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Do Pet Rats Need Vaccines? Health Care Basics


There’s quite a lot of information available on dog and cat vaccination requirements, but information regarding pet rat vaccination is startlingly sparse. This may leave many rat owners wondering if their pet rodent needs to be vaccinated.

Pet rats do not need vaccinations, though they may require other veterinary procedures. Owners may take their pet rat to a veterinarian for annual examinations. During these examinations, veterinarians may test for parasites, overgrown incisors, and other common conditions that afflict rodents.

This article will explore illnesses common to rats, in addition to discussing what vaccines (if any) are required for pet rats. We’ll also address what procedures veterinarians recommend for pet rats.

What Illnesses Are Common to Rats?

There are a handful of illnesses and conditions that are common to rats. Some of the most illnesses or afflictions that affect rats include:

  • Parasites
  • Obesity
  • Overgrown incisors
  • Respiratory illness
  • Nutritional upset

Taking your pet rat to a veterinarian at least once a year, or at the first sign of these issues, can help prolong their life and ensure that they are healthy and happy. One of the first things a veterinarian usually checks for when caring for a pet rat is the presence of parasites.  


There are two types of intestinal parasites that can take up residence inside of a pet rat. These parasites can transfer to humans and infect them as well, especially if owners aren’t careful about personal hygiene after handling a rat or their soiled bedding.

The first type of parasite that commonly affects pet rats are tapeworms. These flat creatures enter a mammal’s body orally. Rats and humans can become hosts for tapeworms after eating foods that contain tapeworm eggs. While beef, pork, chicken, and fish are the most common culprits, any type of contamination where larvae or eggs are transferred can result in infection.

Tapeworms can grow to massive sizes, and they can cause significant weight loss, constipation, and nutrient loss in pet rats. If you notice your rat seeming lethargic, even after eating full meals, it may be a sign of parasites. Of course, these symptoms are also present in pinworm infections.

Pinworms can be a little easier to detect than tapeworms, but they’re just as unpleasant. Pinworm larvae tend to creep out of an infected mammal’s anus during the night. If you notice small, white, or gray rice-like droppings in your pet rat’s cage, there’s a good chance that they have a pinworm infection.

Rats may also obsessively clean their bottom or scratch their lower half when infected with these parasites. Fortunately, veterinarians can prescribe medicines that kill all intestinal parasites, allowing the rat to pass the dead organisms without pain or danger. And while parasite-induced weight loss is dangerous, so is feeding-induced obesity.


Wild rats and tamed rats are both creatures of opportunity. When food of any kind is presented to them, they typically respond by eating as much of that food as they can, as often as they can. While this type of behavior helps wild rats survive harsh conditions and extended periods without food, it can cause pet rats to become overweight or obese.

When rats have too much access to high-calorie snacks and beverages, their bodies can begin generating fat-filled lipomas. These fatty deposits lie directly beneath the skin and can inhibit movement. Some can even rupture, bleed, or become infected. The best way to avoid this situation is to use moderation when feeding a pet rat.

Store-bought foods often contain an ideal amount of calories and nutrition, but owners must be sure to follow manufacturer serving guidelines. In addition, it’s important to provide rats with something they can chew, or their teeth can become a problem.

Overgrown Incisors

Like beavers, rats have upper incisors that continuously grow throughout their lives. When they cannot chew on hard materials (like wood) or safely grind their teeth, their ability to eat can be significantly impacted. Overgrown teeth tend to curl, and they may even puncture the upper roof of their mouth. Providing safe chewing materials for your rat can help prevent this issue.

However, some rats have dental problems that prevent them from painlessly grinding their teeth. When pet owners notice a dramatic increase in their pet’s incisor length, it’s time to contact a veterinarian for help. This is also true of owners who notice vibrations coming from their rat’s chest during normal breathing.

Respiratory Illness

There are several factors that can contribute to respiratory illness within rats. An unclean environment, household cleaners and fragrances, smoke, and stress can all contribute to respiratory upset. Consistent cage-cleaning, maintaining repetitive schedules, and reducing your rat’s exposure to chemicals, fragrances, and smoke can all help. 

