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What Kind of Caging do Rats Need?

Rats need a large, wired cage with cross ventilation. The cage I recommend is the MidWest Critter Nation, they are versatile and can be put together easily to make rat mansions! I love their wide spacious doors and with a bit of tweaking, can make amazing habitats.

While yes, rats start out small, males (and some females) can get quite large! So starting with a larger cage will save you more money in the long run. The bars also need to be 1/2 inch or smaller, rats can squeeze through any space their heads can. The best way to fix bars that are too far apart is to wrap the cage in hardwire cloth.

Also, the dwarf variety needs the same amount of space as standard rats. While they are smaller, they are more energetic and need plenty of space to run around.

Rats do best with a minimum of 2.0 Cubic feet per rat, so here is a cage calculator to see if your cage is suitable!

You should avoid aquariums, "hamster" cages, and bare cages. Aquariums (no matter the size or if fitted with a topper) are not suitable for rats. They don't offer enough ventilation and can cause serious illness. Cages such as Crittertrails or other connectable hamster cages are too small, and in my opinion, should be taken out of pet stores. The tubing is a hazard, as an adult rat can and will get stuck in them. I don't believe they are suitable for any animal. Rats also need enrichment! Even if the cage is HUGE, it wouldn't be suitable if they have nothing to do with it. 

Prevue 528 Small Animal Home
 32.5" L X 19" W X 17.5" H
Max: 3 Does OR 2 Bucks
The perfect size starter cage & doesn't need any modification to hold bedding.


Midwest Critter Nation 
Double: 36" L X 24" W X 63" H
Max: 12 Does OR 6 Bucks
Single: 36" L X 24" W X 39" H
Max: 6 Does OR 3 Bucks
My preference as it is very versatile and I LOVE the full opening doors. Does need modifications to hold bedding.

These recommendations are based on how I personally care for my rats and what works best for me! These are not the only suitable cages on the market and I would reccomend doing research on what type of caging works best for you and your rats :)

What is the Best Bedding for Rats?

There are many safe options for bedding that its honestly easier to tell you what's not safe!

Cedar and non-kiln dried pine have toxic phenols that could cause illness and death in most small animals. Though kiln-dried pine is actually very safe and is what I use for my own rats! Fleece itself isn't dangerous, but it makes terrible bedding due to not being very absorbent. This causes urine to sit on top of it making it unsanitary and smelly. The only way to make fleece safe is to change it daily, add an absorbent layer underneath such as incontinence pads, and litter box training your rats, but that can become very inconvenient and expensive. Even then rats are fossorial and love to dig and burrow, which they cannot do with fleece. Scented bedding isn't safe due to its strong fragrance, it can cause respiratory illness or distress. Baking soda is also toxic to most small animals and should be avoided.

The beddings I don't recommend are:

  • Cedar

  • non-kiln dried pine

  • Fleece

  • Scented bedding

  • bedding containing baking soda

Some safe options for bedding are:

  • Aspen

  • Kiln Dried pine

  • Hemp

  • Paper

  • pellet (pine or paper)

One Rat or Three?

Rats are incredibly social creatures, so no matter how big or how enriching their cage is or  even how much time you spend with them, they'll never be fully happy without a friend. Some misinformation is that male rats do best alone, but that is completely wrong! This idea is pushed due to male MICE being aggressive to each other.

Both sexes need friends, males sometimes do develop hormonal aggression, but getting them neutered can fix that! Also getting rats from a reputable breeder can lessen your chance of any hormonal or genetic aggression. When adopting from a pet store, feeder bin, or back-yard-breeders you're taking the risk of your rats developing undesirable behaviors.

The best dynamic is trio or more, this is because if one rat passes away, gets ill or has to be isolated for health reason, the other rats still will have each other. Their hierarchy that develops is also sounder and can deter bullying. Rats should also always be bought in pairs; this is so they don't have to go through quarantine alone and will have a familiar buddy during introductions with an established mischief.

