Care guides

Care Guide

This is a short guide to rat care. Please read through this guide before applying for rats from me, as it will hopefully answer the basics when it comes to rat care. Everyone will care for rats differently and I do not expect everyone to keep their rats exactly the same as me. However, I have a duty of care and responsibility as their breeder and want my rats to have a good quality of life in their new homes. If there is anything in this guide that you strongly disagree with, then my rats may not be a good fit for you as pets and it may be beneficial for you to seek pets from another breeder. Hopefully this guide will give you a broad range of ideas to help you pick what works best for you and your rats.


Housing

Main cage

The cage should have adequate floorspace for the rats to move about in. The minimum should be 80 x 50 cm. Rats are fossorial and not arboreal, so it is important they have enough space to run, dig and forage as well as climb. It also needs to have a deep base, to keep the substrate in!

Examples of suitable cages (max number of rats):

  • Ferplast Furet Plus (3)
  • Savic Freddy 2 Max (5)
  • Coco Large (5)
  • Mamble 100 (5)
  • Single Critter Nation (5)
  • Savic Zeno 3 Empire (10)
  • Double Critter Nation (10)
  • Liberta Explorer (11)
  • Aventura (11)
  • Petplanet Rat & Ferret (11)
  • Cosypet RC03 (11)
  • Savic Royal Suite 95 (11)
  • Little Zoo Venturer (14)
  • Savic Royal Suite XL (18)

Hospital Cage

It is important to have a hospital cage, in case rats need to be separated due to injury or illness. They are also useful when introducing rats. Hamster cages make suitable options, as they are low to discourage climbing and movement. They can be picked up cheaply second hand online.

Carrier

A carrier is needed to transport rats to the vets, to put them in during cleaning out or used during intros. Small animal carriers or cat carriers (providing the bar spacing is small!) can be used.


Food

Up to 16 weeks

The rats should be fed a high quality mix, such as a homemade mix or a pre-made mix from ratrations.co.uk. I recommend the ISA-mixes to start, with supplements (CaCuD3) 2-3 times a week. They will also need extra protein during this period. This can be in the form of scrambled egg, tinned mackerel/sardines or high quality wet dog food (Bakers grain free, Lilly’s kitchen. Avoid anything made from meat/animal derivatives). There should be no need to restrict the amount of food during this time, a good starting point is 20g but you can feed more if they are eating it all in one sitting.

Over 16 weeks

At this point they no longer need any extra protein, and so just their mix is appropriate for their main food. As they are no longer rapidly growing, you may need to start taking care of how much they are being fed. Somewhere between 15-20g per rat per day is a good starting point. You can adjust this depending on the body shape of the rat. You want them to not be pear-shaped when they are stood on their back legs. There is no ideal weight for rats, it is best to judge on shape.

Homemade mix recipe

This is the recipe I use for my rats. I recommend anyone wanting to make their own mix read The Scuttling Gourmet by Alison Campbell (Available to buy here).

  • 6 scoops Dodsen & Horrell Conditioning mix
  • 6 scoops Allen & Page Pygmy Goat mix
  • 1 scoop fish4dogs small bite salmon and potato
  • 1 scoop sprats
  • 4 scoops from a mix of cornflakes, rice snaps, wheat pillows (all three less than 5% sugar), pearl barley, popped corn
  • 1 scoop from a mix of Rosewood herbs plus, dried carrot, dried flowers
  • 1 scoop from a seed mix of linseed, pumpkin seed, hemp seed and sesame seed

Substrate/litter/bedding

Rats require substrate at the bottom of their cage to dig and forage in, and to soak up urine (even litter-trained rats leave urine trails whilst scent marking!). Often the big bales sold for horses are suitable for rats and much cheaper than the smaller packs aimed for rodents.

Suitable substrate

  • Kiln-dried wood shavings (Bedmax, Littlemax, Pureflake, Thoroughbred, Snowflake supreme)
  • Cardboard (Walmsley Squares, Finacard, Greenmile, Econest)
  • Hemp (Auboise)
  • Bioactive soil (Coco coir, topsoil, clean-up crew)

Litter is what is put in the litter trays. It needs to be different from the rest of the substrates so the rats realise it is their toilet.

Suitable litter

  • Any of the substrates listed above
  • Paper pellets (breeder celect, back2nature, papelit pellets)

Bedding is what goes in the baskets and beds for them to nest in.

Suitable bedding

  • Kitchen roll
  • Toilet roll
  • Dust extracted hay
  • Fleece strips
  • Shredded paper/newspaper
  • Teabag bedding

Enrichment

Rats are intelligent animals and so it is important for them to be kept busy and active. There are 9 key enrinchment points you want to give your rats:

  • Climbing
  • Jumping
  • Balancing
  • Running
  • Foraging
  • Digging
  • Gnawing
  • Problem solving
  • Nesting and burrowing

Climbing, jumping, balancing

These can easily be achieved within the cage. Offering ropes, branches, perches, scarf holders, bamboo garden edging etc within the cage can keep rats active and their muscles fit. Make sure in some areas rats have to stretch or jump to reach another place, so they are not easily strolling from one ledge to another. This is especially important later in life to help slow down the progress of diseases like hind leg degeneration.

Running

An active layout using the enrichment above encourages running. Time out of the cage to run in a safe and secure area is another option. Wheels are also liked by many rats. The ones sold commercially in pet shops are often too small. The minimum size for rats is 12 inches, but larger does may need 14 inches and bucks 16 inches. Tic Tac Wheels and Speedyhog Wheels make suitable sizes. You may also be able to find hamster wheels at 12 inches, however they are often flimsy and noisy with a weighty rat running full speed!

