Pet Rats - Fancy Rats

Brown Rats, Black Rats, Rattus

Family: Muridae Picture of a Black-Hooded Fancy RatBlack Black-hooded Fancy Rat "Amara"Rattus norvegicus
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I bought my daughter two male rats late July 2013, one hairless which was 1 month and a white one which was 3 months. Took them to the vet 2 weeks later once I... (more)  Stacey

   Active and smart little animals, rats can make great pets especially for children!

   Rats can live 2 to 3 years, are easy to house and feed, and are mostly odorless. They are inexpensive, small, and have lovable personalities. Rats also tend to be hardy little animals.

   When looking for a rat to purchase as a pet, make sure it is a young, healthy animal. It should ideally be between 4 and 8 weeks old. Make sure it is plump, has bright eyes, good sound teeth, and a healthy coat. Listen to the rat's breathing, if you hear any wheezing or it makes a sound other than a distinct "eep", these are signs of respiratory illness. Though the rat itself is inexpensive, visits to a veterinarian are not.

   Either sex will make a good pet, however if you plan to buy more than one, make sure they are of the same sex. Females are generally more active while males tend to be more cuddly. It is a good idea to buy atleast two as they are highly social creatures and thrive with a constant companion. But don't buy a male/female pair unless you want babies.

For information about Small Animals and their care visit:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Small Animal

Geographic Distribution
Rattus norvegicus
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Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Rodentia
  • Family: Muridae
  • Genus: Rattus
  • Species: norvegicus
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Scientific name:

Rattus norvegicus
- Brown (or Norway) Rat, common pet
Rattus rattus
-  Black (or ship) Rat


   Rats have been around for an extremely long time, and different varieties can be found almost everywhere in the world. Rats have often been thought of as pests because they have found advantages in living with people. People have always provided a good source of food for rats in their houses, buildings, and ships. The Brown Rat, which is the most common pet rat, traveled by ship to different countries across the globe. It gained prominence in the United States in the 1760's when there were large numbers of European immigrants.
   In the European Middle Ages, rats carried the deadly plagues (such as bubonic plague) which killed hundreds of thousands of people. This resulted in them being though of as a scourge. In other places they were seen as a possitive signs, such as a good luck symbol to ancient Romans and as a messenger of the gods to the Japanese.
   In today's world, many rats are domesticated and bred to display many different fur types and colors. They are also bred and used extensively in research laboratories to study heredity, and the effects of drugs and foods. One reason for this is that they can reproduce fairly quickly.


   Rats can vary in size, but normal pet rats average about 14 to 18 inches long including the tail, with an average weight of approximately half a pound. If well taken care of they can live from 2 to 3 years.
   There are several varieties of rats, some well-known ones include kangaroo rats, packrats, bushy-tailed woodrats, African giant rats, and spiny rats. The disease-carrying rats of the Middle Ages which today are the most common pets, are the black and brown rats.
   Pet rats can come in many different colors, including black, brown, beige, albino (white with red eyes), and many combinations of colors. Most rats are commonly a solid color or hooded. Hooded rats have one color covering their head with usually a stripe coming down their backs, with the rest of their bodies a different color.


   When considering what type of cage to buy or build, make sure there at a minimum, it is 16" x 10" x 10". Glass aquariums, or metal cages with small bar spacing are usually ideal, because they can't chew through them or squeeze through the spaces.

Picture of a Fancy Rat, "Vanilla"
Photo © Animal-World
Courtesy Jasmine Brough

   The cage can be kept inside or outside as long as it does not drop below 40 degrees and as long as it is not kept in a direct draft. They are not as heat tolerant as humans, so should not be exposed to extremely high temperatures.
   Provide a good soft bedding that is clean, non-toxic, absorbent, relatively dust free and easily acquired. Shredded paper or tissue, processed corn cob, wood shavings, or a prepared litter are preferred bedding. Avoid cedar or chlorophyll impregnated shavings as they have been associated with respiratory and liver disease. They love to burrow so make sure to give them a good layer, at least 1" thick. Cages with removable trays may be a consideration, since they can help make cleaning easier.
   Put in a cardboard house or logs for the rat so that he has a place to go when he is tired. Consider different toys also, such as wheels for young rats, mirrors, logs and ladders.
   Clean the cage thoroughly with hot water at least once a week.

