Clean, sociable and intelligent, pet rats generally need stimulation and company to stay happy. Without it, they can become depressed and irritable. As a responsible rat owner, it's your job to help him have fun and consequently enjoy a rewarding, mentally stimulating life. If you do that, your rat will be happier, and your bond will be stronger.
Climbing and Exploring
Rats are curious little creatures, and they love to explore -- especially climbing and tunneling. Give you rat furniture-like boxes and tubes that he can climb on and through for fun, and choose a cage with bars instead of a smooth surface -- he may enjoy climbing them. Ropes and swings are also reliable rat favorites, but make sure that they're made from non-toxic materials, as he'll enjoy chewing on them as much as climbing them.
Even though he lives in a cage, your rat has a good time when there's company. Rats are particularly sociable with their own kind, so giving him a roommate of the same sex can alleviate his boredom and loneliness. And of course, he loves being around his people, too. Keep his cage in a room where people regularly congregate, like the living room. He'll have a good time just watching you and satisfying his curiosity about the people in his home.
A little exercise is good for everyone, and rats know it. Rats generally enjoy running on an exercise wheel, which keeps them healthy and satisfies their need for physical activity. Don't give yours any old rodent wheel, though. Hamster or mouse wheels are typically too small and are made of bars. He needs a wheel with a solid surface, or else his tail can get caught between the bars while he's running -- and that wouldn't be fun for anyone.
Outside the Cage
Generally, the bigger the cage, the better. Rats love to have room to stretch their legs and move around. Your rat also has fun when you let him out of the cage for some supervised exploration in the house. "Supervised" is the key word, because left to his own devices he can chew on inappropriate things like cords and wall corners. Running around out in the open or even cuddling you is a good time for a rat -- just make sure that predatory animals like cats are nowhere in sight, or he'll understandably feel stressed out.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.