Rats Make Fun and Friendly Pets
I have spent many years of my life taking care of wonderful, loving rodents as pets. I have studied various aspects of their life and through years of experience and research I want to share my knowledge so that all who keep rodents as pets are doing their very best to ensure the health and happiness of their furry family member. If you are not ready to treat your pet with special care and consideration, being attentive to all his needs, then you shouldn't have one. Much like dogs, rats can be expressive, loving, and fun to play with.
Rats need attention, they love it. You need to be able to play with your rodent every single day, it will keep them happy and happiness means health. Think of it from THEIR perspective for a moment. If you were trapped in a cage for the majority of the day, you would sure be happy to get out of there and run around wouldn't you? Absolutely! Conversely, if you were trapped in that cage and largely ignored, you would probably become very sad and depressed and your health would suffer. So let that be the first rule of giving your rat a good life, they have a short one, so do your best to make it THEIR best.
Next would be the environment they spend the rest of their time in. Never, ever use a cage with wire floors, ever. They can get their little feet and legs caught between the wire mesh and break bones and the stress from such a damaging experience can be even worse for them. Rats are EXTREMELY sensitive to stress, it affects them quite significantly. So therefore a cage with a solid bottom, like a large glass aquarium for fish or reptiles would be best for your rat. The bigger the better is always the way to go. Sometimes you can find cheaper used aquariums on craigslist since pet stores charge an arm and a leg for them. I would never even consider anything under 20 gallons in size for one rat, and over 40 is more appropriate. The more room they have to play and run around in, the better off they will be when YOU are busy with the rest of your life. Larger cages also mean you have to clean them less often, which saves you time. Even if you have a large cage, cleaning should still be done often, and on a regular basis.
For most cages, a thorough cleaning where you replace all the bedding and wipe down the floor and walls, should be done once a week. Again, look at the situation from the rats perspective and realize that you would HATE to be stuck in a stinky cage that wasn't cleaned often enough so you have to eat, sleep, and drink next to and on top of your own feces and urine. Gross! So be considerate and keep their home clean. As to which bedding you should buy, the Carefresh brand and other brands that use the same type of recycled paper pulp are ideal. I wouldn't use anything else, and would never THINK about any of the wood shavings as bedding especially the cedar which is hazardous to your pet's health. The Carefresh bedding is very absorbent and simply the best for your rat, hamster, mouse, etc.
Never let your rat run out of water. He should always have a supply of fresh drinking water (I fill up my rats water bottle with filtered water from a "Pur" filter), so be sure to keep an eye on it and rinse out and refill when he is getting low. For food, there are dozens of choices out there for feeding your pet, and you should learn what he likes and stick to that brand. Like dogs, rats don't like their diet changed abruptly, so if you switch food brands, be sure to "ease" in the new brand by mixing the two types for a few days or a week. Keep the food bowl full while your rat is young and try to get an idea of how much he eats. Don't let him starve, but if he starts to pack on the ounces, you will have to cut back on the food, OR find a food with less fat. The best way to handle his weight would be giving him plenty of food, but also giving him plenty of exercise so he can burn off the calories. Fat rats won't live as long as their healthy counterparts. Rats also enjoy a variety of treats you can give them which should constitute no more than 10% of their total diet. Small treats such as carrots, celery, apple, raisins, broccoli, and banana fed occasionally will make your friend very happy. Of course pet stores will also carry nutritious treats as well. Some things to avoid would be caffeine, dairy and chocolate.
Other things to avoid would be holding your rat by his tail, NEVER do this! It is very uncomfortable for them and can even rip their skin off causing bleeding and much pain for your pet. ALWAYS hold rats gently by supporting all four of their feet. Never let your pet play in a room where he can get stuck somewhere, or where he might find a place to hide that is difficult for you to reach. I used to let my rat play in my bathroom while I got ready for work, but there was a small hole under the sink cabinet that he crawled into. I had to pry off the nailed-in mouldings to reach him and get him out! Also, don't leave your rat unattended for too long when he is out playing, rats do get thirsty and need rest and water!
All in all, be sure to have fun with your rat but keep him away from small children. Your pet rat will love being your friend if you are friendly to him and make sure all his needs are well taken care of: clean cage, attention, food and water. Enjoy!