Do rats make good pets?

Rats are intelligent, highly social animals and make incredibly rewarding animals to look after.

Here's a handy checklist of what your pet rat needs to stay healthy and happy and behave as they would in the wild. 

They will need:

  • To rest/sleep without being disturbed - rats are nocturnal, so are most active at night and during dawn and dusk. Keep feeding times, cage cleaning and interactions to dawn and dusk wherever possible and match your activity with that of your rats - don't house them in areas that have lots of activity during the day. 
  • To climb - give them ropes in their cage to help develop their sense of balance. Rats will chew ropes as well as climb them, so they should be made of natural fibres (such as cotton).
  • To run, forage, explore and play - rats are active and like playing, especially when they're young.
  • To explore - once they're well-handled and relaxed, consider letting your rats explore outside their cage, in a room where they can't hurt themselves or escape (make sure you keep an eye on them!).
  • To dig tunnels and create burrows - rats love digging!
  • Water to play with - if your rats enjoy playing with water, give them the opportunity to swim in a shallow container, safely and with you keeping an eye on them. Some rats enjoy playing in water,  but never make them swim if they don't want to.

Keeping pet rats together

Rats are social creatures and need the company of other rats. They use their sense of smell to recognise others, finding out about where they've been and what they've been doing.

As rats are social animals, they can get depressed and develop abnormal behaviour if they live on their own.

Introducing rats to each other

Pet rats should be housed together from a young age and should ideally be siblings. They should be kept in small same-sex groups and are perfectly happy without the opposite sex.

When adult rats who don't know each other are housed together there will be a period of high aggression, but this shouldn't last long and should drop once they establish a dominance relationship. If newly introduced rats continue to be aggressive to each other, especially if one or more of them get hurt, this may show that they're unable to reach a stable dominance relationship and so shouldn't be housed together. Rats may suffer if they can't escape from others they don't like.

If they’re fighting, you’ll notice signs like:

  • Their fur standing on end during the fight.
  • Injuries to one or both rats.
  • Bites on their bottom or sides.
  • The weaker of the two rats will try to hide from the other and might act nervously.


  • Rats like playing, especially when young - they take turns who wins and loses. They can learn to play with humans as well as other rats.
  • Rats can find exposure to humans stressful until they've formed a positive relationship with you, so build this up gradually.
  • Handle them in the morning or evening to avoid disturbing them in the daytime when they're sleeping.

Common health problems in rats

Pet rats often hide their diseases, making it very difficult to detect them in good time. It is important, therefore, for rat owners to recognise the signs of disease at an early stage.

Here are some common health problems to look out for in your rats. If you’re worried about your rats, speak to one of our vets for advice.

Respiratory Infections

There are several bacteria and viruses that can lead to diseases of the lungs and respiratory tract. Respiratory diseases can be caused, among other things, by contact with contaminated faeces, urine, or litter, or by direct contact with infectious fellow rodents, but also by dry ambient air and smoke. Symptoms include:

  • Runny nose or eyes.
  • Difficulty breathing or snuffling and wheezing.
  • Losing weight.

Putting on weight

It’s quite common for rats to put on weight. This can cause health problems and might mean they don’t live as long.

Rats will put on weight if they eat too much and don’t get enough exercise. The best way to stop your rats from putting on weight is to:

  • Weigh out their food following feeding guidelines on the packet
  • Avoid giving unhealthy snacks
  • Make sure they have plenty of space to move around.

Red tears

Rats have glands in their eyes which produce a reddish-brown liquid. It can make them look like they have red tears or a nosebleed.

Rats produce more of this liquid if they’re stressed. Rats can suffer from stress due to:

  • Pain
  • Not enough space in their cage
  • Draughty or noisy living environment
  • Poor nutrition
  • Not being picked up carefully and correctly
  • Illness
  • Prowling predators, such as the family cat or dog.

Lumps and bumps

Rats are prone to some types of tumours. Some tumours are more serious, and their severity varies from benign lipomas to malignant tumours. It is essential to consult one of our vets as soon as one appears, as tumours must be removed as quickly as possible to prevent the cancer from spreading. 

The first signs of tumours may be:

  • Pain
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain (due to weight of tumour)
  • Visible and perceptible lumps
  • Increased appetite
  • Movement disorders (due to brain tumour)

For any advice on your pet rat please call us.