Still, even the most health-conscious pet parent can find themselves dealing with a sick rat. Respiratory infections are incredibly common in rats and rodents and can be caused by bacteria and viruses. The best course of action anyone can take when dealing with a sick pet rat is to contact a veterinarian and schedule an immediate appointment.

If the respiratory upset isn’t due to filthy living conditions, stress, smoke, or household fragrances, they may require antibiotics to recover from their illness. Without these life-saving medicines, rats can become seriously ill and even pass away. Some breathing issues may also be related to the presence of tumors, so veterinary assistance is vital.

Nutritional Upset

In addition to respiratory distress, pet rats are also prone to nutritional upset. Too much or too little of nearly any nutrient can cause their digestive systems to spiral out of control. To make matters even more complicated, rats have almost two dozen infectious agents in their digestive system. 

When digestive upset or illness occurs, veterinarians have to figure out if any of these agents are causing the problem, or it’s being caused by an external agent (such as a recently contracted virus or bacterial infection). They must then decide on dietary changes or medications that can help relieve digestive issues.

Are Vaccines Required?

Vaccines are not required for pet rats. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t require occasional and consistent healthcare. Annual examinations are crucial to maintaining a pet rat’s health. Many veterinarians also recommend additional procedures, like neutering, to ensure a long and healthy life for a pet rat.

Sterilization and Neutering

Rats are prolific breeders. They can become sexually mature after only six or twelve weeks of life. In addition, female rats can ovulate every four days or so. The typical gestation period for developing fetal rats is less than a month or about twenty-one days. Within a single birth, a female rat can have between about seven and fourteen children.

In short, rats are capable of breeding often and producing a massive amount of offspring. Choosing not to neuter your pet rat may be logical if you’re planning on breeding rats. However, reproduction does take a physical toll on female rats and can result in aggressive behavior from males. 

Sterilization and neutering procedures can help quell sexual aggression, elongate a pet rat’s life, and prevent owners from raising hundreds of tiny rat babies. Apart from parasite treatment, dietary recommendations, antibiotics for respiratory illness, and manual incisor shortening, neutering is the primary procedure veterinarians perform on pet rats. 


Pet rats may not need vaccinations, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t receive annual or bi-annual veterinary check-ups. Pet rats can suffer from a wide variety of conditions, including respiratory illness, obesity, parasites, and overgrown incisors. They require consistent physical examinations to stay healthy.

Older rats may require more frequent veterinary visitations, but this is not always the case. Owners of multiple rats are also encouraged to visit veterinarians and have their pets neutered, as rats regularly reproduce and in large numbers.


Are Pet Rats Loud? What Sounds Do They Make?


When your pet starts zooming around their cage during the middle of the night, they may make enough noise to wake you. While rats don’t bark like dogs or meow like cats, they can be somewhat loud when they become active. 

Pet rats can generate a reasonable amount of loud noise, especially during the late-night and early morning hours. However, this noise is typically the result of nocturnal activity, not rat vocalizations. Rats primarily communicate in ultrasound frequencies that human ears cannot perceive.

This article will tackle the subject of rat loudness and help to explain how rats can generate noise, what types of sounds they can produce, and why rats become active and loud during the night.

What Sounds Do Rats Make?

Rats are capable of making a variety of sounds. Though they typically communicate with one another using short, high-pitched squeaks, they can also emit a scream when frightened or threatened. Rats can even sigh, hiss, grunt, and grind their teeth. 


Tiny squeaks, also known as pips, peeps, and chirrups, can mean quite a few things. In wild rats, this sound is primarily only used to signify annoyance or frustration. When the squeak is held for a more extended amount of time, it signifies a more considerable amount of anger. However, fancy rats that are socialized early and handled often may peep for no foreseeable reason.

When a pet rat is content yet still peeps at you, it may be because they’re trying to emulate the human habit of speech and vocal greeting. You may also notice a pet rat squeaking at random objects or nothing in general. Some rats seem to just enjoy the sound of their voice.