Care and feeding:

   A rat's diet is a major factor in keeping your pet healthy. It needs to be well balanced and nutritrious, based on protein, vegetables and fruits. The best way to obtain this is to buy pre-mixed rat foods at pet stores, which have all the nutrition requirements in the right amounts. Otherwise, good protein sources are dog food, fish flakes, some grains, and other freeze-dried fish foods (like brine shrimp and plankton). Fruits and vegetables are also very important and they provide necessary vitamins and minerals. Good sources of these would be apples, carrots, lettuce, bananas, etc. Since rats are sometimes prone to vitamin deficiencies, you may want to consider getting a vitamin supplement to add to the food, which can be found in pet stores. They will also benefit from the addition of calcium, which you can offer in the form of a calcium block sold for birds in pet stores.
   In general, rats should be fed once a day, usually at night since that is when they are most active. Make sure and remove any non-eaten fresh greens at the end of the day. Food should be put in heavy china or pottery dishes (making it harder for them to spill the contents) and should be thoroughly washed with hot water at least twice a week. They may also be given treats such as table scraps, soup, potatoes, meat, insects (mealworms, grasshoppers, moths), or treats found at pet stores.
   Rats teeth are also constantly growing, so you should provide them with objects to gnaw on, such as rawhide bones, nuts, or wood pieces. This will help keep them in good shape.
   Water is a very important thing for rats. They cannot survive without it, so make sure they have a constant supply. Gravity-flow water bottles, which can be found in pet stores, are a good choice, or just a plain dish will work too.

Social Behaviors:

   Most rats get along together, however there are some things to take into consideration. Occasionally, males will fight with each other, especially in the presence of females. Also, whenever adding a new rat to a cage, watch to make sure the new one is not picked on. Newcomers are sometimes not welcome, and there is always a pecking order established.
   Rats are great companions for children. It's okay to have only one as long as it is given a lot of attention, however their need for socialization is very great and they will thrive best if they also have another rat companion. They should be kept away from other household pets unless they are well acquainted with each other. Sometimes rats can become good friends with dogs or cats.
   Never house rats with other rodents though, such as mice, hamsters, or gerbils, because they will usually kill them.

Handling and Training:

   When picking up your rat make sure to support it with both hands; with one hand under it's shoulders and the other supporting it's hind legs. Never pick your rat up by the tail and be careful not to squeeze it.
   Rats can be taught simple tricks, such as coming when they are called and riding around on your shoulder. They can also be taught such things taking food from your fingers once they are comfortable with you. One of the best ways to train them to do these simple tricks is to reward them with a treat everytime they do something right.
   To keep them tame and friendly, make sure to spend ample time with them and handle them at least once a day.

Activities - Exercise and Play:

   Rats need plenty of exercise and they also love short periods of time under supervision. They love to explore. A good source of entertainment and enjoyment for your rat is to construct a maze that they can explore. You can also put different toys, ladders, tunnels, and wheels in the cage itself to provide them with good exercise when you are not around.


   When breeding, you can either have a pair of rats, or you can put one male in with several females. Both males and females are fully sexually mature between 10 and 11 weeks old, though females can get pregnant as early as 5 weeks. You shouldn't breed them until they are about 4 or 5 months old.
   The gestation period for females is approximately 3 weeks and they have from 8 to 12 young. The father will not harm the mother or babies, however he should be removed before the babies are born as the mother will become pregnant again immediately if he is in the same cage. Because the mother will be nursing, this subsequent litter will tend to be runts.
   Babies are born naked with their eyes and ears closed. They start growing fur within a few days, and their eyes usually open at about 2 weeks old. After this, the young rats will start exploring their home, and are weaned at about a month old.
   While the mother is pregnant, feed her about 3 times more food than usual, because she will need many more nutrients to help the babies grow and develop correctly. Keep the cage exceptionally clean, and make sure there is ample room for the mother to leave her young when she needs a break from them.

