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What Can Rats Eat?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2022

Rats are great pets for those who want a furry friend but may not have enough space for a dog or cat. Domestic rats in particular can be friendly, calm, and can bond emotionally with their owners. Domesticated rats come in several varieties, including Dumbo Rats, Manx Rats, and Dwarf Rats. They also have different coat types and different tail styles. 

However, while there are many types of domesticated rat, they tend to all have one thing in common. That's what they like to eat and what's safe for them to eat.

What to Feed Your Pet Rat on a Regular Basis

Rats are omnivores, meaning they are healthiest when they eat a combination of fruits, veggies, and meats.

So, the best rat diet consists of mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, plus a small portion of rat pellets or rat cube food daily. Make sure the rat pellets have at least 16% protein content and 4-5% fat content for a balanced rat diet. A rat's favorite fruits and vegetables include:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Pears
  • Citrus fruits
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Parsely
  • Berries
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Endives
  • Melons
  • Stone fruits 

There are also some foods you can feed your rat, but only when they are cooked. In their raw form, they may be harmful. These foods are:

  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Red Cabbage
  • Sweet Potato
  • Meat & Eggs 

What to Give Your Rat as a Treat

Like all pets, rats love treats. Rats are smart and can be very food motivated so you may even be able to train your pet rat to do tricks or tasks by motivating them with a treat. Some of a rat's favorite treats include:

  • Seeds
  • Sweets
  • Bread
  • Cooked pasta
  • Cooked rice
  • Cereal
  • Grains 
  • Mealworms

These foods have lots of carbs and some have lots of sugar, so they should only be given to rats as a treat.

What Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pet Rat

Some foods can be poisonous or harmful to pet rats, and you should not give them to your rat. Some foods to avoid feeding include (please note, this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Chocolate (no nutritional value (high in sugars and fats) which can contribute to dental issues and obesity; dark chocolate, with its higher caffeine content, is especially cautioned)
  • Caffeine (can lead to cardiac malfunction, fast heartbeat, arrhythmia, and cardiac arrest)
  • Any foods with d-limonene in them, including lemon peels and mango (may cause cancer, especially in male rats)
  • Raw beans or sweet potatoes (are both high in oxalic acid, which could lead to kidney stones when fed in excessive amounts; sweet potatoes also contain tiny amounts of cyanogenic glycosides (CGs).  CGs turn to cyanide when eaten, but would need excessive amounts to be toxic; raw beans – particularly kidney beans – can be lethal if ingested, as they contain lectin-phytohemagglutinin that causes red blood cells to clump together)
  • Potatoes with green skin (contain a toxic alkaloid called solanine) 
  • Thick or sticky foods such as peanut butter or mashed potatoes (could potentially be a choking hazard)
  • Wild insects (due to parasites and pesticides they may contain)

How to Make Feeding Time Fun

Rats are smart creatures and they need stimulation to remain happy. In their natural environment, they use their intelligence to scavenge for food. Trying a few of these tricks to make their food experience more fun can make them happier and more active: 

  • Hide treats or pellets in paper cups or toilet paper tubes
  • Scatter treats around the cage instead of putting them in your rat's food bowl
  • Purchase an interactive toy that requires the rat to solve a simple puzzle to get their treat.

Keep in mind rats also love to chew on things for the health of their teeth. In addition to treats, make sure to provide them with cardboard, coconut shells, or even soft wood. Make sure to bake the wood on low heat for an hour and wash it before giving to your rat.

Obesity in Rats

Rats are one of the most common pets to be obese. They love eating anything they can get their paws on. Rats that live in cages are particularly prone to getting overweight. Obesity in rats can lead to similar health problems as in other animals and humans. However, due to their small size, the most pressing problem is the development of large fat deposits under the skin called lipomas that can grow large enough to inhibit movement.

The good news is that rats love to be active, so making them solve puzzles to get their food, putting them in multi-level cages, or letting them out to run around when and where it is safe to do so are all ways to keep your rat's weight under control. 

Also, make sure to give them "treat" types of foods only occasionally, and feed them the proper amount of other foods for their size.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

The Washington Post: "They’re intelligent and friendly. Why some people think rats are the perfect pet, for fun and comfort."

RSPCA: "What should I feed my pet rat?"

PDSA: "Your rat's diet."

The Spruce Pets: "Feeding Pet Rats."

Vet Street: "Most Common Obese Exotic Pets: No. 4 Rats."

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