New Pet Rat Guide
New to pet rats?
This guide is just a very basic informational starting point for rats. Most of this info can be found in greater detail across my site.
Are rats for me?
The biggest consideration with any pet is if you have the money/resources, time, energy, commitment, and stability. Things to consider are:
Rats can seem inexpensive, but it is a weekly/monthly commitment for supplies. And things can happen unexpectedly like illness or injury. Rats are considered an exotic pet for vets and so they need to be an exotic vet in order to see them and this comes with a higher fee in most cases. A simple vet visit may cost much more than you think for such a small animal, even as much as it would for a dog if not more.
Do you own or rent? Not all landlords will allow rats. If you plan to move or go to school within the next 3-4 years that is something to consider.
Pets are a responsibility. If you are super busy with work/school/hobbies, etc... They not only need attention but every day they need to be fed and given fresh water, every week their cage needs to be cleaned. This also means being self-aware of any health issues you may have that may get in the way, mental or physical. Cleaning a cage can be quite a chore and even on our worst days the rats still need care.
How stable is your life right now? Will you be moving, going to school? Are you prepared to take on the responsibility of a pet for 3/4 years?
What are pet rats like?
Really just like any pet. They require care, love, and attention. Rats are very intelligent animals and while they are a caged pet they are more like that of a cat or dog. They can be taught tricks. They enjoy attention. Babies can be a bit active and hyper and not really sit still too much but as they age they can be more snuggly, it depends on the individual.
Rats are very inquisitive, they like to explore and check things out. They will often sit on your shoulder or in a hoodie but they generally want to be where the action is and see whats going on. They require a lot of mental stimulation. Having a really good fun packed cage can help with that. If you want to let them out to play you can as well, but for their safety, they should have a cage and only be allowed out supervised. The area needs to be rat-proofed, no spaces they can sneak under or in (their cage bar spacing needs to be no more than 1/2" so you can imagine they can get through some little holes), nothing for them to chew or destroy.
They bathe themselves like a cat and do not require baths, and really shouldn't get one unless it is very important.
They do mark and may pee and poop where ever they like. You can with time, somewhat litter train them and they may not potty on you but they still do mark. Rats do have a thing called "fear poops" this is when they are a bit uncomfortable, stressed or scared they go potty. This is a bit more gross and wetter than normal. When you first get a rat it may be an issue until they adjust to their new home and you, not all rats will do it at all though.
They tend to be more active in the evening and dawn. You can train them to be on a good schedule with routine - feeding them/playing them at the same time every day. I find they tend to be cat like and are up and hyper then nap off and on through the day. An issue is that they may keep you up at night. The water bottle at night is often an annoyance lol Keeping them in your bedroom may cause issues for light sleepers.
Rats do not really have an odor, the same as dog or a cat they are an animal but it isn't bad. Urine and feces though of course do not small good. Neither does my cats litter box if I do not clean it. Having the proper bedding, cage, and cleaning on a good schedule before it smells is the key.
Should I get males or females?
It is really personal preference. And it is important to remember that these are just generalities, every rat is unique and an individual.
I generally suggest males for homes with younger children. Males are larger and tend to be lazier which makes them easier for children to handle.
Larger than females
You can definitely notice their boy parts (testicles), they are rather large & can be off-putting to some.
Are more likely to mark (pee) on you and everything else.
They are often more lazy and relaxed/chill than females. Males do tend to slow down quicker/younger than females.
Still, have to be kept in pairs or larger groups
Have an orange secretion on their behinds called buck grease. Not all males have this, diet & hormones plays a large role.
Some males once they reach maturity may end up with hormonal aggression. This usually happens around 6-8 months. It is caused by a shift in hormones. They will likely not outgrow it and it may even get worse over time. Many males will not have any change at all, but some will have a definite shift in personality. Your once sweet friendly boy may begin to bully or worse attack his cage mates, sometimes escalating to serious fights. In severe cases, he may even be aggressive towards you. Getting your male from a breeder who breeds for temperament significantly lowers the chance of hormonal aggression, as breeders make sure to breed away from it and monitor it in their lines. Neutering is also an option to prevent or end the issue (though comes with risk as well). Mating him will NOT help and may actually make it worse (as well as pass on his aggression to the babies)
Slightly smaller, you will need to be more careful of bar spacing to prevent escapes
Tend to be more active, energetic & playful. In my experience, they tend to be more exploitative, more likely to test boundaries & rat proofing and need far more mental stimulation. They do not always sit still & like to be on the move so may not be the sit & cuddle with you type, Though many females slow down with age. Females are still affectionate & loving and often enjoy sitting on your shoulders. They may be more prone to visit you for a moment, run off to do something else then come back to say hi. Many girls are still sweet & cuddly.
Females do mark but in my experience, it is not as common and way less than the boys.
Tend to be worse chewers (I believe it is because the ladies tend to require more mental stimulation & activity which they may not be getting)
Females can be prone to mammary tumors. A healthy environment and diet play a major role in the prevention of tumors
How many rats should I get?
Atleast 2. Rats are highly social animals and you just can not be a replacement for another rat friend.
What type of cage should I get?
I have a Cage Guide here.
What bedding should I use?
I highly recommend a wood based bedding such as aspen or kiln dried pine (not cedar)
What should I feed them?
See more on my diet page.
How should I introduce my new rats to my old rats?
I always suggest when bringing in new rats to have a second cage. Your current rats may not be accepting of the new ones.
Can my males and females play together with supervision?
No... boy + girl = babies unless they are fixed.
What should I use for water?
Always use water bottles never bowls. Bowls can be spilled and will be peed/pooped in. It is not safe and it is gross.