• The Rat Retreat’s mission is to champion the rights of rats across the world through education, outreach, adoption, health research, and hospice. We seek to eliminate abuse and improper breeding; to assist with educated adoptions; to reduce disease leading to early death; to educate consumers and pet stores about proper handling and maintenance; and, to provide companionship and on-going care for abandoned and sick rats.

Thinking About Getting Pet Rats?

Have you ever thought of getting a small pet such as a rat? They are intelligent and make great companions.

Jordan Walker is guilty of spoiling his pets and buys them some expensive toys whenever he can. He shares his love for animals at Coops And Cages and in blogs like this one. In here, he shares comprehensive information about pet rats to help you become a better pet owner or simply to gauge if this is the right animal companion for you.

Rats are yucky! They create holes in cabinets in the kitchen, eat your leftover food in the garbage and even manage to bite some of the delicious dessert you left at the table that you particularly set aside just in case you get some sweet cravings during the day. Well, at least that is the common story you will often hear from those who see rats as common pests. Rats as pets? Now, this may sound like a crazy idea especially for animals that are often the target of pest terminators. But rats are very intelligent and actually make great pets when given the chance. Not a cat or a dog person? Why not consider getting a pet rat instead? The information below will help you know if the two of you are a perfect match.


8 Fun Facts About Rats

Before you decide that rats are not so noble, get to know them first before jumping into a conclusion. Here are some fun facts about rats to help you get started:

  1. Intelligence is one of their greatest assets. Now, this may explain why rats can figure out how to get into your food’s hiding place. They are like geniuses who perceive their surroundings as a puzzle and are more than capable of cracking it too!
  2. They are better than acrobats. Rats have a great sense of balance. Could it be that their long tails are helping them with their equilibrium? Climbing on tables, headboards and high furniture pose no problem at all for a rat.
  3. Socialization is important. Rats are social animals and require consistent daily interaction. Are you prepared to spend time playing with your rat each day? If you don’t, they will not like to be held and may be afraid of you.
  4. They have emotions radar. When you are feeling angry, fearful, or anxious, trust your pet rat will be able to sniff this out. The bad thing about having these negative emotions when handling a rat? It may respond with the same emotion, which is why it’s not recommended to hold them while feeling such.
  5. Anti-social is not in their language. Rats are meant to be with other rats. If you get a pet rat, you need to get another one to keep them happy.
  6. They could make a great swimming buddy. If you have a pool and like to swim, you may be better off with a pet rat. They can be great swimmers and some actually genuinely like to spend some time doing it too. Be sure to closely monitor them and provide plenty of dry safe places for them to rest on. Shallow water is recommended.
  7. They love being squeaky clean. Wild rats may have gained a reputation for being dirty, given the fact that in the wild, they will pass through very dirty places. But did you know that they love to clean themselves afterwards and even give other rats a hand in doing so?
  8. It will be a short-lived relationship. You see, rats will only be able to stay with you on the average of two to three years. If you are the type to get attached to his or her pet, this may not be the best animal companion for you.

What Pet Rats Need

Now that you know a few facts about pet rats, do you think this is the best animal buddy for you? If you answered yes, then here are some things needed that will enable you to give your rats the best care.

