Care and Feeding of Rats

“Why a rat?” is one of the most common questions pet owners are asked when showing off their pets. Some of the answers include the fact that rats are highly intelligent, loving and very social pets. They enjoy being with “their people” as well as with other rats. Many owners care for 2-3 rats at a time and if bought at a young age, the rats learn to live happily with one another. Rats make wonderful pets and with proper care, they can live a long, full life.


Rats should have a large enough cage to run around in. When purchasing a wire cage, remember the rule the bigger, the better and the happier your pet will be. If using an aquarium, 20 gallons should be the minimum but if your pet will be staying in his cage most of the time, a larger size is a must
Your pet will enjoy having a wheel, toys, a house to sleep in, branches to climb on, etc. so keep these things in mind when cage shopping for your friend.


Rats enjoy having fresh litter to play in. One of the best beddings available is called Carefresh. It is a newspaper-based bedding and is very soft and absorbent. Pine and cedar shavings are not recommended because, although they smell nice to humans, they contain toxins that may cause upper respiratory infections in rodents. Corn cob litter is also available and works well, but some rats tend to eat it. You should keep your pet’s cage as clean as possible. Depending on the number of rats you own, cleaning the cage 1-2 times a week should be sufficient. A good rule of thumb on this subject: if you can smell the cage when you walk into the room, its time to clean it.


Rodent or rat blocks are a complete diet formulated for your little friend. By feeding fresh fruits and vegetables along with the rodent blocks, your pet should enjoy a long, healthy life. Occasional treats can be fed but remember, an overweight pet is an unhealthy pet and more prone to disease and poor health.


The three most common problems we are presented with here at our hospital are upper respiratory disease, hair loss, and tumors. Upper respiratory in rats is most often caused by the bacteria, Mycoplasma pulmonis. Mycoplasma is very contagious from rat to rat and is incurable. The symptoms include sneezing and runny eyes and nose and if left untreated, can progress into loss of appetite, rough hair coat, and difficulty breathing. Although this disease is not curable, treatment with antibiotics helps alleviate the symptoms and makes the pet much more comfortable.
Hair loss is usually accompanied by excessive scratching leading to scabs and bald spots on your pet. If these symptoms occur, your vet will probably suggest a skin scraping to rule out fur mites. If fur mites are present, a two dose treatment of medication given two weeks apart usually takes care of the problem.

Tumors are a very common occurrence in the 2-2 ½ year old rat. There are two types of tumors: malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). The most common tumor in rats are benign mammary tumors and usually grow in the armpit or groin area , although they can appear in other areas of the body as well. Tumors can successfully be removed but the smaller the tumor size, the easier the job for the doctor and your pet. Removal of a tumor does not guaranteed another one won’t crop up down the road but it does give your pet a better quality of life.
Although their lifespan is relatively short (2 ½-4 years), rats are one of the most popular pets around. Once you have shared your house with a rat, it seems your home is never complete without one.

article by Shelly Meszaro

9 thoughts on “Care and Feeding of Rats”

    • That’s silly! We love rats!
      Rats are highly intelligent and social animals that will learn tricks, love their owners and are easy to keep as pets.
      What more could you ask?

  1. I have 3 wonderful ratties. They are very smart and I love to hold them. I have NEVER had them bite me. Rats are one of the best pets for kids. Consider getting one!! 😀

  2. Love my rats, but can’t travel anymore because no one will look after them. So much irrational fear and distaste for such intelligent and clean animals.

    • Brenda
      If you live close, we are happy to care for your rats while you are away. Our new facility will have even more room for boarding “special” pets.
      If you are not close, seek out other “rat lovers” in your community and I’ll bet you find someone who boards rats as a home business. Be sure to check them out! Make sure the other rats in the house are healthy and clean.

  3. I have a giant rat 10-11 inches (size of a ferret), nearly 3 1/2 years old. He is a intelligent. He will run to pick up small foods and toys and bring them to me. Sometime, I put foods in the bowl and it comes to the bowl its own. If it gets tired it ran to his home on its own… yeah Rats are highly intelligent and social animals. 🙂

  4. Just adopted two male rats in November. They are about 4.5 months old now, and they are beginning to be aggressive with one another – beyond the normal wrestling. Do you have any advice on ways to curb this behavior, or is this pretty normal too? Thanks!


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