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    Small Pets Resource Center

    Rats (Fancy, Dumbo, Hairless)


    Rattus norvegicus


    2-5 years


    avg. 5-9 inches


    normal room temperature; not affected by normal house temperature ranges


    Fancy rats are domesticated brown rats which have been carefully bred for desirable characteristics. They have been kept as pets since the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe. Domesticated rats are physiologically and psychologically different from their wild relatives.


    Rats have very poor distance vision and depth perception, but they can see colors in the ultraviolet spectrum that are invisible to the human eye.

    A rat will reach puberty by the time it is only two months old, or younger. Females will go into heat about once a week. This heat period generally lasts one day. A female rat can have a litter of up to 11 babies every 4-5 weeks.

    Recent research suggests that rats can smell in “stereo” with each nostril working independently of the other, much the same way human ears do. This excellent sense of smell helps the rat locate food.


    Very social & engaging - generally very gregarious. Rats are happiest living in groups of two or more. It is sometimes difficult to introduce new rats to each other, so it is best to purchase them at the same time from the same cage at the pet store. Rats are extremely intelligent and enjoy being handled and exploring. They are also well-balanced acrobats! Be sure to provide many toys and playthings. Your rat will love its out of cage time to play with you. Male rats do not often get along well together unless they are siblings and purchased at the same time; also make sure to select a cage large enough to give them separate living spaces. Female rats will get along extremely well. Do not keep males and females together as they reproduce readily. Rats are easily tamed, even if they are difficult at first. The more you handle and work with your pet, the tamer it will become. Any animal may bite in defense if it feels threatened, but domestic rats generally are not known to bite. Remember to work with your pet after dusk, as it will be more willing to cooperate since it is a nocturnal animal. Place your pet’s cage in a place in the home where it will be around the family, yet protected from direct light, drafts and excess noise during the day. Also be sure it is high enough to be out of reach of dog noses and small children’s hands. Rats are prey animals and can feel threatened by large bodies above them or in their faces.


    vegetarians / grain eaters - will eat an occasional insect such as crickets or mealworms


    Commercially prepared rat diets are available at all pet stores. Plain, “rodent block” pellet diets are best, as they offer a complete balanced diet. Diets that include seeds and treats seem to be nicer for your pet, but many rats will only pick out the treats and not eat the pellets. This may result in malnutrition and obesity. You can feed seeds as a treat for your pet and use them for training and taming purposes. Be sure to replenish the food in your rat’s cage often. Rats are notorious for food hoarding. They will take food to various places in the cage for storage, bury it and often forget about it. For this reason it is important to spot clean your pet’s cage daily to remove fresh foods that may become spoiled. Seeds and pellets can remain in their hiding spots.

    FRESH FOODS: Healthy, fresh fruits, vegetables and grains can also be fed to your rat. Offer these treats in small amounts, as they may cause diarrhea if fed in too great an amount.

    ** Please avoid feeding sugary treats such as yogurt drops or honey sticks to your rat. These treats contain far too much sugar and can cause several health issues such as diabetes.


    If fed a balanced diet, supplements are not necessary for your mouse.


    Clean, fresh chlorine-free water must always be available. Change it daily. All water given must be 100% free of chlorine and heavy metals. (Not all home water filtration systems remove 100% of the chlorine and heavy metals from tap water). We recommend that you use unflavored bottled drinking water or bottled natural spring water; never use untreated tap water. If tap water is used, you should treat it with a de-chlorinating treatment. De-chlorinator is available in the fish department. If you do not want to chemically de-chlorinate the water, you can leave an open container of tap water out for at least 24 hours. Do not use distilled water, which can cause severe medical problems, since it lacks minerals that are essential to important body functions.


    20 - 40 gallon sized glass cage with locking top, or similarly sized plastic rat cage (with narrow bar space). Running wheel with solid running surface. Non-solid surfaces can cause injury.
    Several toys. Pelleted, timothy based commercial rat/rodent food & timothy hay.
    One or two hide houses. Shredded aspen bedding, “Carefresh”, or newspaper for the bottom of the tank.
    Water bottle. Rat book


    the smallest cages thinking that because the pet is small, it does not need much room. Rats love to run and explore. A 20-gallon glass tank is an excellent sized cage for one to two rats, a 40-gallon is even better and can house up to four rats. Wire sided rat cages are also an excellent choice, given the cage is large enough. Guinea pig and rabbit cages can be used, just ensure the bar spacing is close enough to keep the rat from escaping through them. Rats can flatten their bodies enough to fit through very small spaces - about the size of a half-dollar. Place into the cage several hide houses, a solid floored plastic wheel and chew toys. Small cardboard boxes will also be appreciated. When designing your cage set-up, be sure to include a mesh wire top for the cage that can be secured snugly with cage “locks”. Rats WILL find a way to escape if it is possible.