  • Housing essentials and sleeping arrangements. Keep at least two pet rats in the same cage, ideally of the same gender to prevent breeding, unless they have already been neutered or spayed. Take note that with each pregnancy, a female rat will have 12 to 20 babies. The minimum cage size requirement for two pet rats is 2’ x 2’ x 2’. If you plan to keep more than that, then get a much larger rat cage. When choosing one for your pet, see to it that the floor is solid and not easily chewed through. Furthermore, the cage should be made more comfortable by providing your pet rat with some sort of bedding such as fleece, pellet bedding or aspen. For entertainment and shelter, provide some PVC tubes for them to play hide-and-seek in and an igloo to rest in. A hamster wheel could also help keep them entertained and will allow them to get their daily dose of exercise. A small toy here and there will keep them from being unhappy or bored.
  • Healthcare needs. Now, a pet rat may not have any qualms eating rhubarb, blue cheese, raw red cabbage and apple seeds; however, these are considered toxic for them. Experts recommend that you feed your rodent pet with rat blocks to better address their nutritional needs. To prevent them from being bored with these though, there are human foods that they can safely eat. Examples of these include blueberries, papaya, pears, broccoli, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, and yogurt. To keep them from eating spoiled food, clean their cages on a daily basis. Doing this will also keep them from making themselves and the house smell really bad. Annual veterinary check-ups should be observed to prevent future health problems. But if your pet rat shows any symptoms of sickness such as diarrhea, frequent sneezing, or excessive porphyrin discharge, visit your vet as soon as possible.
  • Socialization and training. You heard that right. Rats are very trainable. Unlike the saying about old dogs not being able to learn new tricks, even old rats can be taught a simple one. The first thing that you should do is make sure your rat is comfortable with you. You can do this by offering small treats until it is able to trust you enough to hold it in your hands. Training a rat is similar to training a dog. You will need to use the food reward system. Timing is also crucial. If the pet rat is too tired or finds the tricks boring due to excessive repetition, the training could fail.

Final Thoughts

As pets, rats are anything but yucky. They are very intelligent loving animals, similar to pet dogs that could entertain you with a trick or two. Before you get one though, consider the needs mentioned above. If you are willing to provide all of these things, then you may do just well as a pet rat parent.


Author: Jordan Walker


Jordan is the lead content curator for Coops And Cages as well as a couple of other pet related blogs. His passion for animals is only matched by his love for ‘attempting’ to play the guitar. If you would like to catch him, you can via Google+ or Twitter: @CoopsAndCages


September Newsletter

Clickable links are at the bottom of this post. Thanks for reading!
















August Newsletter

Welcome to our 1st monthly newsletter. In this newsletter there are several links listed. For your convenience, I have all links set as clickable items at the bottom of this page.


Thanks for reading!






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The Elephant in the Room

Unspoken thoughts in the world of rat rescues – by Francois Schaut

Did you ever hear the expression of “the elephant in the room”? It comes from when everyone knows of a problem, but no one wants to discuss it because it may be embarrassing or reactions to it may be highly emotional, so no one brings it up and everyone avoids the subject. But as it gets no attention, it becomes like an elephant in the room, with everyone awkwardly ignoring it.

We owe it to our supporters and donors to be on the front line of the advocacy of proper rat care and betterment of the lives of pet rats worldwide; with other words, we need to address the elephant in the room…

“I can’t afford to bring my pet to a vet.”

Medical care for rats can be very expensive. Most vets classify them as “exotic animals” and put a price tag on them equally exotic and sometimes outrageous. Having done a small survey across the UK, Ireland and some states in the US, we find that prices for medication and procedures can vary (and some, running rescues/sanctuaries may enjoy a discount), it is not cheap! While a normal check-up may set you back something between $20 and $60, over the lifetime of a rat (let’s take an average life span of 2 years), check-ups alone can cost you $80 to $220, even more if the pet lives longer!

Spaying or neutering the rat is even more costly. We heard anything between $70 to $300. Now, even if you choose not to have check-ups or have the animal neutered/spayed, rats do get sick. And the longer the sickness remains untreated, the more expensive it will be to cure. A respiratory infection will set you back $40 to $60 at best, or can easily run up to $100 or more.

So, the facts show it can expensive to have medical care for your rat, even if you can address half of their ailments with self-medicating (if you are knowledgeable enough or have access to someone who is) at one stage or another, chances are great that your beloved pet will run up a $100 vet bill or more. There are also resources like Debbie Ducommun’s booklet that are designed to help reduce the cost of vet care, such as purchasing bulk medication through online vendors. If you knew that already, you did your research. If not, consider yourself educated.

“I am poor, I cannot afford a vet, poor people are entitled to have pets too!”

