Tips & Tricks

Rat New Owner Guide

Posted November 13, 2023 by Danny Reid Category: Rats

Pet rats (also known as fancy rats) are a domesticated breed of Rattus norvegicus. Bred as pets since the late 19th century, pet rats can be trained to use a litter box, come when called, and
perform a variety of tricks. They are clean, sociable, playful and intelligent animals that love human company and attention when properly looked after. They have as little in common with
their wild relatives as the average family dog does his cousin the wolf. Well kept rats will live about 2 to 3 years, although the oldest rat on record is said to have lived over 7 years. In short
rats make ideal pets for almost anyone and rat care is easy with a little knowledge.

In this guide, you will learn about feeding, grooming, handling and housing your rats, as well as how to provide a healthy diet and what signals to look for to let you know they may be unwell.
The goal of this guide is to allow you to have a fulfilling and enjoyable relationship with your pet rats.


You need to be well prepared for the arrival of your rats. There are a number of things to think about. For example, where will you keep your ratties? What sort of cage will you provide for
them? Do you have all of the necessary bedding, food, water, hiding places and toys for your rats health and comfort?


Cages such as the one pictured below, make the best housing for rats:

  • They provide good ventilation
  • They’re an excellent climbing-frame.
  • Your rats can see, hear and smell the world and in particular keep an eye on you.
  • You can interact with your rats through the bars.

However, wire floors should never be left uncovered. Wire flooring can trap feet and also cause a condition called Bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis). Wire floored cages also have
ammonia levels many times higher than cages with a solid floor plus litter. Excessive ammonia can cause respiratory problems in your rats. Ideally the enclosure provides your rats with security, ventilation and an ideal temperature – warm in winter and cool in summer. Also consider that the larger the cage, the more likely it is to stay clean and tidy as your rats will have more room to play and live.


Remember that the larger the cage, the more likely it is to stay clean and tidy. Your rats will have more room to play and live and their litter tray and food bowls can be kept well
away from each other.


Bedding is what you lay on the bottom of the cage. Rat bedding is important not only for your
rats comfort, but also for yours. A good bedding will absorb urine well and keep your pet rat dry
and healthy. In general, it’s a good idea to line the cage with newspaper and then place the
bedding over the top. This helps make the cage easier to clean and protect the bottom of the
cage from urine and droppings.
Paper pellets, straw pellets, shredded cardboard and fabric make excellent bedding. Shredded
paper is also acceptable but care should be taken as some inks can be toxic.
Cedar or pine bedding, cat litter (especially clumping) and corn cob bedding is not
recommended. Wood can let off fumes and if eaten, which is highly likely, may contain toxins.
Clumping litter can cause clumps and blockages in the stomach and intestines of your rat,
resulting in a critically ill animal (non-clumping is better but still not advisable). Corn cob
bedding can cause issues when swallowed and tends to get moldy when it gets damp
Keep in mind that even the best bedding needs to be changed regularly. A daily change of
bedding is recommended – yes it’s a little extra work but it means that your rats aren’t
wallowing in their own filth and it also means that particles of rat feaces and urine aren’t
wafting through your home for days on end. However, if your rats are litter box trained and do
not urinate and defecate all over their cage, you might be able to get away with longer intervals
between complete cage cleans.


Rats are adventurous little creatures and love to have a variety of options to choose from when
it comes to sleeping. An ‘igloo’ is always popular, along with hammocks and cubes.


Rats just want to have fun so provide them with things to play with. The best toy they will have,
of course, is you. Interaction, hand wrestling, training and play time out of their cage with you
are the most important activities that your rats can have. During the times that you are not
around though, other toys will make the rat’s life more fun.

Treat Toys

Treat toys are always a big hit. You can find toys that hold treats at your pet store such as
hanging treat balls and hidey boxes.
For a simple homemade treat toy you can put treats in a small cardboard box and watch as your
rats busily demolish it to get their treat.
You can also attach fruit or hard treats with holes drilled into
them to a large binder ring and attach it to the side of the

Dunking for peas is another great way to make your rat think
and work for their treats.


Rats love to climb. You can outfit your cage with such things as ladders,
ropes, wooden bird branches, and climbing tubes. You will find many good
climbing toys in the bird department of the pet store. Take care to not use
climbing toys in the cages of elderly or ill rats.
Digging Boxes
In the wild rats forage and dig. Giving them a digging box is a safe way to let them indulge in
this natural behavior.

