Frequently Asked Questions

I've created this page to help answer the questions I am asked most! This page covers a wide variety of questions!

1. Should I get male or female rats?

2. What kind of cage should I get?

3. What should I feed my rats?

4. What kind of bedding should I use?

5. Is it true that dumbo rats are friendlier/calmer/sweeter than standard eared rats?

6. When should I get on your waiting list?

7. When and how do I choose my rats?

8. Is there anything my rat shouldn't eat?

9. Can you tell me what certain colors or varieties look like?

10. What is a dwarf rat?

11. Do you make money from selling rats?

12. Where are you located? Can I come visit?

13. I already have rats at home, are there any special precautions I should take when bringing new rats in?

14. I see that you have blazed rats - are your rats at risk for megacolon?

15. What should I look for when adopting rats from a breeder?

16. Do you ship your rats?

17. My rat is scratching a lot, and/or has scabs on its face and neck...what does this mean?

1. Should I get male or female rats?

There are advantages and disadvantages to both sexes. Males are usually much more laid back and likely to curl up on your lap and cuddle. They also can get quite large! The main drawback is that they tend to urine mark. It's not excessive, but they do dribble urine (a drop here and there) as they walk. If you are very sqeamish about your ratties peeing on you a male may not be the best idea! The other drawback is that if you have to introduce adult males to each other there can be some fighting, and they may never get along. My suggestion if you have male rats is to always bring young rats in as new companions, not other adults, and they will usually accept them without much fuss (although they should still be carefully supervised!). Once they are 3-4 months old and their hormones start to kick in there can be problems with introductions. But males that are raised together will generally be friends for life.

Two silly sisters
Females are very busy and love to play and explore. They may stop for a moment to say hello before resuming their play! If this doesn't bother you, a female may be a great choice. They are cleaner than boys, but can be prone to tumors as they get older. Females usually don't have much of a problem accepting new cagemates, but they may be a little scuffling. Again, young rats are always easiest to introduce to adults.

Also keep in mind that there are exceptions to "the rule" about sexes. There are some busy boy rats, and some calm girl rats.

Always make sure to do a proper introduction between existing and new rats, regardless of sex or age! Here is a site that will give you some ideas about how to do it!

2. What kind of cage should I get?

I have several cages that I think are great!

  • Martin's Cages. I always suggest getting powder or PVC coated cages. Galvanized cages will corrode within a few months and the cage will start to smell. PVC or powder coated cages will last for years. An R-670 would be the minimum size for two rats, but bigger is always better. My favorite cage for 2-3 rats is the R-685.

  • Superpet My First Home for Exotics. It's big enough for 4 rats, and comes with a wheel, hammock, and food dish and has solid ramps which are easier on your rats' feet. The main drawbacks are that urine tends to collect in the ridges along the shelves. Also the shelves are made of plastic, so if your rats tend to chew it's not the best choice.

  • Critter Nation. There are 2 different types of CN's - one is a single level cage and the other has two levels. A single-level CN can hold up to 6 rats, and a double CN can hold up to 12. These are great cages - the only real drawback is that the "pans" are very shallow. If your rats are not litter trained, you will want to get deeper pans which I believe can only be purchased here.

Rat Cage Calculator

Input the dimensions of the cage you own or are thinking of buying to see how many rats it can hold. Two cubic feet is the minumum for each rat.

Space per rat: 2 cubic feet
2.5 cubic feet

Cage dimensions: Inches

Original calculator code from Ratty Corner

3. What should I feed my rats?

Diet is always a controversial subject, whether it's rats, dogs, or people! The best I can do is tell you what I think is the best diet, and that it works very well for me!

Always remember that your rats' diet will affect their health and lifespan!

My rats' staple diet is a mixture of dog kibble, high quality lab blocks, and of a grain mixture that I will talk about next! There are several types of dog kibble that I can reccommend. But ideally the food will be human-grade, and hormone- and antibiotic-free. Wellness Senior, Solid Gold Holistique Blendz, and Blue Buffalo Senior are my top 3 picks, but there are other brands that are good. Look for something with 16-18% protein (usually senior or light diets). But please keep in mind that dog kibble on its own is NOT a complete diet!! It must be supplemented with either Suebee's mix OR high-quality lab blocks (or both!).
About half of my rats' diet is made up of Suebee's Mix. It's a mix of different cereals, dried pasta, fruit and nuts. It's easy to mix up and the rats really love it.

