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Rats are kept for many reasons from being children's pets to prize show animals. They are excellent pets, are easy to keep and you can can develop of good owner-pet relationships with them.

Many rats sold as pets are white, although many other colors are available. 'Selfs' have one body color which may be black, blue, chocolate, fawn, etc. 'Hooded' animals have colored heads and white bodies. Specific varieties include the Irish black (a white triangle of fur on the chest and white feet) and the Japanese hooded rat (stripe along the back with a solid colored head and shoulders with white body).


Rats can be housed successfully in commercial or home-built cages. If you make the cage remember that rats can chew through wood or plastic very easily and, once free, will gnaw everything from household items to electrical cables. Metal and glass are good materials for cages, which often include a separate bedding area although this is unnecessary if there is sufficient floor space. Most cages are too small. A floor space 60 x 50 cm with a height of 40 cm will cater for two or three rats but basically the bigger the better. Any wire mesh should be fine enough to prevent escape of young rats but sturdy enough to resist the teeth of adults.

Bedding, either tissue paper or soft wood shavings (not pine or cedar as the oils these contain are damaging to health), will need regular cleaning. This is a very good reason for a hard plastic base to the cage, which should be sterilized regularly. Rats should be housed at between 14-26C and never above 30C since fatal heat stroke is then possible.


Rats can be fed a commercial complete ration supplemented with fruit and vegetables. They are happy to eat tit bits and chocolate but while these can be useful in firming the owner-pet bond, they can lead to obesity and considerable health problems.


Rats are generally amenable to handling and, although they rarely bite, they should always be handled with care. Grasping the rat firmly by the shoulders is the best way and a confidently held rat will be a much happier animal than one held gingerly. Handling a rat by the scruff is likely to cause distress and should be avoided.


Adult rats can be sexed easily but young animals are more difficult. The anus and vulva in the female are much closer together than the anus and penis in the male. Rats are sexually mature at 8 to 10 weeks and have a gestation of 20 to 22 days with a litter size of 6 to 14 pups. Weaning age is 3 to 4 weeks. Population explosions are common when rats are kept in groups. Ideally they should be kept either in single sex groups or in single sex pairs. If you have a male - female pair, separate them before the birth because within 12 hours they will mate, giving you a very rapid increase in your pet population!

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