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Can Pet Rats Eat Spinach? Dangerous or Safe?

Owning pet rats is a little different from owning a cat or a dog. There’s far less information available about pet rat dietary needs, behavior, and general care. If you’ve ever wondered if you can safely share your spinach salad with your pet rat, you’re not alone.

Pet rats can eat spinach. Spinach is often touted as a dangerous food for rats, but it’s a perfectly healthy treat. Feeding your rat spinach every day is not safe, but a small amount every week is an excellent idea. Moderation and variety are the two cornerstones of any pet rat’s diet.

Helping your pet enjoy a healthy, happy, and long life, begins with staying informed about safe and toxic foods. This article will discuss the dietary needs of rats, the types of foods or ingredients that are most harmful to rats, and why spinach can be an excellent treat for pet rats if given moderately.

What Do Rats Eat?

Rats prefer to eat a wide variety of foods. They’re omnivores, which means they eat plants and animals. Still, it’s rare to see a rat hunt a dog or cat, and they tend to eat insects, discarded food, roadkill, and edible vegetation instead of hunting other animals. In this way, rats are some of the world’s most prolific and most gifted scavengers.

However, the difference in diet between a wild rat and a pet rat is staggering. Wild rats will eat almost anything if hungry enough, while pet rats typically have access to several suitable store-bought varieties of food. 

But by understanding what types of foods wild rats prefer to munch on, we can better predict which foods would be best for our pets.

Wild Rats

While it’s so easy to dote on pet rats, wild rats receive a lot of bad press, and for a good reason. Wild rats can spread disease and ruin homes and businesses by burrowing beneath them or chewing through their electrical systems. 

As such, wild rats are considered pests. Their rapid population growth, their spread across the globe, and their diet reflect just how much wild rats and humans depend on and interact with one another. But when human-generated rubbish is no longer on the menu, these plucky rodents will:

  • Scale trees to eat bird eggs or small birds 
  • Scour wet areas for slugs or snails 
  • Pluck tasty leaves, berries, and fruits

Even in an ideal human-free world full of gardens and fresh foods, rats wouldn’t be able to experience a tastier or more nutritious diet than they do now via store-bought pet foods.

Pet Rats

Pet rats have it made in terms of diet. Most rat foods have moved past the ugly, fibrous brown food pellets that were once the only option. Instead, you’re more likely to find complex dietary blends that incorporate a wide variety of ingredients, including:

  • Seeds
  • Dehydrated vegetables
  • Dehydrated fruit
  • Whole grains
  • Chopped nuts

The exact blend of ingredients is bound to vary from product to product. Still, most rat-focused pet foods contain at least one element from the categories listed above. 

Occasional Variety

One of the most crucial things to remember about rats is that they need a diet with lots of variety, As long as you’re able to provide them with several sources of nutrition, they’ll thrive. However, overfeeding a pet rat any kind of fresh food, whether it be pasta or apple slices, can have negative consequences.

Using moderation when treating your pet to different foods can help prevent any long-term health issues caused by overnutrition, choking, or accidental food poisoning.

What Should You Avoid Feeding to a Pet Rat?

There are a few things that you absolutely shouldn’t feed a pet rat. Spinach isn’t one of them. Still, there are other leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and nuts that should be avoided. Some of the most common foods to steer clear of include:

  • Mangos
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Cabbage

All of these foods either contain refined sugars, caffeine, or d-limonene. These three components can be hazardous to rodents, and avoiding them is key to keeping pet rats fit and perky.


While sugar itself isn’t precisely lethal or toxic, it can be fantastically addictive. In 2007, a group of scientists discovered that laboratory rats had an unusual reaction to refined sugar. When given the option between cocaine and sugar-water, 94% of the rats picked sugar. 

In this way, sugar can quickly become an obsession for rats, and they may choose to ignore other foods in favor of other sugary options. If you can avoid feeding your rat refined sugars, you can prevent unpleasant behavior and health hazards.


Caffeine has some noticeably adverse side effects when given to hungry or starving rats. When well-fed pet rats get a touch of the stuff, they experience a wide range of both positive and negative symptoms. 

Increased heart rate is one of the most worrying effects of caffeine, as are decreased motor skills. Rats may also show symptoms of extreme anxiety. And while some may experience improved memory and energy, others may experience fatigue and stress. Overall, it’s just better to avoid giving your rats caffeine.