We aren’t saying that people of little financial means should be without a pet, but the obligation to take responsible care of your pet is not an optional choice. If you research about the care of any pet, you should know about possible costs involved and you should have a plan on how to deal with that. Mostly we advise people to save for a reserve, a vet fund of at least $100. Does that sound like too much? If your pet gets sick, chances are you spend a lot more than that, but at least you have some reserve. Most vets will work with installment plans if need be.

We know from our own personal experiences how difficult it can be to make ends meet. If responsibility of 2 rats (as rats should not be kept alone) seems like too much, think about the care of 10 rats, 20 rats or even 30 rats or more. Think about rescuers that do this, that will skip meals and borrow and beg to ensure that rescued rats get medical attention. Often enough because of the medical attention they should have gotten in the first place and didn’t get, rescuers are picking up the tab for it and that is for the rats that are lucky enough to be surrendered/rescued. Our founding president went bankrupt at one stage, taking care of over 50 rats. During all of this, being homeless, she managed to get each and every rat everything they needed medically and a proper place to stay. She may have been bankrupt and homeless, but that didn’t stop her taking care of more than 50 rats.

“At least they have a happy life and didn’t end up as snake food.”

If the pet shop sells live rats as snake food, what do you think happens if a snake owner comes in the pet shop and you bought the last living rat? The pet shop will happily breed more rats and probably have the next litter ready when you think you “rescued” the last one, or have the next litter just a phone call away from a back yard breeder. You didn’t save a rat, you merely shifted the fate of one rat to another rat. The next in line will be snake food and a breeding female is one step closer to death, while you have taken charge of an animal that you cannot or are not willing to give the proper care it will need.

So when this “rescued” rat gets sick, will it be a happy death?; struggling to breathe for days, having panic attacks, to finally succumb to a respiratory infection out of weakness, fatigue and stress?

An untreated condition where the teeth grow into their skull until they either die of starvation or pierce their own brain with their teeth? Eaten away inside by cancer and after withering away to succumb to a pituitary tumour, die in their own filth because they cannot clean themselves? If you didn’t have the money for medical treatment, do you have the money to have the animal put to sleep if their suffering becomes too much?

Would the snake not be more merciful?

“I had a reserve, but something happened and I have no money left.”

Yes, that can happen with the best precautions made and most of us have been in that situation. Some of us have faced bankruptcy. How do you think the rescuers manage? Do not have the illusion that they are well off philanthropists with coffers of money stacked up high? A visit to any social media page of a rescue will show you their need for funds, and some way or another they pull through –or go under. Most rescues don’t last a year. The ones that do have had to work hard to stay operational, mostly with the help of volunteers giving their time and people who donate. Donors are no fools either. If they see their donations squandered, they soon stop giving. Take note that these people take care of many rats! You’d be surprised how they can help. A very important thing to remember is not to blatantly ask a rescue organization for funds. They would be quickly “out of business” if they were to be distributing money to whoever asks for it and be in dire need (if not already) themselves.

In their passion for rats they have found ways to get the care that is needed, even when money is short. Their experience and contacts can help you. If you are in a situation where you can’t give your pet the care it needs, surrendering may be an option. But, it is not the only option for you. Various “Fund Me” sites exist, some rat related social media may allow you to post there, and looking for help (ask first) or contact a vet that will work with an installment plan.

The bottom line

Any pet under your care has the right to proper treatment. When we take charge of them, we have a moral responsibility. Pet rats will give their love unconditionally to you. They live 3 years at best, a few exceptions live longer. We need to commit ourselves to that lifetime, where they look up to us to care for them. As pointed out, when money is short, there are ways to get what is needed for your pet. Yes, it takes effort, but that is the nature of having pets which comes with the territory of the care of an animal. Pet rats don’t exist “to be cool”, to follow a trend, to be with the “in-crowd”. They are living and sentient creatures that need to be cared for and loved.

Everyone is entitled to experience the joy of pet ownership, but with this entitlement comes the responsibility to give the care needed.

