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fAcTs - Pet Rats

Rat FAQ -- checklists and summaries





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  • Rats can hear and utter ultrasound
  • Rats have extremely sensitive whiskers
  • Rats have quite a bad eyesight
  • Rats have a highly developed sense of smell and taste
  • Rats can squeeze themselves through small holes, balance their way across ropes and cables, climb up vertical pipes and poles, swim, jump and dive

rat with long whiskers



  • Rats are smart and curious but suspicious
  • Rats love soft flute music, peace and quiet, but hate loud noises
  • Rats are most active in the twilight
  • Rats are adaptable to different climate, new surroundings etc
  • Rats are social, good-natured and friendly
  • Rats are cuddly and like to play
  • Rats love to eat
  • Rats like to gnaw at things
  • Rats are awfully fertile


a rat's skeletton
Always look on....


  • Rats' body length = 20-28cm, tail length = 17-23cm
  • Grown-up rats weigh 200-500g, new-born ones 40-100g
  • Rats' fur can be in different colors: Agouti (brown like wild rats), white, creme-colored, black, bluish, gray or reddish. -- Plain, spotted, capped (white with colored head), Husky (white with gray pattern), or hooded (white with colored head and back).
  • Rats are prone to die of cancer (age: about two years)


a rat's skull
...the bright side of life.





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Grain and Nuts

  • ca 70% of daily food: various grains (= "Muesli")
  • rolled oats (ca 20% of all grain)
  • millet, oat and wheat sprouts (esp in winter)
  • carob ("Johannisbrot")
  • few corn/maize
  • wholegrain rice
  • raw dry noodles and pasta - without spices of course!
  • sunflower seeds in shell (but not too many since they contain lots of fat)
  • peanuts, hazelnuts etc in shell
  • almonds and paranuts without shell

rat eating a nut
*CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH* Oh, did I wake you up??

A piece of fruit or vegetable (need to be washed before feeding!)

  • all kinds of fresh or dehydrated fruits: pieces of banana, apple, pear, mellons (incl mellon seeds)...
  • all kinds of vegetables: cucumber (very popular with rats!), tomatoes, carrots, kohlrabi...
  • sweet chestnuts, berries, raisins, grapes...
  • plums, cherries, apricots, peaches --> remove stones first, they contain prussic acid!
  • fresh lamb's lettuce, dandelion leaves, daisies...

young rat sitting on top of a piece of apple
It's all mine! It's bigger than my head, but mine!

additionally everyday

  • protein: e.g. 1 spoon of soya flour
  • a little bit of dried yeast
  • a piece of rock-hard dark (wholemeal) bread to gnaw (dried, but without any mould!)


additionally once a week

  • mild cheese
  • yoghurt, quark (unsweetened)
  • cooked egg
  • little pieces of ground beef or cooked fish fillet (without bones)
  • walnuts in shell (few)
  • boiled or mashed potatoes
  • fish food (to provide animal protein)



  • no (spiced) left-overs, sausages, ham, bacon...
  • no spices (salt, sugar, etc)...
  • no sweets, chocolate (can cause allergic reactions and makes fat)...
  • no butter or milk (causes diarrhea)...
  • no peas and beans (can swell and cause stomach ache)...
  • no alcohol, tea, coffee, tobacco, soft drinks...
  • no avocados! (certain types are poisonous to pets, and you can't tell them apart!)
  • rather no citrus fruits like oranges or lemons (too much acid)
  • no cabbage (not unhealthy, but makes them fart) ;-)
  • lettuce can contain too much nitrites


further tips

  • Generally, food pellets like the ones that are sold with rodent food in shops are not exactly popular with rats, so don't spend extra money on them, most rats won't touch them anyway.
  • Rats like them, but be careful not to feed too many sun flower seeds and walnuts since they contain much fat.
  • Rats love sweets - but it is terribly unhealthy for them. Sugar and fat will shorten your rats life. Spare those for rare special occasions.
  • Don't train your rats to be picky by refilling their bowls before they are empty! Else they will eat only what they like best in an unbalanced way.
  • Pet shops (at least in Germany) sell hard grain-covered sticks for rodents to gnaw. Even if this is a good opportunity for rats to sharpen their teeth not all rats like these sticks! Try first whether your rats like them before buying a lot of that stuff. They often contain too much fat and sugar, too.






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two rats sitting on branches
BTW, sister, your paper on "Dealing with Humans" is genius,
especially the chapter on "Looking sweet and innocent"!