D-limonene is found in citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges. It can promote tumorous growths in the kidneys of rats, particularly male rats. 

While citrus fruits are naturally delicious, sweet, and bitter foods that may be fun to feed your pet rats, you should resist the urge to give them a nice orange slice. 

Can Pet Rats Eat Spinach?

The bottom line is yes; Pet rats can eat spinach. This particularly popular leafy green can be consumed raw or cooked, and it has a few potential benefits for both pet rats and their human owners. Still, it’s always best to exercise caution and moderation when feeding your rats spinach.

Benefits of Feeding Your Pet Rat Spinach

Spinach affects rats much in the same way that it affects humans. However, because rats are much smaller, they are more sensitive to some foods than humans are. Still, feeding your rat spinach now and again can be fantastic for your rat’s:

  • Immunity
  • Vision
  • Blood pressure

Most rats also relish the taste of both raw and cooked spinach. However, while spinach does have its benefits, it also has crucial drawbacks for pet rats.

Safety Concerns of Spinach

Uncooked spinach might be a delicious ingredient for fresh salads, but it’s also a complicated plant. Spinach contains quite a lot of iron and calcium, and traditionally, these two elements don’t mix well in the human body. 

Drinking high-calcium milk while taking an iron supplement (something which is often recommended as iron can cause stomach upset and nausea) can limit the supplement’s effectiveness. That’s because calcium restricts the body’s ability to absorb iron. So, right off the bat, you’re dealing with a plant with contradictory nutrients and effects.

To make matters even more interesting, the oxalic acid in raw spinach (which can be poisonous at higher levels) can block the body’s ability to absorb both iron and calcium. While these factors can be puzzling or frustrating for those attempting to eat better and achieve a higher level of fitness or health, they can be disastrous for small animals, especially rodents.

That’s why it’s essential to only give your pet rats a small amount of spinach from time to time. While they’re sure to enjoy the taste and the slight nutritional advantage, they can become sick after ingesting too much oxalic acid. Besides, no pet owner enjoys the scent of spinachy rat flatulence, which is often a side effect of these healthy, green treats.


Spinach can be a great snack for people and pet rats. But while humans can eat as much spinach as their stomachs can handle, rats should only enjoy spinach sparingly. That’s because raw spinach contains a type of acid that can be poisonous in large amounts. 

By offering your pet rat a varied diet that is caffeine-free, citrus-free, and sugar-free, you can help them live a long and healthy life.


Are Pet Rats Territorial? Social Behavior


Fancy rats are the domesticated species of rats that many people keep as pets. These rats are social creatures and like to live together. They often get along better if they were raised together.

Pet rats are territorial creatures, but you can introduce your pet rats to each other in such a way that they won’t become territorial. Rats might fight with the other rats in the cage they’re living with. The rats will often settle their own fights, but you might have to separate them yourself if they begin to injure each other. 

Continue reading to learn more about typical rat behavior. It’s important to know what normal behavior looks like so you can know when you need to separate your rats.

Typical Rat Social Behavior

Rats are sociable creatures. In the wild, they live in groups. Domesticated breeds also prefer to live with other rats, so if you want to have pet rats, you should have at least two. A rat living by itself will become lonely and depressed, especially if they don’t get to spend enough time with their owner. 

When rats are together and are content with each other, you’ll often find them piled on top of each other sleeping or playing and grooming each other. If you let your rats out to play, they might even start grooming you, too.

Grooming is also a solitary activity that a happy and healthy rat will do all the time. Rats are clean animals. They are constantly grooming themselves from their face to their tail. So, you rarely have to bathe them. If your rat stops cleaning itself, that probably means it’s sick and will need to go to the vet.

Rats like to play fight, especially when they’re young. However, as they get older, they’ll want to establish a hierarchy, and their fighting will become more aggressive. There will be more information about this in the next section, but it’s important to note that this is indeed normal behavior, even in domesticated rats.

Territorial Behavior

Brown rats, the kind of rat you find in the streets that might make you scream, are quite territorial. They will have their specific group of rats that they live with and will become aggressive toward “outsider rats” that they aren’t familiar with. These street rats will fight with each other for superiority. They also might fight to the death as a type of population control.

Domesticated fancy rats don’t behave so aggressively. Fortunately, domesticated rats get along with each other quite well. The only time you may have an issue is if you didn’t introduce them correctly.

