Here's a handy checklist of what your pet rat needs to stay healthy and happy and behave as they would in the wild.
They will need:
- To rest/sleep without being disturbed - rats are nocturnal, so are most active at night and during dawn and dusk. Keep feeding times, cage cleaning and interactions to dawn and dusk wherever possible, and match your activity with that of your rats - don't house them in areas that have lots of activity during the day.
- Opportunities to climb - give them ropes in their cage to help develop their sense of balance. Rats will chew ropes as well as climb them, so they should be made of natural fibres (such as cotton).
- Opportunities to run, forage, explore and play - rats are active and like playing, especially when they're young.
- Opportunities to explore - once they're well-handled and relaxed, consider letting your rats explore outside their cage, in a room where they can't hurt themselves or escape (make sure you keep an eye on them!).
- Opportunities to dig tunnels and create burrows - rats love digging!
- Water to play with - if your rats enjoy playing with water, give them the opportunity to swim in a shallow container, safely and with you keeping an eye on them. Some rats enjoy playing in water, but never make them swim if they don't want to.
Treating your rat with kindness
Rats need choice, so never force them to do anything. Give them the choice to check out new surroundings at their own pace, as they're naturally cautious. If they urinate or defecate when they're in a new place, it means they're frightened or distressed - if this happens, return them to their familiar home-cage. Different rats behave differently in similar situations, as they each have different personalities and may have been reared differently.
Rats are quick learners, highly trainable, very clever, curious and have excellent memories. They need mental stimulation to stop them getting bored, so consider training them. This can help you bond with your rat, as well as keeping them physically and mentally active. Rats can learn new information and tasks, and remember them over time. Train them to climb onto scales to gain a food reward, as this can make regular weighing much easier. Never punish them - always use positive reinforcement to encourage training.
Finally, never trim your rat's whiskers! Rats use their very delicate and highly sensitive whiskers to maintain their balance and guide them around objects.