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What makes a good diet for a pet rat?


Pet rats, also known as fancy rats, are highly inquisitive, intelligent animals and can make great pets. But knowing what to feed them can sometimes be challenging. They need to be fed a specific diet formulated for rats or they can end up with nutritional deficiencies which can lead to health issues. 

How often should pet rats be fed?

Rats often feed early in the morning and in the evening. So it is ideal to feed your pet rat twice a day; splitting their daily food allowance in two, with one half fed in the morning and one half fed in the evening. It is important to remove any uneaten food and clean feed bowls thoroughly with detergent safe for pet rats before replacing the food. 

So what foods should we feed them?

Pet rats are omnivores, which means they eat a variety of different foodstuffs including a mix of plants, grains and meat. 

A pet rat’s diet should primarily consist of a high quality nutritionally balanced nugget feed specifically formulated for rats. In addition to this, small amounts of vegetables and fruit should be provided for variety. As well as sources of protein such as cooked egg and chicken, grains and seeds. However, these must be supplied in replacement of a small amount of pellets so not to cause obesity and given as a treat only. 

Nuggets 

The basis of a pet rats diet should consist of a high quality nutritionally balanced nugget food specifically formulated for pet rats. Pet rat specific complete nugget foods are available at most local pet stores. The amount to be fed is usually written on the back of the packet. It is important you do not feed more than the recommended amount as this can lead to obesity and health issues. So ensure the food is weighed out each day and any uneaten food is removed. And the bowl cleaned thoroughly before the next feed is given. A daily amount to feed may be quoted on the packet. So it is ideal to split this into two so they can be fed morning and evening. 

Diets formulated for other small mammals such as guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits, are not appropriate for your pet rat as they do not generally contain the correct balance of nutrients needed to keep them healthy.

Fruit, vegetables, lean meat and cooked eggs

A small amount of fruit and vegetables should be supplied daily in a pet rat’s diet. This provides variety for your pet rat and will offer additional nutrients. It is important to only feed fruit and vegetables that are safe for pet rats; as some items such as citrus fruits, grapes, raisins, rhubarb lettuce and walnuts can be toxic. 

Lean meat such as chicken and cooked eggs can also be provided as an occasional treat and source of protein in a pet rat’s diet. Is important to only feed this as a treat and in small amounts to avoid obesity. 

Feeding to stimulate natural behaviour and provide enrichment

Pet rats love to explore and forage. They naturally search for food and spend a lot of their time and energy doing this. To provide enrichment for your pet rat and encourage natural behaviours, nuggets should be scattered throughout the enclosure to encourage foraging behaviour. And cardboard boxes and tubes can be used to hide fruit and vegetables to encourage exploring and problem solving for reward. It is important to remove the uneaten food daily to maintain your pet rat’s health. Not only does this provide enrichment, it also provides exercise and reduces competition over food in groups of rats.

It is also important to provide enrichment to encourage natural gnawing and chewing behaviour. This not only keeps rats entertained but also helps wear their teeth which naturally grow continuously. If they cannot wear their teeth this can lead to significant health issues.

Examples of ways to encourage rats to gnaw include providing wooden blocks and toys which are safe for pet rats, available in most pet stores, or cardboard and hay sticks etc.

If you are unsure if an item is safe to give your pet rat, speak to your local veterinarian before giving it to your rat, as some items can be toxic and harmful to their health.

Water

Water is an essential part of all animals’ diets and is often overlooked. It is vitally important your pet rat always has access to fresh clean drinking water which is accessible. Plastic drinking bottles with a metal spout are a good option and available from most local pet stores. They need to be cleaned regularly with a rat safe disinfectant to ensure harmful bacteria do not build up. 

Ideally, multiple bottles should be placed around your rats cage to ensure all animals can access water at all times without any competition. The water bottles should be checked twice daily to ensure they are working properly and are not blocked and topped up morning and evening as required.

Summary:

  • Pet rats need a specific nutritionally balanced diet
  • High quality nutritionally balanced nuggets should form the majority of their diet
  • Small amounts of fruit and vegetables should be offered to provide variety, and lean meat and cooked eggs can also be provided as occasional treats
  • Clean fresh drinking water should always be available, ideally with multiple bottles to ensure no competition for water 

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