If you have rats that you acquired when they were young, you might notice that they start to fight more as they get older. Males typically fight the most because they’re trying to determine who’s the alpha male. This is a natural thing, but it can sometimes get out of hand. The key is to know what kind of fighting is aggressive, and what kind is just the rats playing.

Play Fighting

There are two basic fighting moves rats use when they’re playing fight: pouncing and pinging. Both of these look playful and agile and hardly threatening. Think about when children roughhouse; it looks like it could get violent, but it’s much different than two children fighting because they’re angry.

Pouncing is when one rat jumps onto another rat. The pouncing rat will jump onto any part of the other rat: the head, the rear, the side – it doesn’t really matter. Young rats will get off of their pounced victim almost immediately. Adult rats don’t often pounce, but if they do, they’ll most likely stay there and turn it into an aggressive fight.

Pinging shouldn’t turn aggressive, as it’s almost always used for playing. They’ll pounce onto their target and then jump off, run around the cage, and pounce again. It’s common in young rats because they’re full of energy. You probably won’t find your adult rats pinging unless they have an exciting personality.

Aggressive Fighting

It can be difficult to determine if your rat is aggressive or dominant, especially when you just got your rat and are learning its behaviors. Dominant rats are bossy and will use aggressive behavior to communicate with the other rats. It will stop when the other rats comply with their wishes. Aggressive rats will continue fighting and won’t let up until you stop it.

If you’re getting to know a new rat, study its behavior. Don’t interrupt its aggressive interactions with other rats until it becomes violent enough that an injury could occur. Rats can solve their own problems and should be given the chance to do so.

Common aggressive behaviors to look out for include:

  • Sidling: The rat moves its body sideways toward another rat.
  • Shoving: The rat begins with sidling and then shoves its body into another rat. This is a rat’s way of saying, “get out!” Excessive shoving is aggressive behavior.
  • Sidekick: This move begins with sidling and ends with the rat using its foot to kick the other rat. It isn’t as violent as shoving and shouldn’t cause any harm.
  • Pinning: Pinning is similar to pouncing in that a rat will jump onto its victim. With pinning, the dominant rat will hold down its victim with its front paws and might begin to groom the victim to show its dominance.
  • Face-off: Two rats fighting for dominance will stand on their hind legs and show their teeth. It often results in boxing.
  • Boxing: After a face-off, the two rats fighting to be the alpha male will try to knock each other down.

This video shows a rat fight in a kitchen. They use most of the aggressive behaviors listed above. 

What to Do About Territorial Behavior?

Rats have a “teenager stage” they go through as they grow up, which can contribute to much of their aggressive behavior. Males will almost always fight to show dominance, so fighting should be expected. Prevention and separation are the best ways to handle an escalating situation.


If you bring home a new rat to live with your current rats, introduce them slowly by following these steps:

  1. Keep the new rat alone for two weeks so diseases won’t be transferred from the “old” rats to the new rat, and vice versa.
  2. After quarantining, keep the rats in separate cages but place the cages beside each other.
  3. Choose a neutral spot away from the cages to let them out and play together.
  4. Let them play in a familiar spot.
  5. Clean a cage and move them in together.


If your rats frequently fight and they show signs of pain or injury while fighting, it’s best to separate them from each other. You can begin with a distraction like spraying them with water to help them split up. 

If this doesn’t work, protect your hands and separate them yourself. Domesticated rats don’t usually bite humans, but they might if they’re stressed while aggressively fighting.


Pet rats are territorial because they like to gather with their family. If you introduce a new rat, they might become aggressive, especially if the new rat wants to establish dominance.

As young rats get older, they become aggressive when they want to establish their dominance, too. It’s a natural phase for the rats and shouldn’t be a cause of concern unless the rats are constantly aggressive to the point of bullying and are injuring any of the other rats.


Can Pet Rats Eat Pecans? Safe or Dangerous?

While there are tons of rat-focused pet care resources available today, not many contain an exhaustive list of foods that your long-tailed friend can and cannot safely consume. Rat pellets are an obvious choice, but what about vegetables, fruits, and nuts?

Pet rats can eat pecans, but only in moderation. Also, while it may be fun to watch them attempt to crack the hard outer shell and dig to find the delicious pecan center, broken shells can pose a choking problem. Always shell larger nuts before feeding them to your rats.