Chocolate and Rats

When it comes to chocolate and rats I have heard everything from: “it is highly toxic” to “it is the miracle respiratory cure”. I decided to do a literature review, looking at published studies to determine whether or not chocolate is safe for our rats and if it is safe, if it has any medical benefits.

Note that I am not a chemist or a veterinarian.:)And also note that Fiona and Craig (in these photos) only got to eat very small portions of these chocolate cookies for this photo shoot, much to their dismay.
















There are two substances of particular importance in this discussion: theobromine and theophylline. Theobromine is what is usually measured in toxicity studies and is the substance that makes chocolate so dangerous to dogs and other animals.


Is Chocolate Dangerous for Rats?

The LD50 (lethal dose) of theobromine for dogs is 300 mg/kg.

The LD50 for rats is 950 mg/kg. So as you can see, dogs are much more sensitive to chocolate than rats are.


In addition to the lethal dose, we should be concerned about toxicity. Theobromine toxicity targets the thymus and the testes in rodents. The thymus gland is very important to your rat’s immune system. In one study, thymus atrophy was observed at doses of 250-300 mg/kg in rats after being fed a theobromine diet for 4 weeks.


But how much theobromine is in chocolate? These three charts could be helpful for us to determine how much theobromine we are giving our rats.

Theobromine (milligrams)

  • Chocolate chips, 1/4 cup – 207
  • Dark chocolate, 1.5 ounce bar – 195
  • Cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon – 138
  • Milk chocolate, 1.5 ounce bar – 86
  • Chocolate-flavored syrup, 2 tablespoons – 69



Chocolate and Theobromine/Caffeine Contents

Common Household Items Serving Theobromine Caffeine
Ice Cream Rich Chocolate 1 cup ( 148g) 178mg 5.9mg
Peanut M&M’s 1 cup (170g) 184mg 17mg
Ready to Eat Chocolate Pudding 4 oz (108g) 75.6mg 2.2mg
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar 1.55 oz (43g) 64mg 9mg
Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup 2 Tbsp (39g) 64mg 5mg
Hershey’s KISSES (Milk Chocolate) 9 pieces (41g) 61mg 9mg
Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Baking Bar 1 Tbsp (15g) 55mg 7mg
Cookies, brownies, commercially prepared 1 Square (2 –3/4” sq x 7/8″) (56g) 43.7mg 1.1mg
KIT KAT Wafer Bar 1 bar (42g) 48.7mg 5.9mg
REESE’S Peanut Butter Cups (2pk) 2 cups (45g) 32.4mg 3.2mg
Doughnut, cake-type, chocolate, sugared or glazed 1 Doughnut (3′ dia) (43g) 12.6mg 0.6mg
Chocolate Chip Cookies , made with margarine 1 Cookie Med (2 1/4″ dia) (16g) 20.3mg 2.6mg
Milky Way 1 bar (58g) 37.1 mg 3.5mg
Generic Hot Fudge Sundae Topping 1 Sundae (158g) 77.4mg 1.6mg
REESE’S PIECES Candy 1 package (46g) 0mg 0mg

The amount of caffeine and theobromine will vary naturally due to growing conditions and cocoa bean sources and variety.

Foods Highest in Theobromine

Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened, processed with alkali [Dutch cocoa] 1 cup (86g) 2266 mg 67.1mg
Baking chocolate, unsweetened, squares 1 cup, grated (132g) 1712 mg 106mg
Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened 1 cup (86g) 1769 mg 198mg
Baking chocolate, unsweetened, liquid 1 oz (28g) 447 mg 13.2mg
Puddings, chocolate flavor, low calorie, regular, dry mix 1 Package (40g) 238 mg 7.2mg
Desserts, rennin, chocolate, dry mix 1 Package, 2 oz (57g) 242 mg 7.4mg
Puddings, chocolate flavor, low calorie, instant, dry mix 1 Package, 1.4oz box (40g) 189 mg 5.6mg
Syrups, chocolate, HERSHEY’S Genuine Chocolate Flavored Lite Syrup 2 tbsp (35g) 68.3 mg 2.1mg
Cocoa, dry powder, hi-fat or breakfast, processed with alkali 1 oz (28g) 685 mg 20.2mg
Candies, chocolate, dark, 70-85% cacao solids I bar (101g) 810 mg 80.8mg
Cocoa, dry powder, hi-fat or breakfast, plain 1 Tbsp (5g) 92.6 mg 10.3mg


