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:
- 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 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 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.
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:
- Sunflower seeds
- Shelled peanuts
- 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.
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.
- Business Insider: 5 Disturbing Consequences of Eating Too Much Sugar
- ConductScience.com: The Effects Of Caffeine On Mice Behavior
- Food Safety Authority of Ireland: Green Potatoes
- Harvard Medical School: Understanding the Stress Response
- Instructables: Homemade Pet Rat Food
- Mom.com: What Does a Rat Eat in the Wild?
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: D-Limonene: Safety and Clinical Applications
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward
- Popular Science: Nuts Are Full of Fat and Calories—and You Should Probably Eat More of Them
- RSPCA: A Healthy Diet for Rats
- The Spruce Pets: Feeding Pet Rats
- Wikipedia: Omnivore