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Rat Care Basics

April 1 2023

World Rat Day is April 4th! Although definitely not for everyone, domestic rats can be quite affectionate, charming, charismatic and lovable. A Champaign, IL veterinarian discusses some rat care basics below.


First and foremost, you’ll need a good cage. The minimum recommended size is 2.5 feet per rat, but the bigger the better. Rats are climbers, so choose something that offers some height. The cage should also have a solid floor and good ventilation. For substrate, you can use fleece, shredded paper, artificial turf, tissues, paper towels, or newspaper. You’ll also need to add a hide and plenty of chew toys.

Purchasing Your Rat

It’s important to get your rat from a reputable breeder. Make sure to choose a healthy one! One thing to look for is ragged, raspy, or labored breathing: these can be issues of respiratory infections. Other good signs include soft, clean fur; clear, bright eyes; and a curious nature.


Like any other pet, rats need stimulation. You can make the cage more fun by adding things like tree branches, ladders, ropes, and springs. Rats also enjoy mazes. You can buy some, but you can also make them out of PVC pipe. Your pet will also enjoy time out of the cage, which gives you a chance to spend quality time together. Just keep in mind that these guys do chew a lot, and can be messy roommates. Keep them in a petproofed area. This should be away from other pets, and preferably in a spot that’s easy to clean. 


You’ll need to make friends with your new pet. Once your furry buddy is used to you, he may enjoy climbing on your shoulder or sitting on your shirt or arm. Always be very gentle when handling your rat. Take care not to squeeze the little guy! Treats can go a long way here. Some good options are shelled nuts, corn cob, squash, and, of course, cheese treats. Ask your vet for specific advice. 


Rats are quite sociable. You should never keep just one, as it will be quite lonely. It’s best to keep same-sex rats together. However, if you do have a mixed group, you’ll need to have the males neutered. Otherwise, you’ll end up with many more pets than you bargained for!

Our Advice on Rat Care Basics шт 2024

What are suitable materials for the bottom of a rat cage?

Suitable materials for lining the bottom of a rat cage include fleece, shredded paper, artificial turf, tissues, paper towels, and newspaper. These options provide comfort and are safe for rats, allowing for easy movement and nest-building. It’s crucial to avoid materials that can cause respiratory issues or ingestion hazards. Regular cleaning and replacement of these substrates ensure a hygienic environment for your pet. For specific concerns or more tailored advice, visiting a local vet clinic, such as one in Urbana, IL, can provide personalized recommendations for your pet’s needs.

What kind of play activities do rats enjoy outside of their cage?

Rats thrive on stimulation and enjoy a variety of play activities outside their cage, which are essential for their physical and mental well-being. Incorporating tree branches, ladders, ropes, and springs can create an engaging environment. Constructing mazes from PVC pipe offers a fun and challenging activity. Additionally, rats appreciate quality time with their owners, enjoying climbing on shoulders or resting on arms. It’s essential to ensure play areas are safe and rat-proof to prevent accidental ingestion of harmful materials or escape. Providing these activities in a controlled, cleanable area enhances their quality of life.

What are common health problems to watch out for in pet rats?

Common health problems in pet rats include respiratory infections, indicated by symptoms such as ragged, raspy, or labored breathing. These infections require prompt veterinary attention. Rats are also prone to tumors, particularly as they age, with females at higher risk for mammary tumors. Dental issues can arise if rats do not have adequate chew toys to help manage tooth growth. Regular check-ups with a veterinarian and keen observation of your rat’s behavior and physical condition can aid in early detection and treatment of these issues.

How often should you clean the rat’s cage, and what are the best cleaning practices?

The rat’s cage should be cleaned at least once a week, with daily spot cleaning to maintain hygiene. Use a safe, pet-friendly disinfectant for thorough cleaning, and ensure the cage is completely dry before adding fresh bedding. During cleaning, all substrate should be replaced, and toys, water bottles, and food dishes should be washed. Providing a temporary, secure space for your rat during this process ensures their safety and reduces stress. For tailored advice on cleaning practices or any other concerns, consider visiting a local veterinary clinic in Urbana, IL.

Are there any foods that are toxic to rats?

Several foods are toxic to rats and should be avoided to ensure their health. Chocolate and caffeine-containing products can be harmful, causing nervous system issues. Blue cheese contains roquefortine C, which can be toxic. Raw sweet potato, green bananas, and green potato skins contain compounds that can be harmful. Raw dry beans and peanuts can inhibit protein digestion. Citrus fruits, especially for male rats, can lead to kidney damage. Always consult a veterinarian for a comprehensive list of safe foods tailored to your pet’s needs.

Do you have questions about rat care? Contact us, your Champaign, IL pet clinic, anytime! 

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