One of the reasons why rats have taken over the world is that they are flexible about what they eat. The good news is that this makes them easy pets to feed, although just like humans, it’s still important that they eat a good healthy diet.
Like many rat owners, I prefer to feed my rats a homemade diet, so I have full control over the type and quality of the ingredients and can adjust the diet to different health issues and life stages.
However, feeding a homemade diet doesn’t mean giving the rats just any food we happen to have at home. It is vital that the diet is carefully thought out and nutritionally balanced to ensure all the rats’ needs are met.
A good homemade rat diet consists of two components:
- a grain based dry mix, which forms 50-80% of their food;
- and daily fresh food which provides a range of different vegetables, fruit, and fresh protein to ensure that the diet contains all the necessary micronutrients.
Many people also supplement the diet with vitamins – it is best to ask local breeders and experienced owners for the appropriate brands in your country.
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Supporting Rat Health With a Homemade Diet
One of the big advantages of a homemade diet is that it can be adjusted at different life stages to support health; whether that is growth in early life, weight control in middle age, or support for aging systems in elderly rats.
I have recently changed up my rats’ dry mix to better apply the principles of a kidney friendly diet. Kidney disease is very common in older rats, especially boys, and it is thought that most elderly bucks have some degree of kidney impairment.
Traditionally, people have only worried about kidney friendly diets once a problem is diagnosed. However, I am now following Alison Campbell of Scuttling Gourmet fame in feeding a life-long diet intended to prevent kidney problems.
The main principles of this are to use grains low in phosphorus (such as barley and rice, and avoiding wheat) as the base of the diet, and to adjust protein levels and type to life stage. This is something hard to accommodate with many commercial mixes.
Homemade Dry Mix Recipe
Dry mix forms about 50-80% of a homemade diet so it is worth putting the effort in to get it right. If you aren’t experienced in making your own food, I highly recommend the Scuttling Gourmet ebook on making up a dry mix.
It is possible to check the dry mix very scientifically by weighing ingredients and calculating nutrient % in a spreadsheet – this is often a good idea if you are not familiar with making rat food. But I’m going to admit that I don’t bother! Instead, I prioritize variety, which makes sure that lots of different macro and micronutrients get included, and I change up some ingredients and their amounts each week depending on availability.
The important thing is to get the proportions of different food types roughly right. The % ranges below are guides to accommodate different locally available ingredients and owner and rat preferences.
The scoops are the volumes from my current recipe – for me a scoop is a large yogurt pot or jam jar as I am making up 8 – 16 L of mix at once (I have a lot of rats!). However, if you want to make less, just use a smaller scoop.
Straight grains (30-40%)
- 2 scoops of rolled barley
- 2 scoops rolled rice flakes
- 1.5 scoop multi-grain porridge. You can usually buy this in grocery stores or make your own by mixing rolled spelt, oats, rye, etc.
- 1 scoop broken up millet spray
- 0.5 scoop wild rice (or other rice if necessary, but aim for the less processed ones)
- 0.5 scoop pearl or pot barley
Commercial rat nuggets (included as they are fortified with vitamins) (10 – 20%)
- 2 scoops Science Selective rat nuggets
- 2 scoops Origins Rat pellets (or alternative if not available in your country)
Semi-processed grains (20-30%)
- 1 scoop rice bran (usually sweetened with prune or apple juice) – if you can’t get rice bran you can use wheat bran in younger rats, or just leave it out for 18 months +
- 3 scoops of different puffed grains. Possible ingredients are puffed rice, puffed corn, puffed millet, puffed spelt, puffed buckwheat, puffed quinoa. Broken up rice cakes and corn cakes can also be used in place of the puffs.
- 1 scoop low (<10%) sugar cereal (for improved kidney-friendliness we look for cereals based on grains other than wheat)
- 1.5 scoop broken egg noodles and pasta (I tend to use a mix of noodles, normal pasta, pulse pasta, and gluten free pasta)
Ingredients to provide protein (10-15%)
- 2 scoops dried protein mix – I make this myself from broken up mixed dried sardines or whitebait (these are sold as dog treats – make sure the brand is preservative free), and freeze-dried shrimp, crickets, and black fly larvae.
- 1 scoop flaked soya or soy based textured vegetable protein
Ingredients to provide healthy fats (5-10%)
- Half a scoop of shredded or flaked coconut
- 2 scoops of mixed seeds and nuts (I use a mixture of parrot and pigeon food, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, almond flakes, crushed nuts and pine nuts)
Vegetables / fruit / fungi (5-10%)
- One bag of dehydrated peas (I use dehydrated peas, not split peas, as my rats never eat the latter). Other dehydrated veggies can be used if preferred.
- 3-6 ripped up sheets of seaweed (I use the plain or olive oil ones)
- A sprinkling of garlic flakes, plus any broken up dried fresh herbs like mint, basil etc.
