Rat Care Info
Difficulty Level: Easy to Intermediate
Lifespan: 2 - 3 years
Behaviour: Rats have become a popular companion animal across the world. They are friendly, intelligent, and loving pets that are clean and pleasant. Rats are quite intelligent and can be trained to do many things including tricks! You will often find them exploring, grooming, snuggling, or playing. These pets can also be great for gentle, older children since they interact well with people and are happy to spend time sitting on your shoulder or enjoying a good scratch or cuddle. Rats tend to be quite social and will usually prefer to have another rat as a cage mate. Just remember that not all rats will get along and make sure you do not house a female and an un-neutered male together as you may have baby rats in as little as 3 weeks! Many rat owners may choose to litter train their rats. Observe the corner they choose to go to the bathroom in the most often, and place the litter box there, they will catch on quickly. You can buy corner litter pans at the pet store that attach to the side of the cage. Fill it with a material that is different from the bedding, such as Yesterday's News cat litter, and ensure that clay based litters are avoided, as this is toxic. You will also find that rats are frequent chewers, burrowers, and climbers. You can satisfy this need for stimulation by providing a variety of toys and objects in their homes. Rats tend to be very active and inquisitive and will appreciate having many options to choose from.
Housing: Rats are climbers so the best cage will have multiple levels and horizontal bars to grip. Ensure as well that the latch or lid closes securely as some rats may figure out how to open the cage! When choosing the size of cage, keep in mind it needs to be big enough to house more than just your rat. You will also need room for a water bottle, a food dish, a hidaway house and room for some toys and chew blocks. These items should fit comfortably in the cage and not be too crowded. Rats need a variety of things to keep them occupied and stimulated, otherwise they can develop behavioural problems from boredom. Ladders, ropes, hammocks, tunnels, cardboard tubes, wooden toys, and non-wire exercise wheels can all be rotated in and out to keep your furry friends busy. For water, a bottle that clips onto the side of the cage is best, and for food a metal or ceramic dish is preferred. Avoid plastic food dishes as they can harbour bacteria. There are endless options available for bedding materials but not all of them are appropriate. If you choose wood shavings, avoid cedar or pine as these can be toxic. Aspen is safe, or you can choose an artificial bedding such as CareFresh. It will be helpful if your rat has been litter trained, as you will waste less bedding doing spot cleanings since it gets soiled far less often.
Maintenance: Rats are fairly clean animals that require minimal work. Your Rats cage should be cleaned at least once a week, with spot cleanings done daily if possible. Spot cleaning is removing the soiled shavings or bedding from your rat's cage. Fresh food and water should be replaced every day as well. When cleaning their cage, you should start by discarding all the used bedding in the cage. The bedding should not be reused even if it looks clean. Wash your rat's cage with a warm water and antibacterial soap mixture to kill the bacteria that is in the cage. Make sure to rinse all surfaces thoroughly to be sure all the soap has rinsed away. Do no use any harsh kitchen or bathroom cleaners and stay away from bleach since these are toxic to your rat. As you are washing the cage, you can also wash the other items that are kept in the cage and use this opportunity to give your rat some exercise outside of the cage. Once everything is completely dry, the cage can be reassembled and put back together and new bedding should be added to the cage.
Nutrition: A rat's specific dietary needs can be met by providing the right high-quality rat food. Oxbow is one example of an easy to find and nutritionally complete food that comes in pellet form, which is ideal. Foods that are a mix of seeds, dried fruit, and other items are not good to feed as they contain unnecessary fats and sugars, and the rat may only eat the parts they really like. This is why pellets are preferable, as the rat will receive everything it needs in each bite. However, you can certainly supplement with the occasional treat and offer fresh vegetables several times a week. There is no feeding guide in terms of amount when it comes to rats, you'll have to make sure that they have food in the cae at all times. Make sure to check under their house as they might stash food away for later.
Health Concerns: Some common health concerns in rats include Respiratory Infections, Mites and Lumps/Tumors. Rats are prone to infections of the upper-respiratory system, which can be passed from rat to rat. Signs may be wheezing, sneezing, a tilted head, or discharge from the nose. Frequent cage cleaning can help prevent this problem, but should you run into it, you will have to make an appointment with your Veterinarian so that your rat can be prescribed a course of antibiotics. Just don't wait to go as it can be fatal if left too long. Rats can be susceptible to mites, small insects which irritate the skin and cause the rat to scratch and create bald or scabby patches. These mites might come from certain types of bedding or your rat may come with them when they are adopted. While they can pass from rat to rat, they are not transmittable to humans and a prompt visit to your veterinarian can clear this problem up. Lumps on your rat can be a numerous amount of things like cysts or tumors. There is no way to prevent these from happening and they are a very common occurance on older rats. The only thing you can do is check your rat every so often to see if you feel anything new. If you notice any lumps, have your veterinarian examine them as soon as possible since these lumps can grow very quickly and may need to be removed.