Rats as Pets? 13 Things You Should Consider

Are you considering getting rats as pets? You need to read these tips first.

We have gathered everything you need to know about rats in order to keep them as pets!

Are Rats good pets? Rats are actually more commonly kept as pets than you would think. They have been popular pets for almost a century and as long as you gain some basic knowledge about the little creatures, you will be good to go.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions people have and answer them one by one the best we can.

Are pet rats safe?

Yes. Even though rats make most people think about filthy little fellas outside, the rats we breed to keep indoor are 100% safe and clean.

Rat pets

They are actually quite social animals. This is also why you will normally find them living in groups. But this also means that you can’t have it sitting in the cage all day. You need to take it out once in and a while and be willing to play with it and bring it along.

You can actually teach them a lot of tricks and they will be wonderful companions.

The more time they can spend outside the cage the better. You can take them out into the garden as long as you have some sort of fence around it because it’s fast!

Tame vs. Domesticated Rats

So as long as you get your rats from a good and authorized pet store you are in good hands.

The types of rats you find in the pet stores are not just tame rats. They are domesticated rats.

This means that they have been specially bred in order to be kept as pets. So by selective breeding, they have become very different from their wildest brothers and sisters. They are different in behavior and they also look different.

What supplies do I need for a pet rat?

Here is the list of things you will need in order to keep rats:

  • A medium size cage (preferably with multiple levels, these guys LOVE to climb!)
  • Shredded paper for bedding
  • A “house” it can hide inside as well as other creative hideaways.
  • Water bottle
  • Food (we’ll come back to that)
  • Toys (hammocks, chew toys, climbing toys)
  • Baskets
  • Tunnels

You will have to set up your rat cage the right way. The bigger the cage the better!

You need to cage with multiple levels so the rat can run up-and-down. Because they really like to be active and you don’t want to keep it in a small cage. That would just be a shame. You also need to put enough toys into the cage in order for them to entertain themselves while you are out doing other things.

What are the different types of rats (and what do they cost?)

1) Dumbo Rats
Dumbo rats are not necessarily bigger rats. They just have bigger ears which are places a little lower than on your average standard rat. They are a newer species and they also sometimes have a rounder head.
The Dumbo Rats are typically a little more expensive than the Standard Rats.
They should cost around $20-30.

All the next types of rats are top-eared rats. This just means that they are not Dumbo Rats.

2) Standard Rats/Fancy Rats
Fancy rats basically just mean that they are bred for home-use/hobbyist. A “Rat-fancier” is the person keeping the rats as a hobby.
These typically cost around $10-20 each.

3) Dward Rats
As the name indicates that these types of threats are very small. They might look more like mice as they are one third the size of regular rats. These rats are super cute and a great place to start out.
These rats also typically cost around $15-30 each.

4) Manx Rats
These are also smaller rats and they do not have the characteristic tail as your normal rats. They are tailless and that’s the easiest way to distinguish them from other breeds.
They cost around $20-30.

Colors and hair
Rats can be multiple colors. We have the standard dark brown color and white rats. They can also have more or less hair. They can even be completely hairless which many finds to be adorable.

Are males or females better pets?

Both male and female rats are great pets. However, there are some things to consider before you buy an additional rat if you already own one.

Let’s say you already have a male rat. In this case, you definitely want to get a female rat for accompanying your male. If, on the other hand, you already have a female rat, you could either get another female rat or a male companion.

So we just want to avoid having several male rats in the same cage.

They might start fighting. Simply because they are territorial animals and both males will try to rise to the top as the leader.

You can also choose to neuter/castrate the rats. That’s a great way to ensure a more peaceful environment and to avoid getting little rat kids. By doing so you will remove the hormonal desire for dominance.

If you have problems with your rats biting people or hunting each other wildly, you might definitely look into getting them castrated.

That being said there are not much of a difference in behavior between the two sexes. You’ll find both male and female rats to be great pets. In some cases, you might find that the male rats are a little more active and maybe a bit more aggressive than the female ones. But there are also a lot of examples of the opposites being the case.

How long do they live?

The life expectancy of a pet rat is roughly 2-3 years but in some rare cases they can live up to 7 years.

Domesticated rats tend to live longer than the rats you find in the wild. The reason for this is that the owner takes good care of it and therefore they simply live longer.

