Rats were once called "low maintenance dogs" because of their blend of intelligence and loyalty. While no pet can really be considered "low-maintenance", rats are certainly easier to care for and a lot more fun than a fish or hamster. A happy, well-socialized mouse becomes a friendly, sweet, curious, intelligent, and interactive animal. These fun creatures make great pets, but if you're thinking of owning one, do your homework first. It is important to take proper care of any animal, no matter what size.
Part 1 of 4: Deciding to have rats
Step 1. Consider the commitment
Rats live for 2-3 years, so plan ahead and see if you can take care of the pet for that long.
- Think about the time and commitment it takes to care for another living thing, which includes cleaning the cage, feeding it, handling it regularly and, if it becomes ill, taking it to the vet.
- Remember that you will need to find someone to look after your rats when you go on vacation or out of town. Many rat owners may say that it's pretty hard to find someone who feels comfortable enough to care for and handle rats; a lot of people can be disgusted, so try, if you can, to list at least 3 or 4 potential candidates who are willing to take care of your rats if you need to be away.
Step 2. Think about your other pets
If you already have other pets, especially cats, consider whether they will be able to coexist harmoniously with rats.
Cats in particular can be a problem because they hunt rodents, so you can end up teasing them and scaring or endangering the rats without meaning to
Step 3. Spend time with mice
Before deciding to buy them, visit someone who already has one. This animal has characteristics that some people find unpleasant, so it's a good idea to see if you really enjoy taking care of them before you buy any.
- Pet rats kept in clean conditions do not have a strong smell, but they do have a slight odor that not everyone likes. Before buying your own mouse, make sure you don't feel uncomfortable with the smell.
- Likewise, some people are disturbed by the way rats move. Paws can tickle! Tails can also be a little weird at first. Try catching a mouse to see if you are comfortable with its mannerisms and anatomy.
Step 4. Consider cancer risk
Unfortunately, cancer is a common problem in rats and can shorten their lives. Although not every mouse develops tumors, they are something that deserves attention from a potential owner.
- Ask yourself if you can afford the cost of surgery if your mouse develops a tumor that needs removal. If the answer is no, then are you prepared to euthanize a dear, relatively young animal to keep it from suffering?
- If you can't handle this situation, rats may not be the most suitable pets for you.
Step 5. Choose the right number of mice
They are social creatures who enjoy each other's company. It is highly recommended that you buy more than one.
- It's almost impossible to keep a lone rat happy, even if you take good care of it during the day. This animal needs almost constant interaction so it doesn't get bored, so if you only have one, you'll become its main source of social stimulation.
- The best alternative is to buy more than one mouse so they can keep each other company. If you decide to have more than one, it's a good idea to buy them all in the same place and at the same time to reduce problems with quarantine or when presenting them. Presentation can be difficult, especially with male and territorial rats.
- Remember that two rats are no more work than one. In fact, you'll find it easier to take care of two or three rats because they'll be happier having each other to play with. Differences in the amounts of food and lining needed will be very small and barely noticeable. The only real challenge with having more than one mouse is getting them all onto your shoulders when you walk them!
- If you choose multiple rats, buy animals of the same sex so that you don't end up establishing a breeding colony, which is not recommended unless you are a professional and know exactly what you are doing. There are so many homeless rats out there that it's better not to put them to breed.
- Some vets neuter rats, so if you end up with a male and a female, it's best to neuter the male.
Step 6. Buy your rats
It is best to buy them from people who work with reproduction or rescue of these animals, as they will have a more intimate knowledge of them and will be able to help you find the right pet.
- Always do a lot of research to select places that keep animals in humane and healthy conditions.
- Pet shop rats often come from "breeders" that have little regard for the pet's health. If you decide to buy from a pet store, avoid rats with the following problems: red discharge around the eyes and nose, noisy breathing, open sores, lethargy, cloudy eyes or watery feces.
- Male and female rats can get mixed up in pet shop cages, and you might end up taking a pregnant female home without knowing it.
Part 2 of 4: Creating a Good Home for Rats
Step 1. Buy the correct cage
Purchase a large cage with solid floor, levels and ramps. The wire floor is painful for rats.
- The size should be at least 0.18 square meters for each mouse, but the best would be 0.23 m² or more.
- The spacing between the bars should not be greater than 1.3 cm, and the bars themselves should be covered with dust to prevent the animals' urine from corroding them. If the spaces between the bars are larger, you can use canvas to close them. Rats are excellent climbers and jumpers and should be able to perform their stunts inside the cage without going through the bars.
- An alternative is to use a plastic or acrylic box, which usually has a colored base that helps the mouse feel more secure and transparent walls so the animals can be seen. These crates are designed to connect with other units so that you can build a complex and interesting rat city. Animals can also be restricted to one area while you clean the others. Acrylic and plastic are easy to clean because of their flat surfaces compared to the crevices and recesses of the screen and metal bars.
