Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Rats

FAQs about rats

If you are looking for a clear and definitive answer to your pet rats related questions, you might find it here! We’ve compiled a bunch of most frequently asked questions especially for you.

Is it safe to keep rats as pets?

Fancy rats have been kept as pets for many years now and because they are bred especially to be human pets, they usually have mild temperaments and don’t pose any health threats to their owners.

Are rats good pets?

Yes, they are actually brilliant pets for adults and children alike. They don’t require a lot of maintenance like dogs do, but are more friendly and easier to handle than other small animals, hamsters for example.

Are rats dirty?

Interestingly enough, pet rats are one of the cleanest domesticated animals you can own! They follow strict grooming routines and tidy their fur, wash their faces and even clean inside their ears many times a day. They do not have an unpleasant odour either, so smelly and dirty pet rats are a myth.

Are rats vicious?

Pet rats are generally not aggressive or vicious at all, unless they suffer from a serious underlying health conditions like elevated testosterone levels or have been treated badly in the past. If you handle your rat daily, it will be the most friendly and affectionate pet you can have. Fancy rats form firm bonds with their owners and crave their attention, making them snuggly companions for the sofa!

Do pet rats bite?

It’s quite rare for pet rats to bite their owners, unless they have been traumatized in the past or suffer from hormonal issues. You might notice your rats squabbling and fighting between each other, but that’s usually just them playing around. Pet rats normally don’t show aggression towards humans without a reason and if handled daily, instead of biting, they will come to you for strokes and cuddles.

How long do pet rats live?

Even though it has been reported in Guinness World Record Book, that the oldest rat lived to about 7 years, there’s no definite proof about it actually being true. Pet rats usually live anywhere between 2 – 2.5 years. It all depends on the conditions they are kept in, their diet and genetics. The better life you can provide for your rat, the longer it will be healthy and enjoy their time with you.

Can my rat live alone?

It is not advisable to house one rat by itself as it can lead to many behavioural and mental health issues like apathy, depression or even aggression. A pet rat without a cage mate or two, will be lonely and miserable, even if you give him/her your attention daily. Rats need the companionship of their own kind and it’s best to keep them in pairs or groups of the same sex.

What should I feed my rats?

The best diet for your pet rats should consist of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as commercially formulated rat food in the form of lab blocks or pellets. It’s important to provide a varied, yet balanced diet so your pet gets all the necessary nutrients they need. For more detailed list of foods suitable for rats, check out our other article Foods Rats Can & Can’t Eat.

What cage should I buy?

Pet rats need at least 2 square feet of space per rat, so it’s important to choose a cage that’s suitable for the number of rats you will house in it. Rats love to climb and explore, therefore the bigger cage you can get, the better! They will require a few levels with hideaways, some hammocks and places to burrow in, as well as somewhere to poop.

The cage should not have wire floors as it might cause an injury to delicate rat feet and the space between the bars should be no bigger than 1/2 inches. Rats can be escape artists so it’s vital they can’t squeeze through the bars and leave the cage! Need more advice? Read our post dedicated to setting up your cage.

What bedding is best?

Rats are prone to respiratory issues, therefore their bedding should be as much dust free as possible. Standard wood chips, saw dust or cat litter are NOT suitable for rats because the small particles in them will cause irritation and lead to health issues. If you want to use wood based bedding, one of the most popular options approved for rats is Aspen, but paper based bedding is also videly chosen by many rat owners. Paper pellets can be used as a litter tray substrate without a worry and fleece and other absorbent fabrics are great for lining the shelves with!

Do pet rats need exercise?

Yes! Although pet rats might not care much for running wheels like hamsters do, they still need some exercise and time outside of their cage. It’s best to prepare them a safe area in a room where they can explore nooks and crannies without injuring themselves. You can spread cardboard boxes, tunnels and other obstacles around the place and watch them explore! Some rat owners teach their pets tricks like jumping off ledges or spinning around and that can also be a fun exercise routine for pet rats.

How to tell my rat is sick?

There are few different ways to spot that your rat might be sick. Look out for any loss of appetite, weight loss, apathy, any lumps and bumps, as well as red discharge around their eyes and nose. Even though a small amount of porphiryn (red mucus like substance) is nothing to worry about, an excess of it can mean there’s other things going on in your rat’s body. If your rat is feeling poorly, it can also display lack of interest in interacting with you or have puffed up (standing up) fur. You can find out more by reading our post How to tell your rat is sick?

Will my local vet be able to treat a sick rat?

It’s always best to ask around, but your local vet should be equipped to deal with general health issues in rats like difficulty breathing, eye infections, wounds etc. In most serious cases, they can refer you to a specialist exotic pet vet, who will have more experience with treating rats. As long as your local vet is able to see small mamals (like rats), it’s worth registering your rats at the practice, just in case of an emergency.

How to tell whether my rat is a girl or a boy?

If you are absolutely clueless about the sex of your rat, there’s two simple ways of telling whether it’s a boy or a girl. Look for nipples and testicles! Only female rats have nipples on their underbelly and obviously only male rats have testicles hanging under their tails. You can’t miss them!

More advanced methods of sexing pet rats are often used by professional breeders and often include measuring the distance between the rat’s urethra (pee hole) and anus.

Boy Rat
Source: @iemischief Instagram

Are pet rats nocturnal?

Pet rats are mostly nocturnal but they can addapt their sleeping patterns to the activity in your house and interacting with you. In general, rats will sleep for a few hours during the day, then wake up to eat or play and then repeat.

Can rats see in the dark?

Being mainly nocturnal animals, rat’s eyes adapted to seeing in the dark by picking up ultraviolet light, which humans are unable to see. They can also see in colour, but only in hues of blue, green and grey. Interestingly enough, rats with red eyes have their vision quite impared due to lack of pigment in their irises and rats with pink eyes, are mostly completely blind.

Why do rats have tails?

Rat tail might not be the best feature according to many people, but it’s very important for a healthy life of your rodent friends. Firstly, it’s essential for balance and support while walking and climbing. Secondly, rat tail acts as a ‘thermostat’ for your rat’s body. Whenever they are hot, they release the excess heat through the blood vessels on the tail and whenever they are chilly, they constrict them to keep the heat in.

Can rats swim?

Most rats don’t like water but that doesn’t mean they won’t go in it if they absolutely have to! According to various studies, rats can hold their breath under water for over 3 minutes, swim, squeeze their bodies through tiny spaces and that’s how they are able to go through sewer pipes up people’s toilets!

So there you have it… 18 different questions many rat enthusiasts and people thinking about getting pet rats want to know answers to most! Have you got any other ones in mind?

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