Help your ratty friends to do what comes naturally
Every rat is an individual with their own particular likes and dislikes. As a caring rat owner, it’s your job to provide your rat pack with a range of activities that enable them to exhibit their natural behaviours – but leaving the choice of what they do and when they do it up to them.
Happy rats need opportunities to climb, run, hop, forage, explore and play. Here are a few things that your pet rats will love...
A play park of their own
Rats like to be active and need plenty of things to keep their curious minds and sprightly bodies busy. Their accommodation should be large and multi-level, with lots of space for them to run, stretch up on their hind legs, hop, hide and forage. They will also enjoy their own rat play park with hammocks to perch in, tubes to scamper through, ropes (made of natural fibres such as cotton) to climb and toys to investigate. Also invest in a large, sturdy rat wheel, which should be solid so they don’t catch their paws or tail in it.
Out-of-cage exploration time
Natural explorers, rats love the opportunity to check out the world outside their cage. Once they’re well-handled and relaxed, let them out in an area where they can’t hurt themselves or escape where you can closely supervise their activities. Remember that for rats, exploring the world means chewing, gnawing and scent marking. You may find that providing a large exercise pen is a good option. Set out lots of objects for them to investigate, add a digging feature – a box with clean sand or compost – and perhaps a swimming bath – a shallow tray of water at room temperature that your rats can get in and out of easily. Never place your rats directly into water as they will find this very stressful. They must always have the choice to decide to go in and out of the water themselves – and never leave your rats with access to a water-bath without supervision.
Rats need company of their own kind
As well as human pals, rats also need the company of each other and should never be kept on their own – same sex bonded pairs or small groups, or a female and a neutered male will create an ideal rat pack.
A chance to learn new stuff
Clever and inquisitive, rats are fast learners with excellent memories. Unsurprisingly, they can quickly become bored which is why it’s a great idea to train them. Using food treats and positive reinforcement, you can start by teaching your rats to come to you when you call them. Begin by saying your rat’s name when he is in front of you and rewarding him with a treat when he reaches out to take it from your hand. Once he does that a few times, start saying his name when he is further away from you and comes to get the treat from your hand. Eventually, when he hears his name, he will come to you anticipating the treat. Once your rats have mastered the concept of performing new behaviours in exchange for rewards, you can train them to perform tricks – such as jumping through a hoop or racing through a maze. As with any kind of animal training, kindness and patience is key – never tell your rats off if they don’t get something right.
How to handle your rats
To help your rats get used to you, try carrying them around the house inside your jumper. Never pick up a rat by their tail as this can injure them. Instead, put one hand underneath their chest behind their forelegs, and support the hindlegs 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.
Undisturbed rat naps
After a busy time exploring, digging and playing, these little rodents need to recharge in peace and require a quiet, cosy area in their accommodation to be able to rest and sleep undisturbed. Rats are nocturnal and are most active at night and at dawn and dusk, so don’t house them in an area of your home that has lots of activity going on during the day. Also, schedule things such as cage cleaning, food provision and interactions with the times your rats are awake and active. Being woken from a rat nap is very stressful for these small animals.
Rats are loyal, loving pets who can become devoted to their human – so make sure you give them plenty of your time. These super-smart rodents need at least an hour’s supervised exercise outside their cage every day and, with lots of things to do, new things to learn and plenty of positive interaction, make fantastic family pets.
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Sources: rspca.org.uk, bluecross.org.uk, petmd.com