In this article, we’ll discuss what rats usually eat, what they can safely consume, and foods you should avoid feeding to your pet rat. This article will also address why pecans are an excellent treat for rats, and why they’re best given on a rare or occasional basis. If you’ve ever wondered if pet rats can eat pecans, then keep reading.

What Do Rats Eat?

Rats will eat almost anything when they’re starving. Still, they do tend to gravitate toward a few particular types of foods. These include:

  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Insects
  • Smaller animals

Rats are omnivores. They can eat vegetation and muscle tissue, and they tend to eat whatever is closest and furthest away from potential dangers.

Wild Rats

Wild rats are scroungers. They’ve been known to eat anything from rotten food inside of dumpsters to small, unhatched bird eggs. But when rats are allowed to eat fresh vegetables or fruits, they always choose the most refreshing, most satisfying option.

Pet Rats

Pet rats should have a slightly varied diet of mixed fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Still, their primary source of nutrition should be specially-formulated rat pellets. Here’s a brief breakdown of a pet rat’s ideal diet.

Rat Food

Store-bought rat foods aren’t just sad, brown pellets anymore. Many varieties of rat-specific pet food contain a wide range of ingredients. Some of the most commonly found ingredients in manufactured rat food include:

  • Corn
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Oats
  • Shelled peanuts
  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin seeds

And while these pet-store rat foods are designed to provide a well-rounded amount of nutrition, it’s always nice to give your rat a tiny treat now and again.

Occasional Variety

Providing store-bought food with plenty of variety is a great way to offer pet rats a healthy diet. But supplementing your pet’s diet with fresh, raw foods can prove to be a wonderful treat for your rat and improve their overall health. 

Some of the best fresh foods you can give your rat are:

  • Apples, bananas, and strawberries
  • Broccoli, kale, and peas
  • Cooked liver and baked/grilled chicken
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Cooked soybeans

You could also decide to forgo store-bought rat food altogether by making your own pet food. Still, you’ll need to follow veterinarian guidelines with absolute precision to ensure that your rat is getting the proper amount of nutrition on a daily basis.

You’ll also want to make sure that you’re familiar with what foods to avoid.

What Should You Avoid Feeding to a Pet Rat?

Just as there are healthy and safe options to consider when feeding your rat, there are also foods that you should altogether avoid. Candies and chocolate may be a more obvious no-no, but other dangerous foods may surprise you.


While the occasional fresh fruit is fine, it’s important to avoid most sugar whenever possible. If possible, it’s also a good idea to keep an eye on natural sugars. Rats can become obsessively addicted to sugar, often to the point where they will ignore all other potential rewards when presented with the sweet stuff.

Because rats have very little self-control after exposure to sugar, they may starve themselves until their owners provide more sugary snacks. This can quickly lead to insulin resistance or diabetes. There is also some proof that sugar may negatively impact the intelligence of rats.

To ensure that your rat gets to enjoy the longest and healthiest life possible, just say no to sugar. And, whatever you do, don’t share that cup of coffee with your rodent friend.


You may already be familiar with the effects of caffeine. It can make you feel energetic, it can make your heart race, and it can also make you feel irritable or restless. Humans and rats experience the same general set of benefits and drawbacks when exposed to caffeine. Still, because rats are much smaller, tiny amounts of caffeine can have a powerful effect.

Caffeine has been shown to produce specific positive effects in test rats, such as:

  • It improved long-term memory.
  • It improved cognitive functioning.
  • It improved the ability to recognize objects.

Still, all of these potential benefits are overshadowed and obscured by caffeine’s more immediate disadvantage: Anxiety. 

Because caffeine can accelerate your heart rate and make you feel more alert, it can unintentionally trigger a stress response. This response primarily exists to help mammals escape predators or fend off attackers. When it’s triggered by occasional or constant caffeine intake, the body often suffers. This is true of both humans and rats.


D-limonene is found in citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruits. Male rats that consume D-limonene may be more prone to developing tumors. There is also some evidence that this substance could cause massive circulatory issues. 

Consequently, it’s a bad idea to feed your rat any citrus fruits that may contain D-limonene. 

Rotten or Unripe Foods

Unripe foods, like green potatoes, are dangerous to both rats and humans. Often, green, pre-ripened foods contain harmful toxins that can induce digestive upset, vomiting, or diarrhea. And while it may be tempting to use your pet rat as a living trash compactor, especially when you consider the types of things that wild rats eat, please don’t.