Rats may give a short sigh or a huff to indicate annoyance. You can choose to interpret this as a statement of disinterest and displeasure. If you hear this sound, it may be best to let your rat enjoy some time alone.


When rats are in an extreme amount of pain, incredibly frightened, or feeling aggressive, they can emit a strange scream. This sound is somewhat similar to the squeal of a pig, though its frequencies differ. A pet owner may hear this sound from time to time if their pet rat is introduced to stressful situations. A trip to the veterinarian, for example, might provoke this loud stress response.


One step up from a sigh is a hiss. Falling somewhere between a slight sign of discontent and an irritated plea, hisses indicate a desperate desire to be left alone. Pet rats that are fighting may make this noise, but it is often a hushed sound.


Many rodents have teeth that continuously grow, necessitating constant chewing to keep teeth from becoming overlong. Rats may grind their teeth together to file them down or to help keep them sharp. The sound is similar to a soft tapping noise and doesn’t tend to be very loud. 


Wild rats that have infested a building are typically only discovered when they begin to scratch household surfaces or themselves. Rats can suffer from oily skin, dry skin, fleas, lice, mites, allergies, and fungal infections. Still, occasional daily scratching tends to be familiar and does not necessarily indicate any of the above maladies.

When rats scratch themselves, they can produce a fair amount of noise. This is because their feet thump against the bottom of their cage or the floor. This sound may be followed or accompanied by rustling as a pet rat moves through their bedding.


Rustling is a common noise that is reasonably specific to pet rats. It occurs when rats burrow or move throughout their bedding. It’s often a very faint sound, though repetitive burrowing can result in extended rustling.


It may be a sign of upper respiratory illness if you hear a pet rat grunt or hoot. Rodents are especially prone to developing upper respiratory issues, as their lungs and respiratory systems are incredibly sensitive. Smoking in a house or using strong fragrance sprays can prove lethal to pet rats.

How Loud Are Rats?

Now that you’re aware of the types of noises rats can make, it’s time to consider how loud these sounds are. The majority of vocalizations and ambient noises that rats make are reasonably quiet, but a few factors may cause these sounds to seem far louder than they are.

Ultrasound Frequencies

When rats communicate with one another (or with their pet owners), they primarily do so via high-pitched squeaks and peeps. Some of these squeaks may be in such a high register that humans don’t even hear them. 

Many rodents use ultrasound to share messages without alerting potential predators. As such, people cannot perceive ultrasound frequencies, making them essentially silent forms of communication.

Of course, when rats do want to communicate with other mammals, they make perfectly audible squeaks, chirrups, and screams. Wild rats primarily make audible squeaks when they are irritated or threatened, but tamed pet rats may use this type of noise to greet their owner or express contentment.


Squeaking is one of the most variable noises a rat can make. It can be a short, quiet noise or a long, loud squeal-like scream. The volume of a rat’s squeaking is directly dependent on its level of frustration or anger. When a pet rat screams, it is trying to protest against some type of action it does not enjoy.

Proper pet care is bound to reduce the amount of screaming a rat makes. However, applying medicines to an injured rat can both result in incessant screaming. Consequently, it is somewhat normal to hear this sound from time to time, but it should be taken extremely seriously. 

In addition to an occasional scream, rat owners can also expect to hear some nocturnal activity and sounds relating to water bottles. Still, these noises may only seem loud when a home is silent and sleeping. During the late-night hours when televisions, computers, tablets, and radios are all silent, typically quiet noises may seem amplified.

Nocturnal Activity

Many species of rodents, including rats, are more active after the sun sets and before it rises. This seems to be an inherited behavior that once helped rat ancestors survive fierce daytime attacks from predators. 

While it is possible to exercise your pet rat during the day and alleviate some of this nighttime playfulness, it’s difficult to completely alter a rat’s natural sleep/wake schedule. Still, investing in quiet toys for pet rats to play with can be a helpful alternative to loud bells or wheels, which can be particularly annoying late at night.

Thirsty Noises

Of all the rat vocalizations and sounds, the one associated with an in-use water bottle seems to be the most grating and inescapable. Rat owners often tell you that their rat is very quiet and well-behaved, but that their rodent’s water bottle keeps them up at night. That’s because most rodents drink water from a no-drip hanging bottle.