- A few leaves of oven-dried or dehydrated kale, shredded.
- 1 handful of dried blueberries or goji berries (other dried fruit can be used but avoid mango and citrus. It is also important to restrict this to one handful as dried fruit is high in sugar)
- 1 scoop broken mushroom biscuit (if I remember to make it)
Overall the grain-based ingredients (straight grains, rat nuggets, and semi-processed grains should form 60-80% of the mix. The protein component should be 10-15%, and seeds / nuts, and dried veggies form about 5-10% each.
As mentioned above, a home-made dry mix is not a complete diet. For that, we also need fresh food.
Fresh Food for Rats
Fresh, or wet, food, such as vegetables, fruit, egg, and meat / bones should form 20-50% of the rats’ diet. If your rats aren’t used to regular fresh veggies it is best to start with a lower volume and introduce them slowly.
As with the dry mix, the key to feeding fresh food successfully is to provide a good variety across the week. It’s also good to provide a mix of different coloured fruit and vegetables in every meal, as these tend to provide different important nutrients.
Veggies and Fruits
We have a list of safe veggies, and you can combine them how you want.
I try and use at least 5 different ingredients in each meal, with only one or two repeated each day. Four are ideally vegetables and one fruit, in order to keep sugar levels low.
I also try and feed at least one dark green leafy vegetable every day. However, be aware that some leafy vegetables like spinach are high in oxalates, which can interfere with mineral absorption. So, these should be fed in moderation. I tend to feed a lot of kale and silverbeet as they are very easy to grow.
Dandelion leaves are also a great source of nutrition. However, if you forage for them, make sure you are picking them from an area free of pesticides and other chemicals, roadside pollution, or animal urine / faeces.
When I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to cut up lots of different vegetables, bags of frozen mixed vegetables are a great hack. We use a mixture of stir-fry mixes and winter vegetable mixes. In a hot summer these can be fed straight from the freezer as a refreshing icy meal. In colder weather I warm them up in the microwave or include them in a ratty omelette.
Of course, fresh food isn’t just about vegetables, although they are the largest part. Healthy non-breeding adult rats need about 10-15% protein in their diets. The dry mix recipe provides a good base to this, but rats benefit from fresh protein as well.
We feed this once or twice a week, usually in the form of scrambled egg or whole chicken wings on the bone. It is important to include some bones in the diet as this provides calcium in a form that rats are adapted to use. Egg and soya followed by chicken, are the protein sources that put the least strain on the kidneys.
I don’t routinely feed carbohydrates as part of my rats’ fresh food as they get all the carbs they need from their dry mix, and too much cooked carbohydrates will result in fat rats! However, once a week or so they often get some of our leftover rice or pasta as a treat.
How Much to Feed Your Rats?
I feed around one adult handful of the dry mix, per three rats, per day. And then adjust depending on how much they eat – I aim to have them eat all of it within 22 hrs.
For the fresh food, I feed 5-6 dime sized pieces of veggies per rat per day. And each piece should be of different vegetable.
That’s the basic level – it needs tweaking for each individual group of rats as they all have different growth rates and appetites.
I adjust it for each group depending on whether they are leaving food regularly, and whether there are juvenille / old / ill rats who need dietary adaptations, and by assessing the rats condition (I want shiny, firmly muscled vital rats – if they look dull, feel skinny, or get flabby prior to late middle age then something is nutritionally off).
My Rats’ Favourite Meal – Veggie Tray-bake
Mostly the rats get their fresh veggies raw – however, some vegetables can’t be fed raw, and others like zucchini are bitter without cooking. So once in a while I make them this tray bake – and join them in eating it, as it’s pretty yummy!
The ingredients are flexible (I use what I’ve got in the fridge) as are the quantities – the amounts here are enough to serve a bowl for me and provide my 25 rats with their fresh food for a night.
- 2 tomatoes, cut into quarters or 8ths
- Half a zucchini cut into thin discs
- Quarter of a bell pepper / capsicum sliced into small pieces
- A handful of cauliflower or broccoli florets (the stem works well sliced up too)
- A small sweet potato cut into cubes
- 200 g of frozen broad beans (no need to defrost them)
- Crushed clove of garlic, or about 2 inches of garlic paste
- Olive oil
- Dried basil and oregano flakes
Put all the veggies into a large oven-proof dish, add the garlic, and season generously with the basil and oregano. Douse everything in olive oil and mix thoroughly (all veggies should be glossy with oil, but without liquid oil in the base of the tray). Bake in the oven at 140°C (280°F) for 40 mins. Allow the rats’ portions to cool to a temperature comfortable to touch before feeding.
Interested in learning more about making homemade rat food? I highly recommend the Scuttling Gourmet ebook on making up a dry mix.
- Kidney Friendly Rat Food by The Scuttling Gourmet
- The Scuttling Gourmet Series
- Kidney Issues – Isamu Rats