Rat Care Packet and Application
Rat Care Packet
If there ever comes a time where you decide you do not want your rat or cannot care for it any longer, give us a call and we will gladly take it back. Rats adopted from NWIC will always have a home here with us.
General Information on Having Rats as Pets
Rats are clean, intelligent, and affectionate animals which can bond to their owners very strongly. Many rats show affection by “kissing” (licking) their owner, similar to dogs. When rats are happy, they may grind their molars together. This is known as chibbling, and is vaguely similar to a cat’s purr.
Rats can be playful and sensitive pets. Because rats are intelligent, they need a good amount of attention and stimulation. They are smart enough to learn interactive games like tug-of-war. They can also be taught to come when called, and can learn a variety of tricks (you teach a rat the same way as you would teach a dog – show what you want and when they do it, give them a treat).
Domesticated rats hardly ever bite.
Rats are social creatures and enjoy the company of their own kind. Because of this, it is often recommended to keep a pair (or group) of same-sex rats, unless your rat is not comfortable living with other rats. Rats enjoy grooming each other and curling up to sleep together.
Rats are clean creatures, and spend almost 1/3 of their waking life grooming. Therefore, you will almost never need to bathe your rat. Rat owners often provide a bowl of water for their rats -- the rats will use this to clean themselves. If you ever decide to give your rat an actual bath, please use a shampoo formulated for animals.
While many people think that caged rats and wild rats are very similar, this is not even remotely true. Please do not dump your rat outdoors under the illusion that you are “setting them free.” Domesticated rats brought up in captivity would be terrified in the wild, and would be unable to care for themselves. They would most likely be killed or starve within a few days.
Temperature – Rats prefer temperatures around 70 degrees. They should not be kept in temperatures any cooler than 45 degrees or any warmer than around 80 degrees. If the temperature is hotter than 80 degrees, it is important that you protect your rats from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Rats regulate their temperature mainly through their tail and foot pads. Therefore, if the temperature is rising, you can provide your rat with a large bowl of cold water. A hot rat can cool itself down by walking around in this bowl. Please make sure your cage is not in direct sunlight in hot weather.
Another amusing way to cool down rats is to put ice cubes in a bowl in their cage. Typically, the rats will try to get the ice cubes out of the bowl, but will cool off in doing so, and give you an amusing show while they’re at it.
Bedding – Kiln dried pine or aspen bedding can be used in your rat’s cage. Carefresh-type bedding can also be used, and may actually be preferable, as it is less dusty than wood shavings and may be less aggravating to your rat’s respiratory system. However, if your rat starts to eat the carefresh bedding, please be sure to switch to another type of bedding. Other bedding options are shredded newspaper or newspaper pellets, such as Yesterday’s News. Never use cedar bedding, as this type of bedding releases aromatic oils and can cause health problems for your rat. Many rats will use a litter box if it is placed in the area where they normally urinate and defecate.
Water Bottle – Rats do best drinking from a water bottle, versus a water dish, as a bottle is much more sanitary. Please be aware that water with either chlorine or fluoride is toxic to rats, so if your water has these added to it, you must give your rats filtered or bottled water. Either a plastic water bottle or a glass water bottle works fine for most rats, as they typically do not chew their water bottles.
Food Bowl – While rats can do fine with plastic food bowls, be aware that your rat may easily knock over a plastic food bowl. A ceramic food bowl may be preferable, as it may be too heavy for your rat to knock over. Another option is a gravity feeder.
Cage – An ideal cage for your rat should be at least 24” long x 12” wide x 12” tall. The bigger, the better, as you will have more room for toys and accessories. Further, you want a cage with bar spacing no larger than 1/2”, to prevent your rat from escaping. Ideally, your cage should have shelving so there is more room for your rat to explore and play. Common types of shelving in rat cages are plastic shelves or wooden shelves. Wire shelving can be acceptable, but if your cage has wire shelving, please be sure to provide your rats with places to sleep/play which will not be directly on the wire. Standing on wire for long periods of time can cause health problems for your rat.
Please note that aquariums are NOT suitable cages for rats. Aquariums provide poor ventilation. In addition, ammonia levels (from the rat’s urine) can rapidly reach toxic levels in aquariums.
Hidey House/Den – Your rat will need some sort of sleep place or den for them to “call home.” There are many options regarding what you can use for this. Igloos can be used, as can wooden hidey houses, and even fleece houses. Basically, they need a warm, safe place where they can rest and sleep. Rats tend to like hammocks as well.
Toys – Because of their high level of intelligence, toys are an absolute necessity for rats. All sorts of things can be used for rat toys, including tubes, ladders, branches, climbing toys, plastic drainpipes, large glass jars, cardboard boxes, old clothes, as well as toys made for ferrets and parrots.
