Scientific name: Rattus norvegicus
Size: Rats measure from 8 to 10 inches long (not including tail), and weigh from 7 ounces to about a pound.
Lifespan: Two to three years.
Lots of variations, from creamy silver, bright white and chocolate brown to black-hooded and blue-spotted.
Rats are upstanding members of the rodent family, which means they are mammals with sharp front teeth that never stop growing. You may also be familiar with their cousins—gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs and mice.
Just like you, rats need friends—and if you keep two females together, they'll become best buds. If you want two males, it's best to get two babies from the same litter. If you keep a male and a female together, have your veterinarian neuter the male and spay the female so they can't have babies.
Just FUR Fur: Did you know that pet rats are available wearing five different kinds of coats?
- The short STANDARD coat is the most common.
- REX rats have curly coats—and curly whiskers, too.
- Rats with SATIN coats have super shiny hair.
- Some rats are bred to be TAILLESS. (That's right, no tails!)
- Owning a HAIRLESS rat sure cuts down on all those trips to the beauty parlor. (Just kidding!)
But if you do get a hairless rat, please remember that they're extra sensitive to heat and cold, and need to be kept warm.
Who loves food more than your big brother? Yup, that's right—your rat!
In the wild, rats eat nuts, seeds, veggies, fruits, insects, eggs and even reptiles, fish, birds and mammals. You can't exactly call them finicky. (Actually, you can call them "omnivorous," which means they eat both plants and animals.) To make sure your rat gets all the nutrition she needs, feed her rat blocks, which you can buy at pet supply stores. This food should be available at all times. It's a good idea to put the food in a sturdy, weighted bowl. If her dish is too light, she may accidentally dump her dinner all over the cage.
Don't forget to fill 'er up: Fresh, clean water should be available to your rat at all times. An upside-down bottle with a drip tube that attaches to the side of the cage is perfect for your pet. Just make sure the kind you choose is chew-proof. Change the water daily, and remember to clean out the bottle every time you clean her cage.
Pass the veggies, please! Rats love fresh vegetables, and you should give your buddy some every day. You'll need to experiment to find her favorites, but try starting out with broccoli, carrots and shelled peas. Your rat will probably go nuts for fruit, too, especially grapes, strawberries, bananas and apples. Make sure they're washed, and take care to cut them into very small pieces. Please don't give her too many, or she could get an upset tummy.
Hey, Ma, what's for dinner? Rats love people food, and on occasion it's fun for them to have a nibble—that's the key, just a NIBBLE—of what you're eating. There are some exceptions. Never give your rat chocolate, gum or soda, and avoid spicy, sweet and fatty foods. Good choices are spaghetti noodles with sauce, pizza crust, cooked eggs, small bits of cooked fish and wheat bread. Just keep in mind, this is strictly for special treat times!
Home Sweet Home
One of the top ten rules of happy rat housing is...the bigger, the better! Your pet's cage should be at least 14 inches wide, 24 inches long and 12 inches tall—larger, of course, if you have more than one rat. Wire cages and glass or sturdy plastic aquariums are great choices for rat houses. If you get a wire cage, make sure it does not have a wire floor or shelves, or your rat could get her feet and legs caught. Take care when selecting a location for the cage. A place that's not too cold, not too noisy and not too bright is just right.
Time for a time-out? Rats need privacy to snooze and just chill. You can use a PVC pipe or other sturdy container for your rat hide-out. An empty shoe box or tissue box will fit the bill, too.
Forget the pillows and blankets—but your rat will need bedding. Line the cage with aspen shavings or pelleted bedding made from recycled paper. Cedar and pine shavings are an absolute no-no, as they can make your rat sick. Some rats like to make cozy nests for napping. If your rat likes to make nests, give her some shredded paper towels, napkins or hay, and watch how she redecorates!
You've got a new job as a rat housekeeper, so you'll have to set up and stick to a cleaning schedule. Remove soiled bedding, stale food and droppings every day. Once a week, change the bedding and scrub the bottom of the cage with hot, soapy water. Rinse away all soap, and let the cage dry completely.
Fun and Games
What does your rat like to do just as much as she likes to eat? PLAY! Some rats are serious runners, so get yours an exercise wheel. Solid metal or plastic models are the real deal. No wire wheels, please, as your rat can get a foot or tail caught in the openings.
Toy story: Tie a big rope across your rat's cage and watch the fun begin! Ladders and branches are also great toys, and don't forget small balls (but no rubber ones) and cardboard tubes. If the cage is large enough, you may want to give your rat a digging box half-filled with potting soil. A concrete block will help keep your rat's toenails short and in tip-top shape.
Rats are friendly and curious by nature, but you'll still need to get your new pet used to you—and used to being handled. Start by hand-feeding her small treats. When she's comfortable with that, you can pick her up, one hand supporting her bottom, the other over her back. Try to do this for a little while every day. When you get to know each other better, don't be surprised if she wants to snuggle and be petted. And if she climbs up on your shoulder for a ride, you're really lucky!
Come out, come out, wherever you are! Rats love to play outside their cages, and you should let yours run around in an enclosed room for exercise every day. Think of it as gym class. But as your pet's personal trainer, you'll have to supervise. That means making sure your rat doesn't get stuck behind furniture or chew on electrical wires. Be sure to put her back in her cage when you leave the room—even for just a minute!