Intelligent, loyal and loving – if you’re looking for a small pet that responds to their name, can solve puzzles, learn to high five and form an incredibly close bond with you, then welcome to the wonderful world of pet rats…
Have you ever considered welcoming a couple of pet rats into your life? If not, perhaps it’s time to find out more about these clever and affectionate rodents.
Rats as pets are actually more popular than you may believe. According to UK Pet Food’s pet population list, rats share 12th place (along with gerbils) as the UK’s most owned pet. And, once you find out more about them, it’s easy to understand why.
As well as human pals, rats also need the company of their own kind – same sex bonded pairs or small groups, or a female and a neutered male will create an ideal rat pack.
The RSPCA states: “Rats are intelligent, highly social animals and make incredibly rewarding animals to look after. They can form close bonds with their human carers.
The charity is keen to promote just what great pets rats can be by highlighting some of their most unique and endearing qualities.
Check out the RSPCA’s take on ‘everything you think you know about rats might be wrong’
- Rats are incredibly smart They can count to at least four, are fast learners and have excellent memories.
- Rats will return a favour Rats also show amazing levels of understanding towards others of their own species. If one rat receives help from another, he or she will remember and return the favour in the future – and the more help the rat received, the more they’ll give!
- Rats share with their friends It’s even been shown that when a rat is given a choice between receiving a treat just for themselves or having a friend receive a tasty treat too, they’ll choose the option that also enables their friend to get a treat! How lovely.
- Rats love to learn things Just like dogs, pet rats can learn and respond to their own names and can be trained to do tricks, like giving ‘high-fives’, fetching a ball and rolling over.
- Rats are very clean Much like cats, they’re very clean animals, often spending hours grooming themselves or each other.
- Rats will love you back Rats are often very affectionate animals and will form close bonds with their human carers (lots of them love to relax on an owner’s lap). They also love being tickled – and will remember which humans have tickled and played with them in the past and will prefer to spend time with those people.
Along with chimpanzees, bottlenose dolphins, elephants, dogs, pigs, pigeons and octopuses, rats are considered by experts to be one of the smartest species on the planet. Scientists have discovered that, just like us, rats can make decisions based on what they do or do not know – something called metacognition.
Caring for your pet rats
Just like us, 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 and plenty of things to keep their curious minds and sprightly bodies busy.
Your rats’ accommodation should be large and multi-level, with lots of space for them to run, stretch up on their hind legs, hop, hide, nap 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. Your pet rats will also require some supervised out-of-cage exploration time every day.
Pet rats are very inquisitive and love learning new things. This makes them quite easy to train. By using food treats, patience and positive reinforcement (always go at your rats’ pace), you can teach your rats some simple tasks and tricks such as responding to their name, shaking paws, jumping through a rat-size hoop or racing through a maze to find some tasty treasure.
Feeding your pet rats
Rats are omnivores – which means they’ll eat almost anything they can get their tiny paws on. However, as a responsible rat owner, it’s essential that you don’t let them. Rats are renowned for being selective feeders – for example, with muesli-style food, they’re likely to just pick out the bits they fancy and leave the rest. This puts them at risk of not getting all the nutrients they need.
The way to overcome this is to feed them an all-in-one food that contains all of the nutrients your rats need in every tasty mouthful. However, don’t change diets overnight. Rats can be cautious of new foods, so introduce anything new on the menu gradually.
Pet rats need specially designed food that contains a range of essential amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals which they cannot produce themselves. That’s why you should never feed them food designed for rabbits, guinea pigs or hamsters as these formulas simply won’t meet rats’ nutritional needs.
What’s more, with pet rats, it’s not just what you feed, but how you feed it. To encourage natural foraging behaviour and to keep those smart little ratty brains active, you need to make feeding time a bit of an adventure.
Try scattering some yummy rat nuggets around their accommodation and among fresh bedding for them to forage for. Hide some in an old rolled up sock, paper bag or cardboard tube for them to investigate, or push some into a pinecone for them to extract. Rats will happily dig in trays of chinchilla sand to find hidden favourite food items.
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 with plenty of comfy bedding 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.
Rats will enjoy small amounts of fruit and vegetables, along with a few sunflower seeds that they can manipulate in their paws while they eat. Also try the occasional cooled, hard-boiled egg – they’ll enjoy working out how to get it out of the shell. Foods to avoid are anything sugary or high in fat, such as dairy products. Foods that are harmful to rats include onion, citrus fruits, walnuts, rhubarb, grapes, raisins and chocolate.
Give your rats a variety of appropriate food options, so that they have control over their own food choice and provide multiple food items to avoid competition among your rat pack. Also remember to count fresh food as part of their overall daily ration or you could end up with some rather tubby rodents!
Don’t panic if you spot your rats eating their freshly deposited droppings – this is a natural behaviour that helps them to absorb all the nutrients and minerals they need to stay healthy. Stopping this could cause nutritional deficiencies and health problems.
Pet rats are fastidiously clean and like to groom themselves regularly. Just like cats, their tongues are rough, which helps them keep their coat dirt free. They can also be trained to use a litter tray.
The other thing that’s incredibly important for pet rats is plenty of fresh, clean water – from a water bottle, not a bowl. Without water rats become seriously ill. Check water bottles morning and evening to make sure they’re working properly, clean regularly to avoid algae/bacteria build-up and refill twice daily to ensure your ratty friends are never thirsty. It’s a good idea to have multiple water bottles available, so your rat pack can drink simultaneously, avoiding competition.
Once confident in your company, pet rats will happily sit in your lap or on your shoulder, grinding their teeth to show they are quite content – this is called ‘bruxing’ and is similar behaviour to a cat purring.
Help your ratty friends stay cosy and warm with Nap & Nest!
BRAND NEW Excel Nap & Nest is a super absorbent, luxury paper bedding and litter for small animals that’s made from unused offcuts from teabag production. Soft on little paws, it’s easy to spot clean, reducing waste and making each bag last longer.
How to use: Remove the bedding from the pack a handful at a time and gently pull it apart. Add a 3-5cm layer to your small animals’ bedding and toilet areas. Remove and replace and soiled areas of bedding daily.
Choose a complete rat food that provides your pet rats with everything they need in each tasty bite
Burgess Excel Rat Nuggets is a tasty dry food that’s designed to keep your rats active, formulated as small nuggets that can be fed in an interactive way. Perfect for hiding around the house to encourage natural foraging behaviours! Helping to support healthy digestion, skin and growth, our rat food is only made with the highest quality ingredients for the best in texture and taste. Designed to prevent selective feeding with balanced protein to support healthy growth, prebiotics to support healthy digestion and added linseed to maintain a healthy skin and coat.
CARE MORE Find lots of useful advice on caring for your rat pack from Burgess, the pet experts. Housing, health, feeding and more. It’s all here >>
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