Step 2. Place food and water dishes
Set up a place for your rats to eat and drink, either in separate bowls or using a small bottle.
The small bottles are a great option because they are attached to the cage, which prevents them from being dropped. Also, the water stays clean inside them
Step 3. Add the correct liner
The bottom of the cage should be lined with a soft, absorbent material.
- Use a sawdust lining found at a pet shop to line the cage. Do not use pine or cedar sawdust, as the odors emitted by these woods, when mixed with rat urine, can be fatal to your pets. Pine and cedar are dusty and contain oils that can cause respiratory irritation and difficulty breathing, so they should be avoided. Towels or fleece can be used but are not recommended as they can pick up smell and will need to be washed a few times a week.
- A good option is to use a cellulose liner available in some pet stores or recycle old newspapers to serve as a liner. Don't shred your own paper, however, as some inks can cause disease in mice.
Step 4. Provide a nest
A mouse's natural behavior is to hide in periods of vulnerability, such as bedtime. For this purpose, provide a nest or sleeping area.
You can either buy the usual plastic houses at pet stores or use wicker balls with entry holes. These best mimic what a mouse would choose in nature
Step 5. Consider making a toilet
Like dogs, rats don't like to dirty the places where they eat and sleep, and you can use this to your advantage by providing them with a bathroom.
- Mouse toilets are small plastic boxes with an entry hole. You can buy the rat equivalent of cat litter and place about 2.5 cm in the bottom of their bathroom.
- Place the toilet in the corner opposite the nest and food bowls. Most rats quickly realize what the box is for and will like to have a specific place to go to the bathroom and keep the rest of their rooms clean. For best results, wait and see if your rats choose a specific corner for their bathroom before placing the box. However, not all rats are that clean, so just putting her straight in the cage can also work.
- Rat toilets also make the job of cleaning the cage easier, as every couple of days you can just empty the toilet, disinfect it with a non-toxic small animal spray, and replace the rat "sand".
Step 6. Buy toys for your rats
Fill the cage with toys, nets and hiding places.
- Rats love to be busy and will play with toys while you're gone.
- Toilet rolls, cat toys, ping pong balls, nets… rats love to play and anything will do to entertain them. Collect some small objects (not too small, however, or the animals might choke on them) around the house and place them in the cage to decorate and make it look like a home.
- Don't put things like thread or string on toys so the rats won't choke. Use common sense when choosing safe toys for your pets.
Part 3 of 4: Keeping Rats Healthy
Step 1. Leave them well fed and hydrated
Check food and water bowls at least twice a day. They are easily knocked over and liner can fall into the water, so pay attention.
- If you are using a small bottle, you will still need to change the water every day and remember to disinfect the nozzle at least twice a week.
- Offer your rat about 12 milliliters (or two heaping teaspoons) a day of a compound rodent food like Oxbow Regal Rat, Mazuri or Harlan Teklad blocks, which can be purchased in large quantities (in Brazil, we find the brands Biotron EquilíbRato, Presence Rats and mice and NuTrópica Twister). They are superior to flake foods because the ingredients are compounded together, and the rat can't just pick the most delicious (and generally least healthy) parts and leave the tasteless bits in the bowl.
- Supplement the diet with fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables. Rats have dietary needs similar to humans and can eat almost anything. Find a list of foods that rats cannot eat and almost anything else can be given. They can even eat chocolate! Giving your rats a piece of fruit or even a few scraps of food once or twice a day is perfect for keeping them happy and healthy.
- Know that mice like sweets as well as cheese. However, candy can rot your teeth, and fatty foods will make a mouse fat and obese, so it's best to avoid them.
Step 2. Leave the cage clean
Daily checks help keep the space hygienic, and a thorough weekly cleaning will keep your rats healthy.
- To clean the liner, purchase a metal or plastic spoon similar to those sold for cleaning cat litter trays. Use this spoon to remove the dirty liner and discard it in a sealed plastic bag. Remove wet, stained or smelling liner.
- Do a thorough cleaning at least once a week. Place the rat in a separate box to keep it away from cleaning products, completely empty the cage and discard the old liner. Wash everything else in soapy water, rinse well and dry. It's best to set aside a sponge, bowl, and towel specifically for cleaning mouse objects.
- Wipe all surfaces of the cage with a disposable cloth, rinse with water and dry. Now you can put a clean lining and replace the items.
- Chemicals such as bleach can harm a rat's delicate respiratory system if inhaled, so avoid using them in your pet's home. Safe disinfectants for pets can be purchased at veterinary clinics or pet stores.
Step 3. Keep the temperature healthy
Do not leave your mouse exposed to extreme changes in temperature or drafts. It must be in places with a temperature between 18 and 23ºC.