Rotten or expired foods can pose a threat to rats as they can to you and your family. While rats do have robust immune systems, it’s better not to test their limits by feeding them moldy table scraps.

Can Pet Rats Eat Nuts and Legumes?

Pet rats can safely eat most nuts and legumes. Some of them should be shelled before consumption, while others are fine to serve with the shell still attached. No matter what, the key factor to keep in mind when feeding a pet rat nuts in moderation. After all, nuts often contain quite a lot of fat.

Don’t Go Too Nuts

Rats consume nuts in the wild (when they can), so what’s the big deal about giving your pet rat a handful of peanuts or almonds? The answer lies in fat content. While humans may be able to consume a whole packet of nuts without gaining several pounds, we’re also much more massive than rats, and our bodies can process fat a little more efficiently.

If you’re determined to treat your little buddy with some nuts, you can. Just don’t go overboard. A single nut is an acceptable serving size for larger varieties, like pecans.

Should You Shell Before Feeding?

In most cases, you should shell your nuts before feeding them to your pet. Removing the shell can help protect your rat from accidental choking or suffocation. Besides, sharp shell parts can injure the sensitive throat lining of a rat, leading to pain and discomfort.

The only types of nuts that can be served with the shell attached are almonds and walnuts. Peanuts should always be shelled before serving.


Pet rats can eat pecans, but they should only eat them now and again. That’s because the natural diet of a rat is full of variety and low in fats. Most types of nuts contain quite a lot of fat, so owners should use caution. 

While there are plenty of perfectly acceptable snacks for your pet rat, there also several that should be avoided at all costs. Pecans fall right into the middle of these extremes.


How to Tell the Age of a Rat: A Guide for New Owners


Let’s face it; it can be very hard to know the exact age of a pet rat based on little information known or kept about the rat birthing cycle. Unlike dogs and cats, which have better records to establish age, pet rats are not as widely a domesticated pet as cats and dogs, which leaves physical signs and traits being the only true ways to know a pet rat’s true age outside of purchases from breeders. Just how can you tell the age of a rat?

So, what guidelines are available to tell the age of a rat? To tell the age of a pet rat, examine the following characteristics:

  • Size. The larger the rat, the older rat is in their life cycle.
  • Teeth Color. Bright yellow or orange teeth is a sign of old age. 
  • Length of fur. Longer fur coats are an indication of advancing age. 

Since rats do not generally live longer than a few years, the aging process is much more advanced than what is seen in larger mammals. Due to the short life span of a pet rat, you have to look for certain signs that can alert you to the rat’s advancing age. This can be complicated; therefore, this guide will explore these concepts, as well as guide you through the stages of rat development over their lifespan. 

What Physical Signs Can Alert Me to a Rat’s Age?

Rats are around for only a short amount of time in human terms, and pet rats usually live for 2-3 years, 4-5 years in optimal health conditions. This is bittersweet to pet rat owners; therefore, it is only natural to wonder about the age of your pet rat, especially if the rat was already an adult rat the time of purchase. Since we humans view longevity through the years, a rat’s aging process will see physical signs at a very rapid rate. Let’s explore the physical signs to look for.


Rats begin their life cycle as very small babies, typically about 38.1 mm (1.5 inches). An adult rat can reach lengths upwards of 508 mm (20 inches), which is usually the length that can correspond to early-middle age for a pet rat. 

If you purchase an adult rat, you can easily gage that your new pet rat is fast-approaching the middle of their lifespan, if not at that point already. Young rats will be well under any length approaching 508 mm (20 inches). 

Note: A length of 508 mm (20 inches) is a calculation based upon the absolute maximum length of an adult rat from the tip of the tail to the nose. Adults can be much shorter than this estimate. 

Teeth Coloration

Another important sign to look for is the color of the rat’s teeth. All rats will have a yellow tint to their teeth, yet the lightness and darkness of this tint will increase with age. Young rats, which are any rats under the age of one year, will generally have teeth that are light yellow, therefore, if you purchase a pet rat and its teeth are not bright yellow, this is a good sign that you have a young rat. 

For rat’s over one year of age, the teeth will begin to take on a more rich yellow tent, and sometimes even turn slightly orange. If you have purchased a pet rat that has bright yellow or orange teeth, it is safe to assume that this rat is well in excess of one year. 

