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The Pet Charity is a national charity which promotes the joy and health benefits of pet ownership. Pets benefit our lives in so many different ways, and The Pet Charity has at its heart the need to spread the word about the positive aspects of pet ownership. The Pet Charity seeks to run programmes that demonstrate the benefits of pet ownership alongside increasing awareness of the differing needs of pets.

Rats are intelligent and interactive animals that make good family pets. They can become very tame when handled regularly and typically live for around two and a half years.

Fancy rats are descendants of the brown rats, which originate from Asia. They are social animals so it is strongly recommended they are kept in single sex pairs or groups. It is best to introduce animals to live together when they are young, as adults may fight.

General care
Rats normally stay healthy throughout their lives, but they can suffer from sneezing and breathing problems. Be sure to use appropriate dust-free bedding in their cage to help prevent these problems occurring. If sneezing and breathing problems persist, seek the attention of a vet.

Rats can get mites, which will be very uncomfortable for your pet, a recommended small animal spray will usually deal with these and your pet shop or vet can advise.

Rat’s teeth constantly grow and need to be worn down to a healthy length by providing a mineral block or wooden chews. Overgrown teeth will result in weight loss and must be treated by clipping by a vet.

If you are concerned about your pets’ health speak to your vet. It is recommended to find a vet that has experience with rats.

Choosing your rat
There are many colours and varieties available such as white or albino, Hooded, Agouti and Cinnamon. There is also a Rex variety with curly coat and whiskers. Whichever variety you decide on your rats should be a minimum of 4 weeks old before you take them home.

Housing
A cage of at least 60cm x 35cm x 25cm will give your rats adequate space. Rats love to climb and will appreciate separate areas for feeding, sleeping and exercise. Cages specially designed for rats will usually be of plastic and wire and may be on two or more levels. Most importantly they must be escape-proof.

Rats will enjoy a varied environment with branches, tunnels and ropes. A dust-free paper based product makes an ideal floor covering. Your rat will also appreciate a nest box with soft shredded paper.

Rats are clean in their habits but will need their bedding changed and their cage cleaned with a pet-safe disinfectant at least once a week.

As rats are indoor pets they should be kept at an even temperature ideally between 16˚C and 22˚C. You should avoid putting the cage in draughts, direct sunlight or in damp or humid conditions.

Rats are inquisitive and active therefore they should be provided with as much stimulation as possible. A solid exercise wheel and a selection of toys to avoid boredom should be provided.

Rhubarb and avocado can upset your rats’ stomachs, but unlike us they cannot be sick.

Food and water

Rats are omnivores and so will enjoy a varied diet. A complete rat mix, available from most pet shops, should be the basis of their diet. This can be supplemented with small amounts of fruit and the occasional boiled egg. Uneaten fruit should be removed regularly.

Most rats will enjoy a mineral block, which should be available for their use. Food bowls should be sturdy, gnaw-proof and easily disinfected.

Fresh drinking water should always be available for your rat. It should be provided by a gravity-fed water bottle designed to fit your rats’ cage.

Handling
Handling your rats often will help them build up a relationship with you. When you first take your pets home, allow them 24 hours to get used to their new environment, then allow them to sniff your hands before handling them. This will get them used to your smell. Stroke your rat and be sure he is facing you, then cup both hands around him and pick him up. Never pick your rats up by their tail.

Always concentrate when holding your rats as they’re notoriously quick and can slip out of your hands.

The Five Animal Welfare Needs

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 means all pet owners have a legal duty of care to their pets. Anyone who is cruel to an animal or is found not to be providing the five animal welfare needs, as listed below, can be fined and sent to prison.

Environment: Pets should be given the correct housing according to its size, this includes shelter, space to exercise. 

Diet: Pets should be offered the correct type and volume of food to cover all their nutritional needs alongside access to clean, fresh water and a secure, comfortable place to rest.

Behaviour: All pets should be allowed to exhibit normal behaviour patterns and should be provided with the facilities to do so.

Health: All animals should be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease, and given veterinary treatment if they become sick or injured.

Company: Some animals require the company of their own kind, whilst others should be kept on their own.