These bottles typically have ball bearings that prevent water from spilling out. When these bearings are moved (usually by licking them), they transfer a small amount of water from the bottle to the drinker. To sufficiently quench any type of thirst, rats must lick hard and often. The resulting sound can last for several minutes and be somewhat annoying.


Pet rats communicate with one another via ultrasound squeaks that are often undetectable by human ears. However, because they’re nocturnal creatures, their typical periods of activity occurs when most homes are quiet. 

This can make the sounds of pet rats seem far louder than they actually are, as most households are very quiet during the evening. Still, compared to other common pets like cats or dogs, rats are exceptionally quiet animals. Owners can also choose to invest in quiet, plastic cage wheels as opposed to louder, squeakier metals models to limit night time loudness. 


Do Pet Rats Like to Burrow? The Importance.


Proud rat owners may already be aware that rats seem to enjoy burrowing through their habitat’s bedding, especially during the middle of the night. While this behavior can occasionally be confusing or frustrating, there’s a good reason why rats burrow.

Pet rats like to burrow. Burrowing is an instinct present in the majority of pet rats. In the wild, rats burrow to protect themselves from nocturnal predators and to reproduce and give birth safely.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at rat behavior and explore the differences between natural rat habitats and owner-provided habitats. We’ll also examine why rats burrow and how owners can cope with this behavior. 

The Natural Rat Habitat

To understand whether pet rats like to burrow or not, it’s crucial first to understand wild rat behavior and habitation. Most types of behaviors observed in pet rats are instinctual and inherited. This means that pet rats act very similarly to their wild cousins. 

However, rats aren’t a single homogeneous species. There are two major types of rats, and they differ significantly in terms of preferred habitat and behavior. 

Norwegian Rats

Norwegian rats are known by many names. But their coloring is a more excellent indicator, which is why they’re often called brown rats. However, they can also have gray or light-brown fur. Norway rats tend to have a darker spate of hair on their backs and a lighter-colored coat on their bellies. 

These rats are excellent swimmers, and they tend to be a little larger than their dark-colored counterparts. Norwegian rats have tails that are shorter than their bodies, which also makes them reasonably identifiable. Though they’re associated with Norway, it’s theorized that these hefty rodents migrated from China hundreds of years ago.

Wild Norway rats tend to live in forests, sewers, and wet fields. They actively build and maintain complex tunnels and often prefer to live underground. These wild rodents may only surface during the late-night hours to search for food.

Black Rats

Black rats can technically also be brown, but they tend to be darker than Norwegian rats. Their tails are the same length (or longer) as their bodies. Black rats aren’t fond of water, but they’re far better climbers than their “Norwegian” cousins. Their bodies also tend to be slightly smaller and lighter than those of Norway rats. These rats are also known as house rats, which may have something to do with the fact that they don’t often burrow for shelter. 

These rats build nests out of shredded wood, plant fibers, or human-made materials. They tend to rely on existing human structures for survival. It’s rare to see pet rats emulating this behavior, as most pet rats are fancy rats

This subsection of rodents is descended from Norway rats, many of which were caught and bred for scientific purposes in the early twentieth century. In fact, it would seem that most modern fancy rats are the leftover result of decades of rodent-based scientific testing.

Pet Rat Habitats

Most pet rat habitats supplied by pet owners encourage borrowing habits. The bottom floor of rat cages is typically several inches deep. This design feature is not accidental. A cage bottom that has a high, protective lip can keep bedding contained more effectively than “flat” floors. 

Pet rats can stir-up some bedding during normal activity, but they often cause a tiny mess while burrowing. Fortunately, well-designed habitats can reduce this spillage by encouraging rats to burrow in specific, mess-free areas.

Multi-Level Cage

Multi-level cages make excellent pet rat habitats. They allow for freedom and range of movement, as well as plenty of places for your rodent buddy to hide, burrow, rest, and explore. When paired with rotating toys, a multi-level cage can provide an ideally stimulating environment for pet rats.