    DO NOT choose a cage too small for your rat(s). It is a sad, unfortunate fate to put such an animal in a small cage. Small cages can lead to depression, stress, and physical illness.


    HIDE HOUSE: The hide house is extremely important to your rat, and will most likely become your pet’s main ‘bedroom’. Two to three (depending on cage size and number of rats) will be appreciated even more. Rats will not often relieve themselves inside the hide house or ‘nest’, so it is not necessary to disturb the nest to clean it daily. Cleaning of the hide house can be done during the more intensive bi-weekly cleaning.

    WATER BOTTLE: A full water bottle must be available at all times; refill it daily. Be sure to clean out the inside of the bottle thoroughly during the more intensive cage cleaning sessions every week. Water bottles will often become slimy inside, which will in turn harbor harmful bacteria. Clean the bottle thoroughly with a mild bleach solution (1 bleach: 32 water). Be sure to rinse the bottle extremely well after the cleaning to ensure no bleach is left behind! Your pet will most likely chew a bottle inside the cage, so be sure to attach the bottle to the OUTSIDE of the cage. Check the straw daily for any blockages to make sure your pet always has access to the fresh water. If you cannot place the bottle on the outside of the cage, purchase a metal water bottle guard. This will keep him or her from getting to the bottle.

    BEDDING: We recommend an aspen bedding or soft recycled newspaper bedding such as “Carefresh”. Neither of these choices will cause allergic reactions or respiratory distress and it is easy to clean. DO NOT use cedar chips, as they contain dangerous phenols, which are toxic to your pet. Place enough bedding in the cage so your pet can happily tunnel underneath it. Spot clean your pet’s cage daily by simply removing the soiled portions of bedding.

    TOYS: Several types of toys must be available to your rat. Chewing toys such as wooden small mammal toys (available at the pet store), hide houses, wheels, cardboard boxes, paper towel tubes and dried untreated fruit tree branches are all excellent toys for your mouse. Rats MUST chew constantly in order to wear their teeth down, which grow on a continual basis. Therefore, toys that allow your pet to chew and wear those teeth down are invaluable. Stick to toys bought at the pet store, as these are generally made of pet-safe materials.



    Daily maintenance should consist of spot cleaning by removing soiled substrate, cleaning water bowl thoroughly and wiping glass clean.

    The entire cage should be cleaned thoroughly at least once every week with:

    • A mild dishwashing liquid in warm water (make a weak dilution), THEN
    • Vinegar & water (1:8) OR bleach and warm water (1:32)
    • Cage “furniture” should also be scrubbed clean with the same dilution.



    It is not necessary to clean or bathe your rat. They are extremely neat and will groom themselves! If it seems as if your rat has not been grooming him or herself, he may be ill. Contact your exotic pet veterinarian.



    Healthy rats have a rounded, full body and smooth, even fur with no bald patches. The nostrils, under-tail area, under-chin area, ears and eyes should be clear and free of discharge - fur should not be damp or stained in any way. Your pet should have bright eyes; teeth should be even and well aligned with no staining around the chin; breathing should be even and not labored, with no wheezing or gurgling sounds. Healthy rats are very energetic and busy; although there are nocturnal and may be caught napping during the day.

    We recommend physical exams every year with an exotic pet veterinarian for small mammals. If your vet sees your pet regularly, many common conditions that afflict your pet can be caught and treated early. If not caught early enough or if left untreated, many of these conditions can become far worse if not fatal.


    Tumors Lumps, developing often on side of body or under belly See your exotic veterinarian for treatment. Depending on size and type, may be able to be surgically removed.
    Mites Loss of hair, bare spots on skin or small red sores; scratching See your exotic veterinarian for treatment. Cuts must be cleaned properly and antibiotics may be necessary.
    Traumatic injury Obvious open wounds or weeping spots on body See your exotic veterinarian for treatment. Cuts must be cleaned properly and antibiotics may be necessary.
    Overgrown teeth Drooling, bleeding from mouth, inability to eat See your exotic veterinarian immediately. The abscess must be drained and antibiotics administered.


    ©2012 Evan J. Reed DVM and Dawn M. Trainor-Scalise Courtesy of: Specialized Care for Avian & Exotic Pets In conjunction with Pet Supplies Plus 10882 Main Street, Clarence, NY 14031 Ph (716) 759-0144

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