A rat may be an unconventional choice for a pet. Most humans avoid them like the plague (sorry, had to do it). But the truth is, rats make great pets. Not only are they adorable and clean, but they’re also rather intelligent and affectionate. But like with any other pet, to own a healthy pet rat, you have to be careful about what you put in their diet.
So can pet rats be vegetarian? Yes, pet rats can be vegetarian as long as they’re getting all the necessary nutrients. Rats are omnivorous creatures. This means that in the wild, they survive on a diet consisting of a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. But they don’t necessarily need both.
In this article, we will dive into the details of a rat’s nutritional needs and what you need to give your pet rat for it to thrive on an exclusively vegetarian diet. We will also explore some vegan options and look into what rat’s diet would typically consist of in the wild.
What do rats eat in the wild?
Brown rats, the animals from which pet rats were domesticated around 200 years ago, are biologically omnivores. This means that in the wild, a rat’s diet consists of both vegetarian food and non-vegetarian food.
Rats will eat almost anything. They are known to thrive on fruits, vegetables, seeds, insects, other dead animals, small reptiles, dead birds, human trash, etc. This is one of the reasons why they have become so well adapted to human societies. But this may lead pet rat owners to believe that rats need both meat and non-meat items in order to survive. That isn’t necessarily true. It all comes down to our misconceptions about omnivores in general.
Most people think that an omnivorous animal requires both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food in its diet in order to survive. This isn’t true. While a non-vegetarian diet (meat) is more efficiently packed in essential nutrients, it isn’t essential for the survival of the animal.
In the wild, some omnivores like bears are what scientists call obligate omnivores. That is, they need some sort of meat to be a part of their diet for survival. Bears specifically need to pack a lot of nutrients quickly before they go and hibernate through the winter. This makes meat a crucial part of their diet.
Rats, on the other hand, are opportunistic omnivores. What this means is they will scavenge meat when they can but will otherwise stick to mostly vegetarian options. Specifically, rats are what we call granivores. They rely mostly on seeds and grains for the bulk of their diet.
What are the nutritional needs of a pet rat?
So, as it might already have been clear from the section above, pet rats can happily thrive on vegetarian diets.
Many people these days choose to live as vegetarian, avoiding all forms of meat in their diet. They usually do this for environmental reasons or ethical reasons. And if any vegetarian happens to own a pet rat or two, there is absolutely no reason they have to sacrifice their ideals for the good of their pet. Unlike other pets like cats or dogs, pet rats can maintain good health on a strictly vegetarian diet.
A notable exception could be with growing or pregnant rats, where eggs make an awesome nutrition-packed option for your tiny pets. But if you’re adamant about sticking to a vegetarian diet, there are plenty of options. We will get to them in the following section.
Like with human vegetarians, pet rats have certain nutritional needs that their owners need to be aware of. While your rat will survive on a diet consisting of grains and seeds, you have to make sure you’re giving it all the essential amino acids (proteins), vitamins (B(12) and D), minerals (calcium, iron, and zinc) and omega-3 fatty acids. We will discuss this further in the following section.
A healthy vegetarian diet for your pet rat
There are some dietary needs that rats have as omnivores. One of the biggest concerns with a strictly vegetarian diet is a lack of essential amino acids (proteins). For this, some healthy vegetarian options for your pet rats include buckwheat, quinoa, soya, or amaranth. All of these seeds are high in essential amino acids, and they also make a more complete diet.
Other than the EAA, there are some other requirements that you can either introduce as supplements or variety to the diet plan of your pet rat.
- Vitamins (B(12) and D): Vitamin B12 is produced by the gut bacteria in your pet rat’s tummy. These vitamins are released when the rat poops and is absorbed into their body when they eat it. It sounds disgusting, yes. But that’s nature for you. If your pet rat is on a strict vegetarian diet, maybe you shouldn’t be too hasty about cleaning the feces out of your rat’s cage.
- Vitamin D is another crucial vitamin that you’ll have to add as a supplement. If your pet rat is on some sort of a commercial feed based diet, there’s a good chance there’s vitamin D in it. Check to make sure though, as some formulas don’t add it.
- Minerals (calcium, iron, and zinc): Calcium has to be introduced as a supplement. (Once again, there’s a good chance, they’re pre-added to commercial feeds). But iron and zinc, which is absolutely crucial for the well-being and health of a pet rat, are found in abundance in vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Seeds such as flax, chai and hemp, greens like leafy vegetables, beans, seaweed as well as squash and berries are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Make sure you treat your pet rat to these., as they’re essential for maintaining their health and ensuring they live a long and happy life.
What about vegan diets for your pet rat?
When it comes to the dietary plan of a pet rat, there is essentially very little difference between a vegetarian diet and a vegan diet. A vegan diet avoids all animal products, including dairy. But it can include all the seeds, grains, berries, vegetables, etc. discussed above.
So there is absolutely no reason why your pet rat can’t follow you into a full vegan diet. Growing pups may benefit from puppy milk, but it is not obligatory. There are plenty of alternatives, as we’ve already discussed above.
In conclusion, pet rats can be vegetarians. Biologically, brown rats are opportunistic omnivores. What this means is that they will scavenge and feed on non-vegetarian food, but they will not necessarily go hunting, looking for meat. Instead, they rely on grains and seeds to fill in the bulk of their diet.
So it is okay for an owner of a pet rat to feed his/her rat a strictly vegetarian diet. Just so long as all the nutritional needs are being addressed, the rats will thrive. As an owner, you can add the essential amino acids (proteins), vitamins (B(12), and D), minerals (calcium, iron, and zinc), and omega-3 fatty acids as supplements to the diet of your pet rat, for it to thrive.
Buckwheat, quinoa, soya, amaranth, and Quorn are some excellent vegetarian options that are rich in the essential amino acids (proteins). You may feed a pregnant rat or a growing pup some eggs and puppy milk as supplements, but they are not essential. Rats make great pets and are perfectly capable of thriving on a strictly vegetarian diet.