To create a digging box all you need is a plastic box, such as a litter box for cats or a low plastic storage box, and digging material. This can be anything from a bag of
potting soil to shredded paper. If using soil make sure it has no fertilizers or other additives.
Assorted rocks and a PVC tunnel partially buried create
an even more interesting environment. For fun, and to add enrichment, hide treats in the digging box for your rat. Never use straw or hay etc for these boxes as the dust can cause and/or aggravate any breathing problems.


Nutrition is the basis for maintaining good health in your rat, and a good base diet that contains
essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals, along with a variety of fruits, nuts, and vegetables
will do just that.
Rats are omnivorous requiring both plant and animal food sources in their diets (much like
humans), and specially formulated diets help to meet those nutritional requirements.


Vegetables Fruit Treats – in moderation
Green beans
Banana – not green
Apple – no seeds
Paw Paw
Kiwi Fruit
Most Berries
Popcorn – plain
Yoghurt drops
Puree Baby food
Cheese – not blue
Sunflower Seeds
Cooked Pasta
Cooked Egg

Rats will have their individual tastes so don’t expect each one to like the same. This is why it is
essential to give a wide choice. After time, you will get to know the food your rat likes and

These foods are to be avoided totally:
Green Bananas Mango
Apple Seeds Raw Brussel Sprouts
Oranges Artichoke
Onion Rhubarb
Red Cabbage Raw Sweet Potato


A good quality kibble is essential for a well balanced diet for your rat. Ensure it is one that
allows your rat access to all the grains, vitamins and minerals they require to remain
healthy. Vetafarm Rodent Origins (below) is an excellent example.
Providing your rat with two food dishes will help to keep their dry and moist foods separate.


Rat/mouse mix contains peanuts and
sunflower seeds, both of which are very
fattening in large quantities.


Your rats should always have access to fresh water in a bottle attached to the side of the cage,
such as the one shown in the illustration. Check the water level daily (also that the ball is loose
and allowing water to flow) and replace completely every 2 days. A bowl of water will get
tipped and/or become dirty very quickly.



Rats don’t actually need baths as they groom pretty much all day to keep themselves clean. But
there are times you might need to bathe them, such as:
 If they get something yucky on their fur you’d rather they
didn’t groom off and ingest
 If they sleep in pee soaked bedding and end up stinky
 If it’s for medical treatment, like a bath for a skin condition
or to treat for parasites
 If they are old or incapacitated and aren’t grooming
themselves sufficiently
 If it’s really hot and you need to cool them down
 If they actually enjoy it… there are actually some rats who do love baths

How to bathe a rat.

How to bathe a rat
1. Prepare the area:
 Fill the sink with warm water – just a little warmer than you think, rats have higher body
temperatures than us.
 Clear the bench of any clutter and place down a towel
for the rat to stand on when wet.
 Have shampoo open and ready – a mild small animal
 Have a dry towel or two within reach
 Perhaps also a bristle brush for grooming
2. Quickly dunk you rat up to the neck in the water, holding him
there until he is wet through. Ensure you keep his head and
ears free of water. Let him leap out of the sink onto the towel on the bench
3. Using a small amount of shampoo, lather your rat up using your nails to get down through to
the base of the fur. This is also a handy time to clean his tail with a toothbrush (brush towards
the tip).
4. Dunk your rat back into the water to remove all trace of the shampoo. Let him leap out onto
the towel on the bench
5. Bundle him up in a dry towel and rub rub rub… he’ll like this part. A groom with a bristled
brush helps to smooth and separate the wet fur and thus dry his coat faster naturally. If it’s a
cold day, ensure you dry him completely so he doesn’t get chilled afterwards. Perhaps use a
hairdryer on low setting if he’ll tolerate it, or place him in a warm room to dry naturally.
9 | Rodent New Owner Care Guide/Created April 2016/AWLQ Education Division/
File Location: Mdrive/Education/PocketPets/RatInfo
6. Offer treats afterwards as a reward, this can help to
development an acceptance of the bath
Some rats do actually enjoy a bath and will swim about in the sink.

Some more bathing tips:

 Work fast – less stress involved for you and your rat.
 It’s important not to bathe your rat with shampoo too
often as it can remove the natural skin oils, resulting in dry itchy skin. Bathe as often as
necessary with water only, and use a mild, natural shampoo only sparingly.
 Speak calmly, soothingly and encouragingly to your rat during the whole process.
 Expect some madness in the cage post bath, especially from your alpha rat. When the
shampoo/clean smell takes over from rat smell, your alpha may feel the need to
reassert himself by rubbing against and peeing on everything, puffing menacingly and
grooming everyone.

