INTRODUCTION: Rats are highly social and intelligent animals that can make excellent pets. Lifespan averages 2-3 years, although this may be shortened by severe respiratory infections and/or mammary tumors.
Cage – Minimum of a 1’ x 3’ enclosure with a secure top for each pet. Cage bottom should be solid, as screen mesh/wire can irritate the feet.
Substrate – Bedding should consist of a paper pulp product (like Carefresh or Yesterday’s News), newspaper or computer paper. Wood chips/shavings are not recommended.
Hide box – Hiding areas such as cardboard boxes, paper towel rolls, and tissue boxes should be provided.
Cagemates – House rats as individuals or in same sex pairs/small groups. Monitor closely for fighting, and separate if necessary. Spaying or neutering may be worthwhile in certain situations, as it allows for mixed gender social groups, and may reduce the chance of mammary tumors. Rats kept individually should be handled daily.
Rat food/lab or rodent blocks – Should generally be offered “free-choice”. Oxbow makes a high quality rat diet.
Treats – May include small pieces of vegetables, fruit, unsweetened cereal, or small amounts of healthy people food. Seeds and treat sticks are not recommended as a regular part of the diet because they are high in fat and low in protein and calcium.
Water – Should be offered in a sipper bottle or a spill-proof bowl; change water daily. Clean bowls/bottles every couple of days in the dishwasher, or soak them in 1:30 bleach:water solution, to prevent harmful bacterial growth.
HANDLING: Always use two hands and be very gentle. Try to avoid exposing your pet to excessive noise, excitement, and over-handling. If children are involved, have them sit on the floor and hold the rat in their laps. Only allow them to handle the pet with adult supervision!
HEALTH AND PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE: It is recommended that all newly acquired pet rats receive a complete physical examination by an exotic animal veterinarian. Thereafter, you should have your pet examined by a veterinarian every 6-12 months, or sooner if your pet is showing signs of illness.
COMMON CONDITIONS REQUIRING MEDICAL ATTENTION:
Respiratory Infection: Respiratory infections are very common in rats and are caused mainly by a bacteria called Mycoplasma. The rat should be treated with antibiotics right away. If left untreated, the infection could develop into pneumonia.
Lice and Mites: Lice are very common skin parasites in newly acquired rats. Symptoms may include itchy and/or red skin, hair loss and irritability. Treatment for lice may include injections and/or a topical medication.
Lumps: Mammary tumors are common in rats, male and female. Neutering/Spaying around the age of 6 months can help decrease the incidence of these tumors. When kept together, rats will sometime bite each other which can cause a pocket of infection called an abscess. Both of these conditions would require surgery and/or oral antibiotics to treat.