How to take care of pet rats!

If you are thinking about adopting your first pet rat, or you have just adopted your first rat, then you are probably wondering how to best take care of your new pet/s. Taking care of rats involves making sure their needs and requirements are met and that they are given the necessary level of attention required.

Rat Care 101

Taking care of a rat is fairly simple, but still more difficult than common rodents like hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils. Rats live for between 2 and 3 years, so deciding to take a rat into your home is a big decision that involves a little planning.


Taking care of a rat is fairly simple, but still more difficult than common rodents like hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils. Rats live for between 2 and 3 years, so deciding to take a rat into your home is a big decision that involves a little planning.

Cage and Habitat
You will need a properly ventilated, chew-proof cage with a solid floor that is at least 1 m x 80cm x 60cm. If you can get a double-story cage, that is even better, as rats like to climb. Remember, a bigger cage is always better when it comes to your pet’s home.

Bedding or substrate for the bottom of the cage. You want to avoid cedar and pine shavings.



The Best Bedding

PAPER PELLET BEDDING: Paper pellets (like Carefresh) are ideal bedding for rats because they’re absorbent and fairly cheap. They will get mushy when they get wet and stood on, but you should probably replace them whenever they become soiled anyway if you don’t want your home stinking like rat pee.

STRAW PELLET BEDDING: Straw pellets work much the same way as paper pellets and are also suitable for rats because they’re non-toxic and absorbent.

SHREDDED CARDBOARD BEDDING: Shredded cardboard bedding works well for rats because much like paper pellets and straw pellets it’s a fairly natural and inert substance that can be.

CLOTH BEDDING: Some people prefer to lay down the cloth in their rat’s cage and clean the cloth daily. This is a valid option, especially if your rat seems to be allergic to other types of bedding. It’s important, however, that the cloth be in good shape; ratty tatty cloth can cause injuries if it gets wrapped up around your rat’s legs or tail.

You can use paper towels, paper napkins, hay, or straw for nesting.


A stoppered chew-proof water bottle that attaches to the side of the cage. Also put down a shallow water bowl. Rats like to clean themselves and play in the water, especially on hot days.

A food dish that can be secured to the cage or a dish that is heavy enough to not be easily tipped over.

An exercise wheel. Make sure you get one large enough for your rat.

Rat, cat, or bird toys and untreated wood for chewing. Get extra toys if you pet’s home is an aquarium instead of a cage.

Exercise wheel

Some rats, but not all, enjoy exercise wheels. Be sure to get a large wheel that is big enough for your rat’s size. Do not put your rat in an acrylic exercise ball. Your pet could overheat due to panic and stress.


Rats love to play. Providing them with bird, cat or rat toys, PVC pipe, empty toilet paper and paper towel tubes and untreated, unpainted wood for chewing will give your pet hours of entertainment.


There are many commercially available rat foods that will contain almost everything your pet rat will need. Rat food can contain a mix of pellets, fruits, nuts, vegetables, seeds, and grains. The drawback is that your rat may pick out his favorite pieces and not receive a well balanced diet.

Make your own rat food
Mix together:
6 scoops of rabbit/rat muesli,
½ scoop dog biscuits,
a handful of healthy seeds, nuts, dried fruit or dried noodles,
3 scoops of healthy, low sugar breakfast cereal like cornflakes or
Weetabix and half a scoop of uncooked wholemeal pasta.

Fresh food
You should also feed your pet rat fresh healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. You can try sweet potatoes, tomatoes, apples, corn, broccoli and many others.

Table scraps
Rats love table scraps but you must feed them in moderation. Rats can not burp or vomit so avoid gassy foods. Your pet will eat almost anything and will enjoy being allowed to pick through different types of food.
A good rule to follow is if it is good for you, it’s probably good for your rat. And if it is bad for you, it’s probably bad for your rat.

