There are as many different ways to keep rats as there are rat owners, but over the years I have found what works for me. I am fairly relaxed about how I keep my pets, and often try out new things or experiment with different ideas in order to find out what works best – it’s a constant learning curve.
I have a large, fully insulated shed that has been specifically built for the rats. Inside there, my rats are mainly in purpose built hutches. This is a radical departure from my previous caging, but I am very pleased with them, as are my rats! Hutches are furnished with hoops for climbing, hammocks and igloos or boxes for sleeping, and platforms for different levels and a bit of interest. They are kept on cardboard horse bedding, with shredded paper, hay, and/or straw added as nesting material.
Mums with young kittens are kept in specially made rat breeding cages, and move into hutches or cages once they’re a bit bigger.
The shed has two separate areas for free range playtime, to allow lots of variety and experiences for my rats. These areas are filled with different items to play with, smell, climb on, and interact with, with lots of treats and items hidden around to discover.
Generally my rats eat a very varied diet. One batch of food I make for them is rarely the same as the next, and I am constantly trying new ingredients and ideas out with them. Their food is always made up to the basic principles of the Shunamite Diet (I think the associated book – the Scuttling Gourmet – is a “must have” for any rat owner). Mainly it’s a rabbit food base (something without pellets), mixed with herbs, cereals, and a good quality dog food. I often use mixes from ratrations.com, or mix those 50-50 with a rabbit food based mix. I scatter feed, rather than use a bowl, mixing food into the thick substrate of their hutches and hiding it in different places so they need to work to find it – this makes it all the more interesting for them to find.
As well as their dry mix, my rats get fresh food a few times a week. Their favourite vegetables are curly kale or spring greens, broccoli, peas, carrots, and sweetcorn. I also aim to give them oily fish once a week, which they normally get given with pasta, cous cous, or rice, vegetables and herbs as a complete wet meal. They also get assorted table scraps and leftovers on a regular basis too, no food need go to waste in a house with pet rats.
I don’t breed lots of litters – I only breed if I am intent on keeping kittens from a litter, and if I feel a mating will improve on the general health, temperament, lifespan, and type of the parents. I tend to breed from my girls at around 7-13 months, depending on my time, space, other litters, and other non-rat commitments. Kittens are handled pretty much every day from being born, and if there are any I am not keeping, they are generally not homed before eight weeks old, when I feel they are mature enough to go out into the world.
My rats as my pets, and as such health and temperament are paramount, but I always breed with the show bench in mind – I breed for the whole rat, not just one aspect. I am proud that my rats regularly do well in both pet and variety classes in shows – showing that it’s not only my opinion that they’re fantastic, other people agree!