what we could to recapture them. One such rat, “on the lam”, made a nest in my desk drawer. Ugh! I was forever cleaning out shredded papers and trying to capture the critter. Rats learn about traps and are difficult to capture. So if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I removed my possessions from the drawer and replaced them with animal bedding, a water bottle, and rat kibble. In a matter of weeks she and I were strongly bonded and the best of friends.
rat baby and mom

rat baby and mom

My pet rat the run of the lab, a warm drawer to live in, and an endless supply of food. Guests to the lab were startled when she would run out of the draw, along my desk, up my arm, and perch on my shoulder (BWAAK! Rattie want a cracker?) She lived a happy rat life of about two years. Unlike their wild cousins, domestic rats are amazing pets. Domestic rats and feral rats are just not the same animal as far as behavior is concerned. They are almost as far apart from each other as wolves are from domestic dogs. Where feral rats are filth and health hazards, frightfully vicious and naturally abhorrent of humans, domestic rats are clean, social, intelligent, gentle, and bond strongly with their keepers. A pet rat will live between two to three years. They grow to a body size of 9-11 inches, with a naked tail that is between 7-9 inches long. Although they are nocturnal they do adjust their schedule a bit to socialize with their keeper. They are very social and do best when there is another rat or group of rats to keep them company. And, being social, when they bond with their keeper, they make you part of their “mischief” (the proper name for a group of rats). You must not keep male (bucks) or female (does) rats together unless you intend to breed them. Rats are extremely prolific. The does are very caring about her pups. Males take no part in parenting. Males will get along just fine if they are litter-mates or are introduced to each other at a very young age. Males are more likely to be lazy and mark their territory with a small amount of urine. Females are more likely to be active and playful. Rats require a lot of care and maintenance. Their cage must be cleaned daily. They require fresh water and food, and need almost an hours’ worth of exercise outside their cage every day. You have to make plans for their care if you go on holiday. So, let’s keep a couple of rats as pets…

About Keeping Rats as Pets Rats are very intelligent and social animals that make wonderful pets. Because they are so social, they should never be kept alone. Same sex pairs or groups are ideal.

About Male Rats

Pet Rat Closeup - Rat seems to know master and what to expect

Pet Rat Closeup – Rat seems to know master and what to expect

Male rats usually get along fine with other males, especially if introduced at a young age or if they are litter mates. Keeping rats in groups does not make them any more difficult to tame if they are handled from a young age. They are relatively easy to care for, but are not low maintenance pets. They require a fair amount of attention and exercise time outside of their cages (at least an hour a day). As a rule, males are larger and somewhat lazier than females, and have a coarser coat. Females are smaller and tend to be more active and playful.

Finding a Pet Rat

Find a pet store where the staff is knowledgeable about caring for rats, keep them in appropriate, clean housing with a good diet, and handle them regularly. Look for stores that house males and females separately, to avoid a surprise litter. Rat breeders keep “ratteries,” which are the best option for finding a well socialized young rat. A good breeder will make sure the babies are socialized and handled from an early age. Rat breeders are your only option if looking for a particular coat type or color. Consider rescuing a rat in need of a home – check with local shelters or rescue groups. Choose a rat with a good temperament; rescued rats may be a little skittish or shy at first but you can overcome this with patience. Avoid rats that are aggressive though, as this is harder to overcome. Fortunately most rats are not aggressive. If buying or rescuing an older rat, try to make sure it has been handled from a young age. Whichever source is chosen, make sure the rat appears to be in good health and condition, and is well socialized.

Choosing your Pet Rat

Try to avoid rats that are panicky when handled, especially if they do not relax quickly, and also those that are overly quiet and calm (may be ill). Often a good choice is a rat that is comfortable enough to approach you. Rats should be alert and active. The rat’s body should be firm and well rounded. Younger rats are likely to be on the lean side. The nose, eyes, ears, and rear end should be clean and free from discharge. The coat should be clean and well groomed (healthy rats spend a lot of time grooming). The skin on the ears and tail should be clean and pink. The skin should be free of sores and not red or flaky. Watch the rat’s breathing to make sure it is not labored, and make sure the rat is not sneezing or having discharge from its nose or eyes (all signs of respiratory disease which is fairly common in rats). Watch for drooling or wetness around the mouth, which can be a sign of dental problems.

