After researching, trawling information pages and taking in all the advice you can get hold of, you’ve decided to adopt some intelligent rodent friends into your home. But how many rats should you adopt? Can a rat be housed on its own? And what is needed to ensure your new friends have the best lives possible?
Read on to find out why two or more rats is essential and why they need the close company of a furry companion.
How Many Rats Should You Adopt?
Rats are incredibly social creatures. Wild rats live in complex mixed communities and are inherently communal, with the females living in groups of around 6. They will care for one another’s young, as well as spend a lot of time grooming each other, playing and sleeping together in a cute mound of fuzz.
The same goes for domesticated rats (or ‘fancy rats’). They need the same level of social interactions with other rats as wild rats do, to stay healthy and happy throughout their lives. While your rat companions will bond to you very closely and be over the moon to spend quality time with you, people simply cannot replace the essential behaviors and interactions other rats can provide, and so it is required to adopt at least two rats at a time.
A good starting number for new rat owners is 2 to 4. Later on, when you get the hang of it, you can have any number of rats you can properly care for and commit time to.
Adopting more than two rats comes with its advantages. If one of your two rats dies early, your other rat would be left alone without a friend. So while two rats are a minimum, it would be good to have at least three in case one of the rats crosses the rainbow bridge too soon.
How Many Rats Is Too Many?
The maximum number of rats a person can keep depends on each individual person, their schedules, space, time, financial situation… Too many rats would be one more than you are comfortable with or can afford. For some people that’s 4 rats, for some it’s 15.
You should be able to provide your rats with:
- enough space to comfortably house them and allow them to free range,
- enough time to dedicate to your rats and give them daily attention,
- enough money for vet bills and all other costs such as bedding, food.
As long as you can provide your rats with what they need, give them attention, and keep up with the cleaning and other responsibilities of keeping rats, then you can consider adding more to the mix.
Why Not Alone?
Because rats live in close, complex societal groups in the wild, fancy rats need the same level of communal bonding with cage mates. Despite the need for extra resources for two or more rats, the extra furry friend doesn’t make much difference (if any at all) to the costs of daily care.
In fact, rats who are in bonded pairs or groups are considerably less stressed. This alone will improve their overall health greatly and can actually prevent some stress-related illnesses from occurring. Having a friend also provides the essential extra element of same-species connection all rats deserve.
Watching a pair or group of rats scurry, climb and play around their cage is incredibly entertaining to say the least, providing rewarding proof that two, three (or more!) is most certainly good company. Cage mates will build each other’s confidence and teach one another, especially if they are well handled and socialized from an early age.
Rats can even integrate a new cage mate into their group and welcome them to the party. Reassuring them and guiding them, showing them what’s safe and what’s worth investigating.
Established groups showing a ‘new’, less handled rat how to express normal ratty behavior around their fellows and around humans has even been observed in experiments on rats, proving just how intelligent these curious critters are.
While it is essential that rats have the opportunity to engage with fellow rats, think carefully about adopting a lot of rats of similar age at the same time. All potential rat owners should have a good vet familiar with rats already in place when adopting their new pals, and vet bills can get expensive if your group all fall ill (or all get old) at the same time.
Things to Consider Before Deciding on the Number
When considering how many rats to adopt, there are a few different things to seriously think about. While the difference between having two rats and having three may not be huge, you may find you wish to adopt four or more (with 2 to 4 being the generally recommended starter number for new rat owners) which can be different in terms of space, time and resources needed.
Apart from the initial outlay of cost for your rats, whether it’s a donation to a shelter, payment to a breeder etc, there are several financial factors to figure out before you go ahead and bring your rats home.
Cages, toys, food and bedding are all factors to consider when planning to bring your rats home, so make sure you budget for all their needs and have saved up enough should one of them fall ill and need veterinary care.
Rats are unfortunately prone to several serious health problems. Some can be avoided, but some are regrettably not, so ensuring your rats have the best environment, enrichment, bedding materials and diet can make a huge difference to their overall health and wellbeing.
This may cost more initially, but the investment in your rats’ lives will benefit both your rats and your pocket by avoiding environment and stress-related illnesses.
How Many Rats Can Live in Your Cage
An appropriate cage for your rats is the most important thing to consider when thinking about how many rats you’d like to give a home. Rats will typically spend up to 22-23 hours in their cage a day, so you can see why it needs to be big, spacious and interesting enough for them to live rich, full lives.
The size of the cage largely depends on the amount of rats you are considering to adopt. A cage that houses 2 rats could look very different to a cage housing 20. There are many different cage designs out there which offer different levels and may have pre-attached fixtures and fittings, but the main takeaway is that the cage should have plenty of room for each rat to adequately explore and perform normal behaviors.
The first port of call when considering a cage for your rats is using a rat cage calculator to determine how many rats can live in the cage you’re considering. This step can really help you determine how many rats would be suitable for you and would fit your lifestyle.
A cage 20 inches (50cm) or taller is recommended as a minimum height for your cage. This is because rats are nimble and absolutely love to climb, so need enough space to be able to stand, jump and travel between levels as they would in the wild.
The minimum cage volume (even for 2 rats) should be 8 cubic feet or more, which will not only allow each rat the space he or she needs, but will allow for proper cage setup and enrichment opportunities (and allows your rats to have space from one another).
Cage bars are another important feature to consider, as cage bars that are spaced too far apart can lead to escapees! As a general rule, bars spaced at 0.4-0.6 inches apart are suitable for most rats. Any spacing larger than 1 inch (2.5cm) is not suitable for any rat, of any size. While space and bar spacing are two crucial elements of cage selection, how easy the cage is to clean is another aspect to consider.
