So You've Decided To Get a Pet Rat

By Scott McHenry

So you’ve decided to get a pet rat. There are many things you will need to decide on to prepare for your new pet. We’ll go over each of these items in this article.

The first decision you have to make is whether you want a male or female. There are a number of differences between male and female rats.

Males tend to mark their territory with drops of their urine. Because of this habit their cage will require slightly more frequent cleaning than a cage of females. Males are usually larger than females which make them easier for children to handle. Generally males are lazier and more relaxed than females. Most of the time males are content to just lay around most of the day. This makes them great lap pets.

Females will usually be smaller than males. They are also more active and will require a little more interaction and toys to keep them from being bored. Females tend to be more curious and inquisitive than males, so you will have to keep a closer eye on them when they’re outside of their cage. If you purchase a female make sure the pet store has the males and females separated or you could end up bringing home a pregnant rat.

The next thing you will have to decide on is how many rats you should get. Why not just one? The answer is that rats are very social animals. In the wild rats live together in large communities. Human companionship just can’t replace that of another rat, especially since you can’t be with your rat 24 hours a day. Rats tend to get depressed if they are alone. Together rats will groom one another, play together, and keep each other warm at night. It’s important that rats have companions and you will want to have a minimum of two rats.

You will need a place to put your new pet. Cages and aquariums are the two main options for housing. Most recommend a cage over an aquarium for several reasons.

Aquariums provide very poor ventilation. You would have to have quite a large aquarium to provide adequate ventilation for a pair of rats. If you must use an aquarium make sure you use a screen cover and not a plastic lid. A screen cover will allow better air flow.

Cages have great ventilation and air flow which results in less ammonia build up. You will find there is a large variety of cages to choose from both online and in pet stores. It’s recommended that you get a cage with a pan bottom. Constantly walking on wire flooring can cause a condition in rats called bumblefoot. For multi-level cages or cages with shelves you will want to make sure the floors are made of 1/2″ x 1/2″ wire mesh. Rats can get their legs caught in larger sizes such as 1″ x 1/2″ which can result in serious injury.

You will need to pick up some bedding to put in the cage bottom. Your choice of bedding is more important than you might think. Pine and cedar, which are extremely common in pet stores, are very dangerous for rats. There have been many studies done showing the toxicity of pine and cedar.

It’s very common for rats to get respiratory infections, so it’s important to provide a dust free environment. Consider this when choosing your bedding. If the bedding looks dusty, don’t get it! Some recommended brands include Critter Litter, CareFRESH, or paper based litters such as Yesterday’s News.

What else do we need? Your rats will need a water bottle. Most water bottles are made for cages, so if you have an aquarium make sure the water bottle you choose can attach to the aquarium side.

Your rats will also need a food bowl. Rats will chew whatever you put in their cage so a metal or ceramic bowl is recommended over plastic. They also like perching themselves on the side of the bowl. That will cause the bowl to tip over unless its heavy or attached to the side of the cage.

Last your rats will need toys! You will find plenty of things to choose from. Most pet stores have an isle dedicated to small animal toys. Rats love having things to chew on and climb on.

You now have all the basics covered and you are ready to get your new pets. The only thing you have left to decide is what to name them!

Scott McHenry and his wife have had a large number of pets of many different species. They have several years experience with pet rats and together run a pet rat informational web site.

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