Rats consider all foods a treat and will appreciate some more than others. Use those special treats for training or special occasions. There are many rat treats available or you can use different foods from around the home.
Rats have a very poor gag reflex so choking can be a problem and you will want to avoid certain foods. Avoid feeding sticky foods such as taffy, peanut butter, caramel, rolled fruit snacks and jelly beans. You should also moderate sugary snacks to prevent your rat from becoming fat.

Vitamins and supplements
Rats usually get all their vitamins from their diet but they can be susceptible to vitamin deficiencies. Commercial vitamin supplements that go in the water bottle are available.

Food bowl
A pet rat will easily climb on and tip over his food bowl. A dish that attaches to the sides of a wire cage or weighted bowl can help prevent this.

Rats drink a lot of water and should have fresh water available at all times. A stoppered water bottle does a wonderful job of keeping water available. You will need a source of water for your pet. Stoppered water bottles that attach to the side of the cage will prevent water spillage in the cage. Remember, your pet rat is a chewer so you will need a chew proof bottle or a bottle with a chew guard.


Your pet rat’s cage should be cleaned at least once a week and leftover food that could spoil should be removed daily. For cleaning, replace the bedding, wash the water bottle, food dish, dirty toys, and the cage bottom with soapy water. Make sure everything is dry before returning items to the cage.

Health and Illness

You can help your pet rat have a long and healthy life with proper care. Make sure your pet has a proper diet, clean water, a safe home, plenty of toys, lots of attention, and at least one other rat to live with. Even with proper care sometimes illness or injury will still occur.

Symptoms that will let you know your pet is ill are constant scratching, scabs, bald patches, hunching over, wounds, loss of appetite, lethargy, head tilt, fur standing up, dull eyes, sneezing, weight loss, red secretions around the eyes and nose or diarrhea. In the event of illness or injury, contacting your veterinarian is always recommended. Below is a list of some of the more common health problems found with pet rats.


Abscesses are caused when bacteria enters an open wound and the wound becomes infected. A soft lump under the skin and swelling are signs of abscess. The abscess must be drained and antibiotic treatment started.

Cuts and Bleeding

Rats can get injuries from bites, cuts, and torn nails and toes. Injuries on the ears, feet, and toes will bleed a lot. You can stop bleeding with a towel and gentle pressure on the injury. You can also use ice or flour to try to stop the bleeding.


Your rat may be hunched over, lethargic, thin and will refuse to drink water. Give water, sweetened with a little sugar, by eye dropper directly into your rats mouth.


Diarrhea is often caused by feeding your rat too many greens. Removing the greens from his diet may solve the problem. Moving your pet rat to an area he is not familiar with can also cause temporary diarrhea which will clear up on it’s own when he is returned to familiar surroundings.

Ear infection

Ear infections are usually caused by a cold or respiratory infections. If you notice your pet rat tilting his head to one side or swaying while standing suspect an ear infection. If left untreated, an ear infection can destroy the inner ear. An ear infection usually requires an antibiotic for treatment.

Eye infection

Eye infections can be caused by sharp shavings, dust or injury. In albinos with pink eyes sunlight can cause an irritation. Move your pet to an area out of the sunlight. Watery eyes or eye protrusion is often a sign of infection.

Greasy, yellow, scaly areas

This is caused by excessive secretions of the oil glands. This is not harmful to your pet. Giving him a bath in mild shampoo should clear this up.

Hair loss

Hair loss in your pet can be caused by many different things. Your pet could have the rex or hairless genes in his background. Your pet could be chewing his own hair, his cage mate could be chewing his hair as a sign of dominance, excessive rubbing or itching, an allergy or it could be a behavioral trait.


Rats can overheat quickly in temperatures over 32 degrees. Your rat will lay flat on his stomach or stand up with his stomach pressed against a glass cage in an effort to cool his body. He will pant with his eyes opened widely. He may drool, refuse water, and even become comatose. Remove your pet from the heated area and sponge him down with cool, not cold, water. A plastic bottle filled with frozen water placed into his cage every day can help prevent heatstroke.

