Pet rats have very sensitive digestive systems, which may sound odd since wild rats are incorrectly stigmatized as animals that will eat anything. People who have acquired a pet rat for the first time may think that virtually any food is acceptable to feed their rat. Due to popular conceptions about rats, normal pet food like cat food may seem like a safe choice to feed a pet rat.
Can pet rats eat cat food? Pet rats need a well-balanced array of foods that match their omnivore dietary traits. Cat food is loaded with protein, based on carnivore dietary traits of cats. Cat food should never be given to pet rats except as an occasional treat due to a lack of carbohydrates found in other food sources.
Pet rats need a wide array of nutrients that cannot be found in food sources, such as cat food, that are overloaded with protein in lieu of well-balanced nutrients. There are many types of food that you can feed your pet rat to meet these guidelines, and this guide will serve to explain those needs. Cat food may seem like a safe choice to feed a pet rat, but there are many reasons why this is not a good idea.
Dietary Needs of Rats
Rats have long been characterized as perpetual scavengers who will eat virtually anything that they can find. While this is sometimes true for wild rats who don’t have many options based on their environment, rats prefer a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, and meat.
According to veterinarian Lianne McLeod, it is easy to stick to store-bought rat foods, particularly rat blocks, such as Rodent Pet Food by Teklad, since blocks of this type can provide rats all of their dietary needs in one convenient serving. Cat food is made almost entirely of protein, which will not give a pet rat all of the daily nutritional requirements they need, even if it is a handy and easy type of pet food to acquire.
Additionally, pet rats respond well to other types of fresh foods, such as leafy vegetables, seeds, fruits, and small servings of cooked, lean meats. Cat food may seem alluring as a choice due to its strong odor and high concentration of protein, but rats need a diet that is many ways similar to our own. Furthermore, high concentrations of protein can turn to glucose during the metabolic process, which can cause health deficiencies in omnivorous animals like rats.
If cat food does have small concentrations of carbohydrates and plant matter, what actually makes it a bad food choice for rats?
What Makes Cat Food a Bad Dietary Choice for Rats?
Cat food is loaded with protein, but is also rich in GMOs, like sugar, which can be further increased during the metabolic process since high concentrations of protein can turn into glucose (sugar). Veterinary technician Adrienne Kruzer cites this as one of the main reasons to avoid feeding pet rats food products outside of what is contained in rat blocks.
Kruzer further explains that opting for easy and convenient food choices, such as cat food, can do a great amount of harm to pet rats over time. Sticking to well-balanced food choices, preferably specialized rat food blocks, is always the best bet when feeding a rat. Cat food is formulated specifically for cats–there are further reasons why cats and rats do not get along–even a cat’s food is harmful to rats. Here are three primary reasons why cat food is bad.
Increased Protein Content
Cat food is high in protein based on the preference for meat as opposed to other food types in cats. Cats are designed to thrive on meat, whereas rats need an even mixture of plants, carbohydrates, and small amounts of meat.
Rats Are Omnivores
This makes rats omnivores, which we, as humans, can relate to. Protein is important for muscle growth and function, as well as strength, but a rat’s system needs a mixture of vitamins and minerals that cannot be found in protein alone.
Cat Food Will Cause Nutritional Deficiencies in Pet Rats
Expect a wide range of nutritional deficiencies in your pet rat if you opt to feed it a diet of only cat food. The increased glucose synthesis from the large amounts of daily protein can lead to obesity in your pet rat, in addition to nutritional deficiencies. This is based upon a potential pet rat diet that only includes cat food. Small amounts every once-in-awhile will not necessarily cause health problems.
Can I Use Cat Food as a Treat for My Pet Rat?
Since pet rats do require small amounts of lean meat for proper nutrition, it is okay to feed cat food to your pet rat once in a while. It is always a good idea to reward your pet rat with a treat on a daily basis, although it would not be advisable to make this daily reward cat food. A serving of cat food once or twice a week will introduce a small bit of variety to a pet rat’s diet.
Cat food has a texture and smell that will be peculiar and inviting to your pet rat. All living organisms, including humans, sometimes enjoy trying new types of food, but just because your pet rat may seem to enjoy cat food, doesn’t in any way mean that you should frequently give a rat protein-rich cat food. Other treat sources should be implemented as the primary form of a pet rat’s treat.
Whole foods that are not rich in glucose should still be the primary choice for a treat. If you do choose to reward your rat with cat food every now and again, dried cat food is likely a better choice to consider. This type of cat food mimics the texture of a rat food block, whereas wet food may cause digestive irregularities since this type of food is more uncommon to a rat.
The Bottom Line: Avoid Feeding Rats Cat Food
Cat food is not strictly prohibited to feed a pet rat on rare occasions. However, cat food should in no way replace a rat’s primary diet. Take a moment to put this into context–rats are omnivores just like humans, and apart from trend diets, we do not eat diets that only consist of protein and nothing else. We eat fruits, vegetables, grains, and meat. Perhaps not as much of one or two of these foods as we normally should, which causes health problems.
The same process applies to pet rats. A diet of only cat food will cause health problems in your pet rat; feed your rat cat food much like we as humans should treat sweets, which is every now and again. Your pet rat will appreciate the occasional variety and will likely begin to look forward to an occasional serving of cat food due to the variety.
Cat food should never comprise a pet rat’s primary diet due to two main reasons:
- Increased protein. Too much protein and lack of other vital nutrients will cause health problems in pet rats.
- Rats are omnivorous. A pet rat needs a primary focus on fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean meat. Cat food prioritizes meat only.
Pet rats can and likely will eat cat food, yet this does not mean that stocking up on cat food is a good idea for a pet rat. Cat food in abundance will harm a rat’s health. Invest in rat blocks and whole foods.
- Thesprucepets.com: Rat Food and Tumors
- Thesprucepets.com: Adrienne Kruzer, RVT, LVT
- Thesprucepets.com: Feeding Pet Rats
- TheSprucepets.com: Lianne McLeod, DVM
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Food Intake in Laboratory Rats Provided Standard and Fenbendazole-supplemented Diets
- Frontiers in Nutrition: Rats prone to obesity under a high-carbohydrate diet have increased post-meal CCK mRNA expression and characteristics of rats fed a high-glycemic index diet
- Amazon.com: Rodent Pet Food
- Wikipedia: Omnivore
- Wikipedia: Protein