If you are looking for a pet with personality and smarts but don’t have a lot of space, maybe you should consider a pet rat. Rats make excellent pets, especially if socialized from an early age. Rats are quiet, clean, and easy to maintain. They are sweet, smart, friendly, social, active, and very entertaining. You can keep your pet rat as healthy as possible by following the simple instructions below.

Biological Facts

  • Norway or brown rat (Rattus norvegicus)
  • Originated in temperate regions of central Asia
  • Wild rats are burrowing, colonial animals.
  • Rats will breed year-round in captivity.
  • Sexual maturity is reached by 6-8 weeks.
  • Gestation is approximately 21 days.
  • Young are raised communally with shared nursing responsibilities.
  • Life-expectancy for rats is 2.5-3.5 years.


  • Rats are social and should be kept in pairs or small groups. A single rat may become lonely and develop behavioral problems.
  • Fighting rarely occurs among adults.
  • Are most active at night, hence their suitability for people who work all day.
  • They are gentle and will usually only bite when in pain or very fearful.
  • Rats are easily startled and should be awakened before being picking up.
  • Wash hands after touching carnivores to reduce the chances of getting bitten.
  • Spend time with your rats. The more attention you give, the more bonded, active, healthy, and friendly your rat will be.


  • Rats are omnivorous and feed primarily at night.
  • They are cautious feeders and may avoid new foods. Diet changes must be made very gradually.
  • Diet should primarily consist of commercial rodent “block” or “chow”.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are provided in moderation.
  • Only limited amounts seeds, raisins, etc. should be provided as treats.
  • Studies indicate that rats live longer if fat and protein are somewhat restricted.
  • Because rats are nocturnal, the cage should be located where it is fairly quiet during the day, but still near the social activity in the home. A dimly lit environment is preferred.
  • The cage should provide enough room for movement and exercise. A large, multi-level cage is preferred.
  • A wire cage with a solid metal or plastic bottom is ideal; it provides more ventilation than a glass enclosure, which helps prevent respiratory infections.
  • Rats enjoy privacy and require a “hide box” for security.
  • Cage temperature should be 65-70°F (18-27°C); 72°F (22°C) is ideal.
  • Humidity should be 30-70%.
  • Environmental enrichment is important. Rats enjoy tearing up paper or cardboard for nesting material, and they will burrow if given the opportunity.
  • Provide an exercise wheel with a solid running surface to avoid foot injuries
  • Aspen shavings or recycled newspaper bedding are recommended. Pine and cedar should be avoided.
  • Sipper bottle with fresh water should be available at all times

· Water should be available 24 hours a day and is usually provided in sipper tubes. Inspect daily for any signs of blockage or food obstructing the opening.


· Rats demonstrate more behavior when housed with other rats. Keeping at least two rats of the same gender (unless they are spayed/neutered) is strongly recommended.

Preventive Care

  • Routine physical examination every 6 to 12 months
    • Consult a veterinarian with experience treating exotic pets if you have any questions or concerns about your hedgehog’s health.
  • Annual fecal examination for parasites
  • Spaying female rats will prevent mammary gland tumors (very common)
  • Blood tests as recommended by your veterinarian

Common Medical Disorders

  • Respiratory infections (Mycoplasma, other bacteria, and viruses)
  • Incisors malocclusion
  • Head tilt (pituitary tumor, inner-ear infection)
  • Obesity
  • Chronic renal disease
  • Salivary gland inflammation
  • Ectoparasites (mites and lice)
  • Mammary gland tumors occur in a high percentage of unspayed females