However, it’s crucial to choose a multi-level cage with an ample bottom. This ensures that bedding stays within the cage when rats decide to dig down deep and get some shut-eye. Still, store-bought habitats that come with tunnels, tubes, and plenty of built-in activities may be the better option. 

Store-Bought Habitats

When considering a “hamster cage” for your rat, size is the most essential factor to keep in mind. Small habitats won’t be comfortable for a pet rat, but larger rigs can provide enough space and privacy. There are several hybrid models that feature wire sides and large, ventilated tubing. These provide climbing space, sleeping space, and room for exploration.

As with multi-level cages, store-bought habitats should consist of several levels and feature a deep floor. While bedding chips may find their way through cage wiring, ventilation is key to maintaining a healthy habitat. And though it may be irritating to find bits of bedding on the floor, it’s important to encourage and support burrowing behavior.

Why Do Pet Rats Burrow?

As mentioned above, wild brown rats are natural burrowers. Younger rodents tend to be more prolific burrowers than elderly ones, but nearly all fancy rats burrow. This inherited behavior stems from a need for safe shelter from predators and inclement weather. Norway rats are great at swimming, and rain doesn’t pose a significant threat to most wild rat burrows.

That’s because rats tend to create elaborate tunnels with multiple entrances and exits. These tunnels may also consist of several layers, allowing rats to seek higher or dryer ground during heavy rains. These underground systems also serve as relatively-safe food storage spaces. 

Deeper, well-insulated areas make ideal nesting and birthing sites due to their warmth and security. The entrances and exits rats create and use are typically very small and may only be a few inches wide. This allows rats to escape threats quickly and easily, as most predators cannot fit into the tiny rat tunnels.

When rats burrow, they first create slim, well-supported tunnels that are difficult for other creatures to navigate. They then construct large “atriums” or rooms far along these slim tunnels. 

In this way, rats are experts at building underground structures that protect them from hungry predators, provide shelter from extreme weather, store food for later use, and keep infant rats safe from harm.

Do Pet Rats Like to Burrow?

It is difficult to determine whether or not pet rats enjoy the act of burrowing. Still, it’s reasonably clear that they do feel an instinctual need to burrow. In this way, burrowing behavior is somewhat similar to the human fear of snakes and spiders. 

Most people do not actively enjoy their fear of snakes or arachnids, and yet the majority of humans experience an inexplicable sensation of fear upon seeing or encountering these creatures. This is an example of inherited behavior. 

We evolved to fear spiders and snakes because, in the past, these animals posed a significant threat to the survival of the human species. Pet rats evolved to burrow in order to survive external threats such as predators, environmental dangers, and starvation. 

So, while pet rats may not actively enjoy burrowing, it probably does help them to feel safe and comfortable. That’s why it is vital to accept, support, and encourage burrowing behavior in pet rats. It’s not harmful, and it can help your rodent feel more at home in their habitat.


Burrowing is a natural rat behavior that does little harm. Not only is burrowing instinctual, but it can also help a pet rat to feel secure, comfortable, and well-protected. Most multi-level cages and rat habitats have a deep bottom layer that is perfectly designed for this behavior. Rather than attempt to curb burrowing, owners might be better off encouraging or simply accepting it.


Can Pet Rats Eat Dog Food? What To Avoid?

Owning a pet rat can be a joy. But becoming familiar with what a pet rat can and cannot safely eat can feel like a never-ending journey, especially if you’re a recent pet parent. Still, sharing your pup’s dog food with your long-tailed rodent buddy may not be the wisest idea.

Pet rats can eat and digest dog food. However, dog food may not provide enough nutritional variation for pet rats, especially when administered over a long period. Also, high-fat or vitamin-rich dog foods may cause or exacerbate specific health issues in pet rats.

In this article, we’ll discuss the types of foods that wild rats and pet rats naturally prefer to eat. We’ll also address what foods they should altogether avoid, in addition to examining how suitable dog food is for pet rats. 

What Do Rats Eat?

The typical diet of a rat varies greatly depending on its location and captivity status. For example, wild rats that live far from human settlements have primarily vegetarian diets, but rats that live in major cities tend to eat a lot of meat. 

