Rats are highly intelligent and love to socialize with each other and their owners. While rats are quite often associated with dirty conditions, rats are actually quite clean animals and can be trained to use a litter box. Rats are social animals and must be kept in groups three seems to be the best number for their social dynamics. They can be kept in larger colonies as well.
The general rule of thumb is that there should be at least 2 cubic feet of cage space per rat. So the minimum cage size for 2 rats would be 29" X15" X18". There are numerous options available for caging for rats however some considerations need to be made. The best cage for housing rats is a coated metal, or wire cage with 1/2 inch (best for all rats but specifically baby rats) -3/4 inch wire spacing. When looking at wire cages it is very important to keep in mind that the bottom of the cage should not be made out of wire or wire mesh. While there is little risk to rats climbing on wire, walking on wire or wire mesh has been known to cause a condition known as BUMBLE FOOT. Bumble foot is a condition in which a rats foot swells and can become infected it can be both painful for the rat and create a need to seek veterinary care. Wire cages provide for proper ventilation and in most cases are easy to clean. Ease of cleaning is another factor in which one must consider when purchasing their rat cage. The door spacing should provide easy access to all eight corners of the cage, and the bottom should be easily removed and sanitized.
Caging to avoid when considering options for your rats are glass aquariums, plastic bins and wood cages. Glass aquariums and plastic bins keep in dust and ammonia which can irritate the rat's respiratory system. Wood soaks up urine, and cannot be sanitized easily. It can also develop bacterial yeast that can cause infection in your animals.
Although not inexpensive the cage I would recommend is a Critter Nation.
Paper bedding like CareFresh is a good option as it is made from recycled paper. It does not offer much in the way of odor control, cleaning the cage in a cyclical manor will help to control the odor. This tends to be the most expensive option but it is easy to clean up and hypoallergenic making it a great option for many people.
Wood bedding like kiln dried Aspen or pine offers assistance with odor control however there are some downsides to using wood bedding. First of all wood bedding tends to carry mites, while easily treated in rats they can be hard to spot until after they have been infested for a while and can spread to other animals. The second thing that we have found with the use of wood bedding is that people tend to have allergies to wood. So what happens is that they are handling their pets and start to show symptoms of an allergic reaction and tend to believe that they are allergic to the animal. When in most cases if the animals bedding is changed and they are given a bath of sorts the person finds that they were allergic to the bedding.
CEDAR BEDDING SHOULD NEVER BE USED FOR SMALL ANIMALS. I t causes upper respiratory infections that can lead to pneumonia and unfortunately many times death of the animal. Wood bedding tend to be cheaper option in the short run than paper but is more expensive in the long run.
Rice hulls are available in states where a common farming commodity is rice. It is a by product of rice farming therefore a green product. It can be composted and is extremely inexpensive. We have had good success with it for both odor control and the fact that it is a less allergenic option. There are a couple draw backs however to rice hulls. They can be dusty, messy and get stuck in carpeting making it hard to clean up off the floor.
Fleece lining is an inexpensive option but make sure that the fleece is anti-peel. You must also be prepared to place the fleece every time you clean the cage because the rats will chew it up. I do not recommended fleece lining as an option for the simple fact that I do not want my rats eating fleece. (I do use fleece for hammocks and they do not seem to chew those. )
Rats should be on a staple diet of a commercially rat block available at any pet store. They should also be offered small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as other options as treats and in moderation. There are foods that should be avoided as well. Below you will find a s list of good and bad foods. This is not a complete list. If you are unsure weather or not your rat should eat something please research it before feeding it to them.
Fruit: apples, cherries, grapes, bananas, plums Chocolate
strawberries and other berries, melons Raw beans
Vegetables: broccoli, potatoes, peas, carrot, Raw sweet potato
cooked sweet potatoes, kale, parsley, bok choy, squash Cabbage and Brussels sprouts
Cooked liver and other very lean cooked meats Green potatoes
Whole wheat pasta and bread Sweet, sugary treats and any other human "junk food"
Cooked beans ( including soy) Caffeinated beverages
Yogurt (especially with live cultures) Carbonated drinks
Brown Rice Green Bananas
Unsweetened breakfast cereals Wild insects (due to parasites and pesticides they Mealworms may contain)
Small dog biscuits Poppy seeds
Special treats (given on occasionally): whole nuts, in the DO NOT FEED ANY FOODS WITH D-LIMONENE IN IT shell (almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts). sunflower seeds TO MALE RATS (lemon and orange peels and juice, (high in fat), carob chips mango, black pepper, nutmeg)
Leftovers from your meals are OK in moderation
Please do not use plastic water bottles. They have all the cons of water bottles along with they warp if you place in dishwasher and they have a high fail rate (1 out of 3 fail).
