Caring for Your Pet Rat

Rat On Shoulder

Rats are friendly, affectionate animals that bond with people in a way similar to dogs. They are highly intelligent and can even be trained! While technically nocturnal, rats are often awake when there’s something to stimulate or entertain them.

They love to play and cuddle and are easy to care forRats are very social animals and need a companion or two.


Your rat’s cage or aquarium should be a minimum of 12" X 24" X 12" for a juvenile. Bigger is better for adult rats, especially if you have more than one.

Rats are active animals that need room to scamper around, play, and exercise. Having plenty of room, clean bedding, a healthy diet, an exercise wheel, toys, and a rat companion are necessary for your rat’s long-term health.

Wire floors are not recommended because they can cause sores on their feet or get caught in the mesh. Rats must be kept at room temperatures below 90° F and prefer complete darkness at night. 


  • Exercise wheel
  • Water bottle
  • Food dish
  • Fortified rodent blocks and pellets
  • Chew toys (necessary for teeth health)
    • chew sticks
    • Blocks
    • toys they can nibble on
  • House to hide in
  • Tunnels or ramps
  • Bedding
    • processed paper products, such as Carefresh
    • wood shavings (aspen is best; pine is questionable; never cedar)
    • shredded or crinkle-cut paper 


Remove soiled bedding and stale food daily. Change bedding weekly or more often as needed. Clean enclosure with distilled vinegar and water (50/50), hydrogen peroxide, or pet-safe cleaning products.


Fortified Rodent Blocks and Pellets

A complete fortified rodent block and pellet diet is the healthier option. If a mix containing a variety of seeds, nuts and dried fruits is offered, be sure your rats do not choose only the pieces that they prefer and avoid the more nutritious parts.

About 20% of their diet should be fresh fruits and vegetables.


Okay veggies include asparagus, bean sprouts, bok choy, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, chicory, clover, corn on the cob, cucumbers, dandelion leaves, endives, green beans, kale, parsnips, peas, radicchio, romaine lettuce, spinach, squash, sweet bell peppers, turnip, water chestnuts, watercress, and zucchini.


Fruits include apples (seedless), bananas, berries, cantaloupe, cherries (no pit), cranberries, grapes (seedless), lychee, mango, melons, peaches (no pit), pears, plums (no pits), raspberries, raspberry leaves (helpful for diarrhea), and strawberries.


Treats are a great way to bond with your rat. Treats should only be offered in very small amounts a few times per week. Rats enjoy fruits and vegetable as a treat. In fact, they need them in their diets just like humans do.

A piece (about the size of a dime) of fruit/veggie every couple of days is enough. More than that can give the rat diarrhea.

Treats include beef, whole grain bread, cashews, cheddar cheese, chicken, cottage cheese, fruit, vegetable, meat baby food, ham, oatmeal, pasta, rice, sunflower seeds, turkey, watermelon, mealworms.

Check out this extensive list by for more on good and bad foods for your rat. 

Dangerous Foods to Avoid

Foods to avoid include apple seeds, chocolate, candies, chips and junk food, all potatoes (raw), alcohol, raw kidney beans, eggplant, grape seeds, avocado, raw rhubarb, tomato leaves, citrus fruits, cherry pits, peach pits & leaves, apricot pits, jams and jellies, spices, garlic, onions, leeks, scallions, chives, and pickles. 

Signs of a Healthy Rat

Cute Rat

  • Bright, shiny eyes that are free of discharge and red secretions
  • Nostrils free of discharge and no signs of sneezing, wheezing, or labored breathing
  • Teeth and claws that are even and not overgrown
  • Firm body weight without being obese or too thin
  • No abnormal lumps or scabs
  • Alert and inquisitive nature

Red Flags

  • Hunched up, messy or fluffed coat, lethargy, or excessive sleeping are early signs of illness
  • Half-closed eyes, low appetite, weight loss, and laborious breathing are all sure signs of disease and a vet should be consulted immediately.
  • Wheezing, sneezing, and breathing noisily are signs of respiratory disorders -- Mycoplasma (a microscopic organism) inhabits the respiratory tract of all rats. While some rats carry this organism without being affected by it, others may develop symptoms.
  • Tumors -- the tendency for tumors is greater in females. Rats fed on a high-fat diet are more prone to them. Though usually benign, tumors can sometimes become ulcerated and infected, in which case, the tumors need to be operated on and removed.
  • Scabs and/or hair loss -- external parasites or irritations due to allergies to foods or bedding
  • A red-colored discharge around the eyes and the nose is a sign of illness or stress -- Porphyrin, a red-colored pigment present in the rat’s mucus, appears only when the rat is unwell or dying. 

Fun Facts

Size: 14” - 18” long with the tail

Lifespan: 2 - 3 years

Origin: Europe (UK)

Care Level: Beginner

  • A good way to help your rats become used to you is to let them ride around the house on your shoulder or inside your sweater.
  • While both male and female rats make great pets, there are some personality differences to consider when choosing your pets. Male rats tend to be more mellow and make great lap pets. Females are busier and more curious and active.
  • Many rats can be trained to use a litter box if it’s placed in the area they use for a toilet. Choose a rat-safe material that’s different from their cage bedding as litter. Place some of your rat’s feces in the box and then place your rat in the litter box. If it eliminates in the box, give your pet a treat!
  • If your rat grooms itself while you’re holding it, this indicates that it is very trusting of you and feels comfortable and at ease.
  • A concrete block, bird sand perch, or similar item in the cage will help keep your rat’s toenails trim. Rats also need sleeping quarters and enjoy boxes, igloos, and hammocks. 
  • The best way to pick up a rat is to scoop it up with both hands. Or you can grasp it around the shoulders and middle, then put your other hand beneath the hindquarters and bring it close to your body. This will help it feel more secure and it will be less likely to squirm or try to jump out of your hands.
  • Rats are smart enough to learn simple commands and perform many tricks. You teach a rat the same way you teach a dog, by showing the rat what you want him to do and then giving them a treat.
  • The more attention you give your new rats when you first bring them home, the sooner they’ll get used to your voice and smell and become friendly with you. Gently handle your rats as much as possible, whether they seem to like it or not at first -- they will soon learn to enjoy your company. Unless a rat is very nervous or unwell, it will want a lot of attention.


There are many online resources that cover rat care and health. The information provided in this article is meant to be a fun and helpful outline of the animal and its care requirements. By no means is it a comprehensive or exhaustive list. Always be sure to do your own research and consult an expert, such as a veterinarian, before making any decisions about your pet’s health.