Congratulations on your newest family member! Rats make amazing pets, but it’s not quite like having a dog or a cat. Rats do require some special care and, let’s face it, some people hear “rat” and panic a little because they’re not sure what to do. I promise, it’s not that hard. We’ll go over a few things that I would recommend as well as a few sites you could also reference for more information.
First off, you’ll probably want a cage of sorts. Even if you want your rat to free roam, having a safe space for them is always a good idea. The big question is what kind of cage. As always, it kind of depends on your plans. But, what I suggest, is a large, multilevel cage with a plastic bottom. That’s what has always worked best for me. We currently have a Critter Nation with 4 levels that’s perfect for our 3 rats. When I was first starting out with rattys, I had bought a starter kit from the local pet store. It came with a smaller cage with multiple levels, food, a water bottle, a bedding sample, and a toy. It’s not a bad way to get going pretty quickly and it didn’t cost a whole awful lot (30 for the set, I do believe.) I wouldn’t recommend the smaller cage for more than two rats because it’s not huge, but it will do in a pinch. It’s currently being used as a standby hospital cage. Having a separate place for a sick, injured, or pregnant rat is always a good idea. Sometimes, they need to be separated.
Then you’ll need bedding. Because not only will it make the bottom more comfortable for you little baby, it will also make cleaning much easier because there won’t be little rat turds stuck to the bottom. This is one of those things where everyone has their own opinion and own ideas as to what is best. There are a lot of options. The most popular are wood chips, paper bedding, and fleece. Each has ups and downs and it just kind of depends on what you and your babies like the most. Wood chips are really good for absorbing odors but can cause sores if you have a rat that just likes to lay in one spot all day. Paper bedding is much softer and still can absorb odors, but can be dusty (depending on the brand) and cause breathing issues. Then there’s fleece. Yep, fleece. Like blankets. This is usually really easy to clean in the washer, they’re super soft, but can start to smell if you don’t keep them clean. But, they don’t make dust. I like using fleece because they can burrow under everything and mine tend not to chew through it. Then again, mine have been litter box trained so it makes life a little easier.
Food. Food is kind of important. Again, lots of options for this one. Some people like to make their own food blends. Some people like to buy food from the store. It’s up to you! I do a bit of both. If you want to make your own food, there are a few websites that you can check out that I will include links to. Also, when it comes to giving your rats people food, that’s completely okay! If you can eat, more than likely your rat can eat it. Just avoid citrus foods and bread. Those aren’t good for tiny tummies and throats. I, personally, stick to fresh veggies and noodles with cheese. Keep anything super fatty to a minimum to avoid unhealthy amounts of weight gain. They also love cooked chicken bones! It helps keep their teeth filed down and it’s a good source of protein. Just make sure they’re completely cooled before you give them away and remove them from their cage after a few hours. The bone pieces can be sharp and no one wants internal bleeding. The other thing I definitely want to mention is make sure you read the ingredients of treats or block food BEFORE you buy it/give it to a rat. Sometimes they can contain timothy hay or alfalfa, which rats can’t have. They won’t digest it, which can lead to intestinal blockages. Rats are not bunnies, they can’t eat the same things.
Toys and water are going to be added into the same paragraph because there isn’t a whole awful lot to them both. Both are very important, but there isn’t much to talk about. For water, you can use the standard small animal bottle that you hook to the side of the cage or a bowl of water like you would give a puppy. Both will work, but pay attention to which your rat seems to like the most. My girls grew up using a bottle and refuse to drink from a bowl. Just make sure they’ve got something they’ll use. Toys are important for preventing cage boredom and for keeping little brains occupied. These can also be homemade or store-bought and, again, I use a mixture of both. Just make sure you keep an eye on tiny teeth with homemade toys. A lot of them you can make out of cardboard but once they’ve been chewed up, get them out so no one tries to eat them. If you decide to just purchase toys, I actually recommend checking out the bird toys as well as the rodent stuff. Bird toys are made to last and (mostly) are made from wood, which is good for teeth. Plus, they might like the bells to keep you up at night or annoy the dog. And, of course, they’ll want places to snuggle up in. Small houses, hammocks, even the little plastic balls hamsters run around in can be turned into beds. These are easy to make, if you would like to be all DIY about it. You can also buy them from online vendors on Etsy or through Instagram to help support another rat owner! A lot of these places also make wearable snuggle sacks to help with bonding, so don’t be afraid to get that really cute scarf with a hole in it for you and your little one. Bonding, fashion, and cuddles all in one. What’s not to love?
But, the most important thing for a new baby is going to be you! Work on trust training your new baby, bond and spend time with them. You’re the best jungle gym a little rat could ask for. You’re one of the best playmates, best snuggle buddies, best mommy/daddy, best friend a rat can have. Give them lots of love, attention, and of course treats and they will love you until the end of their days. Just make sure to start slow. Socialization takes a while. We’ll cover that some other time.
Here’s just the basics for you. There is a lot more that goes into it, but this covers the very basics. What do you think? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments if there’s anything else you want more information about!
Any links included in the post are not affiliated in any way, shape, or form. These are just sites that I’ve personally used and felt the information was legit. I’m not working with anyone from the shops, they don’t even know I linked them here. But I think their stuff is fabulous and they deserve some recognition for that. Go show them some love.