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Caring for Your Rat
By Mark Burgess, DVM
Rats are friendly, social, intelligent animals who rarely
bite when raised with people. They make excellent
pets, and are large enough for most older children
to handle without injuring them. They may be hurt by
toddlers and small children, though, who may be too
rough or may step or fall on the pet.
Rats are easily cared for, and they become very at-
tached to their people. Of all the rodents, rats prob-
ably make the most consistently good pets. They are
very bright and often learn tricks. Female rats are
more active and inquisitive, while male rats are more
sedentary. Use caution if you have dogs or cats,
since they may attack a rat. With good care, most
rats will live two to three years.
If you’re thinking about getting a rat, please adopt from a rescue group rather than buy-
ing from a pet store or breeder. There are many wonderful rats out there just waiting to
be adopted. To find a rat rescue, do a search for “rat rescue” on the Internet. Or, check
out the “small and furry” category on www.petfinder.com.
Rats should be securely housed in a spacious cage (at least 18 x 24 inches for one rat).
They are escape artists and, if allowed to roam unobserved, they can get into trouble,
such as gnawing on electrical cords or furniture. Wire cages are well ventilated but they
can be drafty, so keep them in a warm area away from windows. Glass aquariums are
less drafty, but they are poorly ventilated and must be kept very clean. Urine buildup in
the bedding causes ammonia fumes, which damage the rat’s lungs.
The cage bottom should have a thick (1 1/2 inch minimum) layer of soft bedding; the
best type is the ground-up paper bedding that is widely sold for rodents. You can also
use hardwood shavings made from birch, aspen or alder (but not cedar or pine, which
contain toxic oils). You can provide a wood or cardboard box for the rat to make a nest
in, and toys such as cardboard tubes. Kleenex tissues make great