Another reason your pet rat will live longer is simply that it is another breed than the type of rat you will find in nature.

In Guinness Book of World Records from 1995, you’ll find the oldest documented rat that ever lived. His name was Rodney and he turned in impressive 7 years and 4 months days before he died. He lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

If you want to try and beat that record you should make sure you have a stimulating and playful environment for your rats. They should also get out as much as possible and they should be able to exercise well.

What should I feed them?

The main dish you want to serve for your pet rat should be food you get from the pet store. You want to buy food that is specially made for rats. These are often little pellets or blocks that contains everything you rats need in their diet.

Here’s a list of treats you can also feed your little friends:

  • Fruit
  • Berries
  • Vegetables (potatoes, carrots, parsley, squash)
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Rice (brown)
  • Corn Flakes
  • Mealworms
  • Biscuits for smaller dogs
  • Bananas
  • Bread
  • etc.

As you can see they will eat almost everything.

But there is also a list of things you want to keep away from your rats. Some types of food will be no good for your rat and some will be even poisonousness.

You should stay away from things such as:

  • Chocolate (Just like dogs rats should never eat chocolate)
  • Coffee
  • Insects
  • Raw beans and sweet potatoes
  • Candy
  • Junk food
  • Poppy seeds
  • All types of liquids with a high concentration of vitamin C

Can I teach a rat tricks?

Yes, you can.

Rats are actually pretty smart animals.

You can teach them a lot of things just like you would teach a cat or a bird some tricks. However, they are not as smart as dogs. It will take a longer time to train your rat, but you can definitely have a lot of fun with teaching it to do stuff.

You will probably be able to teach it the same tricks you can teach a parrot. Here are some things you can try. These are all things we have seen rats do well:

  • Jumping up on things
  • Spinning around
  • Walking on two feet
  • Delivering small items in your hand
  • Jumping through a hoop
  • Jumping from a chair to your hand
  • Slalom walk
  • Rolling inside a tube
  • Getting a little ball
  • Putting a coin inside a small bin
  • Make it run towards you
  • Crawl into your pockets

You simply give it a little present everytime it succeeds.

Give it a treat and show some affection when it tries to do what you tell it to. It will have a lot of fun playing with you and it’s a great motivation for kids to bring them outside the cage for play and fun.

How old should kids be to keep rats?

There’s no specific age you need to be in order to keep rats. However, you need to be old enough to be able to remember to feed it properly and often.

If you are a parent and you are wondering if your child is old enough to keep rats you should probably think about whether your kids would be able to take care of a puppy. In the beginning, they will need a lot of attention and over time they will get to know the environment and can spend many hours alone.

But you need to make sure that your kids are willing to put in the amount of time it takes to keep rats.

As we mentioned above, rats are very active creatures and they should never be left in the cage all day. So talk to your kids about this and make sure they are all for it 100%.

Don’t ever catch wild rats as pets

You should never ever catch a wild rat and try to tame it yourself.

There’s a reason why the rats you’re finding at the pet store have been specially bred over a long time. The rats you find in the wild nature carry all sorts of diseases and you would never want them in your house.

There isn’t really any good reason to catch a wild rat for keeping it as your pet. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, at pet rat will only cost you around $20. So there’s simply no point in trying to capture a wild rat.

Whenever you find rats near your house you need to consider some serious pest control. They are always a threat to people as well as other animals. So make sure you never leave food outside because that is the main reason why rats gather around your house.

Alternative pets that look a little like rats

If you’re not sure you’ll be able to take good care of a couple of rats, here are some other animals you could consider.

  • Mice
    Mice are smaller in size, so you don’t need as big a cage for these guys. But be aware that they tend to smell more than rats!
  • Guinea pig
    Most people will have a better understanding and initial reaction towards Guinea Pigs, as you can probably imagine. So for that reason alone, you should consider them as well.
  • Ferret
    The Ferret is a bigger animal than a rat. It’s a domesticated version of the Polecat and it’s has a much longer lifespan (6-7 years).
  • Gerbils
    Gerbils are very similar to Guinea Pigs. They will need a taller cage in order to climb and have more vertical space, but the cage overall can be smaller in size.

Morten Storgaard

I love pets and I've had several pets including hamsters, reptiles, birds, and fish. I have written extensively about pets and educational content about wild animals.

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