Owning a pet rat can be a joy. But becoming familiar with what a pet rat can and cannot safely eat can feel like a never-ending journey, especially if you’re a recent pet parent. Still, sharing your pup’s dog food with your long-tailed rodent buddy may not be the wisest idea.
Pet rats can eat and digest dog food. However, dog food may not provide enough nutritional variation for pet rats, especially when administered over a long period. Also, high-fat or vitamin-rich dog foods may cause or exacerbate specific health issues in pet rats.
In this article, we’ll discuss the types of foods that wild rats and pet rats naturally prefer to eat. We’ll also address what foods they should altogether avoid, in addition to examining how suitable dog food is for pet rats.
What Do Rats Eat?
The typical diet of a rat varies greatly depending on its location and captivity status. For example, wild rats that live far from human settlements have primarily vegetarian diets, but rats that live in major cities tend to eat a lot of meat.
Pet rats that live in captivity have superior diets, though their nutrition is entirely dependent on their owner’s purchasing habits. However, the majority of rat food products are specifically designed to provide a balanced amount of nutrients.
To better understand what rats eat and why pet rats benefit from eating pet food, we need to take a closer look at the diet of wild rats.
Rats in remote regions prefer to subsist on fresh vegetation, wild fruit, and seeds. However, urbanized rats with a long history of human contact tend to eat nearly anything and everything, including trash, carrion, cement, and electrical wires.
While city rats can’t survive off of the bulk of the rubbish they find, they do manage to survive by scrounging scraps from humans. When human-generated food waste isn’t available, rats may even resort to abhorrent dietary behaviors, such as cannibalism. Still, that kind of behavior is far from normal.
When urbanized rats gain access to a building or a home’s interior, their lives briefly change for the better. Some courageous and hungry rats may even wander out into the open living spaces of a home late at night in search of food. Oftentimes, they find exactly what they’re looking for at the bottom of your pet’s food bowl.
Many city-dwellers have woken in the middle of the night, flipped their kitchen lights on, and discovered a small party of rats wreaking havoc on their pet’s food. But while rats can eat and digest dog food (in addition glass and metal), it’s not nearly as nutritious or healthy as store-bought rat food.
Pet rats live comparatively, glamorous lives. They get to live in nice habitats, and they thrive on the attention and stimulation they receive from their owners. But best of all, they have access to the highest quality meals possible.
Old-style pellet-shaped rat foods have long been a thing of the past. Rather than nibbling unhappily on fibrous brown capsules, pet rats can now enjoy a smorgasbord of seeds, dehydrated veggies, nuts, dried fruits, and whole grains. Interestingly, most modern store-bought rat foods contain about the same set of ingredients as premium bird feed.
Of course, variety is the spice of life. Pet rats can benefit from the occasional treat or unexpected snack, as it stimulates their interest and their appetite.
Feeding your pet rat too much of anything is bound to result in an unhealthy rodent. Obesity is also a common problem for pet rats, so owners should be sure to restrict food portions when offering fresh foods or healthy snacks.
It’s also crucial to be aware of which snacks to avoid. Otherwise, snack time could quickly devolve into an emergency visit to the local veterinarian.
What Should You Avoid Feeding to a Pet Rat?
There are a few things that you should avoid feeding a pet rat. Unripe or rotten foods are never good things to feed a pet rat. For example, green potato skin can be poisonous to rats (and humans, for that matter).
Some ingredients should be avoided because they’re highly addictive, and others are outright toxic. To keep any pet rat feeling fit and healthy, it’s important to avoid:
- Foods and beverages that contain sugar, especially processed sugar
- Foods and beverages that contain caffeine
- Foods and beverages that contain d-limonene, like citrus fruits
Some of these items are far deadlier than others, but it’s important to be familiar with all of them. That’s because rats are incredibly small, so everything they eat has a massive impact. Some substances (like sugar) can become so fantastically addictive to rats, that they’ll refuse to eat low-sugar or sugar-free foods.
Sugar is a bad choice for pet rats. Not only can it contribute to obesity, but it can also be extremely addictive. Lab studies have shown that when rats are given a choice between sweetened water and cocaine, they’ll almost always choose water.
Rats can become addicted and biologically dependent on sugar, and they can experience intense symptoms of withdrawal when sugar is removed from their diet. They can even begin to shake and convulse.
So the next time you think about sharing some chocolate with a pet rat, remember that sugar is just as (if not more so) addictive and destructive than hard drugs when it comes to rats. Just say no to the sweet treats.
Coffee, tea, and most sodas contain a reasonable amount of caffeine. For some, this caffeine is what allows them to move swiftly and productively throughout their day. For others, it causes worrying heart palpitations. Caffeine can be both a boon and a danger for humans, and it has a similar effect on pet rats.
Because these results are so varied (and because the heart only has so many beats in it), it’s better to avoid feeding a pet rat caffeine or caffeine-laden beverages. It might be fun to watch your tiny buddy zipping around the room as a rush of caffeine-fueled energy overtakes them, but it could cause your pet rat undue stress and anxiety.
Citrus can be a delicious snack, but it can also be harmful to male rats. That’s because citrus contains a chemical called d-limonene, and in laboratory studies, this chemical has induced kidney disorders and cancerous tumors in male rats.
While d-limonene doesn’t seem to affect female rats in the same way, it may be better to avoid citrus altogether when feeding your pet rat. The acidic nature of most types of fruit might be upsetting for tiny pet rat tummies.
Can Pet Rats Eat Dog Food?
Pet rats can eat dog food, but it’s not a healthy snack choice. Dog food is designed to satisfy the nutritional needs of canines, not rats. Consequently, they’re often far too fat-rich and protein-dense for pet rats.
What Is Dog Food Made Of?
The exact nutritional make-up of dog food varies from brand to brand and product to product. Some types of dog food are specifically designed to meet the needs of puppies or older dogs, and others help treat certain conditions like dry skin or digestive upset.
Still, most store-bought dog foods contain:
- Dehydrated meat
Many brands of kibble also incorporate animal products for added protein and consistency. Again, while this blend might be perfectly fine for the family Fido, it’s not fit for pet rats.
Dogs, even miniature ones, are far larger than pet rats. Their bodies cannot process the same amount of fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals as a dog’s body can. That’s why it can be dangerous to feed dog food to your pet rat on a regular basis.
When pet rats consume too much fat, they can quickly become obese. And when their bodies are consistently subjected to an overload of various vitamins, they can get very sick.
Pet rats can eat and digest dog food. However, dog food may not be a healthy dietary choice for pet rats. That’s because a bowl of store-bought dog food contains a specific blend and balance of ingredients that are designed to satisfy the dietary needs of a dog.
Rats have very different dietary needs and benefit more from eating rat-specific pet foods and the occasional slice of fresh fruit or raw vegetable. Still, it’s crucial to remember which foods to avoid when treating a pet rat. Doing so will ensure the best, healthiest, and happiest outcome for both the owner and the pet.
- Conduct Science: The Effects Of Caffeine On Mice Behavior
- EurekAlert!: Sugar on the Brain: Study Shows Sugar Dependence in Rats
- The Guardian: CDC Warns of Aggressive Cannibal Rats Facing Shortage of Garbage to Eat
- Healthline: Green Potatoes: Harmless or Poisonous?
- The Humane Society: What to Do About Wild Rats
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Clinicopathological Studies on Vitamin D3 Toxicity and Therapeutic Evaluation of Aloe vera in Rats
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward
- ScienceDaily: Caffeine Consumption Slows Down Brain Development, Rat Study Shows
- Science Focus: Does a Human Heart Have a Finite Number of Beats?