One of the reasons rats have taken over the world is that they are very flexible about what they eat. The good news is that makes them easy pets to feed, although just like for humans or any animal, it’s still important to make sure they have a good healthy diet.
A dry mix usually forms 60-80% of a good diet for rats. There are many different commercial mixes available (ask experienced rat owners in your area to recommend the best), but like a lot of other rat owners, I prefer to feed a homemade mix so I have control of the variety and quality of the ingredients.
Here are some of my favorite recipes for homemade rat food and treats.
Table of Contents
Homemade dry mix
You can do this very scientifically – but I don’t. Instead, I prioritize variety, which makes sure that lots of different macro and micronutrients get included. You’ll notice that the % below don’t add up to 100% – that’s because they are a guide. It’s best to tweak ingredients and amounts until you find recipes your rats thrive on.
60% straight grains
The base of my food is 4 or 5 plain grains, generally as rolled flakes. I often save time by buying a multigrain porridge mix, but I also sometimes choose my own grains from a shop that sells by weight. I choose at least 5 of:
- Rolled or whole barley
- Rolled or whole wheat
- Rolled or whole oats
- Rolled spelt
- Rolled rice
- Rolled rye
- Rolled triticale
I add equal amounts of each of my chosen grains until my 8 L tub is about 2/3rd full. The most important aspect here is the variety. A dry mix based just on wheat is not very healthy (this is one of the problems with cheaper commercial mixes). What brings the benefits is the mix of grains. An advantage of homemade food is being able to change these to suit age and health.
As my rats get older, I tend to feed a mix based more on rice and barley, with less wheat and oats, as this is easier to digest and less strain on elderly kidneys.
20% other cereals and pasta
Plain grains are the base of a rat food, but they aren’t the tastiest or easiest to digest, so I also add in some more processed grain-based foods. These include low sugar human breakfast cereals (sugar-free puffed grains, shredded wheat, basically anything with a sugar content under 5%), and dried pasta. All my rats adore dried pasta so I tend to mix up wholewheat penne with other shapes (small shells and twists), including some made from tomato or spinach.
5-10% protein based foods
This is a recommended category in homemade rat foods as it is important to make sure rats get enough protein. However, I don’t always add it as I prefer to feed my rats fresh protein. If you aren’t confident in managing your rats’ diet, then it’s certainly a good idea to include.
There are various options for adding protein to a dry mix, including:
- dried lentils and split peas (warning – don’t add dried beans as many of these can be toxic without prior soaking and cooking),
- pulse-based dry pasta,
- textured vegetable protein,
- dried insects or shrimp,
- a good quality dog kibble,
- a higher protein lab block,
- or broken up egg biscuit.
When I do add these elements to my dry mix, I try and mix up what I use so the rats get a variety of different sources.
5-10% nuts and seeds
Rats love nuts and seeds and they offer lots of nutritional benefits – but they can also be quite calorific, so I add different types to the mix in smaller amounts as a treat. I tend to add a smaller quantity of nuts and seeds when I’m also adding protein based foods. I feed larger nuts in shells as treats so in the dry mix I use things like:
- sunflower and pumpkin seeds,
- human-grade seed mixes,
- pine nuts,
- shredded coconut,
- and almond flakes.
Dried herbs and vegetables
Adding dry herbs and vegetables to the dry mix is a great way of adding extra nutrition and variety to the diet. I routinely add dry garlic flakes to the mix, and during the summer I often make my own dried mint, basil, oregano, thyme or rosemary. These all make the dry mix more fragrant and interesting. In some countries you can buy freeze-dried vegetables from the soup sections in supermarkets, or some people choose to make their own dried vegetables in a dehydrator or oven. I tend to just sprinkle in whatever I have handy.
Rats also love dried fruit. However, it is usually quite high in sugar, so really something that should only be added occasionally as a treat, rather than included as a regular part of the diet.
It’s important to remember that dry mixes, especially when they are home-made are not a complete diet for rats. Homemade dry foods need to be fed in tandem with fresh vegetables, protein, and bones, and some owners also prefer to give vitamin and mineral supplements.
Homemade treats for rats
We all love treating our rats, and our rats love the interest and variety a yummy treat brings. However, it’s important treats are healthy for our pets, and a good way to do that is to make them ourselves.
