Rat Basics

The Basics of being a rat

Scientific Name: Rattus norvegicus

Common Name: Norway rat

Average Monthly Cost (without medical care): $75 – $100

Average Veterinary Bill:

  • Surgical: $400 – $1500
  • Non-surgical: $100 – $350 (not including exam fee)
  • Exam fee: $75 – $120

Caring For Your Rats

Rats are social creatures that require companionship and a large living area. Rats are social in the same way humans are social, and should be housed in groups of 2 or more. They are also very intelligent and require plenty of toys, activities and free time.

Housing Your Rats

What Kind of Cage Should I Get?

A solid-bottom, wire cage with a minimum size of 2′ X 2′ x 2’ is recommended for a pair of rats, with the general rule of adding 2 cubic feet of space per each additional rat, although this can depend on the activity level of your mischief. Do not use cages that have wire shelves and floors – spending too much time on metal bars can give the rats blisters on their paws, which can quickly get infected and become a painful case of bumblefoot.

This cage has a wire bottom and is not safe or comfortable for rats. Wire bottoms can quickly lead to painful infections on their paws. However, many times, the wire bottom can be removed so be sure to check before buying.

What Is The Difference Between a Critter Nation and a Ferret Nation?

Both cages are great and the most preferred cages in the rat, ferret and sugar glider communities. Both can safely be used for rats provided that the rat cannot fit through the bars of the Ferret Nation.

The Critter Nation is designed for small animals like rats and sugar gliders. The bars are horizontal and have a spacing of 1.25 cm (1/2 inch). Regardless of age or size, rats cannot fit through the bars of the Critter Nation. The horizontal bars also support climbing and addition of accessories to the cage.

The Ferret Nation is designed for large animals. The bars are vertical and have a spacing of 2.5 cm (1 inch). Young and small rats can easily squeeze through the bars of a Ferret Nation. However, larger rats (males) often cannot fit through the bars and can be safely housed in the Ferret Nation.

The Ferret Nation has vertical bars that are spaced 2.5 cm (1 inch) apart. The Ferret Nation can be used to house large male rats but females and babies are likely to slip through the bars.
The Critter Nation has horizontal bars that are spaced 1.25 cm (1/2 inch) apart. The Critter Nation is best for young rats and small female rats.

Can I Buy A Used Cage?

Teeny Snoots fully supports reusing products as much as possible. Buying a used cage is a great way to save some money. However, there are some things to keep in mind when you are buying used:

  • Ensure there is no rust on the bars
  • Ensure the doors latch properly
  • Ensure there is no damage to the bars that can injure your rats or allow them to escape
  • There will likely be chew marks/damage on the platforms; ensure that the holes aren’t located in an area where the rat can get stuck
  • You will need to clean the cage thoroughly before using it; ensure you have the space/facilities to wash the cage (most cages can be disassembled and washed in the bathtub)

Preparing The Enclosure For The Rats

Choosing The Best Location For Your Rats

Rats are prone to respiratory infections and heatstroke, so it is important to place the cage indoors in a room maintained at 16-27 degrees Celsius, and away from drafts, direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. Rats should never be housed outside; visiting outside under supervision can be a fun activity for your rat but their cage should not be kept outside. Rats are an indoor pet.

Place your rats’ cage in the busiest part of the house. This way, you can talk to them often, stop by the cage bars often and keep them entertained even when you are not able to hold them. Rats enjoy being with their families and watching them go about their daily chores.

It is also important to keep your rats away from smoke, aroma diffusers, essential oils, candles incense and other scents. Rats have very small respiratory passages and systems, and irritation from smoke and/or oils can let the mycoplasma in their nasal passage take over and lead to respiratory infection. Repetitive respiratory infection can lead to antibiotic resistance in your rat and leave your rat (and possibility your entire mischief) untreatable.

Essential oils are toxic and even small amounts (such as residue from cleaning with essential oils) can quickly lead to poisoning and death.

On occasion, candles can be burned; however, it is important to ensure they are 100% soy. “Soy blend” candles do not burn clean and should never be used in the presence of rats.


Rats enjoy digging and often urine mark. For this reason, a proper small-animal bedding is best to use in your rats’ cage rather than newspaper or fleece. If you choose to use fabric as your cage lining, use only fleece as it does leave behind thread and “strings” when chewed and/or torn.

At Teeny Snoots, we prefer Boxo paper bedding but have also used aspen and kiln-dried pine. Note that pine must be kiln-dried. Pine that has not been kiln-dried is toxic to rats. Choose a bedding that is dust-free and fun for your rats. Avoid cedar or pine chips, which contain oils that are dangerous for rats. Alfalfa and Timothy hay are also dangerous for rats, and scented/artificially coloured paper bedding can quickly lead to choking. Orchard grass hay is okay to use as a dig box as long as the rats do not eat the grass hay. If the rats begin eating the hay, it must be taken away.

Bedding Options

  • Aspen
  • Paper bedding (no artificial colours or scents)
  • Kiln-dried pine
  • Coconut fibre substrate
  • Coconut husk
  • Orchard grass hay (no Timothy hay or alfalfa)
  • Hemp
  • Pelleted corn cob

At Teeny Snoots Rat Rescue, the rats also love having tissue paper to shred and to use to make cozy beds!


Paper pellet litter is best to use for rats. Clay cat litter should not be used with rats due to the high dust content and the “stickiness” or the clay. Pelleted walnut litter can be used; however, it often has a very sweet smell and rats like to chew on it so your rats must be closely monitored. Likewise, many paper pellet litters contain baking soda, which is toxic to rats if ingested. If your rat(s) chew on their litter, ensure you choose one without baking soda.

