Rats as Pets How to Care for Your New Pet
Rats are wonderful, yet commonly misunderstood creatures. They are very clean and friendly, and have much more personality than most other "pocket pets".
Owning a rat can be a wonderful experience. They make awesome pets for any age, although small children should only be allowed to handle a rat under adult supervision. Rats are highly social creatures, and they bond with humans very well. Many people associate rats with filth and disease. This couldn't be further from the truth. Domesticated rats are very different from wild rats. They are very clean and friendly animals.
When choosing a rat, it's best to buy a companion for them. Rats who live with a nestmate are often happier and even healthier than single rats. Introducing a new rat into the home after you've had a single rat for awhile is possible, but rats are most likely to get along better if they come from the same litter. Make sure the rats are the same sex, otherwise you'll have babies to care for!
Make sure that you have the time it takes to properly care for a rat. Rats require lots of human attention, and their habitat must be clean. Rats associate best with humans when they are very young, so it is best to buy young rats that have been handled since birth. Make sure you are permitted to handle the rats before you make your purchase. A more social rat will make for a much more desirable companion, and you won't be able to determine this unless you are able to handle them firsthand.
Sadly, rats are most commonly used for feeding snakes and other reptiles. This makes them very inexpensive pets. This does not mean that you should buy a rat or two simply because you have the five or ten dollars to spare. Rats need housing, a balanced diet, toys, and lots of attention. Make sure you can afford everything your rat needs to be happy and healthy, as well as the time it takes to raise and care for your rat.
Hamster and gerbil cages are not suitable habitats for pet rats. These cages are too small and not well ventilated. An aquarium or "critter container" can suffice, but make sure it is big enough to house your rats and allows lots of air to flow through. At least two cubic feet of cage space per pair of rats is suggested, however, there is no such thing as "too much" space. If you wish to purchase a bigger cage or aquarium, then by all means, do.
A good bedding is required to keep your pet rat happy and healthy. Pine and cedar shavings are not acceptable for this. Studies have shown that the phenols used in pine and cedar bedding can cause respiratory problems, liver and kidney damage. Kitty litters are also not acceptable bedding. The dust from the litter can cause respiratory damage and the litter itself can be harmful if ingested. There are many paper-based bedding available. Ask your breeder or pet store owner for more information on these products.
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A rat's cage should always be kept clean. A thorough cleaning should be done no less than once a week, and sometimes more depending on how many rats you have. Household cleaners such as Windex and Formula 409 should never be used for cleaning any pet habitat, as the fumes can be harmful and cause respiratory damage. A mild soap and water can be used, as well as special cleaners specifically made for cleaning animal cages. If your rat's cage smells at all, it is long overdue for a cleaning.
Rats are very intelligent animals, and need mental stimulation. Be sure to provide them with lots of toys. Bird toys with bells and wood shapes are wonderful. Rats love to chew, so anything with wood pieces (like bird toys) that they can chew on are very good for them. You can also give them things such as small balls, toilet paper tubes, and old tissue boxes.
Rats require a very complete and balanced diet. Hamster, gerbil, and rabbit food are not acceptable. They do not give the rat all the nutrition it needs and some ingredients found in these other rodent foods can be harmful to rats. There are formulas specifically for rats. Rats are omnivorous, so they can eat almost anything for treats, however, rats are like people in the way that if you give them lots of fatty or greasy foods, they will become overweight. The best treats for rats include fresh fruits and vegetables, dry cereal, and oatmeal. Small cereals such as Rice Krispies can be used for training. These treats are small enough that the rat will not get full as fast, and training sessions can last longer.