Being highly social creatures, rats are happiest in pairs or small groups. For obvious reasons, you must keep them in single-gender pairs. Male rats don’t really show the overly territorial behavior that other male pets do, and they tend to be more placid than females. They do have needs that are somewhat different from those of female rats.
One of the first things to do is confirm that your rats really are two males. If they are more than 5 weeks old, it should be fairly obvious as their testicles will be visible. If they are younger, or if you are not sure, take them to the vet. If you don't know their history, which may be the case with rescues, take them for a checkup. If it turns out you have a male and a female, you must separate them. Rats breed incredibly rapidly and don’t have an issue with incest.
Provide the largest cage you can afford. The rats might be small just now, but bucks – males – get pretty big. Cages designed for other animals, such as ferrets, are often suitable for rats as long as the bars are not set so far apart that the rats get their heads through, which means they can get out. Also bear in mind that rats like climbing, so vertical space is important. A rabbit or guinea pig cage might look like a good option, but it is not ideal for young rats. Meanwhile, as male rats become older, many develop paralysis in the hind legs. At that point, you’ll need more horizontal space, so a rabbit or guinea pig cage would be suitable. Elderly rats can’t climb so well if at all.
Most rats become very friendly pets, with bucks often being so laid-back they will sit in your lap while you watch television. This depends on socializing them early. Place the cage in a room that gets plenty of traffic from humans and any other pets. The more they see, hear and smell the other members of the family the better. Spend at least an hour a day handling the rats. Older rats that haven’t been socialized need a lot of patience and probably aren’t a good choice for those new to rat-keeping. Introduce the rats to your other pets gradually. Let them become accustomed to each other through the cage first and watch them very closely if you decide to let the rats out. It is unsafe to leave rats unsupervised with dogs, however well they get on, and never a good idea to allow a cat open access to your rats, supervised or not. If you want more than two rats, introduce new ones while your current ones are still young. Although you can often introduce females to each other at any age, bucks sometimes become grumpy old men, not welcoming new arrivals at all.
Being omnivores, rats can and will eat almost anything. However, what they like best is not usually what is best for them; they show a preference for high-fat or high-sugar foods, which should be provided only as a very occasional treat. Bucks tend to be particularly prone to obesity because they are not as active as females. A good basic diet is all-in-one rat nuggets supplemented with bits of fresh fruit and vegetables -- and a little of whatever you eat, provided it is healthy, as a treat. Rats do not need a special diet while young. Note that male rats should not get citrus fruit, as it can cause kidney problems. Citrus is fine for female rats.
kiss of rats image by Olga Barbakadze from Fotolia.com
Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.