Foraging and digging

Rats are fossorial animals (this means they live in burrows in the wild) and opportunistic omnivoress (eat what they can, when they can!) so this is a very important form of enrichment. This can be achieved by providing them with a deep layer of substrate and scatter feeding their food. A dig box with coco coir, shredded paper, plastic balls etc can also provide good digging opportunities with a deeper box.

Gnawing

Contrary to popular belief, rats do not need to chew in order to keep their teeth filed down. They do this naturally by bruxing (rubbing their teeth together) but many rats like to chew anyway. Nuts in shells, branches/sticks (applewood or willow are firm faves of my rats), cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls and lava ledges are good options for letting them gnaw. Some rats prefer certain objects over others, so it’s always good to use a variety. Avoid any of the objects which are compacted wood pulp/sawdust held together/glued with syrup (glycerin). Usually rats spit out any wood they have gnawed but these types of chews are sweet so encourage the rats to swallow, and can cause blockages.

Problem solving

Rats are intelligent little animals and if their brains are not kept busy they are likely to invent their own fun (escaping the cage…!). Parrot forage toys (wheels, balls, etc) are a permemnant solution, where their mix and treats can be put in them to keep them busy at mealtime. A cheap solution is to stuff their mix/treats in a toilet roll tube or small cardboard boxes with some paper or toilet roll. Fresh veg can be put on specially designed skewers for rats/parrots. Food can also be put into fat ball feeders designed for wild birds. A simple hardboiled egg with the shell still on is another excellent way to keep their minds at work.

Nesting and burrowing

This is an easy enrichment goal to meet - provide your rats with different nesting materials such as tissues, toilet paper, kitchen roll, newspaper, ripped up cardboard, brown paper, teabag bedding, fleece stripes. Some rats are more interesting in nesting than others, but it is good to provide them with the opportunity. Both male and female rats will nest, and it’s not necessarily the sign of a pregnant rat. They just like to be cosy!


Handling

Rats are prey animals so can be wary in new surroundings. However, my rats have been handled from a very young age so are used to humans. It is important to pick them up with confidence - this means picking them up when you decide, firmly and without chasing them around the cage. It can seem daunting at first with delicate looking babies but rats are sturdy and as long and you are firm but gentle they will be fine. This is known as the confidence method. It is not suitable for all rats, for example rescue rats or rats from pet shops, but it should work with rats from reputable breeders. Rats should never be picked up by their tails. Their skin is delicate and can easily come off (degloved) or their tail broken. To pick a rat up, hold them by their middle under their armpits.

Betty

How to pick up a rat.


Other pets (interspecies interactions)

Rats should only interact with other rats (and their humans!). They should only be housed with other same-sex rats. When you have your rats out on free roam or handling them, all other free roaming pets (dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets) should not be in the room. Rats are prey animals and so do not benefit from interactions with other animals. Futhermore, dogs/cats can easily kill a rat, either on purpose or by accident. Dogs/cats can grab a rat’s tail through the cage bars and deglove it (rip the skin off). Cat salavia is highly toxic to rodents. Not to forget, rats can have a mean bite, and can also seriously injure other animals if they get spooked. I will never home my rats out to people who allow other animals to interact with their rats due to the high risk with no reward.


Outside

Rats can go outside if being held by their owner securely (on a shoulder, in a pocket) or in a cage. It is important to remember that rats cannot be vaccinated like cats, dogs and rabbits and so they could pick up diseases from wild rodents if they are allowed to run about on the ground. Wild rodents are prolific wherever humans live so it can be hard to be sure if the area isn’t contaminated. Plus, wide open spaces can be scary for rats and not enriching. There is also the danger of birds of prey (depending on where you live!). If you want your rats to experience the outdoors but are worried about the risks, suitable branches can be put in the cage, herbs and grass can be grown, or a digbox of coco soil for them to play in.


Illnesses

It is important that you have a rat-savvy vet in your area. Rats are classed as ‘exotic’ pets and so contacting any exotic vets is a good place to start. However, ‘exotic’ covers anything from lizards to parrots to axolotls so it’s important that you chat to the practice to make sure the vet is specifically experienced with rats.

Common illnesses include:

Illness Common treatments
Upper Respiratory Infection Usually treated with antibiotics like Baytril or Doxycycline. Steroids may be added if the infection is bad or anti-inflammatories like Metacam. Some vets are keen to nebuilise however this can be very stressful for rats so should be a last resort.
Sprain Cage rest in a hospital cage for a few days. Can be given pain relief such as metacam if it is a bad sprain.
Abscess A warm compress can be applied to lift the scab and help draw out the pus. Should be kept clean so it can heal from the inside out.
Cuts & bites Should be kept clean with diluted hibiscrub or saline solution. Usually they look much better within 24 hours. Vet treatment is needed if it becomes infected.

For more detailed information on illnesses, I recommend Isamu Rats or Ratguide (the latter is a useful resource to pass onto vets as it has dosage information and links to studies).


Lone rats

Rats should not be kept alone as they are social animals. Rats under 16 weeks need same age company in order to develop properly socially and mentally. Older rats can be friends with multiple ages. Even elderly rats need company if their cagemate dies, as human company cannot replace rat company. There are multiple scientific studies (click here for a selection) that prove that lone rats are more stressed and depressed compared to rats in groups.

If your rats is aggressive towards other rats or people, they may benefit from a neuter/spay and then reintroducing to the group after a few weeks to allow hormones to settle. If they are still aggressive towards the same sex they may need to be housed with the opposite sex.

To avoid a lone rat, it is a good idea to add a couple of young rats to your group every 6-12 months. This creates a rolling group of various ages which means no rats will be left alone.

If you no longer wish to keep rats, the remaining rat needs to be rehomed to join a group. I will happily take back any rats that become lone that I have bred, so they can live out their life with the rest of their family.