Domestic rats are not hardy animals and cannot live outside. Ideal housing for rats are cages approximately 60cm wide x 30cm wide per pet, although they need plenty of exercise outside their cage. The cage should ideally be placed out of the sun and sheltered from the rain and draughts and the temperature should be between 14-26°C and never above 30°C as rats suffer from heatstroke, even when they’re kept inside.
Wood shavings or shredded paper are ideal for rats, though be careful as some bedding is treated with aromatic oils and this can irritate your pet’s lungs. Wet bedding should be removed on a daily basis and cages should be completely stripped out and scrubbed, ideally once a week. Your rat will enjoy having enough litter to burrow and snuggle in.
Rats are omnivores and require some animal protein in their diet. The easiest option is with a complete food specifically for rats, which provides all the nutrients in the correct amounts and proportions. Water must be accessible at all times and bottles are often easier to keep clean, however rats appreciate being given a bowl of water occasionally so they can splash about and wash.
Dental problems are a major health issue for rats. Rats need to eat fibre to wear down their continuously growing teeth. If teeth don’t get worn down enough this can cause drooling and lack of appetite. Your vet will be able to advise you on your pet’s teeth.
Neutering rats is not something that many vets will do due to their short lifespan and size. To prevent an unwanted population explosion keep rats in single sex pairs or groups.
Rats are very social animals, and, as such, their body language is a very good barometer of how they are feeling! Rats love to gnaw and if they don’t have items to gnaw on such as wooden blocks, they may take this out on your carpet or sofa. If your rat stops gnawing then it is good sign that there is something wrong and you should take him to a vet.
Regular exercise is important to keep rats fit and prevent boredom, which could lead to behavioural problems. It’s therefore advisable to exercise rats as often as possible, but ideally for at least 4 hours a day. You can make this time as fun as possible by using boxes and tubes to make tunnels and hidey holes for them to explore.
Rats will groom both themselves and others, as it’s a social activity. You can also groom your rat with a brush or comb, if needed. You should also check a rat’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth, bottom and claws daily.
Before attempting to handle your rat, let him become accustomed to you by feeding out of your hand and stroking him. Once he is happy doing this, pick him up by holding him firmly around the shoulders and placing him on you. A confidently held rat will feel more secure.
Rats should be kept in social groups, but a pair or group of three allows them to interact and perform normal social behaviours! In fact rats, kept with other rats are happier and more confident. Make sure that they are single sex groups, otherwise you could end up with a family!
Regular health checks
Your vet can carry out a ‘nose to tail’ MOT but you can play a role too by following the guidelines below to keep an eye on your rat’s health, help him to stay in tip top condition and live a long and healthy life:
- Look out for changes in your rat’s food consumption, drinking and toilet habits. Does he have less energy or is he slower in getting up or jumping? Monitor your rat’s faeces for colour and consistency
- Rub your hands over your rat’s body including his head, legs and feet to check for any lumps or bumps or anything stuck in his claws. Check your rat’s coat quality and whether any dandruff or hair loss is evident. Is your rat scratching, chewing or biting excessively?
- Check your pet’s nose, eyes and ears for any abnormalities or discharge. Your rat’s nose should be moist, the corners of his eyes should be free of discharge and his ears should be clean
- Regularly examine your rat’s mouth for signs of disease and overgrown teeth
- Monitor your rat’s body condition by running your hands over his ribs and backbone. If he is losing weight or is overweight, it’s advisable to take him to the vet