The best healthcare for your rat is PREVENTATIVE health. This means preventing problems from
happening by keeping him on a good, well balanced diet and checking him regularly for
abnormal behaviour and or signs of illness, disease or parasites. Keeping a close eye on your rat
and giving him quality care, as you would any other member of your pet family, should
hopefully help you avoid expensive veterinary bills!
Be sure to establish that your vet has experience treating small animals, as not all vets know a
great deal about rats.
All rats carry Mycoplasma Pulmonis (Myco), although many spend their entire life without
showing any serious symptoms. Factors that can cause the disease to flare up include stress, a
weak immune system and other illnesses.
Symptoms include sneezing, sniffling, lethargy, occasional
squinting, laboured breathing, rough hair coat and porphyrin
staining (looks like blood) around the eyes and nose. The rat
may also tilt or roll its head. If the disease is untreated after
the onset of symptoms, it will enter the lungs and eventually
be fatal.
If your rat displays some or all of these symptoms, you should
take it to a vet as soon as possible. Although Myco cannot be cured, the infection can be suppressed with antibiotics. Rats can have other respiratory diseases but Myco is by far the
most common.
If your rat is scratching, or has scabs, mites or lice are the prime suspects. It is also possible,
although less common that the scabs have been caused by
fighting (assuming the rat shares a cage). You should start
treating any scratch marks and scabs as caused by mites
unless you have reason to think they have been inflicted
during fighting. Mites or lice are best treated with
Ivermectin, from your vet. You will want to make sure the
vet knows what he/she is doing as an overdose will be fatal
to the rat.
Protein allergy can be another cause of scabs. This may
cause scabs under the chin and around the face. Reducing protein in the affected rat’s diet will
help if this is the cause.
Bumblefoot will initially present as small red bumps that resemble
calluses. The bumps may become large and intermittently bleed
and scab over. This can lead to chronic inflammation and abscesses.

Typically, bumblefoot starts as a wound that becomes infected. The
first stage of treatment for bumblefoot is a combination of antibiotics
combined with cleaning and treatment of the wounds. If the lesions do
not respond, surgery may be needed. However this does not always
work. The best defence is to inspect your rats’ feet regularly for early
signs and keep their cage clean.

When you introduce rats, do it on neutral ground. Existing rats will vigorously defend their
territory if you put a new rat straight into their cage or find it where they are used to playing. A
bathtub might be a good place. Reducing or masking scent will help make things easier. Put a
small drop of a smelly (but harmless) substance such as vanilla essence on each rat. Bathing the rats can be a good way to reduce scent, however, if the rats do not like baths then you risk
causing more stress.
During the initial introduction you should physically supervise the rats. If things go well you can
leave them together on the neutral territory for up to a few hours (providing food, water and
somewhere comfortable to sleep. You may need to repeat this step a few times, or keep the
sessions shorter if introductions are more fraught.
Once you are confident that the rats will accept each other on
neutral ground it is time to get them together in their permanent
home. Prepare the cage by thoroughly washing it and all the
accessories etc to remove the scent of the existing rat. Make sure
you put in new bedding, food and water. Changing the contents
round can also help. The idea is to reduce the cues that trigger the
existing rat to defend its territory. If the rats do not get on in the
cage then go back to the neutral ground stage and repeat as
Sadly a few rats will not accept newcomers, so in a small number of cases no amount of work
will produce a positive outcome.
Remember –
 Expect some amount of scuffling during introductions: squeaking, chasing, nipping,
power grooming (where one rat pins the other down and grooms his belly or sniffs his
butt), standing up and staring at each other, boxing, etc. As long as no one gets
seriously hurt (i.e. blood) then it’s better to leave them to sort out their social
structure. Soon enough they’ll be curled up together in the communal hammock.
 Watch out for the signs of serious aggression: puffed up fur, sidling up to the other rat
(to appear larger), biting and hissing. Also look for signs that the new or submissive rat
might be scared or being injured, like screeching or screaming and cowering. If this
happens, have a towel or heavy gloves ready.
 Introducing adult males to each other is the hardest
scenario. Be very careful to introduce them properly and
make absolutely sure they accept each other before
leaving them together in a cage. This is the scenario with
the highest chance of failure.
 Adult rats will usually accept babies over 6 weeks.
However adults will sometimes attack babies. If they do,
remove the baby for its safety and wait until it is a little
older before trying again.

