Rats are omnivores, meaning that they will eat anything and everything. Remember Templeton, the rat from Charlotte’s Web? Yeah, rats will literally eat anything.
They could give goats a run for their money. But domestic rats don’t have to resort to the same scavenging behaviors as their wild cousins. Instead, pampered domestic rats can eat just as well as their humans.
What Should You Feed Your Pet Rat?
A balanced diet of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
Rats can eat a variety of plant and animal products. Ideally, they should have a balanced diet of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables combined with commercially available low-fat rat pellets or rat cubes. These prepared rat foods are seen as essential because they are packed with nutrients your rat needs and can’t produce on their own.
There is controversy about these commercial foods, however. While veterinary professionals will argue that no homemade rat food recipe can provide the same nutrients a commercial product does, rat owners around the world have been regulating their furry friends’ diets this way and report excellent results.
Rats are true foodies.
Additionally, rats are true foodies. Like humans, rats fully immerse themselves in eating. They enjoy eating well, and a rat fed a variety of foods will not only be happier, but they will also be healthier.
Commercial rat blocks and pellets are supposed to be all the food and nutrients your rat needs, but many contain excess fat and sugar, fruit and vegetable derivatives, and meat derivatives. These derivatives are byproducts of the human food production system and are unfit for human consumption. They’re difficult for your rat to digest.
You must limit their fat intake to 4-5%.
Whether you feed your pet commercial or homemade rat food, you must limit their fat intake to 4-5%. Seeds and nuts are too high in fat to be given regularly, but you can offer them sporadically as a treat. Too much fat can cause tumors as your rat ages.
A good rat food mix of fruits and veggies features apples, pears, banana, melons, peaches, broccoli, green cabbage, carrots, celery, parsley, berries, and peas. Make sure to rinse all fruits and vegetables well, because unwashed produce can harbor pesticides that can harm your rat.
Young rats should have their food, whether commercial or homemade, with high protein foods like black beans, bugs like crickets and mealworms, and kale. As soon as they are six months old, though, it’s time to put them on a lower protein diet.
Foods That Are Unsafe For Rats
Never feed your rat grapes, raisins, rhubarb, walnuts, onion, raw potato, lettuce, or citrus fruits; these can be toxic. Once your rats are older than six months, reduce the amount of protein to 12-20%. Eating too much protein can cause itching and lead to scabs for your rat companion.
Why Make Your Own Rat Food?
With so many commercial rat foods available, why would anyone want to make DIY rat food? Lots of reasons, actually. As discussed above, commercial rat food is billed as total nutrition but may deprive your rat of a healthy meal.
Making your own food allows you to monitor your rat’s diet, but most importantly, a homemade diet provides your rat with essential enrichment they need to thrive.
Enrichment is essential for all captive animals to exercise their innate wild behaviors. Keepers at zoos provide enrichment in the forms of toys, food, treats, and games, and you need to provide the same for your rat.
Rats are scavengers. They are used to digging, climbing, and foraging to get food. Enhance their dining experience by covering their food, allowing them to take food from bowls and eat it when and where they want. Don’t scold them for handling their food.
All of these behaviors are hard-wired. Rats aren’t cats or dogs, and you wouldn’t expect them to behave like them, either.
You can use treats for enrichment, too. Bury them for your rat to find, or play with your rat and reward behavior with a little nibble of fruit or cereal. Provide frozen fruit or veg for them to gnaw on, or a vegan dog biscuit for a special treat.
Homemade Food: How Much, How Often
You should feed your rat between 12 and 20 grams (approximately 1.5 tablespoons) of a dry mix once a day, preferably in the evening. To make a dry mix, assemble a combination of processed and unprocessed grains, protein, vegetables and herbs, and a seed blend for healthy fats and oils. Combine it in a plastic tub. Use scatter feeding to feed your rat – this will promote natural foraging behavior.
Dry Mix Ingredients
- 5 cups base mix: minimally processed grain or a commercial grain blend
- 2.5 cups processed grains: low-sugar cereal, pasta, egg noodles, rice flakes, rice crackers, etc. If you have older rats, make sure these are low in wheat, because wheat is hard for them to digest as they age
- 1 cup of protein: you can add protein with dried water creatures, dried insects, or beans. Believe it or not, fish-flavored dog kibble is easy to use in rat DIY food mixes because you don’t have to worry about its ingredients
- 1 cup herbs and vegetables: you can buy already dried vegetables and herbs or dry your own in the oven. Feel free to vary this from week to week, as long as it’s rat-friendly
- .5 cup of seeds: previously, we discussed that too many seeds are high in fat, but rats do need some healthy fat. Seeds are a good source of these healthy fats and oils. Seed mixes for humans or birds are generally fine. However, avoid sunflower seeds, as these are very high in fat. Hemp, linseed, and pumpkin seeds are great options for rats.
Supplemental foods are fruits, different vegetables than the ones in the dry mix, and even bits of cooked human food. Servings should be relatively small. After all, rats are tiny. A 2-inch piece of carrot, a 1-inch piece of banana, or a small berry will be plenty.
Rats will love to share tiny bits of your food, too. Just make sure to avoid fat and bones, spicy foods, or things like cheese and peanut butter that can be choking hazards.
Commercial rat food is convenient and highly recommended by veterinarians. However, commercial rat food also has its problems. Low-quality derivatives are hard to digest and provide inadequate nutrition. But you can counteract this by making your own rat food.
A blend of low sugar grains serves as a base for small portions of protein, vegetables, and healthy fats and oils. This mix, along with supplemental fruits and vegetables, will help your rats be physically healthy.
To keep your rats emotionally healthy, use scatter feeding, hiding food, and hand-feeding to promote normal rat behavior like digging and foraging. Frozen fruits and vegetables will encourage gnawing. This enrichment is essential for your rat to feel like a rat.
Rats are cute, funny, smart, and crafty. They love food and enjoy eating. However, they get easily bored. A uniform diet of one kind of cube or pellet may be nutrient-efficient, but a species that lives to eat will not be happy. Instead, feeding a diverse dry mix accompanied by a wide range of treats will keep your rat thriving until old age.