Rats are very intelligent and very friendly animals. Many people are afraid of rats, mainly because rats are often portrayed in a dim light in literature and movies. However, domestic rats are clean, friendly, and very social.
Rats interact beautifully with people. They love to be held, petted, and loved. Rats have a great deal of fun climbing up on people’s shoulders and arms. If you are looking for a small mammal that will want to spend time with you, rats are a wonderful choice!
The Rat’s Domain
Rats require a good size cage to live in. It is best to have a wire cage that has more than one level to it. Rats love to climb and explore, so two or three levels is perfect for a single rat. The best type of cage is a wire cage because it provides plenty of ventilation and allows your rat to see out of the cage clearly.
The only thing to be careful of with a wire cage is the ramps leading to the other levels. Rats can get their legs caught in the wiring on the ramps. To prevent this from happening, place cardboard strips or paper towels on the ramps. In any case, make sure the padding on the ramps can be removed in case it gets dirty.
Don’t house your rat in a glass aquarium- they don’t provide enough ventilation. Also, feces and urine can get caught on the glass, and if the glass is not cleaned on a regular basis, this build up can lead to infections in your rat. Never house your rat in a habitrail (plastic house with tubes). Habitrails are not designed to house rats and do not provide enough ventilation. There are not enough openings in the tubes or in the base to provide proper airflow.
Also, rats are just too large for them and they can easily escape from a habitrail by chewing through the plastic. Habitrails are also too hard to clean — urine and feces build up in the tubes, making it difficult to clean the tubes properly.
Rats like to make nests to sleep in, so you should provide many different textures for your rat to nest in. Rats like to sleep in hay, shredded paper, tissues, paper towels, cotton balls, and ripped up pieces of cloth. They also like hideaways to make their nests in. Some fun things are: wooden boxes, empty oatmeal containers, shoeboxes, empty tissue containers, wicker baskets (not treated with dyes, glues, or chemicals), cardboard tubes or empty cardboard cracker boxes.
Rats are also wonderful tight rope walkers, so if you can tie a piece of rope across the top of your rat’s cage they will use it to climb on.
NEVER offer a hamster exercise wheel to your rat. His long tail can get caught in the wheel and get injured.
The best way to set up your rat’s cage with these materials is to layer the bottom part of the cage with newspaper and then add hay, shredded paper, fun toys, and houses.
NEVER use cedar shavings because they will cause liver disease or respiratory problems in any small mammal. It is also best to avoid pine shavings because they contain a high level of oils that can cause skin problems. If at all possible, avoid all shavings.
Rats do not require any inoculations from the vet, so the most critical way to keep them healthy is to keep their cage clean. Rats produce a lot of feces and urine so it is necessary to clean their cage every day. Improper cleaning can cause medical problems for your rat. A build up of feces or urine can cause infections in your rat. Remember, cleaning is one of the most important things you can do for your rat and once you get your system down it will only take you a few minutes a day.
The best kind of food to feed your rat is rat blocks. They are found in most pet supply stores. The rat block is good because your rat will get 100% nutrition with every bite that it takes. This is important since rats will pick and choose what they want to eat if you offer a dried fruit mix, which can lead to health issues. It is also important to offer fresh fruits and vegetables to your rat. This diet will provide your rat with the proper vitamins and minerals it needs.
Some good treats for rats are: tomatoes, strawberries, apples (no seeds, they contain arsenic), bananas, romaine lettuce, papaya, mango, kiwi fruit, pineapple, raisins, grapes, carrots, and coarse cut oatmeal.
Holding your Rat
It is important to handle your rat for at least a half hour each day. Consistent handling will make your rat a lot more responsive to people, and it will give them added exercise away from their cage.
NEVER hold a rat by its tail because it can injure the rat. Pick the rat up securely by the body or by cupping your hands and scooping it up. You will quickly learn that your rat loves to be held and will greet you at the cage door in the hopes of being held.