My ladies Lotus and Daffodil being the best of pals!

What Do You Feed Rats?

Rats need a diet consisting of:

  • 75%-80% carbohydrates

  • 12%-20% of protein

  • 4%-6% of fat

There are many options when it comes to a rat's diet. Some I recommend are:

  • Oxbow regal adult

  • Mazuri

  • Supreme Science Selective

  • Kalmbach 18% or 23% depending on needs

  • Shumanite Diet

While under 6 months I recommend either feeding a higher protein diet or adding extra protein rich foods to younger rats' diets.

There are also many types of homemade diets that are appropriate for rats such as the Shunamite rat diet. Though some pickier rats do better on a lab block/kibble diet. In my experience they seem to just pick out the ingredients they like and dig out the nutritional ingredients. This is kind of like kids eating their treats over their veggies.

Treats & Fresh Foods

when it comes to rats listing what they can't eat is easier than listing what they can! They can eat a variety of fresh fruits & vegetables.

They also enjoy treats such as:

  • Gerber baby puffs

  • baby food with safe ingredients

  • Gerber arrowroot cookies

  • carob training treats

  • a small number of table scraps.


of course, you'll need to provide rats with freshwater daily. I recommend bottled or spring water. Tap water is safe, but a rule of thumb is if you won't drink your city's water, your rats probably shouldn't be either! I also offer 1 water bottle per 2-3 rats, so they always have access to water.

How Do I Keep My Rats Entertained?

Rats are very intelligent creatures and need proper enrichment to stimulate their brains. Even the largest cage can be an inappropriate habitat if it doesn't offer the rats anything to do. Rats are fossorial animals, which means they prefer deep bases of bedding and the length of the cage over height. Rats enjoy climbing but prefer burrowing and digging over it. The ways I offer enrichment to my mischief is:

  • Tons of hammocks!

    • This offers them places to sleep and snuggle in
  • Ropes & ladders

    • This allows them to climb and traverse the cage! Though do offer fall breakers, this will keep them safe when climbing high
  • lava & wooden ledges

    • These can be attached to the cage and gives rats platforms they can climb and rest on
  • Baskets (Dollar Tree, Walmart, etc...)

    • I usually zip-tie these to the cage or turn them upside down for hides
  • Foraging wheel + toys

    • This allows them to use their brain to figure out to get to a yummy treat
  • Wheels

    • My does especially love to run on their wheel, though it must be 16+ inches or it can cause permanent damage to their spines and tails. They also should be solid, no wires or crossbars.
  • Wooden and plastic huts

    • Both are safe to use with rats, rats don't consume what they chew up so even if they're chewing on their hides, it won't harm them.
  • old boxes

    • Whether from food, deliveries, or other types of packaging, this is one of the cheapest and easiest options to fill up your cages! I've even crafted my rats castles and other fun hides using hot glue and kid-safe paint.

There are so many ways to keep your rat entertained! I use a lot of DIYs I find on rat groups and forums



While this is information is a good way to assess your rat's health, every animal has different ways of expressing illness and discomfort. This information in no way replaces a visit with a qualified vet, and it's recommended to do at least a 6 month to yearly checkup for fancy rats. They can go downhill so quickly and the faster they get to a vet the greater the chance of survival.



Importance of Quarantine

It is very important to quarantine any new rats you're introducing to your current mischief. Rats can carry many types of diseases, illnesses, and parasites that may not be seen right away. Especially rats from pet stores and feeder bins.

The best way to quarantine your new rats is to:

  • Keep them in a small separate cage away from your current rats

  • keep them in a separate room, some diseases and illnesses can be passed through the air

  • have a certain set of clothes that you only wear when interacting with your new rats

  • wash hands thoroughly between interactions

  • take your new rats for a routine checkup by your vet

I recommend quarantining for 2-4 weeks or until their health is cleared by a trusted vet.

