How to care for your pet rat
As well as hamsters, we also welcome rats to our veterinary surgery. Our experienced rat Vets can provide a range of consultations, as well as general and geriatric health checks. One of our dedicated, highly qualified rat Veterinarians will be on hand to provide personalised advice on how to help improve nutrition, husbandry and preventative care. Read about the types of consultations we can offer your rat.
Also, don’t forget to collect your Molesey Card – our free loyalty card which gives you 1% back on everything you spend with us! The Molesey Card lets you collect points that can be redeemed against our services. We even give you 500 points (=£5) to get you started! Remember, it’s completely free to join, so ask at reception for more details when you arrive – learn more.
We do not currently recommend vaccinations for rats.
A NEW PET RAT – Congratulations!
We do hope your furry new family member will bring you much joy and happiness.
We do recommend a health check shortly after bringing your new pet into it’s home.
Please bring in details of all foods and any supplements or medicines you may be using.
Remember to collect samples of urine and faeces from that morning if possible.
If you’re worried or confused about their behaviour, then take videos of it.
Isolate your new pet from the rest of your animal family at home until after the first check up and the vet has assessed the pet as being healthy. This means unfortunately you should not introduce them or let them play together.
If you do wish to introduce them then please ask us for advice on how and when this should be done.
At the ‘Health Check’ we will perform a full physical examination. This includes assessing your new pet’s overall condition, the muscle and fat levels, and hydration and checking for anaemia.
We will be paying close attention for parasites & for any signs of infectious diseases.
We will be focusing on gut function and on your rats’ diet, including whether is it appropriate and the amounts are suitable.
We may not perform a full dental check on young animals if the incisors look to be in a normal condition.
Once we have examined your pet, hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the future diet and care of your rat. If there is time we will talk to you about handling and training as this is the right age to be teaching your pet!
Regular Health Check
Once your new rat is settled in and any health problems have been solved, then we recommend a six-monthly general health check.
Please ensure you know the brands of foods your pet is on, and any supplements or long-term medications.
Bring urine and faeces from that morning if you can.
We would also like to see a photo of the cage set up.
At this check we will assess body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration and check for anaemia.
We will check your rats’ eyes, ears, and perform the very important dental examination.
We will feel the lymph nodes, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and listen to it’s heart and lungs.
We will search for parasites, examine the condition of the skin, look for any pressure sores or ‘sore hocks’ on the feet and also assess the nail length.
Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of the pet.
Rats have short life span with the reported life span being 2-3 ½ years.
A pet rat survey in UK showed an average lifespan of 21.6 months.
Once your rat is older, or ‘geriatric’ we advise moving to health checks every six months, as it is safer. A 6 months period for a rat is roughly equal to 15 years for a human.
We believe rats become ‘geriatric’ when they are over 18 months, although just like humans, animals age at different rates! If you are worried or would like a check every 3 months, that’s fine with us. We do understand that many of our owners worry very much.
At this health check we will assess their body condition, their muscle and fat levels, hydration levels and check for anaemia.
We will check the eyes, ears, and a full dental examination.
We will feel the lymph nodes, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and listen to the heart and lungs.
We will check the whole body carefully as growths are one of the most common problems in older rats.
We will search for parasites, examine the skin, look for any pressure sores or ‘sore hocks’ on the feet and also assess the length of their nails.
We will also be paying particular attention to your rats’ ‘gait’ or movement, including their flexibility as mobility problems become more common in older animals. As they are often too nervous to move freely in our surgery, if you could take a video of them walking, running, and self-grooming that would be very helpful.
We may suggest taking a blood test every 6-12 months to monitor their blood cells, and organ function.
We usually collect the blood from a vein in the tail, we use a small needle and collect about 3 drops of blood, and it should be over in a few seconds. We often give some anaesthetic gas and oxygen, as it makes this quicker and easier.
Once we have examined your pet, hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of your older rat.
The wild rat lives on a diet of anything he can find, however we do not recommend a diet of dropped steak and French fries!
The best diets are those that have been specifically designed for rats- such as lab rat food or Mazuri Rat and Mouse diet. These can be hard to find though, and if not fed from a young age then may be difficult for an older rat to readjust.
Seed & cereal mixes are a reasonable choice as long as the rat is not overfed them. If you overfeed them, they will pick out all the tastiest high fat seeds first.
Remember, do not keep adding more food into the bowl as your rat will carry it away and hide the not-so-delicious stuff for later – but eat the favourite straight away!
You should restrict their feeding volume to 2 x a day – a large teaspoonful morning & night should be plenty.
They will appreciate a mix of several different vegetables and fruits every day – we suggest 5 types, and try to vary as much as possible.
- Monday – Sweetcorn, cucumber, pumpkin, strawberry, apple
- Tuesday – Broccoli, carrot, pak choi, tomato, pear
Any vegetables can be cooked or raw. A small amount of dry pasta is good for keeping the teeth short and at a healthy length.
