So you've looked over the previous articles and decided a rat is right for you? Congratulations! Before you run out and adopt your new best friend, however, you need to make sure that you are bringing your rat(s) home to living quarters that are all set up and waiting for them. Having a nice environment to move right into can lessen the stress that your Rattus Norwegicus is already feeling at leaving her first home, maybe even leaving her litter-mates for the first time, and being surrounded with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells. Having a roomy cage with a nesting box, a hiding place, the same high-quality food she has been eating at her previous home, a new water bottle and nice fresh bedding (also whatever kind of bedding she has been used to) will give her a pleasant area to retreat to. Give her a day or two to get settled after her arrival and don’t hand her (or allow other to handle her) during her adjustment to her new quarters.
The cage will need to be cleaned and the bedding changed at least once weekly, with little touch-ups in between as needed. Your rattie needs fresh water and food at least every other day, and once settled in, will need out-of-cage time in a rat-proof area for at least an hour a day. Rats are notorious chewers, thus the rat-proofing.
Unless you are adopting a new rat as a companion for a rat you already have, you may wish to adopt a pair of rats to keep each other company while you are at work or sleeping (more about rat buddies later).
Your rat’s cage – and its location – is one of the most important aspects of the quality of life of your rat. Many of the cages marketed for rats are way too small – rats need room to explore their environment and get some exercise (this is in addition to their daily out-of-cage time). Rats are third in intelligence after dogs and pigs, and will become bored and then depressed if they do not have adequate space to exercise and play. Imagine spending most of your life in solitary confinement in your bathroom. Get the idea? A bigger cage (and a rattie playmate) will solve that problem and provide your pet with a happy life. Rats are social animals and do best if they live in the company of other rats. Get the larger cage and a 2nd rat.
A larger cage gives the rat plenty of room to establish their potty area away from the areas where they eat and play (refer to the previous paragraph about solitary confinement in the bathroom).
Once you have the right cage and the necessary toys and other accessories, you need to find the best location in your house for your rat to live. Your rat’s cage needs to be away from heat sources such as direct sunlight, fireplaces, heating vents, space heaters and fireplaces. Rats are susceptible to heat stroke, as they are unable to sweat. On the other hand, they cannot tolerate an unheated room, garage or other chilly locations, and they need to be out of drafts (away from doors and open windows and not on the floor). Pet rats are domesticated rats (Rattus Norwegicus) and NOT wild street or wharf rats (Rattus Rattus). Another reason to keep the cages off of the floor is to keep him away from other pets who may seem him as their prey. Rats are more stressed when at floor level, an elevated area will increase his sense of security and give him a good view (they like to see what is going on!). Small children should NOT have access to the rat unsupervised (or possibly at all – see previous article) and a cage on the floor around small children is just too tempting.
Pet rats very much enjoy being near your family’s activity and will get more attention if they are in a family room or living room (although they all need a hiding box to retreat to when they want some privacy). Keep in mind that rats evolved as nocturnal creatures and their eyes are sensitive to bright lights (the albino rats are especially sensitive) and they should not be kept in brightly lit areas. Exposure to enough bright light can damage their eyesight.
Rat buddies: rats are social animals who adore the company of other rats; however, you must properly introduce two rats who do not know each other. The new rat should be housed separately in a separate room of the house for at least two weeks (three is better) after you bring her home to prevent the possible spread of any disease. She must not be allowed to interact with your resident rat during this three week period. Make sure the new rat is eating and drinking normally and seems alert, active and healthy. Once the veterinarian has given your new rat a clean bill of health, you can begin gradual introductions. Introductions do need to be gradual, as introducing them too quickly can lead to fighting and rejection. Begin with the rats in the same room but on separate sides of the room, to get used to each other’s scent. After several days, you can move the cages close enough that the ratties can see each other. A few more days of this and you can begin with brief, supervised visits, gradually lengthening the visiting times as the rats get used to each other.
Next: rodent cuisine, or ‘What do I feed my rat?’
Tubs and Crockett - aka 'The Fat Boys' - are two very handsome rats, adoptable from Rattie Tattie Rescue in Cincinnati, Ohio. Rattie Rattie has foster homes in Dayton, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and plenty of adoptable rats! You can see their adoptable pets here and learn more about Rattie Tattie Rescue here.
To receive email notifications when my new articles post to the Dayton Small Pets Examiner page, please use the "Subscribe to Email" link (under the headline, above), or follow me on Twitter to receive notification of all of my articles. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for the timeliest response.