Pet Rat Care

Pet Rat Care

Biological Facts

  • Norway or brown rat (Rattus norvegicus)
  • Originated in temperate regions of central Asia
  • Wild rats are burrowing, colonial animals.
  • Rats will breed year-round in captivity.
  • Sexual maturity is reached by 6-8 weeks.
  • Gestation is approximately 21 days.
  • Young are raised communally with shared nursing responsibilities.
  • Life-expectancy for rats is 2.5-3.5 years.


  • Rats are social and should be kept in pairs or small groups. A single rat may become lonely and develop behavioral problems.
  • Fighting rarely occurs among adults.
  • Are most active at night, hence their suitability for people who work all day.
  • They are gentile and will usually only bite when in pain or very fearful.
  • Rats are easily startled and should be awakened before being picking up.
  • Wash hands after touching carnivores to reduce the chances of getting bitten.
  • Spend time with your rats. The more attention you give, the more bonded, active, healthy, and friendly your rat will be.


  • Rats are omnivorous and feed primarily at night.
  • They are cautious feeders and may avoid new foods. Diet changes must be made very gradually.
  • Diet should primarily consist of commercial rodent “block” or “chow”.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are provided in moderation.
  • Only limited amounts seeds, raisins, etc. should be provided as treats.
  • Studies indicate that rats live longer if fat and protein are somewhat restricted.


  • Rats demonstrate more behavior when housed with other rats. Keeping at least two rats of the same gender (unless they are spayed/neutered) is strongly recommended.
  • Because rats are nocturnal, the cage should be located where it is fairly quiet during the day, but still near the social activity in the home. A dimly lit environment is preferred.
  • The cage should provide enough room for movement and exercise. A large, multi-level cage is preferred.
  • A wire cage with a solid metal or plastic bottom is ideal; it provides more ventilation than a glass enclosure, which helps prevent respiratory infections.
  • Rats enjoy privacy and require a “hide box” for security.
  • Cage temperature should be 65-70°F (18-27°C); 72°F (22°C) is ideal.
  • Humidity should be 30-70%.
  • Environmental enrichment is important. Rats enjoy tearing up paper or cardboard for nesting material, and they will burrow if given the opportunity.
  • Provide an exercise wheel with a solid running surface to avoid foot injuries
  • Aspen shavings or recycled newspaper bedding are recommended. Pine and cedar should be avoided.
  • Sipper bottle with fresh water should be available at all times
  • Water should be available 24 hours a day and is usually provided in sipper tubes. Inspect daily for any signs of blockage or food obstructing the opening.

Preventive Care

Consult a veterinarian with experience treating exotic pets if you have any questions or concerns about your hedgehog’s health.
  • Routine physical examination every 6 to 12 months
  • Annual fecal examination for parasites
  • Spaying female rats will prevent mammary gland tumors (very common)
  • Blood tests as recommended by your veterinarian

Common Medical Disorders

  • Respiratory infections (Mycoplasma, other bacteria, and viruses)
  • Incisors malocclusion
  • Head tilt (pituitary tumor, inner-ear infection)
  • Obesity
  • Chronic renal disease
  • Salivary gland inflammation
  • Ectoparasites (mites and lice)
  • Mammary gland tumors occur in a high percentage of unspayed females

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