I usually give my rats a full bowl of the dog kibble and lab blocks in the morning and then if they've eaten all of it, they get a full bowl of the Suebee's mix in the evening. If they haven't eaten all of the kibble I try to give them an amount of Suebee's approximately the same as what they've eaten. The next day any leftover food is thrown out and I repeat the process!

Never make the seed mixes sold at pet stores more than a rare treat for your rats!!! The mixes are very unhealthy; it's really like junk food for rats and most contain ingredients that are known to cause cancer. If you're considering lab blocks - some are better than others. Good brands include Harlan Tekklad and Oxbow Regal Rat. Many brands sold at pet shops also contain preservatives that cause cancer.

Lab blocks can be difficult to find online. Mainley Rat Rescue sells Harlan lab blocks; there are many different types with different protein contents so be sure to read to description to ensure that you're purchasing the right food for your rats. The 8604 formula is appropriate for rats under 4 months of age and pregnant/nursing does; 2018 is good for rats under 6 months of age; 2014 is suggested for rats over 6 months of age.

You can purchase Oxbow Regal Rat at Pet Food Direct. Regal Rat is appropriate only for rats over 6 months of age. They also carry Harlan 2018 under the name Native Earth, but it can only be purchased in 40 pound bags which is too much for the average pet owner. Each rat will eat about 1-2 pounds of food per month; for a pair of rats, a 40 pound bag might last 2 years! Shelf life is only two or three months once opened, so it's not suggested to buy the 40 pound bags unless you have quite a few rats.

Since I do order my food in larger quantities, I can share the savings with adopters. I can sell Harlan 2018 for $1/lb (which is slightly more than I pay for it with shipping) to adopters. I am not making money on the Harlan; it's just something I do for adopters since I know ordering 40lb bags isn't reasonable! I just need at least a weeks' notice if you're going to be buying food, so I can make sure I have enough to go around, and enough left on hand for my own rats. I can also ship the food if needed - I would need to double check the rats, but I should be able to fit about 10 lbs in a flat rate priority box and shipping would be about $10-12. So it'd be about $20-22 for 10 lbs of food. If you need food shipped, again I ask for at least a week's notice so I have enough on hand. If not, I have to order it and it takes several days to receive it.

Fresh foods are also great in moderation. My rats get a portion of fresh food just about every day. On a regular basis, I feed fresh fruit, cooked vegetables, or cooked whole-wheat pasta with a little olive oil.

There are also some foods that rats should NOT eat. Click here to read more.

Suebee's mix

High quality senior dog kibble

Misty munching on a peanut

4. What kind of bedding should I use?

There are a number of very good beddings to use for rats, but one thing is very important: NO PINE OR CEDAR! The oils in pine and cedar will really irritate your rats' lungs. They also effect the liver. It even affects people, and there was a study done that found that even people exposed to pine dust long-term had an increased risk of cancer! So - no pine or cedar for your ratties!

So, what CAN you use? Aspen shavings are fine, and because aspen is a hardwood it doesn't have the oils as pine and cedar (which are softwood trees). It controls odor well and is relatively inexpensive.
I hesitate to suggest Carefresh and Carefresh Ultra. I have experienced some rats who have had allergies to these products. When put on Carefresh, the rats get very sneezy and congested, and the sneezing will stop once they're taken off that bedding. Unfortunately any time a rat gets sneezy, there is damage to the respiratory system for life, so I think it's best not to risk trying Carefresh. Odor control with Carefresh is also poor, I did use it for a while, and my cages would start to smell a day after cleaning them.

My personal favorite bedding is Yesterday's News, or other types of recycled paper pellet bedding. They control odor very well, aren't dusty at all, and are generally less expensive than other types of bedding. There's also less mess, because the bedding is heavier, it doesn't get thrown out of the cage as easily. There are several different types of Yesterday's News - I buy the "original" cat bedding. They make scented versions which are not suggested for rats. They also make rabbit and small animal bedding, but these are nearly identical to the cat bedding, and are twice as expensive per pound. There's no reason to spend the extra money on the exact same product, so go for the cat "YN," which can be found at Petsmart, Petco, and many other pet shops.