Remember any diet changes MUST be slow and gentle. If you change too quickly this can upset the gut and cause bacterial imbalances. Please take a week or two to gradually introduce a new vegetable or a new brand of pellets. Older tats are reluctant to change, and it is important to get them onto a good quality pellet plus the missed veg/fruit whilst they are still young.
One of the major health problems we see is obesity from loving owners over-feeding and under-exercising.
We would recommend chemical de-sexing female rats rather than surgical, and are happy to discuss this in consultation.
We would de-sex a male rat to allow a male and female to live together without breeding, although we do recommend keeping pairs of the same sex.
Parasites are rare. The main health problems we see are respiratory disease, obesity and growths.
We have a dedicated ward for our exotic patients who like warmth, such as rats, reptiles and birds. It was designed by our vets to keep these special animals as relaxed and comfortable as possible during their stay with us.
The ward is kept warm to 25-30 ‘C degrees to keep them comfortable. Cats and dogs that are seen as potential predators (and therefore very scary) so they are kept in separate wards that are out of the sight and smell of these nervous creatures.
We always try to keep it calm, quiet and relaxed in this ward and most animals settle down quickly.
We do offer a wide range of pellets, and vegetables available to tempt the appetite. If you would like to pack a little lunch box of the home foods you are very welcome. If necessary we will support your rats feed with a liquid food.
To make your rat feel safe, you may also bring in your pet’s own water bottle too.
We have a wonderful team of nursing staff who are very experienced with the care and handling of these nervous creatures. This is particularly important when they are not eating and need to be support fed, as many of our sick patients do.
24 hour access is essential. A sipper bottle is best. You should never not change water abruptly (i.e. from tap water to a bottled water) as it may taste different and your rat may not drink it.
We have seen animals that are dehydrated or in gut stasis for reasons such as the water sipper ball getting stuck, or because the rat did not like the taste of the new water.
Rats are very sociable and do like to play in water, so floating a few peas in a shallow tray of water (like a painting tray) will give them lots of fun – and make lots of mess!
The cage size is important, and we would advise at least 45 x 60 cm2 floor space per rat.
Remember, the cage floor should be solid, not wire, as the wire base may cause ulceration on their feet.
If you leave a corner of the cage with wire, many rats will use that corner for the toilet. You may also put a special toilet in.
As with all animals, you must always keep their cage clean and dry. Newspaper may be used to cover the base as the inks are soya based and non-toxic.
You should then use bedding such as hay or paper bedding like Care Fresh. We don’t like woodchips here as they can be dusty, irritant and even poisonous.
Give your rats a hide box in the corner as this will help keep ratty feeling safe.
Providing a solid wheel will help with their exercise levels.
If their cage has several layers, hammocks, swings, climbing ropes, tubes and boxes this will keep them active and playing. All surfaces should be solid.
We would like all rats to have at least one companion as they are a very social species. When rats have bonded they will groom each other, talk to each other and play together. They can be kept in larger groups as long as they are all the same sex.
Having a friend or three will make all those hours in a cage, waiting for you to come home go quicker and more enjoyable.
A young rat should take quickly to a companion, but adults may not. They may fight and cause each other injuries, but please ask us during a consultation how best to introduce your adult pet to a potential companion.
Many of the rats we see become overweight as they mature. They benefit from an easy, comfortable life with food that is available every day and often not enough exercise.
If you feel that your little darling is overweight (or if the vet tells you this!) you are welcome to make an appointment for a ‘Weight Consultation’ with one of our trained veterinarians.
The vet may also recommend a weight loss diet during their health check or consultation, and give you advice on the right combination of foodstuff for weight loss . This advice will also including how to encourage exercise.
The vet will set a target weight & a realistic time span to lose this weight over.
Rapid weight loss is not healthy, and as these animals are much smaller than us, so we may plan for them to lose a few grams per week.
Once the diet plan has been set we will then be happy to make free “weight monitoring” checks for you to follow up, usually every month or two months, and these will be with one of our vet nurses.
Rats are active, intelligent animals that really enjoy an enriching environment. They are social animals so a companion is very important for them. If not you must spend time every day playing & interacting with your pet. You must also provide them with a range of enrichment toys.
They are very keen on their food so a wide variety of vegetables and fruit will keep them happy.
You could make a foraging tray that can be filled with pieces of cardboard or old hay (hay that the best bits may have already been eaten but still in good condition) and hide their vegetables in here so they need to dig around for them.
They are inquisitive and so let them out of the cage every day to give them a chance to explore, but make sure there are no electrical cables they can chew on.
A big pile of boxes and tunnels will be a castle for them, but always provide them with a hide box for when they need to sleep.
They appreciate chew toys made out of safe woods so they always have something to nibble on.
If you would like more advice on caring for pet rats, contact our friendly team who will be happy to help.