I would also avoid kissing or any kind of close facial contact with new rats, as there are also diseases that can be passed to humans.



Signs of an ill rat:

  • Weight loss

  • decreased appetite

  • Abnormal hair loss or thinning

  • Diarrhea or dirty bottom

  • Distressed breathing or "crunchy" breathing

  • Lethargy

  • Discharge from eyes, nose or mouth

  • Skin lesions, scabs, swellings or itching

  • Overgrown Teeth

  • Difficulty chewing

  • lameness while walking

Signs of a healthy rat:

  • Active, alert, and sociable

  • Eats, drinks, and passes stool regularly

  • Eyes. nose and mouth free of discharge

  • Breathing is unlabored and silent

  • The body is well muscled, and the rat walks normally

  • Fur is clean and well-groomed without hair loss or thinning

  • Skin smooth without swelling, scabs, or lesions

While it might seem sad to see animals in this condition, the best thing to do is to alert the pet store owner or if this is an ongoing problem report them to the proper authorities. I do not recommend "rescuing" animals in this condition, this can cause unnecessary risk to your established mischief and just supports the business, which will allow them to keep abusing animals.

Vet care

It's very important that you find a vet that treats and cares for exotic animals, they can be very delicate and can hide their illnesses well. Rats can cause a sizable vet bill, it's important to have the funds or care-credit saved up in case of these emergencies.

Some vet clinic local to Elk County PA are:

Elk County Veterinary Clinic

Address: 1222 Million Dollar Hwy, Kersey PA 15846

Phone Number: (814) 834-0036

Animal Hospital of Dubois

Address: 5154 Shaffer Rd, Dubois PA 15801

Phone Number: (814) 375-9206


Rats produce red mucus called porphyrin, it sometimes startles new owners as it looks like bleeding from the nose and eyes. It is normal to see a small amount on rats who have just woken up or elderly rats but it's usually quickly groomed off. Though if you're noticing a constant excess coming from your rats I'd set up a vet visit, it can be a sign of illness.

Rat First Aid Kit

These items are useful to have on hand for rat care.

This list is intended to be quite comprehensive to be helpful to breeders and rescues as well, and so isn't all necessary for most pet owners, and the information isn't a replacement for vet care.


  • Scales: tracking weight is a very good way to monitor changes in health

  • Ultrasonic nebulizer and neb box: treating respiratory illness with saline, salbutamol or antibiotics

  • 0.3mL insulin syringes: snap off the needles without removing the protective lid, for dosing very small quantities of medicine and hand-rearing babies

  • 1mL syringes: needleless, for dosing and feeding medicine

  • Larger syringes: flushing out abscesses and wounds

  • Band-aids: for treating bites on humans

  • Stethoscope: Listening to chest sounds and heartbeat in rats who struggle with being held.

  • Medicine box: Store medications in opaque boxes that block out light, many are deactivated by UV. You may need two; one for the fridge and one for the cupboard

  • Heat pad: Useful for helping sick rats recuperate or comforting elderly and palliative care animals, and vital for hand rearing babies. Electric heat mats with thermostats can be handy, Snugglesafe microwave pads are also fantastic.

  • Sturdy hospital tub or cage: Important to have on hand for emergencies and vet trips. Different to carriers in that it needs to be easily cleaned, is safe for overnight stays, and be able to attach a water bottle.

  • Torch or headlamp: to look inside ears and other areas

  • Vet wrap/cohesive bandage: used to bandage up rats who are at risk of chewing open surgical sites or injuries.

  • Notebook or spreadsheet: To track weight and health information, writing down dates helps a lot with treatment decisions.

  • Nail clippers: Nail maintenance may be needed for rats with mobility issues or those whose scratching irritates and opens up sores or wounds.

  • Tweezers: For removing foreign bodies or managing open abscesses and cysts

  • Gloves: Sturdy leather or metal mesh gloves allow safer handling of rats who may be biting because of distress or neurological issues, i.e., pain or seizure.