  • Never keep a single rat: Rats only feel happy together with fellow-rats
  • Don't pet or feed them from your hand during the first days unless they have become tame, else they might get scared and bite
  • Rats like close body contact: Pet them and let them sit on your lap or in the sleeves of your sweater
  • Talk and play with them
  • Provide these intelligent animals with "sophisticated" entertainment
  • Let them get at least 1-2 hours of exercise every day, but make sure to remove possible sources of danger
  • Avoid making loud noises, and don't shout at them, or they'll panic. Don't get angry at them if they don't become house-trained.
  • Never grab rats by their tails
  • Don't forget to clean the rats' sleeping place, cage and bowls regularly with hot water. The water bottle for example will soon turn green of algae if you don't. NOTE: Don't clean the rats' house while they are near - the tend to defend their nest with their teeth!





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Make sure to provide entertainment by offering a variety of different activities, surprises and changing arrangements of playthings in- and outside their cage, e.g.:

  • cave made of tree bark
  • twigs and branches to climb
  • pieces of wood and dry rock-hard dark bread to gnaw
  • small straw baskets
  • a hammock made of a piece of cloth/towel fastened to the bars across the cage (don't use safety pins!)
  • ladders, rope ladders, ropes (horizontal and vertical!) to climb
  • pipes formed out of wire-netting fence (mind the points of the fence!), ceramic, or plastic pipes
  • a board with holes
  • empty cans (mind the sharp edges!)
  • self-made wooden seesaw, metal slide, swing
  • a box filled with paper balls - with something eatable hidden inside in a few of them
  • paper rolls, paper bags, cardboard box with holes
  • old shoes
  • pieces of cotton or linnen cloth
  • ....!

two rats sitting in a hammock winking
a couple of rats cuddling up in a basket inside the cage
Sigh. Why does our feeding bowl have to be
so far away from here...

a mouse in a hamster wheel
Hamster wheels soon become boring
to a rat and rats can also
get hurt by those small wheels.


Some more examples for playground activities and equipment:

Human Toy ;-)

A tame rat's favorite toy is probably "their" human. Sit down on the floor while your rats are having their daily exercise in the room and let them climb onto your shoulders, under your sweater, inside your sleeves... Of course they will also try to nibble your socks, bite your ear, chase each other underneath your t-shirt, or climb up your trousers on the inside -- which tihihickles a bihihit. ;-D


Special Playground

You can have a special playground by fastening a wooden frame around the edges of an unused table; this removable chipboard frame should be 15 cm high. Put various interesting things (like mentioned above) inside and let the rats explore this new place; change the arrangement now and then. You still need to attend to them, of course, for they can jump over the frame.


Soft flute music

Some guy claims that rats seem to enjoy soft flute music, for example by Mozart! You can fall back upon the calming effect of this kind of music to soothe your rats when they are scared by their new surroundings or when the rats need to stay home alone for some time.


Stairway climbing

Let the rats climb up and down a stairway (put some ladders, ropes etc there), and place bits of food or different things to explore on some of the stairs. I have seen little rodents enthusiastically speed up a (carpet-covered) stairway in no time!


"Swimming pool"

Place a bowl filled with lukewarm shallow water at a sunny spot. If it is not a small bowl, then remember to install a stable(!) ladder or raft in the basin to allow the rats to leave the water easily when they want to! Let them dry their fur in the sun after bathing. On cold days make sure the room is heated, and dry the rats' fur afterwards with a towel and let them sit near the heating. (Hair driers are too noisy.)
If your rats appear to be scared of water, don't push them, not all of them like it. Some however can suddenly easily be convinced to step into water when they find some pieces of cucumber swimming in the pool. ;-)


Sand box

Now and then, give them a sand box to dig and play in. You can hide peanuts (in shell) or plastic pipes in the sand. Make sure the sand is clean, don't take sand from a public playground since they often are misused as litter boxes for cats and dogs.


Potted food

Fill earth into a flowerpot and let seeds and grains shoot in there. To prevent the rats from eating every single shoot plus roots on the first day, cover the flower pot with a piece of wire-netting, so the rats can only eat the tips of each shoot - that way the shoots will keep on growing.



Let the rats sit in a sunny spot now and then, but don't put the cage into the sunlight; always allow them to retreat into a shadier place when they want to. If rats don't get enough sunlight they can become ill!



Provide a little litter box as a toilet in the room where the rats have their daily exercise, and inside a corner of the cage. But don't get angry if your rats do not learn to be house-trained.