I also suggest freezing your bedding for 2-3 days before using it. Unfortunately, it's fairly common for rats to pick up mites or lice from the bedding you've purchased at the pet store. Either the pet store rats have the mites/lice, or it could be wild rats in the warehouse. The best way to prevent the lice is to buy the bedding and freeze it, which will kill the bugs. It will not kill eggs though - so there's still a small chance your rats will pick up bugs. If you don't have the freezer space, I would suggest buying the bedding about a month in advance. The life cycle of mites and lice is less than one month - so if you buy the bedding and store it away from your rats, they will be dead by the time you use it a month later.

If you notice your rats are scracthing a lot, or that they have scabs on their neck or chin, it means they have picked up mites or lice. Neither is communicable to humans or animals other than rats, so don't panic! But you can read more about the treatment of these bugs

It is also possible to litter train your rats! Here is an article about how to do that! They may never use the litterbox 100% of the time, but it may help to make cleanup easier for you! I do use litter boxes for my rats - I highly recommend Scatterless Litter Pans. My rats would throw their bedding out of the litterbox so these pans are a great invention! The small size is just right for most rat cages; the large generally will only fit into very big cages.

5. Is it true that dumbo rats are friendlier/calmer/sweeter than standard eared rats?

This is a bit of a loaded question! The majority of dumbo rats come from breeders who have bred selectively for good temperament. Even the ones from pet stores are probably not more than a few generations removed from a breeder. The average standard eared rat you'd find at a pet shop may have had no human contact throughout its life, and may not have been bred with any consideration for temperament for years, so the odds of finding a skittish standard eared rat from a pet store are unfortunately high.

However, my rats of both ear types are very carefully bred. I will not breed a skittish or aggressive rat, regardless of how cute it is! So I really feel that there is no difference between the personalities of my standard eared and dumbo rats. I often have litters with both dumbo and standard eared rats, and since they all come from the same parents the personalities will depend not on the earset, but on the individual rat. Sometimes a dumbo will be calmer as an adult, but just as often it'll be the standard eared rat.

One of my super sweet standard eared boys

6. When should I get on your waiting list?

As soon as you decide you'd like to adopt, especially if you are looking for a certain color or variety. Availability will depend on the current waiting list and when the next litters are planned. For those who are looking for a very uncommon or rare variety, the wait may be as much as year, but when you e-mail me I can give you a general idea. Normally the wait will be at least 2-3 months if you do not have any color/variety preferences. But remember that with animals it is impossible to speak in absolutes. Sometimes a breeding will not take, or sometimes the litter will not survive. It's possible to get a litter of all boys, or all girls, or to get none (or all!) of a certain color or variety, like rex or dumbo. So please understand that it's very hard to give a definite answer about when I will have a rat for you before litters are born, there are too many variables with living creatures to say! But I will give you a few possibilities when I first put you on the list, and will let you know as soon as I think I have something for you. And if you would like an update in between just let me know! I do also update the website as soon as I have news about a particular litter so the easiest way to stay updated is to keep an eye on the Planned and Current litters pages.

If you've been placed on my waiting list and decide not to adopt or to get your rats elsewhere please drop me a line to let me know so I can remove you from the list. I do not have a problem with this and it makes life much easier for me - otherwise it will hold things up when I'm waiting for a reply about your choices and never hear back. Read my Adoption Policies page for my current policies and prices.

7. When and how do I choose my rats?

When the rats are about 7-10 days old, I create a page for the litter and each baby gets a photo, a name, and a description. I update the photos about once a week, and when the rats are about 3 weeks old I send the link to the page to the first couple of people on my waiting list. Once they choose their rats, those rats are marked as "RESERVED" and I move onto the next person, who choses from the rats that are left. If I have someone that I know will want a certain rat, I may mark that rat as reserved earlier than the others.

Sometimes the timing may work out differently, so if you will be unavailable any time when the rats are 3-5 weeks old please let me know so we can work something out. If I don't hear back about your choice within 48 hours I may have to move on to the next person, so to ensure your choices PLEASE try to get back to me as soon as possible - otherwise I may have to skip over you.

