Many folks think of rats only as pests, but domesticated rats have brought joy to their owners as pets for generations. Rats are intelligent animals. They enjoy showing affection to their furry companions as well as their human ones. They're also relatively low-maintenance, needing little to stay happy.
Your rat will be happy in a variety of home environments, from a used screen-top aquarium to a high-end, powder-coated rat cage with moveable shelves, as long as the habitat has a few necessary items. Rats like to move around, so a larger space is better -- plan for at least 2 square feet per rat. They like to make nests and beds, so put rat-safe materials in the cage for them to rip and gather as they see fit. Use materials such as hardwood shavings, unused paper or old blankets, although you can also buy bedding specifically designed for rats. Stay away from cedar or pine shavings, which are toxic to rats. Contrary to belief popular among those who don't own them, rats like clean environments, so clean the cage often to remove their waste. A sliding plastic drawer at the bottom of the cage can help with this.
Rats tend to graze a bit, so leave laboratory blocks or pellets out most of the time, along with a drip-style water bottle that dispenses water on demand. They appreciate fresh fruits and vegetables, especially green vegetables, cooked or raw. Wash them well first, then cut them into small pieces before placing them in your rats' food bowl. Your pet might enjoy a pinch of whole-grain bread or cooked pasta on occasion.
Rats are social animals, so once their basic needs of housing and food are met, what they need most is some loving. It's best to keep more than one rat at a time so they can keep each other company. The gender doesn't typically matter unless you're interested in breeding -- or not breeding -- although males tend to be a bit more aggressive than females. Rats bond well with their owners and often enjoy hanging out in their laps for some quality petting time, so make your rat happy by spending plenty of one-on-one time with him.
You might be your rat's favorite toy, but you can't be with him all the time. Create a labyrinth of fun in his cage with shelves, hammocks or large PVC pipes to crawl over and through. Add ladders or ramps, as well as an exercise wheel to let your rats burn off energy. Rats often love to chew, so give them unbleached cardboard items such as an empty toilet paper roll or tissue box, which does double duty as a hideout and a chew toy. Place bird toys or cat toys in the cage for added fun.
Rat and apple image by Yodanet Company from Fotolia.com