Overgrown teeth

Rats teeth grow continuously and can over grow. Symptoms of overgrowth are loss of appetite, swollen jaws and weight loss. If this happens the teeth will need to be clipped by your veterinarian.

Patch coat colour

A patchy coat color is a sign of molting and normal. Adult rats will molt about every three months.

Red stains

Red stains on your rat’s hair can be caused by bedding or saliva and will wash away. Rat saliva is reddish in color which can get on his coat while grooming himself. The red saliva is normal.

Respiratory infections

Rats are prone to respiratory infections and excessive sneezing is often a symptom. Respiratory infections are highly contagious so if you have more than one rat in a cage it may be necessary to isolate them. It is often necessary to treat the illness with antibiotics.


Ringtail is a disease caused by low humidity in the air. The tail will look constricted, scaly and the tip may fall off. The damage is permanent and may require medical attention.


Scabs can be caused by mites, lice, food allergies that cause itching and injury.


Most growths are benign and harmless and these tumors attach to fatty areas in the rats
body. Malignant tumors usually attach to the internal organs of the rat. The type of tumor can only be determined by a veterinarian.

Vaginal bleeding

Most growths are benign and harmless and these tumors attach to fatty areas in the rats body. Malignant
tumors usually attach to the internal organs of the rat. The type of tumor can only be determined by a veterinarian.

The difference between rat cough, sneeze, wheeze, hiccup and rattle


Rattling sounds like just that… baby rattles. Or someone with severe chest congestion. It’s a really serious
condition in your rat, and a sign of advanced lung disease or respiratory infection. If your rat is rattling, they
need to be moved to a dust and pollution free environment. Also, you need to get to your exotic vet ASAP…
they’re going to need immediate antibiotics to treat successfully. Your pet rat sounds sick because they are.


Wheezing in rats sounds similar to wheezing in humans; it’s a whistling noise in the breathing. While wheezing often does happen when your rat is rattling, they don’t always go together.
This noise is usually a symptom of a new respiratory infection, or sometimes it can be linked to a mycoplasma flare. Mycoplasma infection can be mild or serious, so know when to lean on antibiotics (but only when they’re completely necessary… you don’t want your rat to develop and antibiotic resistance). Rats can manage this
condition on their own; let the immune system do the work. But if it lasts longer than a few days and things are getting worse, it’s time to head to your vet. But, as always, if you’re not comfortable at any stage, or feel that something’s off, go in ASAP.


So many things can cause your rat to sneeze (and it sounds like a high-pitched “pcht!” What can cause a little rat achoo?
New Pets
New Scents
Seasons changing

Basically anything that can cause a human to sneeze. However, in rats, a sneeze often comes with porphyrin, a parent compound that gives rise to bloody colored secretions. A little porphyrin pertains to irritation, but if there’s a buildup, it’s usually a sign of a serious lung infection (urinary infection, mycoplasma infection, ear infection, or advanced pyometra). If it’s a minor bacterial infection, no treatment is usually required and most rat parents don’t know that they’ve ever even been sick. However, some illnesses can be super serious and the likelihood of recovery is slim if proper testing isn’t done. Go to your vet.

Caused by illness

Look for continuous sneezing (which is often accompanied with other symptoms: lack of appetite, change in activity, discharge from nose and/or eyes, rattling). If you hear lots of sneezing happening and notice changes in behavior or physical appearance, you need to get to your vet so they can help diagnose the problem… your rat probably sounds sick because they are.

Caused by allergies

When rats have allergies, they’re probably going to sneeze. A lot. Think of if there’s anything you’ve
recently changed. Bedding? Food? The new introduction of anything physical could definitely be the culprit.
Eliminate items from the environment that you think could be causing the allergy and replace with 100% hypoallergenic products.

