Rats Can Be Great Starter Pets – What to Know!
14 July, 2017
rats as starter pet

Pet rats are clean, intelligent, sociable critters that make wonderful pets.  Yes, pet rats belong to the same species as the wild rat, but they aren’t the same as the rats you might find lurking in your home! These wonderful little creatures are pretty easy to keep healthy, which makes them a good starter pet for a young family.  But, like any pet, they need the right food, housing, medical attention and caring to thrive.

What is the best cage for a pet rat?

The best home for your rats is a wire cage – the larger and taller the better, as rats are active and love to climb. A rat cage should be at least 50cm x 80cm floor space, by 50cm tall. The floor should be solid rather than wire, with a solid tray underneath, to avoid a rat trapping and injuring its feet or limbs. Aquarium-style glass cages shouldn’t be used because the ventilation isn’t good enough.

Litter should be put on the floor to absorb ammonia from droppings. Use dust-extracted bedding to avoid respiratory problem.  Cat litter is unsuitable as bedding but can be used in your rat’s litter tray. Rats also need a nest box where they can sleep and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. A cardboard box with shredded paper bedding is ideal.

What should you feed your pet rat?

Rats are omnivores and love a varied diet that includes grains, vegetables and a protein source such as dry dog food. Commercial mixes are available from pet shops. Rats enjoy occasional pieces of fruit, vegetables, peanuts and sunflower seeds, but these can cause skin problems and should be given in moderation.  Fresh, clean water should always be available. If a water bottle is used it should be cleaned, refilled and checked daily to ensure it is not blocked or leaking.

Rats have incisor teeth that grow continuously. These critters need to have something to chew on, to wear the teeth down. Chew-toys designed for parrots are good for this and some rats like dog chews such as the ones made from pig-ears and beef bones.

Some health issues to look out for in your pet rat

Check your rat daily for any general signs of ill health, such as loss of appetite or lethargy. One of the most common problems in rats is infectious respiratory disease but this can only be passed from one rat to another. Be wary of buying a rat from somewhere with many other rats, particularly if any of them have rapid or noisy breathing. Other respiratory problems are also common in rats.

Rats are naturally very clean and spend a lot of time grooming themselves, although some may need their tails cleaned occasionally. This should be done gently with mild animal shampoo. If you are worried about any change in your rat’s health, consult your vet.

Exercise and entertainment for your pet rat

Rats need at least an hour’s playtime outside their cage every day, but you must first make the room safe and rat- proof. Keep doors and windows closed and block cracks in floorboards, as rats can get through seemingly impassable gaps. Keep house plants out of the way because some are poisonous to rats. Rats may enjoy toys such as pieces of plastic drainpipe or cardboard boxes, but avoid wheels with spokes as they can cause a serious injury.

The best way to handle your pet rat

Rats that are handled correctly soon after they are born will enjoy it. Never pick up a rat by its tail as this can injure them. Instead, put one hand underneath its chest behind its forelegs, and support the back legs with your other hand, holding but not squeezing. Children will enjoy handling rats, but must be supervised to make sure they do not hold them too tightly.

Rats as children’s pets

Rats make good companions for children and adults. However, they do need daily social interaction and time out of their cage, so it is important that everyone in the family is keen on the idea of keeping rats as pets. Rats need larger cages than the smaller rodents but, being larger, they are easier to handle than small rodents. As with all children’s pets, it is important that an adult is responsible for making sure the rats receive the attention and care they need.

If you don’t want a rat, read why a guinea pig is a good pet for you!

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