Darra sniffing at a box filled with food
*Sniff*... Potatoes... Parsley... Grains... Yoghurt Drops...
Wait... My food, locked into this box?
Okay, say your last prayer, box..... [Darra]







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source danger always remember...
doors, windows, wardrobe, drawer escape, getting caught

... to keep them closed, or open them only very slowly and carefully for a short time.

cables, sockets electric shock

... to unplug cables, put cables out of reach (cover)

heat (>25°C), sun, heater, inside car heat-stroke

... not to place the cage in direct sunlight or too close to the heater. Transport rats by car only in the morning or evenings instead of in the midday heat, don't park the car in the sun.

cold (< 8°C) freezing

... not to switch off the heater in winter

candles, cigarettes, fireplace, stove, toaster burn, scald

... to extinguish all fire and cigarette stubs, unplug stove and toaster

potted plants (!!!), cleanser, alcohol, cigarettes, batteries poisoning

... to put those poisonous substances out of reach, clean cage with hot water and vinegar.

other animals (cat, fish, mice, hamster, guinea pig, dog...) fights

... to keep rats apart from other animals. If the rats and the other animal don't fear each other, still never leave them in the same room unattended!

humans: inadvertent kick, opening doors, moving chairs, etc bruising

...to move carefully while the rats are outside their cage, watch out where you step or take a seat

sharp objects - cans, nails, pins, metal tubes cuts, (internal) injuries

...to put every such thing out of reach.

snake swallowing a rat
Facing danger is brave, but this is TOO close...





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old bookshelf turned into a rat cage
A great example of a self-made rat cage (from the German Ratside Of Life webpage)

  • cage size: 80x45cm, 70 hight (minimum suitable for two rats - the bigger the better!)
  • cage divided into 2 or 3 floors
  • sleeping house
  • tissue, hay and scraps of cloth to up-holster the sleeping place
  • stable (heavy) feeding and drinking bowls, water bottle
  • layers of paper and sawdust on the floor
  • playthings, ladders etc
  • branches, hard bread to gnaw







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? [Why are the rats doing that?]
! [How do I react?]


->The rat is washing herself thoroughly with her tongue
?Rats are cleanly and wash their fur several times a day.
!Don't disturb the rat now.

->The rat suddenly starts washing her face with her hands and tongue
?The rat is confused by something that just happened.

rat cleaning her face
Boohoo.... The last episode
of Babylon 5 was so touching....

->The rats are washing each other with their tongues / they welcome each other
?These rats are close friends, they enjoy being with their fellow rats
!Never keep them single!


->The rat is sniffing the air / the rat is standing on her hind legs
?She suspects danger
!You can tell her in a calm voice that everything's okay


->The rats are cuddling up beside each other
?Rats like close body contact to their friends
!Offer them your friendship by letting them also sit on your lap or shoulder, or in your sleeve. Play and cuddle with them.


->The rats are sniffing at each other
?Rats distinguish fellow rats (and humans, too) by their smell
!Don't wear perfume and don't use perfumed soap before touching the rats, or they'll have difficulties in recognizing you.


->The rat is "silently" standing on her hind legs, mouth wide open, showing her teeth
?Defense reaction. The rat is screaming in ultrasound (not perceivable for us) to threaten an attacker
!Calm her down, separate fighting rats carefully


->Rats unfamiliar to each other box and bite
?They fight to drive the intruder away
!Calm them down, separate fighting rats carefully


->The rats are creeping underneath or across each other
?They are caressing each other and mix their smell as sign of friendship/family
!They like being petted by their human friends, too


->One rat makes another rat turn onto her back until the lower one finally says "eek!"
?The stronger rat has shown her strength to the other one who surrendered.
!Don't interrupt as long as they don't really bite/hurt each other. Usually it is only symbolical (unaggressive) fighting. BTW -- If you need to tell a rat "Stop it, I am the boss around here", you can also and turn her around on her back for a moment, to speak her language.


->A rat takes a couple of tiny bites at your fingers or sweater in an playful way
? She pretends to clean your "fur" like rats do it for each other.
! It's a sign they consider you part of the family. By watching who cleans whose fur for how long you can tell the current hierarchy in your rat clan -- make sure you are not in second position. ;-) The bossier rat grooms the others' fur longer for them to adopt his smell.


->A rat who had understood before not to gnaw at certain things, later suddenly tears these things apart again despite of what she had learned before.
?She might feel neglected and is desperately trying to catch your attention for sure
!Consider it an subtle reminder of spending more time with her, or providing her with more sophisticated playthings.


