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:

  • Expense

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.

  • Living Arrangements

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.

  • Time/Energy

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.

  • Commitment/Stability

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. 

Males:

  • 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)

     

Females:

  • 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

Want to learn about the different rat varieties? Click here

Basic Guide

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. Three seems to be the suggested ideal number in most cases. It provides a nice balance so if rat A is feeling playful and rat B is being sleepy... rat C can step in lol. It also is good incase one rat gets ill or passes away they still have a friend. I do not sell single rats. https://www.onceuponamischief.com/single-post/2017/03/10/Single-Rats-Why-I-dont-sell-them




What type of cage should I get?


I have a Cage Guide here. I suggest: a rat manor critternation or double critternation (NOT the ferretnation) a Martins cage bin cage Ideally a cage should be metal, no plastic bases (see the link above for why bin cages are different), and have 1/2" bar spacing or less. A tank, even one with a topper is never appropriate it is unsafe as it lacks ventilation. Homemade cages are not worth it and not appropriate. Wood is chewable and rats love to chew. Wood also absorbs urine making it always have an odor and be unsafe and never fully cleanable/sanitized. Even if you safely seal the wood... they chew.




What bedding should I use?


I highly recommend a wood based bedding such as aspen or kiln dried pine (not cedar) You really do not want to use fleece it is pretty to use but inappropriate for rats and has no odor control or protection against ammonia making it unsafe and unhealthy. Paper is also poor bedding choice as it has very poor ammonia control and may have unsafe additives. See more and why on my bedding page




What should I feed them?


See more on my diet page. They need to be fed a healthy block type diet. Oxbow, Mazuri or Envigo are the best choices.




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. Rats mate in literally a blink of an eye. Not exaggerating it is very fast and even paying attention you can miss it. There is never any reason to allow them near each other. I do not recommend mixed sex households if you have children or other adults in them home that can not understand and know enough about the rats not to mix them up. And if you have cages where any type of escape is possible - bar space, or plastic where they could chew out of.




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. I have tried many different types of water bottles. My hands down favorite surprisingly are the cheap ones from walmart. They are plastic but BHP free. They work very well and I have had almost no issues. you do need to make sure you use them correctly. Fill to the very top. Turn it over quickly before adding it to the cage to create the right vacuum for the ball. Wash by hand as dishwashers could warp the ring. Replace every so often. I also recommend multiple water bottles per cage and refilling them daily even if there is still water in them. If I just left out a glass of water for days, will you drink it?





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