A white rat, "Snowflake" is seen here with her babies!
Snowflake and her babies Snowflake's newborn rat babies
Babies are a few days old Newborn babies

Photos @ Animal-World: Courtesy Jasmine Brough


   Rats are hardy animals and rarely get sick. However, if not taken care of properly they can become ill, and they are very prone to respiratory illnesses. Most ailments are preventable simply from taking proper care of the animal.
   Signs that the animal is not feeling well include: listlessness, huddling in a corner, a dull matted coat, refusing food, labored breathing, runny noise, watery eyes, and constipation. In most cases, there are medications available at pet stores which can be used to aid in treating the animal. In other cases a trip to a veterinarian may be required.
      Respiratory Infections - Pneumonia: The indications that your rat has a respiratory infection or even pneumonia are runny eyes and nose, coughing, sneezing, and labored breathing. Respiratory Infections can be caused from being in drafts and/or damp bedding. Make sure he is taken out of drafts and the cage is completely clean and dry, and place a dry cloth over the cage. Pneumonia will require an antibiotic therapy, and possibly a visit to a veterinarian.
      Diarrhea: If your rat has watery droppings and appears to have diarrhea, then the cause is most likely from having too many fresh greens. The simple remedy to this is to remove them completely and not feed them at all for a few days until he appears to be getting better. Then slowly re-introduce greens by giving them every few days.
      Constipation: If it appears that your rat is constipated, then it is most likely either not getting enough greens or water, so check both of those.
      Lice and Mites: If your rat is constantly scratching, it could be a sign that it has either lice or mites, which are parasites that live on the skin. There are sprays and powders available for the remedy of this.
      Fleas and Ticks: Fleas and ticks are bigger than lice and mites, but cause the same scratching and discomfort as lice and mites. Completely clean and disinfect the cage. The best way to naturally control fleas is as simple as a flea comb, hot soapy water, and a good vacuum cleaner. A home remedy used for dogs and cats is to season their food with brewer's yeast and garlic, a natural flea repellant. Medication designed for cats can is often suggested for use, but a cat treatment flea dip can be harmful. Flea products are known to have caused deaths and illness in pets, so despite strong warning labels, we are hesitant to recommend them.
      Ringworm: Ringworm is a fungus infection on the skin. It is best to go to a veterinarian for this.


Pet rats are readily available.

Lastest Animal Stories on Pet Rat

Stacey - 2014-02-02
I bought my daughter two male rats late July 2013, one hairless which was 1 month and a white one which was 3 months. Took them to the vet 2 weeks later once I found a vet that took exotic pets. They got a clean bill of health. On Thursday around 5pm I went to do my daily cleaning of the cage, change the liter pan daily and feed them and fresh water, I notice the hairless which is Rascal was just laying in his hut. This is not normal for him because we call him our hyper boy. He was cold as ice, tried warming him up with heating pad and took him to the vet on Friday. The vet couldn't tell if he had phenomena she would have to get an x- Ray and she said that was not a guarantee account of rats can't hold there breath and he is to sick to sedate. So she gave me medicine for Rascal that was sick and for Ratouille to take as well for 2 weeks. Rascal died Saturday 2/1/14 and my daughter was so upset. I put him in the cage for his buddy to see he had passed but he didn't seem to care he just wanted out to play. Ratatouille is showing no signs and I am a little bit worried on getting another friend for him because I don't want him to get sick. I am not looking to have Rats forever, thought this would be a great first pet for my daughter . If I get a young rat I would be facing with that one being alone after Ratatouille passes and if I try to get an older rat and they don,t get along then I am face with 2 rats being alone. I have the critter nation 3 story cage which I can pull up one of the ladders and it turns out to be 2 cages. So my question is what would be the best for ratatouille with out investing in another cage and can I quarantine in the bath room tub? Please help.

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-02-02
    I'm so sorry to hear about Rascal, a tradgedy for you all. It sounds like your vet wasn't sure what the problem was, so I would probably give Ratouille a couple of weeks before I introduced another friend, if you decide to do that. It could be that he is fine. They are very social and do like a companion. They also have a short life-span, 2-3 years, so that's the length of time you would have these pets.
  • Stacey - 2014-02-03
    Thank you, he is on the meds for 2 weeks. What age of a new male should I try to introduce to an 8 month old? Ratatouille is very friendly and playful.
  • Stacey - 2014-02-03
    Thank you, he is on the meds for 2 weeks. What age of a new male should I try to introduce to a 8 month old? Ratatouille is very friendly and playful.
Johanna Slotte - 2007-03-29

First of all I'd like to say that it's good to see another site with information about rats. I've been a rat owner for many years, and I think they make fantastic pets. I would, however like to point out some information.
Almost all rats will show signs of Mycoplasma Pulmonis or "myco" (pneumonia). (More on this later). They are also very prone to tumours, which are usually benign and easily removed by a vet. I'd add a note that it's important to have a contact vet before buying rats, as there will almost certainly be reason to go at some point in the rat's life. This can get expensive, their vet bills are not cheap. I've seen a rat with a benign tumour three inches across that the rat was dragging behind him because the owner didn't want to pay to take him to a vet.

