RAT CARE GUIDE
Disclaimer: There is tons of information out there about how best to care for rats. It's important to do your own research, talk to the experts, and know that every rat and situation is different - one size does not fit all! Here I will share what works best for me and what products I use. I will link some of my favorite sites below, but I also encourage you to check out the various rat related Facebook groups so you can ask specific questions and get a variety of responses.
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Food & Treats
I feed our rats one of 3 kinds of food, based on donations and availability. These are Oxbow, Mazuri, and Kalmbach (from Chewy.com). I don't like the smell of Oxbow and the Mazuri has a lot of dust, so I prefer the Kalmbach. I can also get it in larger bags so that helps out a lot! I free-feed this type of food (they always have access). They will sometimes stash and hoard their food around the cage so make sure you don't keep filling up the food dish without checking. A good block food will help your rat keep its teeth filed down a bit as well.
I also give various types of treats on occasion, including mealworms, yogurt drops, black oil sunflower seeds, Gerber Puffs, and cereal (Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Rice Krispies). Seed mix feed is also a fun treat! They enjoy pancakes made from the crumbs of their Mazuri and fresh fruits and veggies from our garden.
I encourage you to research additional food items that have various health benefits for your rats.
It's important to note your rats' current age, sex, and health. For example, younger rats need more protein in their diets, while aging rats need less. Males should not have lots of citrus. Tumors feed off fat.
There are also lots of awesome ideas out there for homemade dry food mix, treats, and cookies.
My favorite cage is the Double Critter Nation as it provides plenty of room and has large doors so you can reach every corner of the cage easily. You can check Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, local buy/sell/trade groups, and various other websites and apps to find one. I order the Ferret Nation metal pans from Bass Equipment to hold the bedding.
There are many other awesome cage options, but I recommend those with metal bases as rats love to chew and *may* chew through a bottom tray. The Rat Manor from Petco is a great starter cage!
Rat Cage Size Calculator - just plug in your cage dimensions and see how many rats can be housed there comfortably!
Another important thing to note about housing is bedding. There are several different types of bedding, and it may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you. I prefer Aspen wood shavings. Make sure you clean the cage once it starts to get stinky/saturated as this can cause ammonia build-up and result in respiratory infections. Different rats can have sensitivities to different bedding. It may take some tries before you find one you both like.
*Fleece liners should have a layer of absorbent fabric (such as Uhaul furniture moving pads) to absorb urine and be thoroughly washed with hot water before use. Here are some great choices for pre-made, fitted liners.
*Wood bedding should be aspen or kiln-dried pine.
*Shredded paper bedding should be low-dust and baking soda free.
WATER & FOOD
I hate water bottles. I've always had such a hard time finding one that didn't leak, was easy to clean, and held a good amount of water. Glass ones are good, but because I am throwing mine around so often I only use plastic. These are the water bottles I use consistently. Don't forget to toss your bottles in the dishwasher often! I recently added the top-fill RentACoop bottles (I use similar ones for my chickens). Not sure how they will hold up in the long-run but I love that I can fill them with the hose!
Rats can be weird with food. Some rats will eat out of a food dish just fine with good manners, but others will hoard the food in their hide or bury the whole food dish under their bedding. It's up to you how you feed them, but I will link a good dish I use for mealworms and some chew-proof cage bowls. It's a good idea to keep fresh fruits & veggies in a bowl so they don't get the bedding wet or moldy.
It's important to give your rats plenty of enrichment items. Places like Dollar Tree and thrift stores provide lots of cheap options for baskets, toys, and hides. Rats love comfy places to sleep, like hammocks, that can be found on Amazon or Etsy (I love supporting small businesses that sew rat hammocks!). It's good to have a few of these on hand as some rats like to chew their hammocks up pretty fast. You can always make some inexpensive ones with thrifted clothes or bandanas. Be sure to snip any strings that hang off - they could get wrapped around tiny toes. I like to use shower hooks to hang my hammocks, but be sure your rats can't get their heads stuck in them.
Rats benefit from a variety of things to chew on. I've included a few of those below as well. It's ok to give them wood here as they will chew it up and you can throw away the bits that start to get splintery. I recommend everyone having a lava ledge! They are great for helping file your rats' teeth and nails. I like to put mine under the water bottle so the rats have to climb up there to drink (as long as they are proficiently mobile). Make sure any toys or treats do not have timothy or alfalfa hay. Rats have a hard time digesting these, although they do love some grass hay or oat hay to nest in! It's a good idea to read the ingredients of anything you want to give your ratties.
Another cage staple is a hide. Rats love to nest and snuggle up in a cozy dark hidey hole. I prefer plastic igloos as there is ample space, you can see through them to keep an eye on your babies, and they do well in the dishwasher! They also LOVE space pods. These can stand on the bottom of the cage or hang on the top or sides. I like to steer clear of wood hides because they can absorb urine, can't really be easily cleaned, and will sometimes transmit mites. (It's a good idea to freeze any bedding, food, and toys that come into your home).
The last thing I will mention here is wheels. Some rats love them, some never use them, others use them as beds. Here are a few I've used and liked. Be sure they are LARGE, even if your rat is still small. A too-small wheel will result in your rat's tail curling over and impeding their spinal development long-term. It's good to get one with a solid bottom so feet don't get stuck between wires. It's worth it to invest in one that won't squeak so you can actually sleep at night. :)
Litter box training can be super rewarding! I recommend putting a different kind of bedding in the litter box than the cage, and some smooth river rocks can encourage rats to pee there. Some rats are pretty stubborn, but a lot will pick it up quickly! Here are some good tips for litter box training.
Common Medical Issues & Local VetsHere is a list of known rat vets in the area. If you have one that you use and trust, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know so we can add it! Rats have a variety of medical issues that an owner should look out for. PLEASE reach out to me if you are needing help with a rat you've adopted from me. Exotic rat vets can be expensive and I *may* be able to help. I encourage you to research and bookmark some reference sites so you can access them if/when a problem comes up. Here is a great resource for common illnesses. And another link to signs of illness to look out for. Respiratory & Heart Issues Mycoplasma - Use caution when using Amoxicillin!
Dealing with AggressionFirst, take a look at this article to determine how your rat is using their teeth. Rats can show aggression when they are scared, injured, or just unsocialized. Here's a great video on how to handle rat aggression when it is rat-on-rat. Here is another article. When the aggression is rat-on-human, please check out this video. You can try making a high-pitched "eep" sound when they start to nibble, to show them it hurts (like with puppies). Here is a great resource on identifying the cause of your rat's aggression. Please email me if you are having aggression issues with your rat and I may be able to help!
Introducing New RatsThis is more of an issue with males than it is females, but is still important to talk about. There are many great tips and tricks on introducing a new rat to your mischief. Please check out these links for great insight: Basic Introduction Procedures Introducing Rats Successfully
Bonding with Your RatBonding with your new rat can be a process. As with dogs and cats, rescue rats come from a variety of backgrounds where they may have received tons or very little attention and socialization. Please don't give up on them! Here is a great resource with tips and ideas for bonding with your new pet. Here is another site with some additional tips and tricks. Rats should be handled confidently and securely. Do not handle a timid rat in their cage - take them out and hold them for awhile or put them on the bed and let them come to you. Reaching into a cage to a scared rat will frequently result in a bite.