Rats get a bad rap! They are some of the friendliest and easiest to train pets available.
Step 1: Research Before bringing home a rat, do some research. Avoid rats with signs of respiratory infection: leaky eyes or noses, noisy breathing, and strong odor from the mouth or ears. Choose one with thick fur, and avoid those that are skittish or aggressive. Take time to handle the rats before deciding on one.
Step 2: Provide company Rats love company. Your rat will be happiest with a friend to share its cage. Female rats get along well; male rats do fine once they've had time to get to know each other. Don't put a male and female rat in the same cage unless you want several more rats than you started with.
Step 3: Get a large cage Rats love to climb, so a large wire cage is best for them – especially two-story cages. Put the cage in a part of the house where there's a lot of action. More than most other rodents, rats like to see what's going on around them.
TIP: Make sure the bars of the cage are narrowly spaced. You can cover a cage with hardware cloth or metal screening if the bars are too close.
Step 4: Line the cage Line your rat's cage with aspen shavings or pellet or hay bedding. Don't use cedar or pine shavings, which contain chemicals that can be dangerous.
Step 5: Feed your rats Find a rodent food mix that's specially formulated for rats. In addition, give your rat small amounts of greens and vegetables each day. Remove uneaten fresh food from the cage every day.
TIP: Small pieces of fruit are okay for special treats.
Step 6: Change its water Make sure your rat always has fresh water. Since rats chew on their water bottles – and everything else! – use a metal bite guard.
TIP: Rats' teeth grow throughout their lifetimes, so give your pet untreated wood and dog biscuits to gnaw on.
Step 7: Give it places to play Rats crave lots of hiding places to play in and to sleep in. Put empty coffee cans, shoeboxes, overturned flowerpots, and cardboard tubes in the cage. Provide your rat with paper towels to shred for its nest.
Step 8: Provide a wheel and toys Put a large exercise wheel or two in the cage. The best exercise wheels are made of solid plastic, not wire. Like kids, rats get bored, so offer yours a variety of toys. Rats enjoy toys that are made for parrots, including ropes and swings.
Step 9: When to call the vet Call a small-animal vet if your rats have dull or runny eyes, matted fur, breathing problems, or diarrhea.
Step 10: Enjoy your happy, healthy rat Congratulations on overcoming one of the animal world's worst stereotypes! You and your new rat are in for a great time together.
FACT: In Ancient Rome, rats were considered good luck.