Caused by scents

It’s extremely common for new scents to trigger sneezing. New animals, any type of air freshener, oil warmers, diffusers, candles, incense, wax melts, etc… they all have the ability to induce sneezing.
Introduce new scents with caution. We don’t recommend air fresheners or diffusers to be used around rats because their respiratory systems are pretty frail, and because of this, adverse reactions are


Did you know that the majority of rats actually don’t really cough because they just need to? The cough usually stems from shortness of breath or breathing that’s labored. Get them to your veterinarian for antibiotics… they’re saying “please.”
Rats can develop a cough if they’re choking (similar to their human parents). Trigger tickle, anyone? If they’re
eating too fast, it’s actually not uncommon. In these instances, they’re usually capable of clearing the choke before we even know what happened.


Rats can produce a sound that’s really close to what a hiccup sounds like when they’re dealing with breathing issues, too. But if this the issue, it’s likely a respiratory infection and not a hiccup. Go see your vet. The correct
diagnosis is the absolute first step to managing an illness or any type of condition.

Rat behaviour

What is your rat telling you?

Rats have a variety of sounds and actions that can help you determine how they are feeling.
Ears back, head down or laying down and your rat is showing a sign of submission.
Hair standing up and arching back is a warning sign of a rat’s fear and aggression.
Marking is done by both male and female rats when they release a small amount of urine to mark their territory. This can be reduced by spaying or neutering your rat.
Running, jumping, and circling means your pet rat could be in a playful or excited mood.
A short squeak is an expression of surprise or hurt. A long high-pitched squeak usually means your rat is afraid, hurt or feeling trapped. A whiney medium pitched squeak usually means your rat is unhappy about something or is being dominated by another rat.
Teeth grinding is only done when your rat is relaxed and is a sign of contentment.
Teeth chattering is a clicking sound your rat makes when he is angry, often at another rat that has
invaded his territory.

If your rat freezes and the tail shivers, shakes or slaps the floor in short, rapid movements he is angry, annoyed or feels threatened.

Boggling & Bruxing

If you’ve seen your pet rat’s eyes shaking and boggling you might have wondered if there was something wrong with your rat. Maybe it was just your imagination! It wasn’t. It did happen and it is fairly normal. There’s no need to worry, pet rats tend to do this quite often and is in no way harmful.
Why are your pet rat’s eyes boggling? When your pet rats’ eyes boggle and shake, this means that the rat is relaxed and happy. It’s basically the equivalent of a cat purring.
This also happens due to the bruxing of the teeth, which is something normal for rats. Careful though, bruxing doesn’t always mean that they’re happy, there’s actually quite a lot of signs for you to look for to understand how your companion is feeling!

Rat Tricks & Games

Rats are very intelligent animals that are easily trained to do tricks and play games. They love to please and are usually very cooperative.
A rat can also learn many words including his name, different games, tricks, and types of treats. With some patience, repetition, and the help of treats, your pet can learn many things.
You could go for a walk, play hide-and-seek, play find-the-treat, or even pick-the-treat if your rat has learned the names of different treats. For tricks your rat could learn to sit up, climb a rope, walk a tightrope, walk a maze, pull up a string with a treat at the end, or some other tricks you think of.

Types of rats

There are currently only a handful of different types of rats available as pets. They are mostly found with a black, white, or beige coat, but there are dozens of colors and variations. Pet rats usually have a smooth coat yet some can be found with a curly coat or no coat at all. Below are some of the more common types of pet rats.


Dumbo rats have been bred to have extra-large, wide round ears making them extremely cute.



These rats are completely hairless, can have pink or dark skin, and may have hair on the face. Having no hair to protect them makes the hairless rat sensitive to heat and cold.



The Manx is a tailless rat and is favored by those who feel a rat’s tail is unappealing. These rats need special care since a rat’s tail is used to regulate body heat. Without a tail they are prone to heatstroke in warm weather.



A rex has curly whiskers and a curly coat. The coat can be short or long and the curls can be tight or wavy.



The satin has coat that is shinier than those of other rats.




These are the most common types of rats found as pets. Their coat has no waves or curls and lays flat against the body.






How To Take Care Of Pet Rats For Beginners


Rat Care Guide

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