Your rat is currently eating a soy-free mixed diet of cereals, dried pasta, lab blocks, and fruits and veggies. We strongly suggest you keep your rat on this diet or a diet similar to this. Please read below to find out what is safe for your rat and what is not.
The type of rat food you can find at the pet store is typically not the ideal diet for your rat. A rat’s diet should consist of 20% or more of a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits. There are a variety of safe foods for your rat, many of which you may already have in your pantry. You can make rat food very simply – mix several of the safe dry ingredients together, add some lab blocks or dog food, and you have rat feed! Give your rats some fresh veggies and fresh fruits and your rat will be eating well and living a long life.
Safe foods to use for your rat’s dry mix include the following: rolled oats, puffed wheat cereal (such as Malt-o-Meal, Quaker, Kashi, or Cheerios), puffed rice cereal (preferably with no sugar added – not Rice Krispies), dried fruits such as bananas and cranberries, and dried pasta (the tri-colored spirals are generally given).
In addition to the dried mix, you will want to give your rat some fruits and veggies. Some safe ones include the following: broccoli, kale, cooked sweet potato, cooked beans, apples, cherries, bananas, potatoes, peas, baby carrots, grapes, green beans, shoestring beets, cooked beans, and no-sugar added applesauce.
Some safe “people food” that can be given to your rat includes things like whip cream and spaghetti.
There are also foods that can be deadly to your rat. Please never give the following foods to your rat, as they could cause a variety of health problems, potentially even death: blue cheese, licorice, raw sweet potatoes, raw dry beans, raw peanuts, raw red cabbage, raw brussel sprouts, raw artichokes, green bananas, green potato skin and eyes, rhubarb, raw tofu, and peanut butter.
Water – the water in your rat’s cage should be fresh and should be changed often to prevent bacteria build up. The water bottle should be scrubbed clean at least once a week.
Chewing – as rodents, rats have a tendency to chew things. Therefore, anything in your rat’s reach should be “rat proof.” Electrical wires should be kept away from the cage, as they can chew them and get electrocuted.
Exercise – Rats enjoy wheels to run in. Please be sure the wheel you purchase for your rat is at least 12” in diameter. Anything smaller can cause a permanent curvature in their spine. Rats can also be let out in a safe, “rat proof” room to explore, but should be supervised at all times. Please keep in mind that rats can fit through tiny holes, so please make sure that they cannot escape before you let them out to play.
Taming and Handling Your Rat
The more attention you give to your rats when you first get them, the sooner they will get used to your voice, your smell, and begin to accept you. You should handle your rat as much as possible, whether the rat seems to enjoy it or not. The idea is to get the rat used to interacting with you.
When handling your rat, please do not pick them up by the tail, as this can injure your rat. Rather, pick up your rat by placing your hands under its chest and back end. Many rats enjoy sitting and riding on their owner’s shoulders.
Biting/Nipping – Rats typically do not bite out of fear or aggression. However, there are some situations in which biting or nipping may occur. One instance in which you may get bitten is if you try to intervene and break up a rat fight. Rather than sticking your hand between two fighting rats, try spraying the rats with water to break up the fight. Another instance in which nipping may occur is if you feed your rat treats through the cage bars. By doing this, the rat may start to think that everything stuck through the cage bars is food, and may accidentally “nibble” on your finger.
Rats have a lifespan of approximately 2-3 years on average.
There are several signs you can look for which suggest that your rat is ill. These include the rat appearing hunched up, lethargic, coat staring (fluffed up and messy), uninterested in food/attention, labored breathing/wheezing, sneezing, a persistent head tilt, or the growth of a tumor.
A note on tumors – if your rat develops a tumor, you can choose to have it surgically removed or have your rat put to sleep when the rat quality of life appears to diminish. Please note – you do not need to put your rat to sleep as soon as a tumor appears – your rat may have many happy months of life ahead before the tumor starts to become bothersome. As the owner, you are the best person to decide when your rat’s quality of life has degraded to the point where it needs to be put down. If you do decide to have the tumor removed, please bear in mind that a rat prone to tumors may develop others down the road.
While not an illness in itself, rats can produce a red discharge around their eyes and/or nose if they are distressed. Seeing this discharge may simply mean your rat is stressed out from a recent move, but if this discharge continues for several days, this may mean your rat is ill and may warrant a vet visit.
Also not an illness – some rats will do what is called “head-weaving.” This is more often seen in rats with pink or red eyes, as their eyesight is worse than that of rats with dark eyes. The rat will stand still and weave its head from side to side. This is actually perfectly normal rat behavior. Rats are short-sighted, and moving their head from side to side helps the rat to judge distances as well as the depth of objects.
There is a wealth of rat-related information available online:
- http://www.ratguide.com – invaluable resource for everything rat
- http://www.ratbehavior.org – great resource, covers much more than just behavior
- http://www.nfrs.org - The National Fancy Rat Society
- http://www.rcma.org - Rat and Mouse Club of America