Length of Fur

Fur length is a bit tricky when trying to tell a rat’s age, yet this sign can still be used to get a rough estimate of age. If your pet rat has very thin and coarse fur, this can be a sign that the rat has not yet reached adulthood. Rats with long and thick fur coats are typically well over a year in age. Fur length is not particularly helpful for hairless rats, which is better suited by looking at teeth color and size to tell the age of this species. 

This is all useful in determining the age, but what exactly are the life stages of a pet rat? 

What Are the Stages of Development of a Pet Rat?

Here are some characteristics of pet rats once they reach a certain age:

  • Newborn-1 Week. Rats are very small at this stage and develop quickly from pink coloration to a very fine layer of fur.
  • 2 Weeks. Rats are more mobile and begin to open their eyes.
  • 3 Weeks. This is the stage when young rats reach all of the physical characteristics of a rat, just much smaller.
  • 1 Year. Rats at this stage are now considered adult rats, and the growth cycle slows considerably. 
  • 2 Years. Advanced teeth coloration may be present, as well as mobility issues.
  • 3 Years. Rats are considered to be advanced in age at this stage; body mass may deteriorate, and fur can grow longer.

This guide will help in making the best-educated guess in determining your pet rat’s age, although it can sometimes be difficult to guess a rat’s age once they are over a year in age. Since we tend to age living things in terms of years, how does a rat’s age correspond to this method?

Rat Years vs. Human Years

In terms of the human life cycle, a pet rat will live anywhere between 3-5 years. That is quite a lot of aging parameters in terms of human aging when you consider only a handful of years. Human beings are considered to be elderly roughly beginning in their 60s, which would be about two years of age in a rat. Advanced age is a guarantee of decreased performance and mobility; therefore, this is a good way to determine a pet rat’s overall age.

One day in the life of a rat is equal to 26.7 days in human years, which roughly correlates to 1 human day equaling a month of life in the rat lifespan. With this in mind, you can expect a deterioration of physical performance in your rat around the 2-year mark, which is essentially a sign of old age.  

Do Rats Act Differently As They Age?

With increased age also comes a lack of activity and overall interest than what was noticed months before. Since we only have biology and the particular traits of aging humans to relate rat age to, it is likely that your rat’s decreased performance could be a sign of advanced age. Older rats will still likely be active, just not as active as they once were. Lazy behavior may also be apparent in an older rat; not because they want to be, but because they are older. 

It is unfortunate, yet it is just a fact of a rat’s biological makeup. 


So, telling a rat’s age is not an easy process, yet there are some key things to look for to point you in the right guess:

  • Rats will slowly begin to decrease their activities once they reach old age.
  • Rats will display a darker shade of yellow or orange coloring of their teeth.

There are other factors to help tell a pet rat’s age, yet these two characteristics offer the most possible signs to confirm an older pet rat. If you buy an adult pet rat, realize that the rat’s lifespan will be much shorter than a baby rat. 


Here’s Why Pet Rats Cannot Live in Fish Tanks


A pet rat needs an adequate amount of space to be comfortable in their living environment. Proper ventilation that allows airflow and easy accessibility for cleaning are the best housing environments for a pet rat. With this in mind, it may seem possible that a standard fish tank is an acceptable housing environment for a pet rat due to the enclosures it provides, but pet rats living in fish tanks are not a good idea for many reasons. 

Here’s why pet rats cannot live in fish tanks:

  • A fish tank lacks the proper space, ventilation, and spaces to allow a pet rat to live comfortably. 
  • Problems with humidity and improper sanitation of a pet rat’s waste can cause sickness. 
  • The plastic and glass may also cause health problems. 
  • The enclosed tank can lead to bacterial fermentation. 

Since most fish tanks are made from glass or plastic, a pet rat would have no way to achieve adequate exercise or climbing, in addition to a substantial amount of potential health concerns. This is not something that is readily known to new pet rat owners; therefore, this article will explore how a fish tank creates a toxic environment for a pet rat and how a rat cage is truly the best option for pet rat housing. 

What Makes Fish Tanks Unsuitable for Pet Rats?

Unlike fish, rats are mammals that need a large amount of space and optimal environmental conditions in their home to be healthy. Common fish tanks generally small to begin with and would give a rat no options for climbing or receiving fresh air from all sides of a tank. 

