I think there are different ways a person can earn the title “Mom” or “Dad.” Raising a child makes you a parent, but plenty of people strongly identify as pet parents.
While there is a vast difference between raising humans and animals, they both need shelter, food, medical care, and our attention. Which is why the menagerie of animals I took care of before my son Rory was born helped shape my parental instincts. I learned that when you are a mom or dad to either a human or animal, they both require dedicated love and commitment.
Owning small pocket pets like rats is no different. Despite their size, they are NOT disposable pets — no animal is. They deserve as much dedication as a cat or dog. What they lack in size, they offer in personality and fun!
So, what exactly does it take to raise rat kids? Well, let’s take a look at the top 10 things that you can (and should) focus on to earn yourself a mug proclaiming you “Rat Mom Of The Year” or “Rat Dad Of The Year.”
Boost Your Knowledge Of Rats
Educate yourself on the ins and outs of rat care long before they ever enter your home. You must know what you’re getting yourself into and whether rats are the right pets for you and your lifestyle. You also need to know the kind of financial commitment you’re about to make. And you should learn how to spot the types of health issues that will inevitably pop up over their lifetime.
With that said, I know that excitement over a new type of pet can persuade someone to bring one home before they know anything about them. I’m guilty of this myself. I knew next to nothing about rats when I got my first one. All the mistakes I made back then taught me the value of education and research for the animals I care for now. It’s never too late to start learning. In fact, learning is an ongoing process for as long you keep pets.
But beware. There’s a lot of misinformation about rat care online. Unfortunately, this means you must work extra hard. Don’t just assume that a website about rats is giving you correct advice. A lot of well-meaning people regurgitate facts they think are true, rather than diligently researching them first.
A few websites I recommend include:
• For all things rat health, my go-to is the Rat Guide (vets even refer to it!)
• For information on an abundance of rat care topics visit Join Rats or Rat & Mouse Club of America
• Rat rescues like Rattie Ratz and Wee Companions can also be great resources
Give Them Shelter
It’s imperative that you provide an appropriate rat habitat. Your rats will spend a good portion of their time in a cage. The cage needs be large enough for the number of rats you have, well-ventilated (made from wire, not glass), and multi-leveled.
For safety, doors require secure locks, bar spacing must not let the rats squeeze through, and floors should be solid, if possible, to prevent injury. My preferred way of covering wire floors is using thick, plastic drawer liner secured with zip ties.
Take time to learn about the different brands and style of cages, and the best size for your rat mischief. You can find a list of good resources on this subject at Rattie Ratz or The Rat Care Guide’s cage accessories info.
Always, always keep your rats’ habitat clean. A dirty habitat can make your rats ill.
Stock Those Supplies
No matter which cage you choose, it needs to be equipped with proper supplies. A water bottle, food dish, beds, and bedding are the must-have supplies to get started.
When it comes to beds, I like to offer my rats a selection of hammocks styles, along with an igloo and a space pod. Ultimately, rats like beds they can hide in. You can also repurpose cardboard boxes and plastic containers for added variety or if you’re on a budget.
Bonus supplies to have include, but are not limited to:
• a litter box (and scooper)
• rat-safe running wheel
Create A Safe Environment
Want to know if the environment is safe for your rats? The following questions and tips can help you identify safety concerns.
Did you research the cage and supplies you bought? Don’t assume a product labeled for rats is safe unless you research.
Do you clean hammocks in unscented laundry products? Scented products can aggravate rats’ respiratory system.
Where does the cage sit in the house? Placement of the cage is extremely important.
• Avoid any areas with drafts (whether from vents, windows, etc.).
• Avoid any areas that are too hot or too cold.
• Avoid any areas where other pets can access the cage.
Are there poisonous plants near their cage or where they roam?
Do you use lit candles? Are these unscented and out of rat reach when they roam under your supervision?
Are you using cleaning products or bug sprays next to the cage? Don’t!
Offer Nutritious, Tasty Food
A “parent’s” job is to make sure our “children” eat a proper diet. Thankfully, rats aren’t nearly as picky as human kids are, so this isn’t too difficult. Choose a staple diet that is formulated for rats specifically, provide fresh fruits and vegetables daily, keep their water fresh (filtered water changed daily is the best), and offer snacks only in moderation. It’s difficult not to spoil them, but don’t let them guilt you!
Portion control and minimal snacks go a long way in keeping rats healthy and fit. Overfeeding is the quickest way to obesity and health problems.
Lafeber’s Rascally Rat Nutri-Berries are a complete diet for adult rats and formulated by trusted, top exotic vets and nutritionists!
Visit The Vet
No one likes to think about our pets getting sick or old, but this is the unfortunate downside to being a pet owner. Rats in particular are also prone to respiratory illnesses and tumors, but prompt medical attention can, in many cases, save their lives. The right medication or treatment can often go a long way in their quality of life or preventing an early death.
When you get your rat, find an exotics veterinarian who specializes in rats so you know who to contact should your rat face a health issue. Once a rat is ill, time is truly of the essence! As is a vet who knows what they’re doing. This is also why educating yourself is so important. The quicker you can spot signs of illness, the better chance of survival for your pet. And the more you know about their health, the more equipped you are at preventive care.
I highly suggest starting a savings account specifically for your rats (or all your pets). Regrettably, vet clinics don’t give price breaks that match the size of the pet, so it’s better to be prepared when an emergency arises. You can also look into a pet insurance that covers exotic pets.
Focus On Companionship
Wild rats live in large packs, also called mischiefs. So, it’s not surprising that domesticated rats absolutely thrive on companionship and can even get depressed when they are alone. There are legitimate reasons why a rat may need to be a singleton, but generally, rats need to be with other rats. I usually recommend starting with three rats, so that when one passes away, there are still two to comfort one another. I personally prefer larger groups and usually keep 4 to 6 rats at a time. Watching a group of rats together is an absolute joy!
Offer Options For Exercise And Mental Stimulation
A happy, active rat has a better chance of being a healthy rat. So, find ways to help your rats exercise their bodies and their minds. To keep them active in their cage, provide several levels to move around in. Items like ramps, giant wheels (if they will use them), and rope ladders can help keep their body moving. While food foragers, toys, and digging boxes are a few ways to keep their mind active.
Outside of the cage you can set up a safe play area for them or rat-proof a room so they can free-range. Include items they can climb, crawl in, and interact with. If you have the patience and time, consider training them to do tricks or buy them a puzzle toy.
Spend Time Together
It’s not just other rats they need, our rats also need us! Rats gain confidence and learn to trust when they receive attention from their humans. It is typically suggested to spend at least 1 to 2 hours a day with them interacting, holding, cuddling, and playing. If your day is busy, split the time up over different periods. It also helps to keep their cage in a room that you frequent or where they can easily hear you. The more you interact with them, the stronger the bond you form.
Shower Them With Love
This may seem obvious, or too simplistic, but love your rats. This emotion pushes people to be their best. It gives us drive when we are tired. It makes us advocates and protectors. And it will remind you of the commitment you made when you became a rat owner.
None of us will be the absolute perfect rat parent, but the more effort you put toward the role, the better your rats’ lives will be.
Happy upcoming Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to all the rat moms and rat dads out there!