Here are some FAQs we get asked at Pet Mania:

1. What is the difference between getting a "pet shop rat" and a rat from a rat breeder?

Often people are overly excited about getting pet rats and this often leads to a disappointing experience as a rat owner. It is important to be patient when adopting pet rats. Ideally you want to get them from a reputable breeder which will be worth the wait. A good breeder breeds healthy, social rats and this is achieved through a holistic approach of selective breeding, good nutrition, socialising and a clean environment. A true rat breeder breeds for the love of the animal.  Often pet shop rats come from unhealthy living conditions, are not socialised, sometimes mistreated and are not bred for temperament but for profit and snake feed instead. The result is generally an antisocial, bad tempered and unhealthy pet. This is not to say that all pet shops produce bad pets but make sure that the environment and conditions that the rat comes from is healthy and do not simply adopt the first rat you see.

* Please refer to our list of breeders should you need a reputable breeder 

2. Why is it not advisable to keep only one rat?

Naturally,  rats live in large colonies making them extremely social creatures. They need their own species to bond with. They learn from each other, they groom each other, they cuddle and comfort each other. Keeping one rat denies the pet of these very essential needs and may cause behavioral problems and depression.  People are sometimes concerned that the their rat will not bond with them if there is more than one rat. This is totally not true. Rats are really happy to spend endless amounts of time with their human companions provided the rat has come from a healthy social environment. Problems also arise when one rat is kept for a period of time and a second rat is introduced, where the only rat may then behave hostile and aggressive towards the new member.  So ideally,  get two to three ratties  (of the SAME sex) as a bonding pack.

3. Why is it necessary to get the same sex rats?

The female rats come on heat every four to five days, their gestation period lasts twenty one to twenty four days and they deliver between six and thirteen kittens. These babies in turn, reach sexual maturity by four to five weeks. Imagine the colony that will grow just by owning a pair of rats. A common complaint we come across at Pet Mania is that a rat owner is sold two "same sex" ratties only to discover new editions in the cage a month later. Any pet shop assistant worth their salt can easily identify a male and female rat by four  weeks of age (sometimes sooner). It is very obvious to identify the sex of the rat by turning it onto its back: testies present, it's a boy; no testies present,  it's a girl! It is that simple. Please take note that it is best to take ownership of your ratties from five to six  weeks onwards. 

4. Which of the sexes is better to keep?

This is a completely personal preference. The female rats are highly active and engaging. They are generally very inquisitive little creatures. At Pet Mania, we have always had girls as our pets and customers are astounded how curious and bold they are. I remember one occasion where one of our girls disappeared into a lady's handbag and popped back up munching on one of her cigarettes! Not great for the health, granted! The girls are also easy to toilet train and tend to mark less than males. 

The male rats are generally more chilled and calm. They are quite happy to sit on your shoulder or in your hoodie and come a long for the ride. Males make great cuddle buddies. They do tend to have a stronger smell than the girls often caused by an over production of testosterone known as "buck grease" which may result in an orange -like oily layer on the back. Feeding  some Omega 3 oil and flaxseed oil often helps reduce buck grease though. Both sexes  none the less are happy to bond with their human companions. 

Both sexes can be kept  if the cages are kept separately and far apart or kept in the same cage IF the rats have all been neutered. 

5. What cage size is appropriate?

This will depend on how many rats are kept and how much surface area is created by the use of platforms and hammocks.  It also depends on how much time the rats spend out of the cage. However, bigger is always better in this case. Our XL Rat Cage (61cm x 61 cm x 38cm) is the bare minimum for two rats. Please check our cage section for alternatives options for housing more than two rats. 

6.  What litter do I use and how much?

There are a few options when it comes to selecting litter. It is possible to litter train rats and use a toilet which confines the toilet area to one part of the cage. 

Corncob may be used which if using a toilet, is poured in at about 2cm thick. The poop is cleaned out daily and the topping up of corncob is done once a week.  If a toilet is not being used, the corncob can be used to layer the base of the cage. Corncob is a natural product, highly absorbent and helps odour control.  

Another option is reclaimed paper fibre litter,  CAREFRESH which is super absorbent and odour controlled. Like with the Corncob, this product is placed in the pet toilet or cage base. This product absorbes odour for up to ten days and is 100% biodegradable.

Wood based pellets may also be used which are absorbent and biodegradable but it is important to check that the pellet is appropriate for small animals as certain woods are not safe to use on small animals. 

Wood shavings are not used for litter as some of them can be toxic, ammonia is not absorbed effectively and may affect the rat's respiratory system. 

7. What rat comforts are necessary?

Rats need some kind of bedding and there are so many fun and interesting options to choose from. At the very least a hammock is needed and preferably a cube to hide in and provide warmth. The hammock also creates a larger surface area in the cage. The cage size will determine the number of comforts allowed as well as the number of rats housed. Fleece fabrics are appropriate for winter whereas cottons are better for summer. Your rats will soon give an indication of their personal preference of comforts. Take note though, that they like to chew and will go through a few of their comforts over time. It is best to keep two sets of bedding - one for the cage and one for the wash. Please visit our comfort section to view all the different options available.

8. Do rats need toys?

Rats are intelligent and curious animals always keen to try something new. There are lots of options for rats. There are homemade toys such as puzzle, wood and paper ideas that can be sourced online, alternatively visit our toy section for other options. Wooden toys are a good idea because it encourages chewing and helps to keep the teeth trimmed. Other options are paper tunnels or paper in general as long as there isn't any toxic ink on the paper. Rats are however individualistic and what one rat finds entertaining, the next rat might not. 

9. What food do I  need to feed my rats?

Rats are opportunistic omnivores that eat a varried died. It is important to feed a food that is specifically formulated for rats where the protein level lies between 10-14%. There is however a mind shift from the present formulas. Food companies are starting to change their mixes as a result of too many fillers. It is possible to mix your own food but it is essential to keep the correct protein levels as well as the correct carbohydrate levels in the mixture. Avoid too much salt and sugar in the diet (sounds familiar ). A fantastic reference for homemade mixes is THE SCUTTLING GOURMET by Alison Campbell. 

Food and treats can be turned into games which makes for healthy foraging behaviour for example,  hiding treats in tunnels, under bedding, etc. The frozen pea fishing game is a popular one especially for those hot summer days. 

Some foods should be avoided such as carbonated beverages; mango and citrus juice; raw dry beans and raw peanuts; green potatoes and avocado (which is potentially lethal). 

10. Which rat breeders would you recommend?

- Wheatfields Rattery (Angeline) - Philadelphia, Cape Town. Email: wheatfields4@gmail.com

- Pretoria Rattery (Ronel) - Pretoria. Email: ronelrat@gmail.com

- RATANOOGA RAT FORUM FOR RESCUES: www.ratanooga.co.za

11. Which vets are best to visit with rats?

Western Cape

Blouberg Veterinary Clinic
Dr Casper Joubert
021 5576197

Citivet Bothasig
Dr Gosia Ornatowska 
021 558 0995

Panorama Vet
021 930 6632

TAH Kenridge 
Dr Stephen  Smith
021 9140887

Vet Point
Dr Rena Cotton
021 434 8831

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