Nutrition is the basis for maintaining good health in your rat, and a good base diet that contains essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals, along with a variety of fruits, nuts, and vegetables will do just that.
Rats are omnivorous requiring both plant and animal food sources in their diets (much like humans), and specially formulated diets help to meet those nutritional requirements.
Types of Diets Not Generally Recommended
Packaged mixed grain diets that can be purchased at your local Pet Store are generally not recommended since they often contain too high a corn or seed content, and can be nutritionally incomplete. These types of diets all too often have the rat picking out only the pieces that they prefer to eat, leaving food not eaten as well as an undernourished rat.
If you intend to use this type of base for your rat’s diet try to stick with a mix that is higher in soy than corn and that contains essential fatty acids. Do check your rat’s bowl to be sure that food is actually being consumed. Do not top off dishes if it appears that there is a small amount of food left as it may be only seed shells. Doing so may result in starvation.
Types of Diets Recommended
Lab blocks are considered to be one of the most nutritious sources of staple or base diet to feed your rat, along with veggies, fruits, some nuts, and a few choice table scraps.
A good brand of lab blocks that are specifically made for a rat’s nutritional needs are made by Envigo (Formerly Harlan) Teklad, and can be purchased in bulk at https://www.envigo.com/teklad.
Mazuri, also acceptable, although higher in protein percentage will meet a younger, healthy, rat’s nutritional needs and can be purchased in bulk at the Mazuri website: https://www.mazuri.com/.
Another good brand, whose ingredients meet a rat’s nutritional needs is Oxbow Essentials – Adult Rat Food https://www.oxbowanimalhealth.com/our-products; which is low-fat and nutritionally balanced.
There are also rat diets that you can make yourself. It is difficult to determine if a home made diet is supplying all of the nutrients (particularly vitamins and minerals). For this reason it is safer to add some lab block to the home made diet.
With these types of diets it is important to check the dishes to be sure that your rats are actually eating all of what is placed in the dish and not just picking out the foods that they like best.
Again as with any of the prepackaged mix diets, or lab blocks, when making up the diet yourself be sure to offer fresh fruits and veggies at the very least three times a week.
Snacks and Treats
Rats love treats. Supplementing the staple diet with healthy foods will be enjoyable and healthy for them.
When feeding your rat give only what can be consumed within a 24 hour period, in that way you can be sure of maintaining freshness and be aware of how much your rat eats. Rats do like to hide their stash so you might want to investigate their favorite hang outs to make sure they are eating the amount you are placing in their dishes.
Your rat likes to get treats as much as you like to give them. As much as we all want to stick with the healthiest of treats, most of us are guilty of giving them the occasional “unhealthy” snack. Moderation and common sense are the keys.
The healthiest treats are the fruit and vegetables.
*Note: On the subject of fruit, there has been some discussion regarding oranges causing cancer in male rats. It is the consuming of very large amounts of d-limonene in orange rind and commercial orange juice, over a long period of time, that they are referring to. The actual meat of the orange is not a problem and can be given to both female and male rats.
A few examples of treats that rats may enjoy in moderation are: plain popped popcorn, chicken or beef bones (cooked or boiled), chew biscuits or small dog milk bones, Nutra*Puffs, and Nylabones for chewing.
In general rats may for the most part be offered many of the foods you eat; however, there are a few exceptions. Drinks that are carbonated or foods (in excess) that could cause gas should be avoided. Rats have a flap in the stomach that prevents them from being able to vomit up contents into the esophagus. For this reason rats are also not able to burp, so giving carbonated beverages could potentially cause discomfort (besides being unhealthy) for your rat. Even though gassy foods do not necessarily cause burping, and although rats do pass flatus, those types of food could have the potential to cause your rat to feel a bit uncomfortable.
For a further listing of foods to be avoided visit http://ratfanclub.org/diet.html.
It is important to mention, here, that since rats do not vomit (lacking the coordinated musculature for reflexive action needed to vomit), although they are able to regurgitate (which is a passive action), veterinarians (for most surgical procedures) do not require that you withhold food or water prior to surgery. More importantly, providing food and water up to the time of preop prepping (just prior to anesthesia being given) helps to prevent the rat from becoming dehydrated, or suffering ketoacidosis/hypoglycemia during surgery and recovery. *Note: an exception to this may be when surgery involves the gut or abdomen, and even then withholding food or water should be of short duration.
Water, Bottles, and Dishes
Rats need fresh water available at all times. Sipper bottles will keep their water much cleaner than if having it in a bowl that can be stepped in, moved around, or dumped.
Water bottles are available in different sizes. The 16 oz. bottle is a good size if you have more than one rat. Some bottles have different ways of attaching to the outside of the cage, so it’s just a matter of checking out the brands that will fit your cage style and size.
Look for those bottles that are hard plastic or glass rather than the softer ones, as they are easier to keep clean. You might also want to invest in a guard that goes between bottle and cage so as to protect the cap end of the bottle if your rat likes to chew.
It is a good idea to check the water bottle for leaks and to change out the old water for fresh water on a daily basis. Occasionally, the small ball in the sipper portion may get stuck and not let water through, or the rubber seals do not seat well and allow the bottle to leak. Also when deciding where to place the water bottle in the cage, choose a place that is not over their food dish since water bottles do tend to drip and can lead to soggy, spoiled food.
Providing your rat with two food dishes will help to keep their dry and moist foods separate. It’s a good idea to use dishes of stoneware or crock or those that can attach to the cage so your rat doesn’t shred the dish or end up dumping the food all over the cage floor.
In summary, healthy nutrition and an adequate supply of fresh food and water on a daily basis is essential to a rat’s overall health and safety. Not providing an adequate daily nutritious diet that keeps your rat slim and trim as well as providing water on a daily basis can result in starvation (as seen in the figure example below), illnesses, or even death.
- Fig. 1: Starvation, with a link to an article on the RMCA regarding starvation and abandonment.
Links for nutritional requirements, feed, recipes, treats, and water bottle types.
For Estimated Nutrient Requirements for Maintenance, Growth, and Reproduction of Rats visit, http://books.nap.edu/books/0309051266/html/13.html#pagetop
Fig. 2a: Virginia Simpson’s Rat Diet Recipe
Fig. 2b: Lou Dux’s Rat Diet and Recipes
Fig. 2c: Melissa Pandajis’ Rat Mix
“Phoenix Gate Rattery”
Pet Rat Nutrition and Diet Guide
http://www.pxrats.com/ratfood.html — Archived page from 2019-10-21 (via the Wayback Machine)
“Susan Crandall’s Rat Diet”
“SueBee Rat Diet”