Rats make wonderful little pets. They’re not very hard to look after as they are clean and intelligent animals, but new owners often find themselves confused about the dietary requirements and restrictions of their tiny new pets. What is okay, what isn’t, and curiously enough, how much is okay?
So, do rats overeat? Yes, pet rats overeat. In their natural habitats, rats are not used to seeing the regularity and abundance of food that we make them accustomed to as pets. As such, they are instinctually programmed to devour all that they find.
In this article, we will look further into this matter of overeating. Of course, this is a problem that is common in almost every animal, and maybe even human beings, but just like in humans, overeating can lead to an array of problems in pet rats. We will also discuss how much food is too much and what the right diet plan is for your furry little pets.
Why do rats overeat?
Rats, like most other pets, will overeat when given the chance. This can lead to a range of problems, the most noticeable of which is obesity. And while some people find chonky pets adorable, this habit isn’t necessarily healthy for your pet. As a responsible owner, it is your duty to look after the health of your pet. But before we get to all that, let us look into why animals, pet rats included, actually overeat?
Rats, just like your other pets, were domesticated from wild animals. And in the wild, animals are not used to finding food anytime they like. So, they are biologically programmed to stuff in all they can find when they find it. This is particularly true of rats, which are scavengers. To be fair, if humans, in all their self-awareness, can’t manage to keep their diet in check, you can’t really blame these tiny animals for being greedy.
You might have heard of bears stocking up before they hibernate through the winter. It’s the same idea here. Most animals (and humans) can technically go on for days without food. Our bodies store all excess calories in the form of fats, and in times of scarcity, these reserves are accessed for energy. This is why your pet rats (and possibly you) have the tendency to overeat – it’s all biology.
Keep in mind that how much rats overeat will depend on the type of food you give them. If it’s something like a hard shell nut that’s hard to open, then they’ll probably store the excess nuts for later. If it’s something like cheese or pasta or any other leftover human meal, the natural scavengers in them will kick in, and they’ll eat all they can.
What problems can overeating cause?
It is no surprise that overeating will lead to obesity. And like with humans or any other animals, obesity can lead to a range of problems. These include cancer, diabetes, heart failure, bumblefoot, joint problems, etc.
Overeating, in itself, is only half of the problem. Rats, like most creatures, are most active in the search for food. When they’re used to gorging in too much, they tend to get lazier, so the extra calories and the laziness compound to make your rat obese. And the older the rat gets, the more health problems this will lead to.
What do you do as a responsible owner of pet rats?
Well, it’s one thing to label overeating as a biological fact, but just placing the blame on nature is not going to solve the problems that overeating will eventually bring for your pet rat. Rats that are allowed all the food they want will end up developing obesity.
This is especially true for pet rats since they don’t get nearly as much exercise as their wild cousins do. This could eventually lead to the range of health problems that obesity usually tends to lead to in all animals. So, just as any responsible parent wouldn’t want their child overeating, it is your responsibility to watch and curb your pet rat’s diet and weight.
There are three things you can do here.
The first and the most logical thing to do would be to manage the rat’s diet. There’s a fixed amount of food that a rat needs based on its age. Also, there’s a certain balance of nutrition that they require. The challenge is to keep the calorie counts in check while also guaranteeing all the necessary nutrients.
These include essential nutrients like the essential amino acids (proteins), vitamins (B(12), and D), minerals (calcium, iron, and zinc), and the omega-3 fatty acids. Fruits, vegetables, grains, cooked liver, etc. make great rat food. Nuts and other fatty items must be given in moderation.
The second thing that you need to do is stay regularly updated on your pet rat’s weight. Rats, like humans, will metabolize better and faster when they’re younger, and this ability decreases as they get older. Regular checking of their weight will let you identify impending obesity before it gets serious and beyond control. This will, in turn, help you decide the amount and variety of food that you give your rats.
The third and final thing you can do as a responsible owner is to ensure that your rat gets plenty of exercise. As previously mentioned, lazy rats end up packing more body weight, and sometimes, just like humans, rats just need the right motivation to get up and get running. Make sure you design your rat’s living space in such a way that they get plenty of exercise. We will explore an interesting idea in a later section.
One last (fun and effective) solution
One fun activity could be spreading out food around a room and letting the rat move around and scavenge like it would in nature or as a feral animal. Not only will this be incredibly fun for you as the owner to set up and then watch, but it will also help your pet rat in two ways.
Firstly, having to move around in search of food instead of having it served to you in a bowl in regular intervals will naturally curb overeating. Work is just as hard for pet rats as it is for you, so most rats will stop once they’ve had enough. They will not keep looking and gorging.
Another advantage of this activity is that it naturally gives the rats the exercise they need. This is how they would look for food in the wild or as feral animals since they would have to move around. If you make a routine of this, I assure you that your pet rats will remain healthy.
This method is particularly recommended for rats that are already obese.
In the wild, rats are not used to the abundance and regularity of food that they get in our homes as our pets. They don’t know better, so they will overeat. This, coupled with little to no exercise and followed by more overeating, will eventually lead to obesity. This can, in turn, give rise to a number of health problems.
Responsible owners must calculate the amount and variety of food they give to their rats. They must also keep regular updates on the weights of their pets to identify early signs of obesity. Finally, they must also make sure their rats get plenty of exercise.