As an example, let’s look at my rat Fiona, who weighs 375 grams. 375 grams is 0.375 kilograms. Now remember,

The lethal dose for rats is 950 mg/kg.

The toxic dose for rats is 250 mg/kg.

To find Fiona’s lethal dose: 950 mg*0.375 kg =356.25 mg. 356.25 mg of theobromine is the lethal dose for Fiona. So according to the chart above, if Fiona ate 1 oz of liquid baking chocolate, it would be lethal.

Now let’s find Fiona’s toxic dose. To find Fiona’s toxic dose: 250 mg*0.375 kg = 93.75 mg. 93.75 mg of theobromine eaten regularly could lead to changes in the thymus and toxicity in Fiona. So if Fiona ate a 1.5 ounce chocolate bar, she would be getting close to a dose that would lead to toxicity.

According to this information, small amounts of chocolate is okay for rats. I tend to follow everything on the safe side – I would say maybe a chocolate chip or two each day for your rat should be safe and not lead to toxicity.

What are signs of toxicity or chocolate “poisoning”?

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased reflex responses
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Advanced signs (cardiac failure, weakness, and coma)

(http://www.petmd.com/dog/chocolate-toxicity) *NOTE: these are symptoms specific to dogs but rats should have similar symptoms with toxicity minus vomiting.

Is Chocolate Good for Rats?

Here is where theophylline comes in. Theophylline is an isomer (chemically related) to theobromine. Both are found in chocolate – specifically in the cocoa plant. Theobromine is what leads to toxicity and “chocolate poisoning” and has more of a cough-suppressant effect. Theophylline is the substance that is found to have bronchodilator effects, which may help a rat with respiratory issues.

I could not find any studies regarding theophylline for rats. In humans, theophylline was used as a bronchodilator in the treatment of airway disease but, to achieve significant bronchodilatation, relatively high plasma concentrations are needed (10–20 mg/l). Most people were not able to tolerate a high enough dose of theophylline to get therapeutic levels of this drug due to the side effects.

Caffeine could also play a role in the claim that chocolate helps rats breathe. In one study, humans were given 5 mg/kg caffeine and their asthma symptoms improved for 2 hours after consumption. There have been some studies regarding premature rats and caffeine administration, but no studies on older rats with respiratory issues.


I have also not found much information regarding how much theophylline is in chocolate, in addition to finding out what therapeutic theophylline levels would be for a rat. In regards to humans, “the amount of theophylline in cocoa powder is much less than what’s administered for therapy, so the risks of a negative reaction from drinking hot cocoa is very small. Furthermore, many brands of hot chocolate are not very high in pure cocoa powder. Instead, they are higher in powdered dairy products and refined sugar in order to make the beverage sweeter and more appealing to children. If you are concerned about theophylline levels, buy hot chocolate powder low in pure cocoa.”


So in regards to rats, the science shows that chocolate has a much lower dose of theophylline than what would be clinically prescribed. And in humans, in order to be therapeutic, theophylline dosing tends to be higher to achieve therapeutic plasma levels.

Perhaps it is the combination of theobromine, theophylline and caffeine in chocolate that causes people to claim that chocolate helps their rats breathe easier.

Chocolate may have some benefit for the respiratory system, but the benefit may be none to small and has limited scientific research to back it up.

If your rat is suffering from chronic respiratory issues, a chocolate chip a day won’t hurt and it may help; however, you should really take your rat to the vet and if needed they can prescribe bronchodilators for your rat that will have the correct dosing and will be much more effective.