If the day is too hot, give your rats some cold, shallow water (about 1.3 cm deep) to play with. On cold days, add extra lining so they can snuggle up and keep warm
Step 4. Look for signs of illness
Taking care of a rat includes taking it to a veterinarian if it becomes ill. Signs that require attention include poor appetite, increased thirst, red urine, watery stools, weight loss, rapid or noisy breathing, and red discharge from the eyes or nose.
- Once a week, check the mouse's skin for lumps.
- Likewise, whenever you pick up the mouse, look at its skin and make sure there are no red or inflamed spaces and that it isn't itchy too much.
- Rats can pick up skin parasites, so look for signs of irritation.
Step 5. Take your rat to a veterinarian
If you suspect he is sick, take him to the vet as soon as possible.
- It's best to plan ahead and find a professional who is used to treating rodents before buying rats, or at least while your new pets are healthy.
- Ask other rat owners which veterinary clinics they recommend. You can also search the internet for forums relevant to your pet and ask for recommendations. Most people are happy to share their good and bad experiences with rodent health care.
- Call the veterinary clinic. Ask which professional is most comfortable caring for pocket-sized animals and if they have any special interest in rats.
- Another great question is whether the vet itself has pet rodents. Nothing like one owner to understand another's concerns.
Part 4 of 4: Keeping the rats happy
Step 1. Give them a good view
Leave the cage in an area where rats can see what is going on around them so they don't feel isolated.
Step 2. Spend time with your rats
The more attention you pay, the more attached, active, healthy and friendly your rat will be. A lone rat is unhappy and can have behavioral problems. Unless yours is aggressive, it's best not to leave them alone.
- Pick up mice every day, preferably two or three times a day for ten minutes or more.
- Rats love to learn and solve problems, so consider setting up a small obstacle course with hidden treats to mentally stimulate the animals.
Step 3. Teach them tricks
Start slowly, give rewards and back up with tidbits and praise what's done right.
- Rats are very smart and can learn a variety of tricks, such as jumping through a hoop, spinning in circles, standing up and even greeting, all following a spoken command.
- Don't punish your rat if it fails. Rats don't understand punishment and will be confused. Instead, give them a treat when they get it right.
- If you get bitten by your mouse, don't slap it and say "no"; make a squeak similar to what a mouse would do and walk away. In time, the animal will understand.
- Don't forget that each mouse has its own personality, which means that one can learn differently from others. Any specific teaching method can work for one mouse and not another.
- The key to successful training is to be persistent and do several short training sessions.
Step 4. Go out with them
Rats like to change their scenery, so if yours are really docile, take them for a walk on your shoulder.
It might be a good idea to put a breastplate on the rat to have some control over it, in case the animal gets scared while walking
- Give your mouse something to chew on, like a toilet paper roll. These animals love to use the chewed pieces in the nest.
- Training a mouse to come under your command is easy and useful. He can be trained with positive reinforcement using food as a reward. You can use this trick to find stray rats, and teaching it is something an owner should be willing to do.
- A happy, contented mouse scrapes its teeth against each other.Sometimes his eyes get a little bigger when he does this, but don't worry! It's like a cat purring.
- A good way to clean the cage to remove the smell is to use a spray bottle with white vinegar and one with peroxide. First, pour the vinegar into the cage, then the peroxide, and then wipe it off with a paper towel to remove the odor and disinfect the cage without spending too much money.
- Females tend to be more active. If you want a rat that sits on your lap to be petted, buy a male.
- Rats like to hide, so crates are good places for them to sleep and hide.
- Rats' teeth grow continuously, so provide a piece of untreated wood or other similar item for them to gnaw on, preventing the teeth from growing into the roof of the animals' mouths.
- If you want your rat to sleep through the night and play during the day, put his nest in the cage only at night, before you go to bed. See if your mouse isn't getting uncomfortable; if it starts to get restless, return the nest to the cage.
- Playing with the mouse will make you more active.
- Do not feed the rat through the bars of the cage, or it may begin to associate everything that comes outside with food and try to bite anything that passes through the cage, including people, clothing, or other animals.
- Rats can be very shy or aggressive when first brought home, especially if they come from a pet shop. Be patient with them.
- These animals are very smart and can enter places you would not imagine. Keep an eye on them when they're out of the cage. They like to jump too.
- Rats chew everything! Keep wires, shoes, clothing, and other things away from them when they are out of the cage.
- If you buy an albino, white mouse with red eyes, keep it out of the sun as strong sunlight is harmful to them and can damage their eyes.
- If you don't want your females to get pregnant, don't keep them in the same cage as the males unless they are neutered.
- Never grab a rat by the tail, as this causes them a lot of pain and discomfort.