Housing Your Pet Rat

Rat Cage with sleeping and play equipment

Rat Cage with sleeping and play equipment

Rats need room to move around. They like to explore, climb, and play. And, because rats are sociable, you need room for more than one rat. You should get the largest habitat you can afford. Experts recommend you not use hamster cages, Habitrails, storage bins, or 10-gallon aquariums as permanent housing for your rats as these are far too small. The National Fancy Rat Society recommends at least 2’ X 1’ X 1’ for pair, about the size of a 20 gallon aquarium. Keep your cage out of direct sunlight and cold draft. Other rat care sources recommend even larger housing, such as the wire cage you might use for a ferret. Use cage bedding of untreated wood shavings, cardboard, hay or shredded paper. Don’t forget the toys! Rats like to climb so ladders and hammocks will keep them busy, and large PVC tubes or flower pot for hiding will be appreciated.

Cleaning Up After Your Pet Rats

Most rats can be litter box trained and providing one will make clean up easier. You will know when the cage needs to be clean from the aroma. Since the ammonia buildup can be dangerous to a rat’s delicate respiratory system, timely cleanings are a must. It is a good idea to keep a small isolation cage on hand should you get a sick rat.

Feeding Your Pet Rat

Although feral rats will eat anything with legs except a table and anything with wings except an airplane, domestic rats can be hurt from eating many foods like cabbage, beans, and chocolate. They do best with a pet store purchased rat or rabbit kibble mixed with dry dog biscuits. They can have an occasional treat of fresh fruit or vegetables. There should be fresh water available all the time from a rodent water bottle with a control valve to prevent leaking. Splurge; get two small water bottles so your rats don’t fight over who drinks first. Young rats, up to 10 weeks old, can be fit from a higher protein and fat content such as puppy chow. But be careful not to overfeed older rats as they are prone to becoming obese which can cause health problems and shorten their lives. Chocolate is toxic to rats because of the naturally occurring chemical theobromine.

Becoming a Rat Breeder

Rats are prolific breeders. As a hobbyist, breeding rats involves knowledge of breeding methods to control of rat lines, temperament, and health. The topic of breeding rats is a bit outside this article. The online Rat Breeding Guide listed in the bibliography and local chapter of you rat club are a good starting point for this fascinating hobby.

Common Rat Ailments

Your rat should be seen by a veterinarian when you suspect something is wrong with it’s health. Minor problems escalate rather quickly and lead to serious problems. Your pet relies on you for its care and welfare. Below is a list of common health issues that require a visit to the vet…
  • Spots and Scabs could indicate that their claws need trimming, or they may be infected with mites.
  • Abscesses may develop from infected cuts or bites.
  • Tumors often develop in older rats.
  • Malocclusion – deformed, damaged, or broken teeth – need to be attended by a veterinarian. Often the veterinarian will show you how to trim your rat’s teeth.
  • Respiratory disease is common in rats. Remember to keep your pet out of cold drafts and keep the cage dry and clean.
  • Loss of weight and deterioration of your rat’s general health may be a sign of underlying disease or old age.
It is hard to get serious information about keeping rats as pets, other than acquiring flyers with limited information from pet shops. Joining a club will help you get the best information on care; you keep up to date in the latest developments in rat husbandry, and put you in touch with other local rat enthusiasts. A few rat resources are listed below
  • The Rat and Mouse Club of America (RMCA) Homepage:
  • The National Fancy Rat Society:
  • The Rat Fan Club:
  • NARR (North American Rat Registry:

Conclusions about Owning Pet Rats

Rats are curious, intelligent and always up for some fun. They can be great pets for kids—but young caretakers should always be supervised by an adult. These animals are not toys, and must be treated with kindness and respect. They are intelligent enough to bond with their keeper and make great little companions.

Bibliography on Pet Rats

Housing Needs. Rat Care Guide, The Layman’s Guide To Basic Care and Responsible Ownership of Rats. Web. ND.
Housing Needs
How to Care For Pet Rats. Videojugnetworks. Media. ND. How to Littler Box Train Your Rats. Ratty Tar Rattery. Web. nd. Keeping Pet Rats: A Short Guide. National Fancy Rat Society. Web, nd. Pet Care. ASPCA. Web. nd. <> PetRat.Info. Blackstaff Rats. Web. Jan.31, 2007. <> Rat Breeding Guide. Rat Care Guide, The Layman’s Guide To Basic Care and Responsible Ownership of Rats. Web. ND. <>
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