Before You Get Your Rats
Getting any pet, not just rats, mean a commitment to that animal for the duration of its life. Most rats only live 2-3 years, but there have been cases of them surviving for up to 5 years. In fact, the longest living domestic rat, named Rodney, died at the grand age of 7 years. Please keep this in mind when deciding if rats are the pet for you.
Before you get your rats, I also strongly recommend that you check if you may have them. This may sound obvious, but certain housing situations, such as living in a flat, may not allow for pets, and you’ll need to check beforehand.
Once you’ve decided that rats are the pet for you, you’ll need to make sure you are prepared with housing and food before bringing your rats home.
You’ll need a cage at least 70cm (l) x 45cm (h) x 45cm (w) for a pair of rats. Avoid fish tanks. They don't allow for adequate ventilation, nor do they come with platforms and climbing areas that rats need.
Ideally the cage should have platforms, and if you’re getting young rats, narrow bars. The recommended bar spacing for rats under the age of 4 months is 0.5–1cm and up to 2cm for rats older than 4 months. Keep in mind that some rats won’t grow very big and even adult rats can squash through bars wider than 1cm. Also, keep in mind that some rats, especially males, may grow very large and will need larger housing, such as a guinea pig cage.
You can make some home-made toys out of toilet roll tubes, boxes, paper (not plastic!) bags, old T-shirts and cloths. You can also add a hammock to the cage, which rats thoroughly enjoy (I’ve never met a rat who didn’t like a hammock!). Wooden bird toys and rawhide dogs chew bones also make nice toys.
Next up is bowls. Ideally something non-tippable, such as a dog bowl, should be used. I use them in my rat cages with great success. Plastic ‘D’ bowls work well too, as they can be hung on the side of the cage.
A water bottle is a better option than a water bowl, which just ends up with bedding floating around in it. Glass water bottles break very easily, especially if the rats tug on it, so a plastic bottle with a metal tube and ball work much better.
Your rats will need bedding. Sawdust isn’t a great idea. Rats are allergic to it, and with long-term use, can even lead to pneumonia and problems with various internal organs. Clay cat litters are also dangerous due to the dust and they can cause blockages if ingested.
Hay can be used, but it must be dust-free and good quality.
The best bedding I've found is EcoFAB. It's a dust-extracted shredded newspaper, originally designed for horses, and specifically for race horses with allergies and respiratory-related problems. EcoFAB is very economical, lasts long, has superb odour control and is cool in summer and warm in winter. Most SARBU ratteries now choose EcoFAB as their preferred bedding. EcoFAB is only available through SnuggaRat.
Cobtech Amaizing Corncob bedding also works well and it good for odour control, as is shredded office paper and Oaten Chaff. Dust-free rabbit or lucerne pellets can also be used, or a paper-based cat litter.
For food, your rats should be on a diet made for rats. Hamster food is no good! It’s too high in protein, and you’ll find the poor ratties scratching from the protein allergy. Do not let them talk you into buying hamster or parrot food for your rats! Unfortunately, few petshops are aware that rats cannot be kept like hamsters, and therefore cannot eat hamster food.
In the past, I used to recommend Reggie Rat, but no longer. Reggie Rat is now too high in sodium and processed pellets and the SARBU breeders have noticed that the majority of Reggie Rat-fed rats become obese and develop tumours and overall poor health in their older age.
I recommend a good balanced rat mix, such as SnuggaRat Adult Maintenance or the Pretoria Rattery Diet. Both have been developed and extensively tested by SARBU breeders with wonderful results. The rats thrive on these mixes and the mixes are balanced for rats in South Africa. They are also often cheaper than store-bought mixes.
If no other options can be found, then Rat Nature may be used.
So, let’s summarise. Before you get your rats, you’ll need:
A Water Bottle
Lastly, you’ll need to look for a vet in your area that can treat your rat in case of an emergency. The best way to do this is to ask other rat owners or phone all your nearby vets and ask if they treat rats. Not all vets have experience treating rats, other than humanely euthanizing them.
I also recommend that you read my page about Choosing A Rat before acquiring a rat.
If you are interested in acquiring rats, or have any questions about anything rat-related, please feel free to email or phone me. Details are on the Contacts page.