Pet rats that live in captivity have superior diets, though their nutrition is entirely dependent on their owner’s purchasing habits. However, the majority of rat food products are specifically designed to provide a balanced amount of nutrients. 

To better understand what rats eat and why pet rats benefit from eating pet food, we need to take a closer look at the diet of wild rats.

Wild Rats

Rats in remote regions prefer to subsist on fresh vegetation, wild fruit, and seeds. However, urbanized rats with a long history of human contact tend to eat nearly anything and everything, including trash, carrion, cement, and electrical wires. 

While city rats can’t survive off of the bulk of the rubbish they find, they do manage to survive by scrounging scraps from humans. When human-generated food waste isn’t available, rats may even resort to abhorrent dietary behaviors, such as cannibalism. Still, that kind of behavior is far from normal.

When urbanized rats gain access to a building or a home’s interior, their lives briefly change for the better. Some courageous and hungry rats may even wander out into the open living spaces of a home late at night in search of food. Oftentimes, they find exactly what they’re looking for at the bottom of your pet’s food bowl. 

Many city-dwellers have woken in the middle of the night, flipped their kitchen lights on, and discovered a small party of rats wreaking havoc on their pet’s food. But while rats can eat and digest dog food (in addition glass and metal), it’s not nearly as nutritious or healthy as store-bought rat food.

Pet Rats

Pet rats live comparatively, glamorous lives. They get to live in nice habitats, and they thrive on the attention and stimulation they receive from their owners. But best of all, they have access to the highest quality meals possible.

Old-style pellet-shaped rat foods have long been a thing of the past. Rather than nibbling unhappily on fibrous brown capsules, pet rats can now enjoy a smorgasbord of seeds, dehydrated veggies, nuts, dried fruits, and whole grains. Interestingly, most modern store-bought rat foods contain about the same set of ingredients as premium bird feed.

Of course, variety is the spice of life. Pet rats can benefit from the occasional treat or unexpected snack, as it stimulates their interest and their appetite. 

Occasional Variety

Feeding your pet rat too much of anything is bound to result in an unhealthy rodent. Obesity is also a common problem for pet rats, so owners should be sure to restrict food portions when offering fresh foods or healthy snacks. 

It’s also crucial to be aware of which snacks to avoid. Otherwise, snack time could quickly devolve into an emergency visit to the local veterinarian. 

What Should You Avoid Feeding to a Pet Rat?

There are a few things that you should avoid feeding a pet rat. Unripe or rotten foods are never good things to feed a pet rat. For example, green potato skin can be poisonous to rats (and humans, for that matter). 

Some ingredients should be avoided because they’re highly addictive, and others are outright toxic. To keep any pet rat feeling fit and healthy, it’s important to avoid:

  • Foods and beverages that contain sugar, especially processed sugar
  • Foods and beverages that contain caffeine
  • Foods and beverages that contain d-limonene, like citrus fruits

Some of these items are far deadlier than others, but it’s important to be familiar with all of them. That’s because rats are incredibly small, so everything they eat has a massive impact. Some substances (like sugar) can become so fantastically addictive to rats, that they’ll refuse to eat low-sugar or sugar-free foods.


Sugar is a bad choice for pet rats. Not only can it contribute to obesity, but it can also be extremely addictive. Lab studies have shown that when rats are given a choice between sweetened water and cocaine, they’ll almost always choose water

Rats can become addicted and biologically dependent on sugar, and they can experience intense symptoms of withdrawal when sugar is removed from their diet. They can even begin to shake and convulse.

So the next time you think about sharing some chocolate with a pet rat, remember that sugar is just as (if not more so) addictive and destructive than hard drugs when it comes to rats. Just say no to the sweet treats.


Coffee, tea, and most sodas contain a reasonable amount of caffeine. For some, this caffeine is what allows them to move swiftly and productively throughout their day. For others, it causes worrying heart palpitations. Caffeine can be both a boon and a danger for humans, and it has a similar effect on pet rats.

While caffeine may encourage better long-term memory in rats, it can also cause them to experience anxiety. Somewhat conversely, caffeine can also hinder brain development in adolescent rats. 

