How To Make Sure Your Rat Is Getting The Proper Nutrition

Posted on
October 11, 2019
a gray rat holding a snack
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Rats can make for great pets, but sometimes caring for them is not so intuitive. You’d think from their portrayal in movies and television — as well as the way wild rats live in real life — that they could eat just about anything, but this is not the case. It’s important to feed your rat properly so that she can lead a long and happy life. Not only are the contents of your rat’s diet important, you also have to ensure that she is getting the proper amount of food — obesity and malnutrition can both lead to health problems. With that being said, what exactly should you feed your rat? This post will tell you that, in four parts:

  • The importance of water
  • All about rat food
  • Supplemental food
  • How to feed your rat

Let’s Talk Water

It’s not food, but it’s possibly even more vital. Your rat should always have access to fresh drinking water, which is best when presented in a water bottle to avoid any contamination. Rats have no qualms about pooping in their water bowl, then drinking out of it, so that may not be the best option. Try not to hang the water bottle above the food dish, since dripping water can make the food soggy and unpalatable.

Colorful water bottles for your pet rat
Your rat water bottle should look something like these — they can be attached to the cage and hang down for easy access. Image courtesy of RatCentral.

This water bottle should be refilled at least twice a day, and cleaned regularly to avoid any buildup of nasty bacteria or algae. Ideally, you should also have multiple water bottles (especially if you have multiple rats) in case one becomes blocked. Though you should always check the water bottles for blocks and leaks, your rats will still need access to water if you don’t notice a water bottle malfunction, even for a short time.

Use Food Pellets For Rats

Not food labelled for any other animal. Unlike most small pets, rats are omnivores, meaning that they eat both plant-based and animal-based food. This means they have different dietary needs than herbivores, like rabbits, guinea pigs, or hamsters. Rats cannot generate their own amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, or minerals, so they have to receive all these nutrients through food. Rat food is specially formulated to contain the vast majority of the nutrients they need, and the rest can be found in other foods.

Rat food pellets
These lab-blocks may look distinctly unappealing to us, but for your rat, they’re a yummy and nutritional meal. Image courtesy of NZ Rat Rescue.

Lab-blocks or pellets should make up the majority of your rat’s diet, but you should supplement this with fruits, veggies, and certain nuts to make sure all needs are thoroughly met. Though there are seed mixes available, these are often not as nutritionally valuable as blocks or pellets because your rat can pick and choose her favorite seeds, which are often the least healthy of the bunch.

If you’d like to feed your rat an unconventional diet, there are recipes that will tell you exactly how to make rat food that will fulfill all your rat’s nutritional needs. However, before you go down this path, make sure that the source of your recipes is reliable and that you’re ready to completely commit to this plan. You’ll have to really stick to your recipes and feed your rats plenty of supplemental foods in order to pull this diet plan off without harming your animals. For most rat owners, lab-blocks and pellets are more convenient and deliver the same — if not better — results.

Supplemental Foods for Rats

The fun part of feeding your rat is supplementing their diet with human food, but you can’t get carried away — the serving size is about a teaspoon, and if you give your rat excessive amounts of fruits or veggies, you may have to deal with some extra runny rat poo. The good news is that you can experiment with what kind of food you use because a wide variety of foods makes for a better diet for your furry friend.

Fresh fruit and vegetables
Most fruits and vegetables make for great dietary supplements, though there are a few you’ll have to watch out for.

Foods that you can try include:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Melons
  • Plums
  • Berries
  • Raisins
  • Cooked sweet potato
  • Potatoes
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Squash
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Parsley
  • Bok choy
  • Cooked liver
  • Whole pasta/bread
  • Cooked beans
  • Yogurt
  • Brown rice

Special treats (use rarely) include:

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Avocados
  • Cheese (soy-based is better)

These are high in fat, and if given often can quickly cause your rat’s weight to rise.

Perhaps even more important than what your rat can eat is what your rat can’t eat. Contrary to popular belief, rats can’t eat all human food — in fact some foods can do serious harm to your rat. Foods to avoid include:

  • Chocolate
  • Raw beans
  • Dried corn (can include fungal contaminants, which are carcinogenic)
  • Apple seeds (make sure to always get rid of the seeds!)
  • Blue cheese
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Junk food (any food that is high in fats or sugars may be hazardous to your rat)
  • Raw sweet potatoes
  • Green bananas
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Licorice
  • Mango
  • Raw onions
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Peanuts
  • Poppy seeds
  • Green potatoes or potato eyes
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Wild insects
  • Peanut butter (most sticky, heavy substances can be fed to your rat, but should be treated with caution as they can choke your rat)

That seems like a lot to remember, but never fear! The internet is always here for you, and you can always come back and check through this list any time you want to feed your rat something new.

How To Feed Your Rat

Now that you know what you should be feeding your rat, we can now move onto the how. You should feed your rat twice a day, in the morning and evening. Establish a concrete schedule and stick to it — your rat won’t be too bothered by any changes, but it’ll help her feel more at ease and allow her to eat the proper amount.

Ideally, you should feed your rat using a ceramic bowl. An open bowl will encourage foraging behavior, like picking up the food and walking around with it, which will make your rat feel more comfortable. Ceramic bowls are best because metal bowls can be noisy and unsettling, especially when your rat is trying to move her food around, as is her instinct. Any bowl that is less hardy may be shredded by your rat, and bowls should be able to be attached to the side of the cage to keep your rat from knocking them over.

If you want to have some more fun with your feeding, you can scatter food around your rat’s enclosure. This works best with treats, since your rat will be more eager to find the food that they enjoy eating the most. Rats are very intelligent creatures, and they greatly enjoy the rewarding activity of sniffing out food. If you want to make it an even more fun challenge, hide food in cardboard tubes, small boxes, or interactive toys. Your rat will have a blast searching for that delicious tidbit.

Pellets and lab-blocks can be left available to your rat at all times, but other supplemental foods should be fed in small proportions. Otherwise, your rat may experience diarrhea, which is uncomfortable for both her and you. Like you would with your own food, you’ll have to exercise moderation when giving your rat treats that are high in fat or sugar. If these treats are not just occasional, fun occurrences, your rat can quickly become obese and experience the health complications associated with that. The fat rat is a stereotype for a reason!

Any new foods should be introduced a little at a time because rats tend to be cautious of any new food. If you have multiple rats, introduce food to them as a group to make sure that the others won’t show aggression their friend that smells a little funky from eating different food.

Rat chewing on a woven cord
Rats love to chew on anything and everything in order to keep their teeth in check. Image courtesy of Howcast on Youtube.

In addition to food, rats love to chew and gnaw on non-edible items, like cardboard, coconut shells, unbleached loofah, or an egg carton. Not only are these items super fun for your rat, they’re also necessary for her dental health. Rats, like most rodents, have teeth that never stop growing, so it is crucial for them to wear down their teeth by chewing. Your rat is a chewing machine, and if you don’t give her something to chew, she will chew everything else.

Rats will eat their own poop occasionally. This is natural behavior, and stopping it may cause health problems.

Having rats as pets is fun and rewarding, and it truly isn’t difficult to provide them with the nutrition they need. Though rats can’t eat everything, they can eat most foods, with only a few notable caveats. As long as you keep those exceptions in mind, and keep an eye on your rat’s weight, your rat should live a long and happy life under your tender loving care.

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Posted on
October 11, 2019

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