Rats are affectionate, intelligent, social creatures that will live well together in same-sex or neutered pairs. They enjoy being handled and bond closely to their owners. Rats typically live 2 -3 years. They are generally nocturnal (active at night), so evening is the best time to play with them. The more they are handled, the calmer and tamer they will be. They love to explore and investigate their surroundings and should be provided with climbing toys, exercise wheels (not made from wire on which they can become injured), and hiding tubes. Wooden chew sticks and cardboard should be offered to help keep their continuously growing teeth ground down.
Rats are omnivores (they eat both plant and animal matter). Rats should be fed free-choice commercially available diets designed specifically for rats. Supplemental vegetables and fruit should also be offered in small quantities. They should be provided with fresh water daily from a sipper bottle and given an adequate chance to exercise in order to avoid obesity.
Rats should be housed in as large a cage as possible (no less than 14" x 24" x 12"). Overcrowding should be avoided, as rats will often injure each other if they are too crowded. Cages should be escape proof and made from easily cleanable material. Floors should be solid and made from plastic or metal to prevent sores from developing on the soles of the feet. care must be taken to ensure cleanliness and ventilation, so that ammonia from urine does not accumulate, predisposing rats to respiratory infection. Rats should never be exposed to airborne toxins such as cigarette smoke.
Suitable bedding (recycled paper bedding, newspaper, and alfalfa pellets) should be maintained at least a quarter inch thick to enable burrowing. Bedding material should be changed at least once a week. Wood shavings are not recommended, as they breed bacteria and mold and are dusty and indigestible, if consumed. Rats should be provided with a hide box or hammock for sleeping and should be kept at 65 to 80 degrees F. Cages should be kept away from heating ducts and sir conditioners, so that rats do not get overheated or chilled.
Rats should be allowed out of their cage daily to exercise, but should never be left unsupervised because they may chew electric cords, plants, or paint; suffer traumatic falls; or become injured by predatory pets such as cats and dogs, or by small children. Additionally, rats should be monitored around smaller pets such as hamsters, gerbils, mice, and birds, which they can kill.
Annual Veterinary Examinations:
Rats should receive full physical examinations annually by a veterinarian. These exams should include a thorough exam of the teeth, weight, respiratory tract, and breast tissue (rats are prone to respiratory infections and females frequently develop breast tumors). Their stool should be checked for parasites, and their diet and environment should be reviewed.
Adapted from the Zoological Education Network
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