People often ask me what rats eat, and my answer is usually ‘anything’. Rats are an omnivore species, and, like us, have adapted to be able to survive on a huge variety of different foods.
A rat’s sense of taste is supposedly comparable with ours, which gives you an idea about how they view food.
Most pet shops now will sell bags of commercial rat feed, but most of these are not the best option for a rat, long term.
Many of them use cheap ingredients, or else they are riddled with colourings, and some even contain foods that rats cannot, and will not, eat (a good example of this being Alfalfa, which rats cannot digest so will naturally not eat).
The best idea if you wish to provide your rats with top quality nutrition is to make your own mix.
The commercial rat diets are ok when you have nothing else available, or if you only use them as a base and make sure the bulk of the mix is home-made, but I would not feed them exclusively for any significant amount of time.
Think of them like McDonalds for rats; they like the taste, and once in a while it does no harm, but you wouldn’t want to feed it every day.
Only a small percentage of my rat’s mix is commercial rat food (science selective rat, as I often get this given to me in bulk, free of charge), I’d estimate that up to 70% of it is human grade ingredients.
To a commercial rat mix, I add:
Cereals – Use only plain cereals. Do not use sugary cereals like frosties or sugar puffs. I change the cereals I use each time I make a mix, and it often depends on what brands are on offer, but I often use bran flakes, shreddies and/or weetabix.
Oats – I buy a box of Jordan’s thick porridge oats usually, but any brand of chunky, rolled oats is fine.
Dried pasta – The whole wheat kind is the best, but normal or tricolour pasta won’t hurt them. I find my lot like the spiral shapes the best, but I have no idea why!
Rice cakes – Plain, wholegrain rice cakes can be broken into pieces and added the mix.
Extras – Recently, I’ve begun adding Nairn’s oat cakes in ‘rough oatmeal’ variety, and Swedish wholegrain Krisprolls broken into pieces. Both these are available from Tesco.
This is simply what I feed, to give you an idea. My rats seem to look glossy and healthy on it.
My lot also get a bag or two of curly kale between them once a week.
This is fabulous stuff, and incredibly good for rats, particularly babies. I’d reccomend everyone feed it to their rat at least once a week.
Rats also get a lot of benefit from fresh foods. If you have rats, you need not throw away your table scraps anymore! Rats will get a lot of enjoyment from things like potatoes, eggs, bread, vegetables, fish and chicken.
Rats also love meat bones as it gives them something to chew on. Do not worry about your rat choking on bones, as dogs or cats can, because rats grind all their food up into a powder before they swallow, so there is no risk of this.
My rats get something fresh at least 4 times a week.
In the wild, rats would not live on strictly dry, crunchy foods; they eat a huge variety of things like eggs, berries, nuts, carrion and human-left overs. Im a firm believer that whats natural is usually what’s best when it comes to rat diet, so my rats get as close to a natural diet as I can provide.
In my opinion, rats should be provided with an omnivore diet, and not have to live as vegetarians or vegans. Even if you only provide a small amount of animal protein via eggs, I believe they should have some.
Growing babies and nursing mums definitely need animal protein and should not be made to live as vegan, as this can be damaging to their health.
A properly researched vegan diet for an adult rat has the potential to maintain their health as well as an omnivorous one, but there has not been shown to be any actual benefit to such a diet that would place it as superior.
I would argue that we cannot know what damage deliberately depriving an animal of the foods it naturally eats will do. Even if there is not any physical damage, we cannot know how it affects an animal mentally to not be able to get access to the things it has evolved to eat.
We get cravings for certain foods when our bodies need them, and I believe rats do too. As they cannot tell us, I believe its our duty to provide them with the choice.
There are not many foods that are out and out dangerous to rats, but obviously there are foods which are better for them than others.
Never give rats fizzy drinks as they cannot burp so they will give them a stomach ache. Also, male rats cannot have oranges as the pith and skin contains an oil that contributes to kidney cancer. This only applies to males, however, and it is said that if you remove all pith and wash it off and just give them the flesh, it will be fine. Personally, I do not take the risk.
You may occasionally hear people claim that chocolate is toxic to rats in the same way it is to dogs. Well, yes and no. The amount of chocolate a rat would need to eat in order to become ill or at risk of death is so ridiculously huge that it is of no relevance. A small amount of a chocolate now and then will do no harm to a rat, and in fact, rats with breathing trouble can benefit from a piece of dark chocolate as it helps open the airways. Rats love chocolate, and chocolate pudding or spread can be a handy tool for hiding medications in, also.
Like us, rats tend to prefer the things which aren’t as good for them. Rats adore biscuits, chips, pizza, anything greasy or fatty, but these should only be fed in moderation. A treat now and then is fine but just as you yourself wouldn’t eat such foods every day, your rat shouldn’t either.
Baby rats have slightly different dietary requirements to older rats. They need more protein which you can give with soya milk (porridge made from soya milk is always good) a small bite dog kibble with a protein content of about 20%, cat food (high-life foil tray cat food is good) eggs, and sunflower seeds.
There is a very good book available called ‘The Scuttling Gourmet’ by Alison Campbell which goes into rat nutrition in great detail. It is a must have for all rat owners.
Rats love eating so be creative!