Written by Marissa Pirkey
Rodents, rats in particular, are becoming a popular pet option for pet-parents looking for an interesting addition to their families. Rats have always had a strong presence in our household and we have rescued many over the years. New rat-parents often feel intimidated by the many health and husbandry differences that these pets require in comparison to a cat or ferret. It is important to understand the basic needs for these pets before bringing them into your home. Having the proper knowledge and items for your new family member will make their homecoming a happy and stress-free experience for you both.
There are many housing options available for the new critters. I am a strong proponent of multi-level condo style housing units. These spacious designs allow for rats to be themselves while providing a secure environment away from area hazards. Although they can be a bit on the pricey side when compared to single-level options, they offer rats a home that encourages their natural climbing and foraging behavior.
Another topic of discussion when it comes to providing a safe home for your rats is the type of bedding you choose. Looking for a low-dust bedding is incredibly important as rats can develop eye irritation if a bedding produces too much dust. A wonderful option would be a low-dust paper pulp product like CareFresh. This product also allows your rats to forage naturally and manipulate their environment in a safe way.
When it comes to the appropriate feed for your pet rats, there are dozens of commercially available brands. Always be sure to seek out feed that is filled with nutrition and not simply mixed seeds and artificially colored kibble. Although the more colorful feed may be attractive, it is not as nutritionally complete as other food options. If ever in doubt, contacting your veterinarian for recommendations is an excellent first step in picking a diet.
It is a great idea to supplement your rat’s diet with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. My rats go bananas for apples and carrots as well as various nuts like almonds and cashews. High fat items like nuts and seeds should be given sparingly as they can cause rapid weight gain in rats. Although these items are delicious and nutritious, it is important to keep your rats weight in a healthy range to avoid obesity related diseases and conditions.
Exercise and Socialization
Active rats are happy rats. Lots of activity and play can help your rats maintain a healthy weight and a healthy mind. It is crucial for rats to have playtime outside of their primary enclosure. I like to utilize a spare bedroom to allow for safe play in a controlled environment. Always rat-proof your play area before allowing your pets to roam freely. They have an affinity for chewing things, including wires, so be cautious of the risk of electrocution. I love to use play-time as an opportunity to clean their primary enclosure.
Grooming and Husbandry
As far as routine bathing for your rats, each rat is different and will require a personalized care routine. My rats enjoy regular baths and they use this time to swim and play with each other.
The safest way to bathe your rats:
- Fill your own bath tub or sink with enough water so that your rats can stand without their head submerged.
- Water should be warm to the touch, but not hot.
- If you choose to use a soap, the milder the better.
- Utilizing a rodent specific soap is always recommended and these are available at your local pet stores.
- Keep an extremely close watch on your rats during tubby time.
- Despite their innate abilities to tread water, some rats do not enjoy swimming and there is always a risk of drowning.
- Always be sure to dry your rats after.
- They can be very particular about their fur, or lack there-of, and giving them a towel-dry helps make them feel cleaner.
- Do not use a blow-dryer on your rats as this can cause them to overheat or produce burns on the skin.
You will be amazed with how much fun they can have in the water!
As for keeping their homes clean, most cages or condos will require weekly or bi-weekly cleaning. This should consist of a full bedding change as well as sanitation of surfaces with mild soap and warm water. Avoid harsh cleansers as they can irritate your rats skin and eyes.
Primary veterinary care for rats is recommended. Once to twice yearly visits can help you ensure that your pet is in tip-top shape. These visits can also help catch early signs of disease and may help you make dietary or activity based adjustments to give your rats years of healthy/happy life.
There are tons of resources available online for pet-parents considering rats. Remember, we are always available to answer any questions you may have. Enjoy your new family member!