->The rat is marking the ground with a drop of urine
?She marks her territory


->The rat "eeks" (a high sound on the edge of the human hearing range)
?She's angry or disagrees (with being taken back into the cage for example). Rats also eek to say "Ah shit, I give up, you are stronger."


->The rat is grinding her teeth
?Rats sometimes just sharpen their teeth this way, else they do it in extremely emotional situations like joy or anger.






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0 days old

Rats are born naked and blind. The mother gives birth to 10-16 or more young ones at a time, this can happen 4 times a year.

Be aware that a female rat can conceive again 24h after giving birth!

10 days old

Fur begins to grow.

13-16 days old

The young ones open their eyes and start exploring their surroundings; their mother carries them back into the nest.

from 18 days on

Even if the young ones still are being suckled you can begin to offer them food (soya flour, crushed rolled oats, oatmeal, linseed, fruit or vegetable mash (baby food), little pieces of fruits and vegetables....).

4-6 weeks old

a rat embryo
Switch off the lights
in here, 'kay??!

Young ones still learn a lot from their mother even if they are no longer being suckled. They can be given away (in couples of the same gender) now at the earliest. 4 weeks old: Rats can become mature by this age! Better keep males and females+mother in 2 separated cages (but let the mother meet with the male young ones while they are getting some exercise outside their cage, until they are 6 weeks old).
5 weeks old: The fur has fully grown.
6 weeks old: All rats are mature by this age. They change their fur for the first time.






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symptoms cause What to do?
apathy, fast breathing, eyes wide open heat shock Cover the rats body with wet cool handkerchiefs. Offer her fresh (slightly salted) water. In bad cases see a vet to prevent heart attack.
sneezing, wet nose/ eyes draught -> cold dab nose with a soft towel and consult a vet at once to prevent pneumonia. Give them lukewarm fennel tea and put the cage in a draught-free place
sneezing, wet nose, cough, groan draught -> pneumonia; or even lung cancer consult a vet at once
feet and tongue turn blue (!), wheezing lung cancer Take the rat to a vet, probably it's better to put her to sleep.
weakness, impaired balance (rolling over), wry neck, disorientation; apathy and lacking interest in food; coughing, sneezing; ear or lung infection. Might for example be caused by Mycoplasmosis Take the rat to a vet, try Antibiotics (Baytril). If she is no longer able to walk and eat on her own, it probably is better to put her to sleep.
diarrhea, lacking appetite wrong diet (too much fruits?); infection Clean the rat's anus with a soft towel and warm water. Provide her with enough water, camomile or fennel tea, feed more rolled oats and less fruits. If it's not getting better the next day, take the rat and an excrement sample to a vet
minor hair loss fur change in autumn/spring By petting them you can help your rats to remove dead hair
bold spots, scabby or bloody fur, greasy dandruff fungal, allergic or parasitic skin infection consult a vet at once, for humans can be infected too (don't touch the infected spot)!
hair loss, dull, matted or bloody fur, scratching allergic reaction (mainly albino rats) remove possible causes like chemically treated hay, saw-dust, cleansers and blooming plants from the cage, consult a vet
scratching, scabby or bloody fur, white dots on the fur vermin (lice etc) consult a vet and use appropriate liquid medicine (no powder or sprays), disinfect cage and equipment
abscess, inflammation minor injuries, bites by fellow-rats consult a vet to have the abscess surgically removed
tumors at legs and flanks
Check your rats for tumors!
cancer consult a vet: tumors can be removed surgically in early state, later consider putting the rat to sleep.
lacking appetite illness other than cancer choose different food, consult a vet
injury bite by fellow-rat, accident consult a vet before it gets worse
excessive thirst kidney disease (leptospirose) consult a vet, for humans can be infected by leptospirose
teeth have grown too long
a rat with extremely long front teeth
no comment...
lack of hard bread, nuts, wood etc to gnaw consult a vet to have the rat's teeth cut, provide the rat with enough hard bread etc
nails have grown too long lack of hard surfaces consult a vet to have the rat's nails cut, let the rats walk on hard surfaces (stone) now and then
blindness old age There is no way to restore an old rat's eyesight, but rats can cope with being blind for their other senses are highly developed. Make sure not to scare the rat by unexpectedly touching her, let her smell that you're near first, and talk to her.
dirty fur / ears (old) rat might not able to clean herself Assist your rat by washing dirty spots with a soft tissue and warm water.
slow movements, fur interspersed with white hair, weariness, lacking interest, paralyzed legs old age rearrange cage and playground to make it easier for the old rat to move around without having to climb too much