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A healthy diet for rats

Diet logo © RSPCA publications and brand 2010


Ensure your rats have a healthy diet


Rat eating © iStockphoto

Rats need: 

  • Fresh/healthy/balanced diets meeting their nutritional needs; easily achieved by feeding balanced commercial pelleted diets especially for rats.
  • Occasional variety. Consider supplementing diets with small amounts of fruit/vegetables/cooked egg/grains/seeds, given as part of their daily ration, not in addition or it could cause obesity/health problems. Rats are omnivores eating both plant and animal materials.
  • Fresh clean drinking water continuously. Without water rats become seriously ill.
    - Check water bottles morning and evening, refill twice daily; ensuring they’re never thirsty;
    - Provide water bottles not bowls to avoid contamination - clean regularly to avoid algae/bacteria build-up;
    - Check for blockages, ensure drinkers aren’t leaking;
    - Make multiple drinkers available so all can drink simultaneously, avoiding competition, ensuring that should one become blocked they still have access to water.
  • Rat food! Don’t feed food designed for rabbits/guinea pigs/hamsters/other herbivores - they won’t meet rats’ nutritional protein needs. Rats need essential amino acids/fatty acids/vitamins/minerals from their diet - they cannot produce these themselves.
  • To avoid harmful foods (e.g. onion/citrus fruits/walnuts/rhubarb/grapes/raisins/chocolate).
  • To avoid sugars/high-fat foods (i.e. dairy). Use only as treats/rewards during training. Rats like sweet/fatty food, which can cause obesity/other health problems if eaten in large amounts.
  • Feeding twice daily - morning and evening. Remove uneaten food, change the amount so all is eaten, and they stay a healthy weight. Rats feed mainly at dawn/dusk, and drink mostly during the night.
  • Food in open bowls - allows them to carry food and handle/eat it wherever they want. Check for uneaten food before re-filling bowls. Use ceramic rather than metal bowls to avoid ultrasound noise.
  • New foods introduced gradually. Introduce new food to rats as a group so individuals don’t smell different, preventing aggression. Don’t change diets overnight. Rats can be cautious/fearful of new foods.
  • Natural foraging behaviours (e.g. handling/manipulating food) encouraged. They enjoy holding/manipulating food in their paws. Foraging behaviour (pdf 181kb).
  • To eat fresh faeces - it‘s natural behaviour helping them absorb all the nutrients/minerals they need to stay healthy. Stopping this could cause nutritional deficiencies/health problems.