Secondly "when buying a rat"... also "listen for any sign of wheezing". Any sign of the rat squeaking that is not a distinct "eep" is myco (pneumonia) and needs to be treated by a vet IMMEDIATELY to avoid lung scarring which can later lead to other health issues. Also it's important to always buy more than one rat as rats are social creatures and need company. Females are livelier than males and will be more "fun". Males are quiet and will be more "cuddly".

Environment: A handy guide to calculating cage size is two cubic foot per rat, which means the minimum cage size for two rats would be 4 cubic feet. Rats are very active and need space to move around. Rats can't tolerate as high temperatures as we can, and too hot is more serious than too cold. If a human is feeling "warm" then your rat is probably too hot. If you live in a warm area don't buy rats. Don't keep rats in sunlight, and if it's an unusually warm day make sure they have plenty of water. A good "house" for rats is a hammock. Just tie a piece of old clothing, about 1' x 1' up by the corners and you'll find your rats love sleeping in it, or just lying there observing the world. You can make double layer hammocks too, and the rats will crawl between the layers. For bedding pine shavings should never be used since the phenols in the wood (the nice smell) cause lung damage.

Nutrition: You should add something to the cage with calcium, since rats need a lot. Bird calcium stones are good for this.

Social behaviour: No, one rat is not ok. You may think you can spend a lot of time with the rat at first, but nobody has as much time for a rat as another rat would, and they need companionship for grooming, playing, etc. Most rat "fights" you will see are actually the rats tickling each other. Rats have the same "tickly tissue" us humans have and they love flipping each other on their backs and tickling. When they do this they "laugh" although the sound is too high pitched for the human ear to hear.

Breeding: Putting one male in with several females is a recipe for disaster! Each female could have 15 kittens, which would mean 45 extra rats if three females were in the cage with one male. True, sometimes they might only have, say, 7 kittens, but that's not a risk to be taken. Also before breeding you should know where you are going to rehome the rats. Breeding and giving to a petstore just for the sake of seeing you rats breed is not a good idea, however cute it may seem. Fathers can NOT be left in with mothers, since the mother can (and probably will) get pregnant again the SAME DAY she gives birth, which means she will have a runty second litter as she is still feeding the first litter. Female rats can reach sexual maturity in 5 weeks, which is earlier than the males. If the father is left in the cage you will have all the female kittens pregnant after 5 weeks, as well as the mother.

Ailments/ treatments: For any of the ailments I'd recommend going to a vet immediately. Any sign of sluggishness is probably a sign of sickness, watch the rat closely. Any redness around the eyes or nose is porphyrin, which is a sign of stress (like tears in humans). Porphyrin is probably a sign that your rat is sick, and you should see a vet.
A common misconception: Any sound at all, apart from a clear "eep" when the rats are playing, or hurt themselves (or someone tries to steal their food, etc) is a respiratory problem. Rats DO NOT "talk" to their owners with small grunting squeaks - this is a respiratory illness and has to be treated as soon as possible with antibiotics.

Please feel free to verify anything I've said with a rat club, such as the Rat and Mouse Club of America:, who have a very informative website.



Jessica B - 2009-02-16
I've had numerous pet rats over the last four years and each has their own personality and quirks. I've had cuddlers, adventurers, and diva's - each a close friend. Loki would wait for me to get home from work and greet me at the door when he heard my car pull in to the drive. He'd climb up my leg, onto my shoulder and lick my bottom lip when I'd say "give mommy kisses". Tony Montana loved to be slid across the floor like a bowling ball and would play fetch with toys and balls. Zoey was a mother 3 times to a total of 36 darling babies. All of our friends used to shy away from the idea of a rodent in the home, but my blue dumbo Skillet melted all of their hearts with his huge ears and tiny body. He's got the silkiest dark silver fur and is cage mates with a fluffy siamese rat. The fur by his ears, tail, face and feet turned dark just like a siamese cats. I read that the color change is temperature related - colder zones turn darker brown, the warmer zones stay a creamy off-white. My boyfriend was indifferent to rats when he met me. He got along well with the 3 rats I brought into his home, but got the full effect of special bonding when we picked out baby Hash-Bones and Skillet from a breeder friend. Now he treats them as if they were our children. Loving and caring for these fuzzy buddies have brought us a little closer to each other, and turned all of our skeptical friends into rat enthusiests.

