Getting Ready for your Pet Rat
Do you know what Rats need to be safe and comfortable in your home?
Selecting your Pet
Which kind? Rats are social animals, so you will need to purchase a pair of the same gender. Expect standard rats to grow to about 1 pound by 6 months. Dwarf rats are 1/3 the size, and will not gain their adult "bulk" until about 8 months. Males tend to be larger than females, and calmer for holding. Some people prefer females because they "scent mark" less.
Which Animals? Select pets that appear healthy and friendly. Look for clear eyes, alert action, a glossy coat, and breathing that is free of bloody sneezing or rough breathing. An animal with good temperament will sniff your fingers rather than attack or cower from a strange hand.
Coming Home Transport your new pet in a chew-proof container, and try to get some of their food to mix with whatever you have. Give them at least a day before handling to get comfortable in their new surroundings. Before introducing new rats to ones you already own, quarantine new animals for at full month.
Housing & Bedding
Housing Your rat's home should be well-ventilated and large enough for hiding places and exploration. Wire cages should have no more than a 1/2-inch gap between bars (most rabbit or ferret cages, by contrast, have 1-inch spacing); look for one with a large door for easy access to your pet. Bins or tanks with a mesh top or window can be used for travel or temporary housing.
Bedding I use small animal aspen shavings; it absorbs urine better than paper beddings or fleece. Rat owners should never use cedar because the pungent oils can damage a rat's lungs. (Pine is controversial, being shunned like cedar by some rat owners, but recommended as better than paper by several breeders I respect.) Change bedding weekly.
Placement: Your cage should be placed away from window and heater drafts. And your rats will appreciate not being in a high-traffic hallway; being able to feel hidden will go a long way to helping your pets feel safe and happy in their new home.
Food and Toys
Essentials: Don't forget the water bottle, food dish, and pellet feed. Oxbow Adult Rat food is well-liked by our rats, though I have used other rat feeds as well, depending on price and availability. Water/food should be checked daily, and dishes washed weekly.
Treats: Fresh vegetable supplements keep your pets healthy. Try strawberry tops, dark green leafy vegetables, tomato slices, carrot peelings, dry cheerios, etc. They can eat almost anything (including chocolate), but high-sugar or -fat foods should be kept to a minimum. Peach pits and apple seeds should NEVER be fed to rats because they contain trace amounts of toxins.
Toys: Most rats enjoy both climbing and hiding, so be sure to add enrichment items such as hide-boxes, wooden chew toys or an exercise wheel. Our rats love snuggling together in the fleece hammocks we make for them!