Domesticated Rat Care Information

Pet Rat Information


Domesticated rats make ideal pets for anyone, especially children. They are lively, clean, intelligent, inquisitive and will form lasting friendships with their owners.

When choosing your pet rats, contact a reputable breeder. Watch closely how the rats are handled, and do not be afraid to ask questions. For a list of members who have rat kittens for sale, send an SAE to the Kitten Register, National Fancy Rat Society, PO Box 24207, London SE9 5ZF. Make sure you are confident in handling the rats yourself before making the final decision.

Both bucks (males) and does (females) make good pets, but does are livelier whilst bucks are generally more placid. Bucks often scent-mark their territory with tiny drops of urine. Baby rats are ready to go to new homes at six weeks old.

Rats are naturally social animals, and, as pets, are much happier when kept in single sex pairs rather than on their own. Littermates make the best pairs, but unrelated kittens can be put together. It is easiest to introduce rats when both are less than ten weeks of age. Beyond this age, a dominance hierarchy develops, especially amongst bucks, which may lead to squabbling when new rats are introduced. Most adult bucks will accept a young male aged 6-8 weeks as a new companion. Does can be introduced at any age. Introduce new rats on neutral territory, and if there is no serious fighting, put them in a clean cage containing hiding places for each animal.

Rats love coming out of their cage to play and explore their environment, but they are not usually compatible with other small rodents, cats, dogs or birds. Rats also tend to gnaw things and so should not be allowed out without close supervision. Rats enjoy crawling over their owners and exploring pockets, and will not usually bite unless mishandled or hurt.

Rats live to around two years of age. Adult bucks weigh around 500g and adult does around 300g, so a large cage or aquarium is essential (at least 2' x1' x 1' for a pair). It should be easy to clean, and should be cleaned out once or twice a week. Cages should be kept out of direct sunlight and draughts, as sudden changes in temperature can cause health problems. Good ventilation and clean air are important; tanks should have wire mesh lids, and rats should not be kept in a smoky atmosphere. Untreated wood shavings and hay or shredded paper make suitable bedding. In the UK, wood shavings are of spruce. Cedar may be toxic, and a useful alternative is corncob, or recycled paper litter (US). Rats are very clean animals and will spend a lot of time washing and grooming their coats. With regular cleaning, rats have very little smell.

To remain healthy, rats should be fed a staple diet of preparatory rat mix with dry dog or cat biscuits. Fresh fruit and vegetables in moderation will be enjoyed, as will table scraps. Fresh water from a bottle should be available at all times. Up to the age of 10 weeks, young rats should receive supplements of food with a high protein and fat content, such as puppy food. Take care not to overfeed your pets, as obesity will shorten their lives and may lead to health problems.

Before considering breeding from your rats, contact an experienced breeder for advice, and remember that you will have to find homes for the kittens. The gestation period is approximately 22-23 days, and breeding pairs should be separated before the doe gives birth as, although bucks make excellent fathers, remitting can take place immediately after the kittens are born. A typical litter size is 12, but can be as many as 20. The kittens should be kept in single sex groups after five weeks of age as some does are capable of becoming pregnant at this age. Four to five months is the best age at which to commence breeding.

The most common ailments affecting rats are: spots and scabs (caused by dietary problems, sharp claws, or parasites); abscesses (often from an infected cut or bite); tumours; malocclusion (deformed or broken teeth); respiratory diseases; and loss of weight and condition (may be a sign of underlying disease. or old age). An ailing rat should be seen by your veterinary surgeon as soon as you suspect something is wrong, no matter how minor it may seem, as any delay may lead to serious problems. Your rat relies totally on you for its welfare, and a good vet will not mind at all.

The above information was provided by  ©National Fancy Rat Society, 1999. For details, send SAE to PO Box 24207, London SE9 5ZF

More Rat Information
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Artificial Homes for Rats
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