I mostly use bits and bobs of human foods as treats – a nut in a shell, half a fresh grape, a piece of cooked pasta – but sometimes I go to town and cook them something of their own. You’ll note most of these recipes are savoury – rats love sugar, but they really don’t need it, so I try and fit my treats to their other tastes. Except for the omelette, the baked rat treats can be stored in the freezer for a few months.
Microwave frozen veg omelette
This is a brilliant and really quick way to make a nutritious fresh meal for the rats with minimal effort.
- 1-2 eggs
- frozen vegetables
Simply break one or two eggs into a microwave safe bowl, add in frozen vegetables from the supermarket (I’ve used peas, corn and carrot, or a range of oriental stir fry mixes), stir it all up and cook in the microwave, stirring every minute or so until the egg is done. Let it cool off to a safe temperature and serve to the rats. It’s easy to adjust the amounts to suit the number of rats in a group and it provides protein and fresh veg in one delicious hit.
This is a flexible savoury biscuit that you can add in all sorts of fresh left-overs too – scraps from a cooked chicken, or roast joint, fish, or chopped or grated veggies.
Cook up some rice / millet / quinoa / pearl barley (whichever you have or prefer). Puree the grain in a bowl with any meat, fish or veggie scraps you want to use – use about 150 g / 5 oz of scraps to ½ cup of rice. Add in enough stock (meat, fish or veggie is fine – just chose the one that suits your biscuits) to make a smooth but not watery paste. Beat in an egg, and then mix in enough flour to form a firm dough.
Roll the mixture out, shape as you prefer, and place on a greased baking tray. Bake at 180°C / 350°F for about 20 mins, or until hard and golden.
Note: this should be fed in small quantities. Liver contains lots of important micronutrients, but too much can cause vitamin A poisoning. I use one chopped up inch square between 3-5 rats and I only feed it occasionally.
This recipe, from Alison Campbell’s Scuttling Gourmet series, isn’t for the vegan or faint-hearted – it’s icky and it smells horrible (in fact, I get mine from a friend as I hate the smell of it too much). But rats love it, and in small amounts it is a good supplement to their diet.
Puree a pork or lamb’s liver, and beat in two eggs and a crushed clove of garlic. Mix in enough wholemeal flour to give you a mix with the consistency of a sponge-cake batter. Pour the batter into a greased baking tray, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C / 350°F for about 20 mins. Once cool, cut into small pieces and freeze.
For a less smelly savoury treat biscuit, this recipe is ideal.
- pumpkin or butternut squash flesh
- nut butter
- 2 eggs
- rolled grains
- chopped vegetables
- wholemeal flour
Chop up some pumpkin or butternut squash flesh until you have about a cup full. Puree this with ¼ cup of nut butter (a sugar free peanut butter is the obvious option, but any homemade or commercial nut butter is fine – you can also experiment with olive, seed or nut-based oil) and 2 eggs. Add in ½ cup of rolled grains (oats, barley, whatever you prefer) and some chopped vegetables such as grated carrot, creamed corn, crushed peas, grated zucchini, or shredded raw greens. Once that is all mixed together, add in enough wholemeal flour to make a firm dough.
Once you have it all combined together, roll out the dough to your desired thickness (thinner will cook quicker). If you want to make shaped biscuits then cut them out now. Otherwise, put pieces of the flat dough on a greased backing sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F / 180°C until golden brown. It will be about 20 mins in most ovens. If you haven’t cut the biscuits into shapes, allow to cool and then break up into fragments.
Finally, a sweet treat. This is a great way to use up over-ripe bananas – and they are yummy for humans to share too.
- over-ripe banana
- rolled oats or rolled barley
- seeds, almond flakes, shredded coconut or dried fruit (optional)
Take an over-ripe banana (or two if you fancy making extra for the non-rodent members of the household), peel it and mash up the flesh in a bowl.
Tip in ½ a cup of rolled flaked grains like rolled oats or rolled barley (add an extra ½ cup for every extra banana used). For extra interest, you can also add in seeds, almond flakes, shredded coconut or dried fruit. Mix it all up until its thoroughly combined.
Drop blobs of the mixture onto a greased baking sheet (you can make balls, blobs or biscuits as you prefer), and cook in a preheated oven (around 350°F / 180°C) for 13-15 mins. When done they should be a nice biscuity colour and firm, not sticky in the centre.
Once cool, chop into rat sized portions and hand out.