Rats are very resilient and cunning creatures- they can sniff out food or water easily while living in cities or the wild. However, if you have a pet rat, you need to provide consistent access to food and water, just like you would any other pet.
So, how long can a pet rat go without food or water? Rats can survive without any food for roughly four days and can live for up to a month without direct water intake if their food contains a high water content. However, they shouldn’t go more than a day without water, as they become dehydrated.
This article also details how much food and water is necessary for a pet rat, what you can safely feed them, foods to avoid, and other needs your pet rat has outside of food and water.
How Much Food and Water Should You Give?
Rats need about an ounce of water every day, either directly or through food (such as fruit with high water content). The best way to give your pet rat access to water is through a rodent water bottle that can attach to the side of the cage.
Fill the bottle with fresh water at least weekly, if not more often. Never let your rat sit with an empty bottle for days on end.
Your rat may sip throughout the day, or all at once, so don’t be too concerned if you don’t see your rat drink. Just watch the water level to make sure it goes down.
A rat can eat up to a third of its body weight every day. However, this doesn’t mean that this is a healthy or needed amount of food. Give small amounts of food (a half-handful for one rat is enough) specifically for mice and rats.
Rats will hoard food, typically eat in one sitting if food is scarce. They can also become violent and territorial if caged with other rats with only a limited amount of food provided, so make sure that if you have more than one rat to give adequate amounts of food.
What Do Rats Eat?
A non-pet rat will eat almost anything- from dog feces to candy to meat scraps. However, a pet rat should be fed rat food (or general rat food), along with vegetables and fruits.
The best food for your rat, perhaps contrary to instinct, is not a mix of seeds and grains, but homogenous rat pellets. This prevents your rat from picking out their favorite bits of their mixed food and leaving the rest. Make sure the sugar and fat content is low, as rats are prone to obesity.
What You Can Safely Feed Your Pet Rat
If you own a pet rat, they do appreciate variety, and can safely be fed many fruits and vegetables. This list includes:
- Bananas (past the point of being green)
You can also feed them small amounts of:
- Cheddar cheese
- Pasta (uncooked or cooked)
This list is not all-inclusive but gives a good look at some foods you can feed your rat without the worry of harming them. Use these types of foods as extra treats rather than full meal substitutes, and carefully watch your rat’s weight to avoid giving too much.
What You Should Not Feed Your Rat
Here are a few foods you should avoid feeding to your pet rat at all costs:
- Blue cheese (The mold is harmful to them)
- Apple seeds (contain trace amounts of cyanide)
- Avocado (pit and skin are toxic, and the fruit is high in fat)
- Spinach (can cause urinary tract issues)
- Raw red cabbage (destroys thiamin)
- Rhubarb (toxic to rats)
- Raw sweet potato (can be poisonous to rats)
- Oranges (the white rind is dangerous for male rats)
- Licorice (Harms your rat’s brain)
- Chocolate (the caffeine and sugar content are unhealthy for rats)
How Long Can You Leave a Pet Rat Alone?
If you work a job that takes you out of the house, or you’re leaving on vacation for a weekend, you might be wondering how long you can leave your pet rat alone without some form of care.
If you’re simply out of the house for the day, your rat can stay alone. As long as their water bottle is full and they have enough rat pellets to last the day, you shouldn’t be worried.
Some rat experts say that rats should be kept in pairs, as not to suffer from loneliness when you’re not playing with them. However, this is not a requirement for your rat’s survival.
However, if you will not be seeing your rat for more than 24-48 hours, you should probably arrange for a friend or pet sitter to check on your rat’s food and water supply, to make sure they have enough, and possibly even take your rat out to be handled.
Additionally, your rat should have it’s bedding completely changed weekly, with droppings cleaned out daily or as often as possible to control odor. Rats poop a lot, and it’s unhealthy for a rat to live in close quarters with feces for too long. Additionally, it’s uncomfortable! Imagine how you might feel if you had to live in your bathroom without being able to flush the toilet.
Rats do also enjoy social stimulation and benefit from consistent handling. A more socialized rat is less likely to bite or be skittish. If this is a concern, and you’re out of town for a while, you might ask your pet sitter to handle your rat.
Other Basic Rat Needs
Besides food, water, and shelter, rats need basic care for their health and hygiene.
For keeping their teeth shortened, provide hard, unpainted blocks of wood (about 1-3 inches, or 2.5-7.6cm) for them to chew on. Make sure there are no splinters in the wood and avoid cedar or pine wood, which has oils that can be harmful to rats.
For their mental and physical stimulation, you can provide cardboard tubes, such as toilet paper tubes, hanging ropes, or ladders they can climb. If you’re open to the idea, you can also let you rat explore outside their cage, with careful supervision. Don’t let a rat chew on cords or clothing left out.
Rats feel the most secure in dark, warm, and secluded places. To stimulate a small den, give a rat a shoebox, ceramic igloo, or even a flowerpot. Your rat will most likely sleep here, as they feel the most secure.
Your rat will groom itself! Do not wet or bathe your rat in an effort to “wash” it. If needed, to clean a sticky substance off your rat, you can dampen a cloth and dab gently on his/her coat. Otherwise, leave the cleaning to your rat!
A rat can survive without any food for 2-5 days, and without any source of water for about the same time. However, rats take in moisture from foods with high water content and can survive for about a month this way, without direct water.
If you have a pet rat, you should feed it every day, and provide it with access to clean water constantly. You should never leave a rat alone in its cage for more than two days without someone checking on it. Additionally, do research to make sure all foods given to your rat are safe for them to consume.
Lastly, rats have needs beyond food and water. Make sure your rat has a clean cage, as well as structures to play and sleep in. Your rat will thank you for it!
- Indiana State Department of Health: Rats and Mice
- RSPCA Australia: What Should I Feed My Pet Rat?
- Pet Helpful: A List of Safe and Dangerous Foods for Your Pet Rat
- Blue Cross: Caring for Your Pet Rat
- US Fish and Wildlife Services: The Facts about Rats
- National Fancy Rat Society
- Animal Rescue League of Boston: Pet Rat Basics