Basic Rat Care Guide


Housing & Enrichment

Rats are fossorial - they ground-dwell, dig & burrow. 

Cages need adequate floor space to allow the rats to exhibit these natural behaviours. Cages should meet the recommended minimum floorspace requirement of 50cm x 80cm. 

When setting up your rats' cage, you need to consider the layout and make sure there are opportunities for climbing, burrowing & digging, foraging, nesting, running, jumping, balancing and problem solving. 

You can use branches, ropes, wooden ladders, scarf-hangers, lava-ledges, a dig box, hanging bird toys (including puzzle toys) and a running wheel (12" minimum - however a 14" or 16" Tic Tac wheel is highly recommended).
You can also add in different materials such as unscented toilet tissue, paper towels, dust-free hay, straw, ripped cardboard and newspaper to give the rats different textures to explore. 

Substrate & Litter

You will need to line the base of the cage with a suitable, deep substrate to enable the rats to dig & forage. It also helps to soak up any urine, particularly if your rats are not yet litter trained. 

You will find it is quite cost-effective to buy a large bale of equine substrate from a local farm-shop/equine supplier.

Suitable substrates to consider are:

•Kiln-dried, dust extracted wood shavings: Megaspread, Hunter Shavings, Snowflake Supreme, Littlemax, Allspan, Aubiose
•Cardboard:Walmsley Premier Bed, S4B, Green Mile
•Hemp: Aubiose
•Bioactive: Coco Coir with CUC (clean up crew)


Litter should be different to the main substrate, to enable the rats to differentiate between the two. You can use any of the substrates listed above, or you can use paper-based litter, (suitable in litter trays only and not as a main substrate) such as Back2Nature, Breeder Celect, Pets@Home Recycled Paper Litter or Tesco Recycled Paper Cat Litter. 

Food & Diet

Rats need a varied & nutritionally complete diet, however, bear in mind that despite the information found on the internet or in pet-stores, nuggets & pellets are not suitable. 

Rats should be fed a high-quality muesli style mix, either pre-made by Rat Rations or Ratcessories or by making your own home-made mix, based on the Shunamite diet as set out in The Scuttling Gourmet

Up to the age of around 12 weeks, rats have frequent growth spurts. They require extra protein & fats 3-4 times per week, such as good quality fish based dog kibble/wet cat food and cooked carbs (rice, pasta, potatoes, bread) to aid their rapid growth.

A small helping of vegetables every other day is also beneficial (dark green leafy type is best – e.g. curly kale, broccoli, dandelion leaves, etc).
Bucks don’t necessarily need more food than does. Feed according to how the rats look and feel. If they look like they’re becoming too plump, slightly reduce their dry mix, and if they feel on the small side or skinny, increase it.
In the following few weeks (12-16 weeks old) reduce the amount of protein. 

Examples of suitable food to compile a balanced meal for kittens, alongside their usual dry mix are:
•Veg – curly kale, broccoli, dandelion, carrot, peppers, sweetcorn
•Carbohydrate – couscous, brown or wild rice, wholewheat pasta, potato, wholemeal bread
•Protein – eggs (scrambled or boiled), chicken (legs including bones), fish (tuna, sardines, etc.), good quality cat food/puppy food, dried insects/ seafood/ mealworms, and pulses (butter beans, peas, lentils).

Credit to Isamu Rats for this infographic. 

Credit to Twin Squeaks Rattery for this infographic.


Rats from an ethical, responsible breeder will be used to human contact and shouldn’t need unnecessary time to ‘settle’ in before being handled. You might find they actually crave your attention, but since they are a prey animal, any rat can appear to be somewhat shy or overwhelmed by their new environment.

In this case you can sit by the cage with the door open, talking softly to them (rats appreciate the human voice) with your hand resting inside the cage for them to investigate or use what is known as the 'confidence method' and scoop them up firmly but confidently with two hands (when they are more acquainted with you and vice-versa, you may lift them up with thumb and index finger under their armpits). Hold them on you or against your body. You might want to wear a hoody or something with pockets that they can get into and associate as a 'safe-space' whilst they are familiarising themselves with you and their new environment. Use their chosen names, they will very quickly learn them.



Illness & Vet Care

You must make sure you have access to a rat-savvy vet before you bring your new rats home. 

Since rats are considered an 'exotic' pet, it is important that your chosen veterinary practice has a vet on board who knows about rats. You do not necessarily need an exotic vet to care for your rat, but a standard vet who is particularly experienced with rats is important.

Some common illnesses in rats include:

•URI (upper respiratory infection) 
•UTI (urinary tract infection)
•Abcesses & Cysts
•Cuts & Bite Wounds
•Pyometra (infection in the uterus)
•Tumours/Mammary Tumours 
•Hormonal Agression

The list above is not exhaustive, and your rats may never experience any of these listed illnesses/health problems. Nor will all health problems always require veterinary assistance. It is down to you as a responsible owner to decide whether certain conditions/ailments will need professional, medical attention. 
For further reading on illnesses in rats, please refer to RatGuide