Whichever litter you choose, it should be a different substrate than your bedding. Keep your litter just for the toilet and your bedding or the rest of the cage. Using litter for just the one purpose will help the rats litter train more quickly.

For tips on litter training, visit our “Basics of Body Language; Rat Behaviour” tab.


A bored rat is an unhappy rat. Rat cages need a mix of accessories, toys and enrichment activities to keep the rats busy and happy.

Rats love hammocks and other soft, hanging beds. Try to give one bed per rat, especially for boys.

Decorate the cage with hanging baskets, hides, rope toys, bird toys and dig boxes to keep them busy. You can fill a basket with orchard grass hay or coconut fibre substrate and sprinkle oats throughout to use as a dig box. Do not use alfalfa or Timothy hay.

Toys and photos by Adrien Demone at Adrien Demone Photography

Fun doesn’t have to be expensive!

Most of our toys and accessories are homemade or from the dollar store. Tissue paper, cardboard boxes and PVC tubes are a lot of fun for them and very inexpensive. Apple and willow sticks can be found outside and baked to remove pathogens, and given to the rats as a chew toy. Make sure they have plenty to chew on as their teeth never stop growing.

Be sure to also give your rats time to play outside of their cage in a safe area such as a bathroom or spare room. Out-of-cage time is a must and it will keep your rats happy and active.

An example of a decorated cage with baskets, ropes, igloos, and homemade toys.
Wheels must be large enough such that the rat’s back does not bend when standing on the wheel. Generally, this means a 16 inch size wheel.

Daily Care

Soiled bedding, droppings and stale or uneaten food should be removed a few times per week. Water bottles should be rinsed and refilled every day. The cage should be cleaned completely once a week by replacing dirty bedding and scrubbing down the rest of the cage with warm, soapy water, an all-natural enzymatic cleanser or cleaning vinegar. Use a gentle soap like Dawn and avoid essential oils, bleach, or heavy chemicals. Be sure to choose an enzymatic cleanser that is chemical-free and animal safe.

Always ensure your rats have access to food and water. Rats are generally very good with self-regulation when it comes to their pellet food and do not need to have set feeding times like cats and dogs. To give your rats an activity, you can scatter their food around their cage. At Teeny Snoots, our preferred food is Mazuri.

Give your rats two water bottles per cage. This is a safety net in case one water bottle leaks or gets stuck and won’t release the water. It is also beneficial to have extra water bottles and scattered food when dealing with resource guarding in your mischief.


What Should I Feed My Rats?

Rats should be fed a high-quality rodent pellet such as Oxbow or Mazuri. Fresh clean water should always be easily accessible. A water bottle is recommended over a water bowl as bowls tend to spill and get unhygienic very quickly. As mentioned prior, each cage should have two water sources to protect against resource guarding and/or bottle leakage.

Rats are omnivores and enjoy eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and insects. Despite being scavengers in nature, rats in captivity need a specific balance of nutrients in their diet. In fact, too much protein can lead to kidney issues. Take a look at the ingredients and nutritional information of the pellet food before buying!

Some healthy and fun foods are peas, cooked corn, broccoli, dandelions, kale, collard greens, apples, berries, carrots, cucumber, parsley, cooked beans, pasta (raw or cooked), oats, squash, cauliflower, potatoes, watermelon, grapes, pumpkin and rice.

Avoid foods like uncooked beans, uncooked mushrooms, uncooked squash, certain sugars (fructose, xylose, lactose, galactose) caffeine, apple seeds, avocado skin, blue cheese, raw Brussel sprouts, dried corn, green bananas, candy, liquorice, poppy seeds, peanuts, spinach, wild insects, Timothy hay, alfalfa and food meant for other rodents (e.g. rabbits, hamsters, ferrets).

Some foods are healthy and safe but should only be fed in moderation due to their protein, sugar or fat content. Foods in this group include nuts, seeds, avocado, meats, fish, mealworms, eggs, yogurt, bananas and chocolate.

Some foods are safe but a choking hazard and should only be fed with extreme caution. These foods include bread, seaweed and sticky foods like peanut butter (note that the risk of choking with paste-like foods is very high).

Some foods, like mango and citrus, are fine for female rats but dangerous for male rats.

Rats are very similar to humans and can eat a wide variety of foods! In terms of what rats can and cannot eat, a good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t let the rats eat it.

Snack Time

Rats love snacks! Foods like plain Cheerios, wheat puffs, oats and baby puffs make great everyday snacks. Snacks with a higher sugar content are generally considered “high value” because rats really enjoy them but shouldn’t have them too often. High-value treats are foods like dehydrated bananas, unsweetened coconut chips, nuts and the ever-popular yogurt drops! As a very special treat, rats love shelled walnuts and almonds, Greenies and Whimzees. Fruits and vegetables with a high water content and low sugar content, such as cucumbers and leafy greens, can be given as often as your rats like!

When giving you rats a snack, always open their cage door to hand them the snacks. Never give your rats snacks through the cage bars. Feeding through the bars will quickly lead to the rats rushing to the bars when they see you and assuming your fingers are treats, which can result in an unintentional bites.

Nutritional Balance Requirements

Below outlines the nutritional requirements of rats as described by the National Research Council’s 1995 report. When selecting the food to feed your rats, be sure to follow the percentages shown below.

  • Protein: 5% for daily maintenance; 12-15% for babies and nursing moms (most diets contain 18-23% so it is important to limit protein intake with other foods)
  • Fats: 4-6%
  • Moisture: 10%
  • Amino Acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine
  • Vitamins/Minerals:
(Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals, 1995)

Detailed information on the nutritional requirements of rats can be found in the National Research Council’s 1995 report, Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals. Before starting your rat on any diet, be sure to do your research and speak to your veterinarian!