mindy - 2008-07-12
I am the proud owner of a male rat who is almost 2 years old. Shooter is the best pet I could have asked for. My son and I adopted him from our local pet shop when he was 3 months old as a Christmas present to ourselves. We only have him because he gets soooo much attention every single day, hours of attention! His cage is in the living room because we spend most of our time there. He is incredible with my 6 year old, my son was 4 when we adopted him. Shooter is so patient with him and has even learned a few tricks from my son's training. I am an experienced rat owner, I had 13 at one time when I was a teenager. I hate when people look at having a rat as "wierd". They are just as smart and loveable as any dog or cat, maybe even more.
I will be a rat owner forever, I cannot get enough of their cuteness! My advice for anybody debating adopting a rat - be prepared to be involved with your rat every single day, keep their cage clean and their food coming, and they will adore you like nobody else!

Chestersmom - 2007-04-14
Rats are great pets! They are, like mentioned earlier, dogs in a small package. My rat Chester died just under a year ago and is dearly missed. Rats are perfect pets for kids who have never owned a pet before. They can be fed table scraps occasionally and they dont have very strict dietary requirments like Chinchillas and Sugar gliders. Rats bond closely to owners and are extremely smart. They do like large cages. Bucks (boys) and Does (girls), make equally good pets but Bucke tend to be slower then Does, and more incined to sit on laps. Does are happy to be on the move, exloring. Their are exeptions to this rule though! Rats need lots of toys in their cages, to keep them from getting bored, as they are very smart. Rats should be kept in groups or pairs, as alone rat needs 4 hours of human intention a day. Rats should be fed rat fod, either a mix or lab blocks. Mixes have the down side of the rat being able to pick his or her favorite food and not eating the healthy parts. Lab blocks are really better, as they wear down the constantly growing teeth and provide all healthy nutrients. They dont add much variety. I fed Chester both, and he lived to be 3. Thats the down side of rats. They have short life spans of 2-4 years. Rats also can NEVER be housed on ceder, or pine, actually, no rodents should. Chester had on-going health problems from his original pet home housing him on ceder. Rats should have clean water supplied daily in a plastic or glass water bottle. Beware of plastic, which is easily chewed. Play time is very important, and you should spend at least an hour a day with your rat. As for the puchase, the best place to get a rat is from a local, private breeder. Especially if you have never had a rat before. If you must go to a pet store look for one that keeps the rats off of cedar or pine. Also look for a rat that is responsive, playful, and has clean fur, bright eyes, no discharge around eyes or nose, or a dirty under belly. You should have a wire cage with nessasary supplies aready set up at home. But always remember, if you want a rat research their care. dont be afraid to ask rat breeders questions and ask questions on forums. Enjoy your new best friend!

Blender - 2005-07-14
This is my second post, and I still have Riddy Rat and she's gotten quite large. When it comes to cage linging, reycled paper product is far safer than pine shavings, as they have been associated with all manner of lung maladies in rats. Ample water is important, and as far as staple ratfood goes, you may have difficulty finding one. Fret not, as you can cheaply make one with "Ferret Treat" (I use two, Peanut butter flavor and fruit/ veggie with yogurt), small animal food (dehydrated vegetable and seed mix with pellets, marketed for guinea pigs and rabbits), guinea pig yogurt drops, shelled sunflower seeds, and a small amount of cheap kitten chow. She loves it, and it addresses her need for protein, fat, and carbohydrates. I still supplement her diet with fresh things--strawberries and blueberries, fresh cauliflower, and carrots. Riddy enjoys meat, and rats have a predatory streak in the wild. Feeding them chicken and allowing them to gnaw chicken bones won't spoil their lovely personalities or make them more aggressive. An exercise ball fastened so that it is stationary makes a fantastic retreat for your rat inside their cage or aquarium. Ensure that the lid on their home allows ample air flow--condensation build up on aquarium walls is an indicator that you have poor airflow concerns.


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