A cage that is difficult to clean promotes lax cleaning (or parts that cannot be cleaned at all), which can in turn cause all sorts of health problems. For ease of cleaning, cages with large doors are best (or fronts that fully open – your back will thank you later!) along with easy access to all corners, as you’ll be cleaning your rat’s cage at least once a week.
Don’t buy a cage advertised for “rats and mice” – if it’s suitable for mice, it will be far too small for your rats. Wooden cages and cages with poor ventilation such as plastic or glass are also not at all suitable for your furry companions.
Ultimately, whether your cage is wide but stout, or tall with less volume is down to you and the space you have available.
Adequate Space in & Out of the Cage
The space a good rat cage set-up may need can be as large as your house and family can allow. Some may devote an entire room to their rats, while others will dedicate a space within their home that is big enough to provide enrichment and essential bonding time, whilst being safe and free from potential dangers or stressors.
The more rats you adopt, the bigger the cage of course. Larger cages need a bigger space to accommodate them. However, rats also need adequate space outside their cage for one-on-one bonding time with their human family, as well as space to run around and explore to burn off some energy.
Creating a space which is safe and interesting for your rats to roam outside their cage will not only provide hours of entertainment for both your rats and yourself, but can also complement and even become an extension of their cage!
Toys, cage furniture, favorite objects and treats can all be swapped out and changed up between your rat’s safe space outside the cage and the cage itself to keep their lives varied and interesting. Just ensure you have the space in your home for all of these objects to be stored, along with food mixes and any spare accommodation or travel cages needed.
Spending Time & Bonding With Your Rats
Rats love to spend time with their human family outside of their cage. Whether you have two rats or ten, one-on-one bonding time is important and will improve your rats’ lives immeasurably, as well as your own. But will having more rats take up more time?
Well, yes and no. The time spent doing ‘practical chores’ such as cleaning out, tidying, buying supplies etc. will be pretty much the same for two rats as it will a whole group. However, being able to give each rat you adopt quality time is very important.
Nurturing the bond between you will make you both happier and less stressed, so ensuring you have an hour or two an evening to play with and handle your rats individually will strengthen the bonds between you, as well as having fun!
It’s also important to consider giving your rats a health check when having individual time with them, which will help to identify any problems quickly.
Some potential rat owners may worry that having more than one rat will lessen the bond between you. This is false, rats in groups will still give you all the love they can muster. They will bond with their people just as fully as a lone rat would, and while rats kept alone will still show love, affection and bonding with their owner (rats have a LOT of love to give and are very sociable animals), having a pair or group together will give them that vital interaction between their kin that’s so important to their wellbeing.
Male or Female Rats
One of the first decisions you’ll make once you’ve decided to adopt rats is whether you’d like to adopt boys or girls. Same-sex groups of bucks (male rats) and does (female rats) work best, as rat breeding is an enterprise not to be undertaken lightly. Opposite-sex pairings or groups should only be considered if they’ve been de-sexed, so you’ll not have the worry of accidental breeding.
While there are differences in the natures of does and bucks, each rat is an individual with their own personality, temperament and quirks! However, there are differences between them both physically and psychologically, which we can look at here:
- Are larger and weightier than females.
- Have more obvious ‘features’ (large testicles).
- Generally settle down as they age, still charming and inquisitive but more contemplative in their adventures.
- More likely to make cuddly pets.
- Are smaller and lighter than males.
- Are playful and bubbly well into middle age.
- If well handled they can be just as cuddly as males.
The other behavioral and physical characteristics of rats such as scent marking and aggression are largely down to the individual. Male rats have a slightly more distinct smell, however both sexes like to scent mark (this is done by rubbing scent glands along surfaces and by dribbling urine) and the amount they do is not more common in either sex.
A note on aggression: Rats who have been bred carefully, bred for temperament and that have been socialized with both other rats and people from a young age are unlikely to bite. This goes for both males and females. However, under certain circumstances male rats can show hormonal aggression (usually at around 3-8 months) that culminates in bites for both humans and cage-mates alike. This can be solved with neutering, however if the breeder has good lines that have been bred for a good temperament, this should not be an issue.
Best Places to Adopt Rats
Doing research on where to adopt your rats is very important, as once everything is prepared for your new friends to come home, you’ll need to decide where you’ll get them from.
Not all places you can adopt rats are equal, indeed some aren’t good choices at all. It’s a personal choice as to where you’d like to find your future furry family members, but consider the ethics of where you’re getting them from and how much you can find out about the rats themselves.
Sometimes your choices may be limited, reputable breeders and adoption shelters may not be readily available in your area, so doing research is the best way to make an informed decision as to where you get your rats from.
Rescue shelters, private rehome adoptions and reputable breeders are all good options for adopting your rats, and each gives different options. For example if you wanted a certain color of rats, you could search for breeders in your area that breed for those colors. If you want older rats, shelters or private rehoming may be better options.
All in all its a personal choice, however there are certain places it is not recommended to adopt from:
- Pet Shops
- Rodent Mills
- Inexperienced or small scale breeders
The way rats are bred in these places can be a huge welfare issue. Even pet shops may not know where their rats come from or how they’ve been treated. As much as it hurts to think about, saving one rat from a situation like this puts another in its place.
There’s my comprehensive guide on how many rats to adopt, why, what it takes and where from. How many rats captured your heart when you first adopted them? Let me know in the comments!