Allowing your rats to reproduce is not only unethical – it can be dangerous for the birthing
female. However, many people still end up with unplanned baby rats! Rats can reach sexual
maturity at 5 weeks of age, so the sexes should be separated prior to this age. They do not
recognize incest, so brothers and sisters and even mothers and sons must be separated.
Rats do not have a breeding season, although very hot or cold temperatures will reduce
breeding. Females of breeding age come into heat all year-round, every 4 to 5 days, unless they
are pregnant, and even then, they may come in heat once or twice early in the pregnancy. Each
female usually has a regular schedule that can be marked on the calendar, but it can vary. Each
heat usually begins in the evening and lasts most of the night.
While both male and female rats make great pets, you MUST know what the gender is of each
rat before you buy it. This is of the greatest importance, as you do not want your rats to fight
and very importantly, you don’t want any unwanted litters!
Two mature males will fight for dominance, so the main thing to remember to avoid putting
two mature males together. Even if one or both males have been desexed, they may still fight.
The second thing you want to watch out for is putting a fertile male in with a fertile female. If
you want to keep a male and a female together, you must have the male desexed. Keep in mind
that it is a far easier operation to have a male desexed than a female.
Perhaps the best and easiest pairing of rats is two young rats, and especially if they are females.
If by chance your rat does fall pregnant, or you happen to adopt one that is already pregnant
(which is a fairly common occurrence; especially from pet stores), you should take extra care to
nurture your expectant mum.
The gestation period is normally 22 days, but can vary from 21 to 23 (and rarely to 26). A
postpartum pregnancy will last 28 days. Two weeks into the pregnancy the mother’s abdomen
will usually start expanding, but not always. As the birth approaches, you may be able to see
the pups moving inside her, or feel them if you gently feel her abdomen. Her mammary glands
will also start to enlarge two weeks into the pregnancy.

The mother’s needs are simple: a nutritious diet, exercise, and extra nesting material a few days
before the expected event. Rats will normally have 6-13 pups. If the pregnant female has been
living with another female, or a neutered male, it is all right to leave them together during the
birth and the raising of the babies, as long as the cage is large enough to allow the mother
privacy. Never put a new rat in with a pregnant or nursing
female, because she will viciously attack it.
Sometimes a pregnant or nursing rat has a change in
personality due to hormone changes. She may become more
aggressive, or less interested in playing. In rat society, a
mother rat is usually dominant over all other rats, even if she
is usually submissive. However, when her job of child rearing
is over, the mother will usually regain her former status and
personality. It is also common for a nursing mom to have soft stools.

Rats learn quickly. Using positive reinforcements such as treats and praise will ensure that your
pet rat is eager to learn. The mental stimulation that training provides will enhance the rat’s
natural intelligence.
Things to remember when training your rat is that the rats own
personality may determine what tricks it will be best at. Active
females often do better at tricks that require agility and speed.
Some rats are smarter than others are. Gearing the training to
the rat’s activity level and intelligence will save both you and
your rat from becoming frustrated.
Be sure that there are not a lot of distractions, either sights or
smells, during training time. Keeping the training area consistent
will help to keep the rat’s natural instinct to explore new things at bay. Keep your training
sessions short- between 10 and 15 minutes and always be positive with your responses.

•Positive reinforcement

•Litter Training
•Coming to its name
•Learning the word “No”
•Agility courses
•Retrieving articles
•Standing on hind legs
•Harness & leash training
•Roll-about Ball training
•Obstacle course running
•Clicker training

Recall –
When teaching your rat to come to its name, start with them in their cage. Open the door and
call their name, then repeat the word while holding a treat. When they come to you, release
the treat to them, praise them verbally and/or reward by giving physical contact such as
scratching or by holding them.
Once they are coming to their name, slowly increase the distance between you. It won’t be
long before they are recalling from where ever they are in the room.
Litter Training –
Training rats to use the litter tray will keep their cage cleaner and the cleaning time down.
Most rats will toilet in one area/corner of their cage, and once you have discovered this
location place a litter tray there. Place some feaces into the tray
to help your rat to recognise this as the ‘toilet zone’. It shouldn’t
take long before they recognize this area and start to use it
Encouraging them to urinate in the tray is often harder as rats
naturally like to mark their areas. However, placing a rock into the
litter tray will help with this process as they will mark the ‘higher’
terrain of the tray and then, hopefully, continue to do so. Learning
to use the litter tray for urinating will take longer, due to their natural instincts, but it will


Get Social


23 Anderson St, Manunda QLD 4870
Mon - Fri | 8.30am - 5.30pm
Sat | 8.30am - 3pm
Sun | 9am - 1pm


183 Bruce Hwy, Edmonton QLD 4869
Mon - Fri | 9am - 5.30pm
Sat | 9am - 3pm
Sun | 10am - 2pm

Get in Touch

© Pet Cafe 2024

Site by