I will never breed a litter if I do not intend to keep one or more rats. There may occasionally be a litter where I don't keep a rat, but that would only be if I was doing the breeding for a very specific reason and didn't get what it was that I was aiming to get. I have only had this happen once so far.

8. Is there anything my rat shouldn't eat?

YES! Many people think that because they are rats they can eat anything, but that is not the case! Foods your rat should NEVER eat:

Blue cheese, licorice, raw dry beans or peanuts, raw sweet potato, raw brussel sprouds or red cabbage, raw artichokes, green bananas, green potato skins and eyes, wild insects, rhubarb, raw bulk tofu, orange juice (only bad for MALE rats though!), and raw onion.

Contrary to what many people think, chocolate is NOT toxic to rats, and can actually be beneficial. Semi-sweet chocolate can help to stimulate a sick rat, and will help clear up respiratory problems. A good treat for your rats would be one semi-sweet chocolate chip every day or so. Be sure to feed chocolate in moderation because it does have a lot of fat and sugar!

9. Can you tell me what certain colors or varieties look like?

The easiest way to do this would be to point you to a few websites to learn more about this! A great reference for colors, markings, coat, and body types is Hawthorne Rat Varieties. Basically, a rat's color will be agouti or non-agouti based. Colors such as cinnamon, fawn, and blue agouti (along with many others) are agouti based. You can view many of these colors here. Some common non-agouti colors are blue, russian blue, mink, and beige, but there are many! You can see many of them here. There are also colors such as albino, himalayan, siamese, burmese, and pearl, which you can see here. And you can view some common markings here.

But you do have to keep in mind that there can be a big difference in two rats that are called the same color. For example, blue can range from very light "sky blue" to a very dark "slate blue." If a rat is carrying other colors it will often make the rat much lighter. And sometimes a rat will pop up that doesn't exactly fit any named color. When that happens, there are a few things I will do. Sometimes it's best just to call the rat the color it most closely resembles. For example, Charlie, one of my rats, is close to a "dove" rat although genetically that is almost certainly not what he is. But it's close enough that I feel comfortable with calling him that. Another option is to call the rat a dilute....mink dilute, russian blue dilute, etc. And sometimes it's just easiest to call the rat what it genetically is, for example a russian blue PED would be a russian blue rat that's been diluted by the pink-eyed gene.

I have also created a page displaying some of the varieties I've produced so you can get an idea what your baby may look like. You can view that page here.

10. What is a dwarf rat?

A dwarf rat is NOT just a small rat! It is a genetic mutation that causes them to have reduced growth hormone. This causes them to grow more slowly than standard sized babies, and they stop growing around the time they are 6-7 weeks old. According to scientific research, they are more resistant to certain types of cancer and also kidney disease due to their reduced growth hormone. There are some unknowns with dwarf rats - in other species, dwarves have some health problems such as impaired organ function and issues with pain. In rats, these issues have not been documented, but it doesn't mean they don't exist. Dwarf rats have become rather trendy for breeders to have, but I have decided not to work with them here. I had several and just wasn't crazy about their temperaments, and although the ones I had did not have any major health issues, I just am not crazy about the variety.

Physically, dwarf rats do look different than standard sized rats. Their feet are smaller, legs are shorter, and their tails are very thin. Their eyes are out of proportion to the size of their heads. They are much smaller than standard sized rats - 1/3 the size or smaller.

Adult dwarf male (92g) vs. Young adult standard sized male (500g)

Close up of dwarf rat

One thing to keep in mind - if you already have adult rats at home I would be very careful about bringing dwarf rats home to live with them.. I've been told that sometimes, adult rats will not recognize the dwarves as other rats and could easily kill them. The safest way would be to introduce the dwarf rats to young rats (4 months old or younger), or to adopt your dwarf rat(s) with other rats/babies from me so I can provide you with a compatible pair.

11. Do you make money from selling rats?

No! I actually lose quite a bit of money, but I do not have a problem with that. These rats are my hobby, and I am willing to lose money to continue breeding them. The costs of food, bedding, toys, cages, and vet care for my rats costs much more than I bring in from adoption fees.
I also do not consider it "selling." To me, that implies that you make money and/or that you will sell to anyone. I evaluate every person who adopts a rat to ensure they will provide a great home. I consider it an adoption, since you are adding members to your family!