  • Disposable gloves: Reducing infection potential and practicing good hygiene during wound care

Medicine box:

  • F10 barrier cream: germicidal wound coat, safe to lick. Bepanthen antiseptic cream is a safe alternative.

  • Iodine: for treating bites on humans and injuries on rats

  • Nutrigel or Nutripet: a high calorie nutrient concentrate used for rehabilitating sick rats

  • Styptic pencil/styptic powder/cornflour: Used to staunch bleeding on injuries like foot or tail bites, vital if keeping rats with blood clotting disorders such as some blue lines.

  • Vetbond: Similar to superglue, it safely and quickly closes minor wounds such as tension slices/superficial gashes, allowing them to heal cleanly.

  • Electrolyte fluids or powder: Used for helping rats recover from dehydration and heat stress, a vital part of a summer rescue kit. Unflavored or “Lemonade” flavored ones are a hit.

  • Painkiller/anti-inflammatory: Metacam is the vet prescribed option, there are two concentrations so always check the dosage. Infant ibuprofen can be used as an alternative under vet guidance, do note the dosage and rate differs and off label use can come with complications.

  • Antibiotics: Will need to be dispensed or prescribed by a vet, enrofloxacin (baytril) and doxycycline are commonly used in combination to treat respiratory infections but there are many others such as azithromycin, gentamicin, and amoxicillin.

  • Theophylline (Nuelin/Bisolvon): a bronchodilator used to open up airways, does have some negative side effects which may impact other illnesses, does interact with some commonly used antibiotics such as azithromycin.

  • Salbutamol/ventolin: can be in the form of a puffer, but more useful as a nebulisable form. A bronchodilator and relaxant used to relieve RI symptoms in conjunction with antibiotics.

  • Saline: For use in nebulizer or flushing out wounds and irritated areas

  • A sachet of baby food or Nutri-Grain paste: Mixing medications into so that the rat will eat them willingly. The paste works well as the rats are attracted to the protein.

  • Selamectin or ivermectin: Used for parasite treating, primarily for mites and lice. Selamectin is the chemical in Revolution, and is much safer than Ivermectin, which is commonly used by breeders and those with many rats. Ivermectin especially has a risk of overdose, use carefully and under guidance.

  • Blu-kote/Cetrigen: an antimicrobial wound dressing useful for treating many kinds of open wounds such as pressure sores.

-Based on rachie's ratirement home

What Are Some Common Rat Behaviors?

1. Vocalizations

Rats are generally quiet pets, at least to human ears. They usually vocalize in a range above normal human hearing. But even though we miss out on most of a rat’s “talk,” we do hear some of their vocalizations. Gentle chirps or clucks, grinding, squeaks, and hissing are a few of the vocalizations you will hear. The context usually gives you a hint about whether your rat is happy, content, upset, scared, or in pain. Often, higher-pitched, faster-tempo noises indicate a rat is disturbed.

2. Play Fighting

Rats are sociable and do best living in same-sex pairs or groups, but this doesn’t rule out play fighting. (Note: Introductions between rats should be done in neutral territory with treats. Always supervise newly introduced rats when together until you are certain they are getting along.) Rats seem to enjoy the occasional tussle with a cage mate: chasing, pinning, and some vocalizations are normal. If you notice raised fur or hissing occurs, pay attention, this could get serious. If it seems like one rat is constantly being bullied (kept from food or drink, not allowed to rest), you might need to intervene. If blood is ever drawn, separate the rats. You’ll likely need to keep the rats in separate habitats.

3. Gnawing

Rats are members of the rodent family, and rodents are known for chewing. And they’ll chew anything, not just food. The frequent chewing helps wear down rats’ constantly growing incisors. It’s a need they must satisfy, so be prepared by offering rat-safe chew toys in the habitat, rat-proofing any rooms you let them access, and supervising them whenever they’re enjoying free-roam time outside the cage. Furniture, clothing, drapes, power cords, and more could feel the gnaw of your rats’ teeth if you don’t keep these items out of reach.

