Rats have suffered from a bad rap for centuries, but they're amongst the sweetest pets a person can own. My husband has kept rats since he was eight years old, and I have to admit, when I first met his rat when we first started dating, I was a little tentative myself. Now, I greatly enjoy their personalities and company.
Recently, we adopted two new ratties, as our last one died from old age not long ago. They only live an average of three to five years. This is how we make their new home.
Of course, you need a cage of some sort. There are quite a few different kinds on the market, from wire to specially made wooden cages. The wire cages can be quite impressive, with optional add ons like hammocks, platforms and ladders for climbing.
We use an old, sanitized aquarium. We’ve opted out of wire because rats have a tendency to chew on the bars, and after a while, the doors stopped working properly, providing them an easy means of escape. We worried primarily for the safety of the rats when they’re still young, because they can and will chew through power cords, but they can also be very destructive when they want to be.
The aquarium works because we also have two undamaged sections of an old wire cage tied together to put on top and anchor in place there by books. The weight makes it difficult for them to shift the wire to the side to get out or to have it fall in on them. Rats are natural born climbers, and we’ve found that the water bottle makes for a great scaling opportunity.
Some similar cages have tops that have window screening built in. However, if they aren’t already clipped securely to the cage itself, they still need to be anchored down.
There’s quite a bit of bedding on the market. It’s mostly some variety of wood shaving, like pine or cedar, but some people use shredded newspaper or kitty litter. There is also aromatic bedding available, but that’s best to be avoided because it can harm the rats. If anyone in your household has allergies, the scent can make them ill, too.
I have seen suggestions of using sheets of fabric for bedding, but because rats burrow by instinct, I wouldn’t use this option. We’ve never had a problem with using unscented wood chips, though some rats have more sensitive respiratory systems than others. Keep an eye on them when you first start using any bedding. If they start sneezing or coughing in excess, it may be time to try another option.
If they grow ill shortly after you bring them home, it’s best to take them to a vet. Rats are susceptible to a respiratory infections, and just like in humans, their infections sometimes take time to incubate. Veterinarians will be able to give them antibiotics, and will usually want to keep them overnight to make sure they’re recovering. Some stores, like Petco, offer free vet services for a period of time after adoption.
We also put old socks which are full of holes in for something else for them to shred and make nests out of. Pictured are my hubby’s socks. They’re clean, but since he’s a landscaper, white socks don’t stay white for long. This also helps imprint our scent on new pets to make the transition a little easier on them.
Fun Rat Facts
- Rats are less likely to bite their owners than hamsters
- Because they're social creatures, it's best to get at least two
- Highly intelligent, they can learn how to respond to their name
- Rats are sacred in Hindu mythology
Food & Water
Naturally, they also need food and water. A weighted, ceramic food bowl is the best choice, because they won’t be able to damage it with their teeth, and it won’t be dragged around.
Grain based foods are best for rats, along with a small portion of veggies from time to time. Rats can eat meat, since they’re omnivorous scavengers in nature, but it’s generally better for them to stick to a plant based diet.
Most pet stores sell water bottles for small animals. If possible, filtered water is best to use for any pet. There are also vitamin drops available, and we’ve had great success with them in the past on older rats. Just be sure to use only the recommended dosages.
If you’d like to try them, only use them after your rat has been on its new diet long enough to be used to it. Most owners don’t feed their pets the same stuff their supplier did, and like all animals, rats need time to adjust.
It’s a rat’s instinct to be curled up in a safe place. They feel safest when in small, compact compartments, so an option for shelter is necessary for any home. Our rats have always loved the green tube pictured, but they also enjoy empty tissue boxes or cardboard tubes from time to time.
They will tear cardboard apart after a while to add to their bedding, so a permanent shelter is ideal to have as well. They also chew on their shelters, which helps keep their teeth healthy, so thick, durable materials are ideal.
Rats are very intelligent creatures, and they need something to stimulate their senses when they’re not out interacting with their humans. The paper tube and socks double as play things, and wooden chewies also act as toys.
Although running wheels are great for hamsters and mice, most rats tend to get too big for them, and will stop using them. Some rats enjoy insulated plastic balls that will allow them to run around on the ground without danger of getting lodged in small places. None of our past rats really liked them, but I do know people whose pets adored them. It all comes down to personality.
In the past, we’ve put together ‘rat piñatas’ for an extra treat. They’re very easy to make. All you need to do is wrap a goody of choice in a paper towel and hang it from the top of the cage. The rats can smell the fruit and have a ball trying to figure out how to get it down. It’s highly entertaining to watch them work at it.
A Rat Doing Everything He Can For the Treat
There are special treats on the market for small animals, but we usually just use bits of veggies or fruits. We’ve found that yogurt coated treats tend to upset rat tummies, since they’re not used to digesting cow-based dairy, so we avoid those and cheese.
Although these little guys aren’t the most popular pet out there, when they’re treated right, they can be the sweetest creatures around. Caring for them properly will prolong their lives and ensure a happier time for human and critter alike.
Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on May 29, 2013:
So true, and you're welcome!
Melissa A Smith from New York on May 29, 2013:
Rats are relatively intelligent and need a cage, plus enrichment to match this. Thanks ESPeck1919.
Stephanie Giguere from Worcester, MA on October 26, 2012:
What a wonderful article about keeping rats! I had many rats when I was a child, and they really are one of the best pets I've ever owned. I also used an old fish tank with a wire structure on top, and I never had a problem with my rats escaping.
At first I used wood shavings, but then I had a rat who seemed to be bothered by the dust or allergic to it. Then I started buying a paper pulp, like CareFresh. It was much more expensive, but very absorbent and didn't irritate my rats.
Nicely written article. Voted up!
Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on October 25, 2012:
Oh, how cute! I've learned to love them, too. Our last two were named Leo and Donnie, after the ninja turtles. ;) Maybe we'll take the Star Trek or comic boot route with these girls.
Thank you! So happy you like it!
Deborah from Las Vegas on October 25, 2012:
What a great idea! I love fancy rats, I had a rat (well, not so fancy) when I was a kid called Ratso, he was like a family member, went into his cage when he wanted and I had litter box trained him. He was so smart! I love this hub, great stuff!