12. Where are you located? Can I come visit?

My rattery is currently closed - I made this decision towards the end of 2009, but I had been considering it for a long time. If a visitor was to introduce a virus to my colony, they could be wiped out. I just can't take that chance, so have closed the rattery to visitors. I have several meeting spots locally that I can meet adopters at, depending on which direction they are coming from. I am located in Hope NJ and the meeting spots are near my home in Hope, Allamuchy, or Fredon.

13. I already have rats at home, are there any special precautions I should take when bringing new rats home?

When bringing your rats home to other rats PLEASE remember to quarantine for at least two weeks - three weeks is better. If possible this would be in a completely different location than your other rats, but at the very least be sure to do it in different rooms. Handle your original rats first, and then the new ones...then be sure to wash hands and allow a few hours before going back to your old rats.

To avoid bringing any diseases or parasites home to your rats, there are several precautions you can take. Avoid going to pet stores that sell rats - mites and lice are very common, but also very dangerous viruses like SDA have been popping up lately. If you do have to go to a pet store that handles rats do NOT go near your rats for at least 3 hours. Always be sure to quarantine when bringing in new rats; many people think it's not necessary and that it won't happen to them - and then it does, and their rats get sick - it's heartbreaking but happens all the time! And if you have friends who are rat owners, ask them to wash their hands and blow their noses (some viruses can survive in your mucus!) before handling your rats.

Here are a couple of great articles about quarantine!

14. I see that you have blazed rats - are your rats at risk for megacolon?

To answer this question I usually refer people to a Spoiled Ratten Rattery article that goes into great detail about this subject. Contrary to what some people think, not all rats with blazes are at risk for MC. My rats come from dalmatian/variegated lines - their blazes are recessive, so my rats are not at risk for MC and technically are NOT "high-white" rats. True high-whites are only rats with dominant (and risky) blazes.

I would never advise breeding rats with blazes whose backgrounds are unknown, or with a pedigree that contains markings such as collared, banded, or odd-eyed. Over the years many breeders have tried to "breed out" the MC and failed. Every once in a while a breeder will pop up who is convinced they can do it, but the MC is believed to be linked to the markings and it doesn't seem possible to get one without the other. There are a few breeders (like myself) working with "safe" blazes - since they are recessive they are more difficult to reproduce, but it's well worth it since there are no problems associated with them!

15. What should I look for when adopting rats from a breeder?

I am always happy to help people find the "right" breeder, even if it's not me! I might be too far away or maybe I don't have what you're looking for. Whatever the reason, I want to support reputable breeders and am happy to assist with finding the right breeder for you! Forgive me if I ramble a bit but there's a lot of information and it's not easy to organize!

Hopefully the breeder you're looking at has a website with some information on it. At the bare minimum, there should be information about what cages they use, what they feed and what bedding they use. Ideally there will be pedigrees available. Many ratteries are NARR registered - but don't be fooled into thinking that this means their rats are guaranteed to be well-bred. NARR is a great tool, BUT any rat can be registered, even feeder or pet store rats. If there are no pedigrees online, e-mail the breeder to ask if he/she can send them to you. There should be a pedigree of at least three generations for a breeder's rats. An experienced breeder will sometimes work an unpedigreed rat into their breeding program if it's exceptional or is a new color or variety, but a litter's whole pedigree should not be completely empty. Good breeders go to great lengths to ensure their rats are from the best possible lines. There are also some breeders who admit they are breeding pet store or feeder rats - I would avoid these breeders because you never know what sort of health problems might be lurking in these rats. The whole point of getting rats from a breeder is to ensure your rat has the best possible health and temperament. If you are willing to adopt rats without a pedigree, I would advise supporting a rescue and not a "backyard breeder" who breeds pet shop rats. You'll be saving a life, and hopefully will be discouraging that breeder from producing more rats.

The rat breeding world is a small one and it may be a good idea to post on one of the popular rat forums or rat lists (see my links page) with the name of the breeder - often you can get a good idea of their reputation very easily!