Glass water bottles are what we currently use. Pros is they give fresh water all the time that it has water in it. You can wash them in your dishwasher. Cons are that they can fail (1 out of 50). Some people heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend that they can get their tongue stuck (I really don't know how they come up with this stuff). They do break when you drop them.
Water dishes are what we used for a short period of time. Pros they won't get tongue stuck. and you don't have to worry about failed water bottles. Cons are they play in the water, they poop in water, they dump over water dish. It is near impossible to keep clean water in the water dish.
Varieties of "Fancy" Rats
Like with any other domestic pets most coat and body features have been developed through selective breeding while others appear at random. Rats can be defined by many factors; one rat may be defined by one or more factors. These factors include color, coat type, markings, and body type. Some rats may be specifically defined by many factors. New varieties are still in development but some standardized factors and varieties can be found below.
Fur Color Varieties:
Fancy rats can be found in a wide array of colors. Most commonly, their fur is a solid color, or it might have hooded markings. Some fancy rats will retain the wild brown agouti color with three tones on a single hair; others have black-based hair with one color on one hair. Some common agouti shades include agouti, cinnamon and fawn. Black-based shades include black, beige, and chocolate.
Solid Colors Flecked Colors
Mink: soft grey Agouti: mixture of brown black and red
Black: jet black Cinnamon: agouti with more red flecked throughout coat
Pink-eyed white: solid white with pink Blue Agouti: agouti hairs with blue shades
eyes often confused with albino Argente: Tan or orange agouti with a grey undercoat
Champagne: Soft cream or off-white Fawn: orange agouti with a cream undercoat
Dove: very pale grey Silvered: any of the above with silver tipping on the hair
Blue: soft pale blue
Powder blue: pale blue/brown
Eye color is another factor that defines a rat's variety. Eyes can be black, pink/red, ruby, or odd-eyed. Ruby eyes refer to eyes that normally show a black color but show a red color under bright light. Odd-eyed rats have one eye that is one color while the other eye is another. Often, certain eye colors will accompany particular coat colors.
Another factor in determining a rat's variety is its markings. Fancy rats can be found with many marking and color combinations. Often, the markings refer to patterns and ratios of colored hair to white hair. Two of the extreme markings would be self rats having a solid color that is not white, and Himalayan, being white with gradual blending towards the nose and feet. This coloring is called points, just as with the Himalayan and Siamese cats.
Self: as mentioned above, self rats are solid color other than white
Hooded: these rats are white and have colored hair on the head and shoulders with a stripe down the spine
Caped or Barebacked: like hooded rats but without the stripe down the back
Variegated: again like hooded rats except with spots down the back instead of a stripe
Dalmatian: once again like hooded rats but with spotting over most of the body
Berkshire: colored on top with a white belly
Irish of English Irish: solid color with a white triangle on the chest
Blazed: white stripe running between the eyes and down the nose
Down under (DU): having a strip that runs along their belly or underside
DU Berkshire: like hooded rats but with a strip running down the belly as well as down the back
DU Spotted: have spots rather than stripes down the back and belly
Himalayan and Siamese: Himalayan has a white base coat with gradual blending towards the nose and feet. Siamese has a beige base.
Even though there is a great range of color and marking variations, the number of coat types is relatively small.
Normal/ Standard: most common straight hair coat type. Differences between genders are allowed with males typically having a course, rough thick coat while females tend to have softer, finer coats.
Rex/ Rexed: all the hair is curly: this includes the whiskers
Satin/ Silky: have extra long soft silky guard hairs.
Velveteen: softer versions of rex and satin/silky coats
Harley: long straight hairs
Hairless: a coat type defined by having little to no hair. Some may have no hair while other many have very short patches of hair on the body. This coat type is derived from the Rex coats. The Rex coat is a dominant trait so it only takes one Rex parent to affect the offspring's appearance. However, when two Rexes are bread together something odd happens hairlessness. Hairless rats are also known as Double-Rexes. Even hairless rats will still display markings on the skin; you could have a hairless hooded rat.
Manx: like a Manx cat, these rats have no tails
Dumbo: these rats have large round ears set low on the sides of the the head instead of on top like most rats' ears
Do rats bite?
Yes, rats can bite. Typically rats purchased for pet stores tend to be more skittish and bite more often. Rats purchased from breeders that have been handled daily tend to be calmer and may nibble on fingers if you leave food on your hands when getting into their cage. Mothers with babies can be nest aggressive as well and overly protective of their young and bite when they fear you are messing with their babies.