4. Burrowing

Another trait of rodents is burrowing into bedding. Pet rats enjoy digging. It’s another instinctive need they must satisfy. Help your rat buddy out by providing rat-safe bedding for burrowing and a rat-safe dig box filled with clean dirt, biodegradable packing peanuts, or other rat-safe material.

5. Nighttime Antics

Rats are mostly nocturnal. They can adjust their schedule somewhat to yours, but their most active time is dusk through dawn. This means keeping them in your bedroom might make for some noisy nights.

6. Climbing

Rat-proofing is a must, because rats are explorers who can climb and leap!

Pet rats need exercise, and one great way to encourage this is with rat-safe ropes, ladders, and climbing toys. Most rats enjoy climbing. A rat-specific exercise wheel is another great option for exercise. The flip side is that because rats enjoy climbing, rat-proofing might be more of a challenge. So don’t be surprised if you find your rat climbing a mesh wall or scaling your drapes.

7. Investigating

Vision is not their strongest sense, so rats mainly explore by smell and touch. All that sniffing yousee? That’s your rat checking things out. You might also notice your rat explores new areas by hugging the walls or some other “path” in the environment. This is normal for a prey animal, because they don’t want to be exposed out in the open. It can also help them navigate.

8. Licking

The reasons your rat licks you or other rats vary. It could be a sign of affection. It could be your rat is in grooming mode. It could be that your rat tastes something delicious. It could be just another way to explore the world. Whatever the reason, it’s perfectly normal (unless it becomes obsessive).

9. Grooming

Rats are normally fastidiously clean animals. They groom themselves numerous times throughout the day. This usually starts with the front paws rubbing the face, then moving down the body all the way to the end of the tail. There’s usually no need to worry about giving a rat a bath; rats keep themselves quite clean. It’s actually one sign of possible illness if you notice a rat stops grooming or has an unkempt coat. (Note: You will need to help out your rat with nail trimming.)

10. Biting

Rats have teeth, so the possibility of biting must be mentioned. When startled or in pain, a rat might bite. Pet rats are among the most easygoing of rodents, though, so your chance of being bitten is minimal as long as you don’t startle them or pick them up when you suspect they’re in pain.

11. Boggling

Boggling refers to when a rat’s eyes seem to move quickly in and out of the socket. The eyes can get quite large. This happens when the rat is grinding the front incisors (bruxing), and usually when a rat is content.

12. Bruxing

Bruxing refers to clenching or grinding the teeth. In pet rats, this is a noise made when they grind their incisors together. It’s a normal sound and most often heard when a rat is relaxed, but it can also occur when a rat is stressed. Take your cues about how your rat might be feeling from the circumstances. Intense bruxing can also cause eye boggling.

13. Coprophagia

In the unbelievable-but-true department, rats are known to eat their own feces or those of other rats. They might also lick urine. Although it sounds gross, it’s normal. You might never see it happen, but don’t be concerned if you do.

14. Male Vs. Female Personalities

You might hear anecdotal stories about behavior differences between male and female rats. Some people believe male rats move slower, cuddle more, and are more easygoing. Females are known for being playful, energetic, and less likely to cuddle. Is this true? You will have to be the judge. All rats are individuals, so it’s best to judge them as individuals.

15. Scent Marking

Many animals do scent marking. For some, this just means rubbing a gland against what they wish to mark. Dogs on a walk do “tinkle mail” to communicate to other dogs in the neighborhood. For pet rats, scent marking can vary from rubbing their face against something to peeing on it. Males seem especially prone to scent marking.

While this is the way I care and raise my rats, I recommend researching from many different sites and forums. Not one person can know all about rat care, but I do try my best to stay up to date. I also recommend joining many Facebook rat groups! They usually have tons of knowledgeable people, who have firsthand experience raising and caring for rats.

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