The Pet Circle Rat Care Guide

Last Updated THURS 4 MARCH 2021

This article is written by Pet Circle pet guru Gemma Radcliffe with input from veterinarian Dr Nicole Su BVSc (Hons)

Squeak! While some people might think of rats as dirty little critters that like to chew on wires, we think the complete opposite here at Pet Circle. Pet rats are affectionate, highly intelligent and downright adorable creatures that make great pets, but can be rather misunderstood from time-to-time...

With rats' bad rap coming from the devastating effects of the Black Death in the 1300s (it was the fleas, darn it!), many people get their rat facts mixed up. For example, did you know that rats are super clean? And that they are highly intelligent and able to be trained to do tricks? If you think you'd love to have one of these smart creatures by your side, read on and discover our beginner's rat care guide.

1. Finding Your Furry Friend

Like most pets, rats are available to be adopted from rescue groups - you may just have to do some clever hunting, as they aren't as popular as cats and dogs. Alternatively, you can seek out a registered breeder to ensure that your new companion is healthy and free from diseases. Look up your local Rodent Fanciers Society to get in touch with some reputable breeders. Take care when adopting rats from a pet shop, as their health, breeding and temperaments are unknown.

There are a few other things to consider as well when looking for a pet rat, such as: male or female? Males tend to be more affectionate, but should be desexed to prevent spraying. Female rats are much smaller, highly active and enjoy building and snuggling in their little nests. But whicever gender you choose, it's best to stick with all males or all females to prevent unwanted pups and to encourage good behaviour.

2. Get Them a Companion

You probably noticed that we just said "all males" or "all females"...that's because you should never own just one rat. Like guinea pigs, rats are highly social animals, and tend to do better with a friend or two. Rats of the same sex can get along just fine so long as they have been introduced properly or have grown up together. On their own, rats will develop depression and anxiety, so make sure you adopt or buy a pair to ensure a happy family.

3. Get the Right Supplies

It’s important to get the right supplies, when bringing your rats home. Rats are very clean, interactive and affectionate, which is why they make such great pets! We recommend you grab the following essentials before bringing your new rodent home:

A roomy cage, made from wire with (preferably) a solid floor. Cages made for ferrets or guinea pigs are perfect for this, as rats love to climb, play and explore, so they'll appreciate the extra space! Make sure the spaces between the wires are not too large or your rat may go for a bit of an adventure!

A carry cage for vet visits. Rat proof cages to transport your rodent to the vet is a must. It is important for your rats to have an annual checkup with an experienced exotics vet. All new rats should have a check-up before being brought home.

Some bedding and/or litter.Rats are prone to respiratory diseases with dirty bedding and litter being one of the risk factors. A clean cage and dust free bedding can go a long way to reducing these risks. Steer well clear of birch or cedar shavings (these can make it hard for your ratty to breathe and are also toxic!) and focus instead on paper-based litters. These will make a big difference in the long-term health of your rat, keeping their respiratory system nice and healthy.

A corner toiletwill work nicely if you plan to toilet-train your rat (yes, they can be trained - they're very clean!).

A nest or hideaway, if one wasn't included with your cage. Rats like to nest and feel secure, just like many pocket pets. Rats also seem to LOVE hammocks and cuddle beds, so definitely consider one!

Feeding accessories. Consider a heavy food bowl that is slanted for easy access such as Living World Ergonomic Food Bowl that cannot be tipped, as well as a glass or clear plastic drink bottle that cannot be contaminated. Fun food toys such as vegetable holders or treat balls are also a great way to provide enrichment and keep your rat's cage even cleaner.

Toys! From things to nibble on, things to hide in or climb on and even toys to tunnel through will all help provide enrichment for your rats, which is essential for their wellbeing.

4. Diet

When it comes to your rat's diet, you'll be surprised at what's on the menu! Rats are omnivorous, so they can eat a huge variety of fruits, vegetables and meats. And of course, always be sure to supply fresh drinking water.

However many pet rats are prone to developing obesity, due to their selective eating habits. Offering a range of food (especially vegetables) from a young age can help encourage good eating habits.

Foods you should NEVER feed your rat

There are certain foods that are not safe for your rat including: seeds, lactose, some raw vegetables, and anything sugary such as candy and chocolate. If you're ever unsure, a quick Google search will help you out.

5. Grooming

Rats are actually very clean critters - but of course, if you allow them to lie about in old food or can't keep up with maintaining their litter, chances are that your rat will need a bath at some point. This is easy enough to do with a shallow basin, warm water, and baby shampoo or rodent safe shampoo or shampoo for kittens. Make sure you get right down into the undercoat, too.

If your rat is not particularly active, or does not have toys that naturally wear down their nails, you will also want to trim their nails (especially if you want to avoid scratches when handling your rat). Small clippers for puppies and kittens are perfect - then, just follow the rules you use for clipping cats' or dogs' nails. If you are nervous, speak to your local veterinary clinic who can provide some assistance.

6. Parasite Prevention

Rats can suffer from numerous ailments, including mite and lice infestation. These can be treated with very small doses of Revolution - but you must be careful that you don't over-treat your little companion, so make sure you consult with your vet before use.

Once you have sorted out the mites and lice on your rats, you should also thoroughly clean their cage, toys, and anything they have recently been in contact with to prevent a re-infestation. Consider using a veterinary safe disinfectant such as F10 or Vetafarm Small Pet Hutch Clean Spray to help with routine disinfection of their enclosure.

7. Health


Did you know rats can be sterilised? Sterilisation helps reduce the risk of infighting, prevents unwanted pregnancies, and reduces the risks of reproductive cancers. Speak to your veterinarian to discuss these procedures in more detail.

As a prey species, rats are very good at disguising signs of illness, pain or discomfort, until they are extremely unwell. Annual health checks will help you stay on top of your rats' health. Rats are particularly prone to respiratory diseases as well as tumors. Keeping a clean enclosure, free of dust and excessive ammonia build up is very important. In addition frequent handling of your rat can help you to identify any abnormalities such as unusual lumps and bumps. Always seek assistance from an experienced veterinarian if you have any concerns about your rats health or behaviour.

8. Training

Would you be surprised if we told you that you can not only litter train your rat, but also clicker-train them and teach them to recognise simple words? Rats are intelligent and love to run obstacle courses, and of course are happy to cuddle so long as you approach them gently (never pick a rat up by its tail!).

With the correct training, love and care, you're sure to find a rat to be a wonderful addition to your life!