Because these results are so varied (and because the heart only has so many beats in it), it’s better to avoid feeding a pet rat caffeine or caffeine-laden beverages. It might be fun to watch your tiny buddy zipping around the room as a rush of caffeine-fueled energy overtakes them, but it could cause your pet rat undue stress and anxiety.


Citrus can be a delicious snack, but it can also be harmful to male rats. That’s because citrus contains a chemical called d-limonene, and in laboratory studies, this chemical has induced kidney disorders and cancerous tumors in male rats. 

While d-limonene doesn’t seem to affect female rats in the same way, it may be better to avoid citrus altogether when feeding your pet rat. The acidic nature of most types of fruit might be upsetting for tiny pet rat tummies. 

Can Pet Rats Eat Dog Food?

Pet rats can eat dog food, but it’s not a healthy snack choice. Dog food is designed to satisfy the nutritional needs of canines, not rats. Consequently, they’re often far too fat-rich and protein-dense for pet rats.

What Is Dog Food Made Of?

The exact nutritional make-up of dog food varies from brand to brand and product to product. Some types of dog food are specifically designed to meet the needs of puppies or older dogs, and others help treat certain conditions like dry skin or digestive upset.

Still, most store-bought dog foods contain:

  • Dehydrated meat
  • Grains
  • Vitamins

Many brands of kibble also incorporate animal products for added protein and consistency. Again, while this blend might be perfectly fine for the family Fido, it’s not fit for pet rats. 

Dogs, even miniature ones, are far larger than pet rats. Their bodies cannot process the same amount of fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals as a dog’s body can. That’s why it can be dangerous to feed dog food to your pet rat on a regular basis.

When pet rats consume too much fat, they can quickly become obese. And when their bodies are consistently subjected to an overload of various vitamins, they can get very sick


Pet rats can eat and digest dog food. However, dog food may not be a healthy dietary choice for pet rats. That’s because a bowl of store-bought dog food contains a specific blend and balance of ingredients that are designed to satisfy the dietary needs of a dog. 

Rats have very different dietary needs and benefit more from eating rat-specific pet foods and the occasional slice of fresh fruit or raw vegetable. Still, it’s crucial to remember which foods to avoid when treating a pet rat. Doing so will ensure the best, healthiest, and happiest outcome for both the owner and the pet.


Is It ok To Feed Pet Rats Cat Food?

It’s important for rats to have a well-rounded diet full of variety. Achieving a decent variety can sometimes be difficult to accomplish on a budget, so you might be tempted to use something that you already have around the house, like cat food.

Pet rats can eat cat food occasionally. Cat food is typically high in protein because that’s the kind of diet they need. Rats, on the other hand, need very little protein. You can use cat food as a special treat, but don’t let it become a staple of your rat’s diet.

Let’s take a look at why cat food isn’t always recommended by rat keepers, as well as what a proper diet looks like.

When Is It Okay to Feed a Rat Some Cat Food?

Macronutrients – protein, fat, and carbs – are an important factor to balance in your diet, and it’s just as important in your rat’s diet, too. Rats are prone to becoming obese, so you should be sure to limit how much fat and protein they consume.

Rats are omnivores, so they can eat both meat and plants. Cats, however, are carnivores that depend on protein from meat to live a healthy life. Rats need a carb-based diet, but cats only need up to 2% of their diet to be carbs. Any more than that is unhealthy for them.

So, cat food should never be a staple of your rat’s diet because it doesn’t provide the right nutrients for them. 

This doesn’t mean you have to avoid it altogether, however. Rats benefit from a diverse diet. Feeding them different foods is a great way to enrich their lives to make eating more entertaining for them.

Reasons you can feed your rat some cat food include:

  • An occasional treat for enrichment
  • To help an underweight rat gain weight
  • If rats are bored with their typical food

Rats don’t usually like to try new foods, but they can also sometimes get bored if you always feed them the same thing. Offering them a little bit of cat food might pique their interest.