According to veterinarian Thomas M. Donnelly, housing units for pet rats should be made of a material that meets the following specifications:

  • Is easy to clean 
  • Is easy to deodorize
  • Is indestructible, even when rodents are chewing or digging in the corners 

Fish tanks do not provide any of these specifications; a fish tank is enclosed and solid, with the cleaning of potential rat waste being a messy prospect that would require the complete removal of the entire contents of the tank, as opposed to easy cleaning with a tray. 

There are four main problems that would come with using a fish tank for the housing of your pet rat. 


As mentioned, fish tanks are usually made of glass and plastic in some models. The problem with having a pet rat enclosed in the glass is that this is not a surface that would be optimal for their feet. 

The placement of rat bedding would likely ease the discomfort on the bottom of the tank, but the sides have nothing for pet rats to grip or climb onto. A pet rat would feel enclosed within an aquarium, which leads to an additional problem: inadequate space. 

Inadequate Space

When it comes to housing units for pet rats, the bigger the cage, the better. This is because rodents need plenty of room to exercise and explore. 

Fish tanks can range in size, yet the enclosure of all four walls would make a rat feel inhibited and unable to move around properly. Rat cages provide a rat with the ability to climb the sides of the cage, which is part of a rat’s daily process of exercise. Fish tanks are designed for enclosing water, not a pet rat. 

Additionally, if you were to add more than one pet rat to a fish tank, this will make the rats feel even more enclosed and limited in mobility. Airflow would become a major concern due to multiple rats vying for fresh air from the top of the tank. 

Improper Airflow

Rats are breathing and active mammals that need comfort and space in their cage, which also provides an adequate flow of air from all sides. 

A fish tank only has a top that opens, which means that airflow can only reach a pet rat from the top down. Not having access to free-flowing air can cause discomfort in a pet rat, which will also affect the rat’s overall mood and personality. 

Ventilation is also crucial for allowing fumes to escape from rat waste, which, when combined with high humidity levels, can cause a potentially toxic environment to your pet rat.  

Increased Humidity Due to the Presence of Waste and Warmth

Glass is much less dense than the material that makes up a wired-cage. 

Pet rats expel waste on a daily basis, which means the ammonia levels from urine and the overall warmth from body heat (especially if the tanks have more than one rat), can cause humidity levels within the tank to rise sharply. With the increase in humidity, bacteria from rat waste will begin to ferment due to the heat and could cause health problems in a pet rat. 

A fish tank would need to be cleaned multiple times a day to prevent this issue from occurring, which could be a potentially drastic measure if you have your rat housed in a large fish tank. 

Are Large Fish Tanks Suitable for a Pet Rat?

Fish tanks in excess of 20 gallons may help a pet rat feel a bit freer to roam and move around, yet fish tanks in general just aren’t a good idea for pet rats, no matter the size of the tank. The same issues with discomfort, humidity, and improper airflow would still be present in a large fish tank. With this being said, there are still people who choose to house pet rats in large tanks, which is certainly a feasible idea due to the space offered. 

A large fish tank that has a lockable, ventilated lid and proper rat bedding with toys and exercise equipment will fulfill a rat’s needs, yet the prospect of daily cleanings to prevent the possible health effects may not be worth the trouble. If you do choose to use a large fish tank for your rat’s home, a 50-gallon tank would be the best choice; certainly nothing smaller than 15 gallons. 

The Bottom Line: Pet Rats Need More Room and Ventilation Than What Fish Tanks Offer

When it comes down to it, there are many rat owners who choose to house their pets in a fish tank, yet most are also aware that more room is certainly better in this situation. 

There is a possibility that your pet rat will not pretest to the conditions within a fish tank and be perfectly content in this environment. It would require trying to mimic all of the attributes of a regular rat cage to truly give a pet rat all of the necessities that they need in a fish tank. 

Fish tanks just aren’t big enough for pet rats in most situations, and with the prospect of health concerns due to humidity and toxicity from fermenting waste residue, that alone makes a fish tank a bad idea for a rat home. A cage is much better. 


So, fish tanks are not the best-suited environments for a pet rat, even though there are some possible exceptions if the tank is very large and provides most of the comforts that a rat would get from a cage. Fish tanks can be breeding grounds for bacteria, which would require much more in the way of cleaning than what is normally done with a rat cage. 

Your pet rat is most at home in a rat cage that allows for climbing and proper ventilation. Save a fish tank as a temporary housing compartment when you are cleaning a cage.