What to Expect When Adopting a Rat

What an exciting time! Adopting a new friend can be a big responsibility and we want to help ensure each animal is set up for success in their new home. We encourage you to keep the following tips in mind when you bring home your new rat.

Veterinary Visits After Adoption

A check-in with your family veterinarian within the first week after adoption is critical to ensure continuity of care for your new friend, and to create a preventative health care plan tailored to their specific needs and to your lifestyle. The goal is to prevent future disease and illness, which will ideally also help reduce future costs of care.

Preventative care includes important measures such as a physical exam, oral health care, dietary recommendations, behavioural support and parasite prevention. Any known medical or behavioural concerns will be disclosed prior to adoption, but there can be no guarantees of health. Therefore, this veterinary check will also be important to address any ongoing needs or pre-existing concerns to ensure that your new family member has the specific support required to thrive. A copy of your new rat friend’s medical history can be shared with your veterinarian.

Medical Considerations
  • Regular veterinary visits are recommended to prevent illness and to keep your new rat as comfortable as possible. Because many veterinarians do not treat rats, it is highly recommended to find a suitable veterinarian before care is needed.
  • The Ontario SPCA does not spay or neuter rats due to the relatively high risk of mortality during surgery. Surgery can successfully be performed, but it is best done through a veterinarian that has rat surgical experience.
  • As a rodent, your rat’s teeth will grow continuously throughout their life. To help wear down their ever-growing front teeth, provide your rats with chewing items such as cardboard and wooden toys. There may be cases where the teeth need to be filed down periodically by a veterinarian.
  • Rats can be susceptible to respiratory problems. Proper husbandry with adequate temperature, humidity, and ventilation are key to keeping your rat healthy.
  • Your rat’s nails will need to be trimmed regularly.

When selecting a cage for a rat, bigger is always best. Multi-level cages are preferred as they allow your rat to express natural behaviors, such as climbing, stretching, digging and exploring.

  • The best location for the cage is inside, away from drafts, direct sunlight, and extreme temperatures, and off the floor to decrease stress.
  • Your rat’s enclosure should have a solid bottom floor. The cage should be lined with bedding, but do not use cedar or pine chips as they contain oils dangerous to rats. Rats also need bedding in their cage. A variety of commercial rodent bedding options are available, which rats will use to make resting nests, burrow within, snuggle, and re-arrange throughout their cage.
  • Rats need somewhere to hide where they can relax without being seen. And since rats are naturally nocturnal, they benefit from a darker area to sleep or nap during the day. Suitable hiding areas can be a cardboard box, a PVC tube, wooden houses, etc.
  • Your rat friend needs time outside of his or her cage daily, but be sure to rat- proof the area and supervise to keep your rat safe.
  • Your rat friend is highly social and typically will enjoy human interaction outside of their cage. Because they are social, another rat companion would be beneficial. Female rats tend to get along better than males, unless the males were raised together or introduced early in life. Male rats that don’t know each other are likely to fight when introduced, so either female-female, or neutered male-female pairings are best.

For more information on housing, click here.


Rats are omnivores, which means they eat both plant and animal matter. Quality commercial pet rat pellets should make up the vast majority of their diet. Seed and grain mixtures should be avoided, as they allow rats to pick and choose what they like to eat, potentially leading to obesity and nutrient deficiencies.

Rats are prone to obesity and tend to hide their food in their cage. As such, it is best to have pellets constantly available. Although your rat friend enjoys fresh vegetables and fruit, they should only be given occasionally as a healthy treat

Rats must have access to water 24/7. This can be done by using a sipper bottle attached to the side of their cage, or a ceramic water bowl. Both should be used until you know what your rat’s preference is.

Coprophagy, or the eating of feces, is not cause for alarm. This is normal for most rodents and serves to help preserve valuable nutrients, as some are better digested during the second pass through the gut.

As much as 10% of a rat’s fecal output may be re-ingested. While this may seem like abnormal behaviour, or a sign of a medical issue, it is quite normal and common.


Your rat enjoys activities that allow them to express their natural behaviours, such as hiding, climbing, constructing and chewing. Enrichment is very important to help keep your rat happy and healthy. For enrichment ideas click here.



We are here to support you! For any pre-adoption questions or concerns, contact our adoption staff at your local SPCA here.