If you want to feed your rats some cat food, whether it’s out of necessity, convenience, or curiosity, give them no more than a teaspoon per week. Try to limit the feeding to just once a week, so they don’t get used to it. Rats typically don’t like to try new foods, so if they get hooked on something they shouldn’t regularly have, they might refuse to eat other food you offer them.

Dry vs. Wet Cat Food

If you choose to treat your rat to some cat food, you can use either dry or wet food. Whatever you have on hand will work.

Dry food might be easier to mix with the rat pellets or lab blocks that you already feed your rat. Dry cat food tends to be a little higher in carbs, especially if it’s a cheaper brand that relies on fillers. In terms of the rat diet, dry food might be a little better for your rat to eat.

Your pet rat will greatly benefit from receiving one or two wet meals each week. It allows you to provide more nutrients to your rat, which is especially helpful if your young or ill rat needs some extra protein.

Wet cat food might be a great choice if you’re seeking to bulk up your rat. Wet cat food is typically made from animal-based proteins since cats can’t digest plant-based proteins too well. Meat has more essential amino acids than plants do, so meat is typically a better source of protein.

If you want to give your rat a treat, both wet and dry food will be fine as long as you keep the portions small and consider why you’re feeding it to them.

What Does a Proper Rat Diet Look Like?

You need to have a thorough understanding of what a proper rat diet looks like so you can give your rats treats without causing health concerns. Cat food should only be used as a treat or dietary supplement. If your rat has already had enough protein for the week, it wouldn’t be wise to offer them some more.

A rat’s diet should contain fruit, vegetables, grains, protein, and fat. Lab blocks or rat pellets are a great way to provide nutrients to your rat. These should be supplemented with fresh foods so your rat can receive all of the nutrients they need.

If your rat is reluctant to try new foods, try hiding a small piece with its usual foods and gradually start feeding the food to it more often. 

This video is a great overview of what kind of foods should be fed to a rat:

Focus on Carbs

Carbs are the most important part of a rat’s diet. To make sure they receive enough carbs each week, you should predominately feed them rat pellets or a lab block. Oxbow Essentials Adult Rat Food is commonly recommended by rat keepers because it’s nutritionally balanced and offers a healthy mix of macronutrients that are appropriate for rats. 

You can offer your rat supplemental foods in addition to rat pellets. Offer your pet some grains each day like oats, rice, crackers. Whole-grain is typically the best option. Always cook rice and pasta before feeding it to your rat.

Feed Vegetables Each Day

Vegetables and leafy greens should be given to your rat each day because they’re full of essential vitamins and minerals. Lettuce, kale, zucchini, broccoli, squash, and much more are great options to feed to your rat. 

Feed them small quantities each day and give them a wide variety of foods for enrichment.

1-3 Days a Week

Fats, proteins, and fruit are all necessary components of a rat’s diet, but they should be fed in smaller quantities just a few times each week.


Foods you can feed to your rat to provide fat include:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts (including pecans, pistachios, etc.)
  • Peanut butter
  • Seeds (including sunflower, pumpkin, etc.)

Small quantities of these foods are key. It’s important to feed small amounts of peanut butter to your rat because it can be too thick for them to swallow sometimes. You can add water to thin it out or apply a thin layer on a cracker.


Proteins you can offer to your rat include:

  • Beans
  • Chicken
  • Cottage cheese
  • Eggs

Cat food can also be used as a supplement in small amounts, but remember that many rat keepers don’t recommend it for health purposes. Moderation is important when it comes to feeding your rat any amount of protein.


Fruits you can feed to your rat include:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Melons

Some rat keepers advise against feeding your rats citrus and mangos because they contain something called d-limonene, which is known to cause cancer in rats. However, only large quantities of this chemical have caused cancer, and it’s impossible to feed your rat enough food to reach those quantities of the chemical.


Your rat’s health is important, so you should provide all of the necessary nutrients to it. Cat food can be fed to a rat as an occasional treat or supplement. Cat food is high in protein, so it shouldn’t become a habit to feed it to your rat. You can feed your rat both wet and dry cat food. Dry food will most likely contain more carbs than wet food, but both will have protein levels that are significantly higher than what a rat should consume.