Rat genetics are very complicated, and a breeder should know their genetics before starting to breed. All too often a rat breeder will not take the time to do this! For example they may think that putting a blue rat and a russian blue rat together will make blue babies, and will be surprised when they get a litter of blacks! But those two colors are not "made" by the same gene. I recently saw a website where rats were listed as carrying several impossible things - for example, rex, which cannot be carried because it's dominant! A good breeder will know his or her stuff! Of course, sometimes things may pop up that are unexpected - but this is just because rats were carrying genes (without expressing them) for many generations and it doesn't mean the breeder doesn't know their genetics.

A breeder should take the time to answer your questions, but try to do basic research first if you're new to rats. There is a lot of information available online about basic care and housing.

If you get to visit the rattery, look for cages that are clean and not crowded. There may be a little bit of a smell, but it should not be overpowering. It's great if the rats have hammocks, toys, and igloos. Girls and young rats should have wheels, but adult males may not use a wheel. Litter pans are a plus! If your rats are started on their litter training that is a great will make it easier for you if you intend to litter train your rats.
Look at each of the rats - they should all look clean, bright-eyed, and healthy. If there is an unhealthy looking rat, ask what the problem is. Perhaps the rat is old or injured, but you want to make sure it's nothing your rats can catch!

Ask to meet the relatives of your rats, particularly their mother(s). Baby rats get much of their personality from their mother! Adult rats should be friendly and sweet.

If there is anything you're not comfortable with, ask the breeder about it! If you're not satisfied with the answer or are just uncomfortable in general you can always walk away, although if the breeder has been holding the rats for you it's only fair to give an explanation.

Many reputable ratteries are closed to visitors. Do not think it's because they have something to hide; it is just for the safety of their rats. If a rattery is closed, they will generally have pictures of their setup on their website so you can get an idea of their environment.

A breeder should be able to show you your rats' relatives. Shown here are four generations of my breeding! From left to right: Dewdrop (fourth generation), Pearl (first generation), Pheonix (second generation), and Bella (third generation)

Another photo of 4 generations of my breeding. From left to right: PH Buttercup - russian cinnamon dumbo rex (2nd generation), PH Hoover - agouti dumbo rex (1st generation), PH Be Mine - Mink Dumbo (4th Generation), PH Iris - russian blue dumbo rex (3rd generation), PH Sweet Talk, cinnamon dumbo rex (4th generation).

16. Do you ship your rats?

I've put together a separate cage for shipping rats; you can view that page here. The short answer is that I will ship to other established breeders under the right circumstances. For the pet adopter, shipping is really not an option due to the expense.

I am NOT able to ship rats via FexEx, USPS, UPS, etc. It's just not safe for the rats, and anyone who would be willing to ship rats this way is someone I would avoid!

17. My rat is scratching a lot, and/or has scabs on its face and neck...what does this mean?

Most likely, excessive scratching or scabs on the face and/or neck generally means your rat has an infestation of mites or lice. But don't freak out - they are simple to treat and will NOT infest you or your other pets. Both are species specific. Both are common, and is most often brought home to your rats in their bedding when you buy it at the pet store.

Your best bet is to bring your rats to the vet and ask for Revolution. There are other treatments, but revolution is the most effective since it stays in the skin for a month. It MUST be the cat or kitten Revolution. The dog Revolution is much more concentrated and could kill your rats easily. The cat and kitten doseage is the same, there is just more in the tube of the cat version. It you're treating 15+ rats, go with the cat, but for just a few rats the kitten Revolution is more then enough.

The other common treatment for mites/lice is ivermectin - either orally or injected. Oral ivermectin can be purchased without a prescription, but I prefer the Revolution treatment because it only needs to be done once - it stays on the rats' skin for a full month which is longer than the life cycle of mites or lice. Ivermectin needs to be used once a week for 3 weeks, since it only kills the bugs that are on the rats at the time of treatment, it may not kill them all. Cages and the surrounding areas need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove any of the bugs that may be in the area. If you don't clean well, the bugs that are on the cage or in the bedding may crawl right back onto the rats after the Ivermectin treatment and reinfest them.

Here is some information about the treatment of mites and lice...Skin Problems by Debbie “The Rat Lady” Ducommun