RATS as pets
Rats make amazing pets - anyone who has had them will tell you that. They're smart, loving & funny little creatures.
It's easy to become addicted and catch GMR (get more rats) once you start!
I've been keeping rats since early 2010 and not stopped!
Of course, you must make sure they are the animal for you (as the same for any animal you take on as a pet).
They can be more work & time and are more complex than they appear (some may assume they are so easy to care for as they're a small animal but there is more to them). Thought needs to be put into their environment they live in, the diet they consume & health care/issues that may arise. The initial outlay (cage & other accessories), continuous outlay (food/treats, substrate/litter, toys & other luxury items) and other additional expenses that pop up (vet bills, medications, adding more rats, etc) can be pricey and add up.
It's also important to think about where you will get your rats from. Rats from pet shops sadly come from rodent mills - buying from them supports that. Rats from reputable breeders or from a rescue centre are better options.
They are sociable animals. They enjoy interaction with their owners but they also need company of other rats - this is very important. They must be kept in pairs at a minimum. A trio to start with is even better. Then you can continue to add rats as you like (I personally like to keep approx 4-6 as a group these days so only add a pair every year or so). Take care when introducing rats and ensure you do it properly. It's not always as easy as chucking them in the cage together and they're instantly friends unfortunately! Check out some introduction methods here (I tend to do the carrier method as that's been the most successful for most of my rats but there are other ways and it can depend on the individual rats/group).
If you do decide that they are the pets for you then I'm sure you won't regret it!
Diet/food - The most commonly recommended in the UK is a balanced rat mix based on the Shunamite diet. This is one you can create yourself or buy ready made from Rat Rations. The cost can vary depending on the ingredients used and the amount made per batch. Take into account the extra food such as protein meals (kittens/babies will require more), veg/fruit/herbs and also extra bulk up meals for elderly rats. Unfortunately there are no decent premade mixes sold elsewhere. I highly recommend The Scuttling Gourmet book by Alison Campbell if you're interested in rats diet & creating your own mix.
Substrate/bedding/litter - This will be dependant on the rats & the owner (some may suit them/you more than others and some may cause sensitivity - it's worth trying some out to find one that works for you & the rat group - rat rations sell smaller bags that can be used for testing or ask a rat friend if they have some to try out). Whatever you use, it should be dust extracted and unscented (Carefresh and sawdust for example are too dusty). Fleece isn't recommended on the cage base as it can soak up urine quickly, require changing/replacing regularly (making rats scent mark it more) and does not allow for rats to dig and burrow. There are many suitable options available. Substrates (used at the bottom of the cage) can mostly be found in bales from equine/horse & farm shops - these can include kiln dried/heat treated wood shavings (Pureflake Extra, Bedmax, Littlemax, Snowflake Supreme, Megaspread, etc), cardboard (Finacard, Greenmile, Ecobed, Blue Frog, Walmsley, etc), bioactive (coco fibre soil, top soil, etc), hemp (Aubiose), etc. Loose substrates allow the natural opportunity for rats to dig and burrow as well as forage for their food when it is scattered in there. I tend to change mine (my favourite is Pureflake Extra) approx every 4-6 weeks. Bedding (used inside baskets, hammocks, etc to sleep on) can include tea bag bedding, Fitch, etc and litter (used in litter trays) options can include Back 2 Nature, Breeder Celect and Papelit. I also like to add some dust extracted hay & straw to my cage baskets & beds for extra comfort and enrichment - Dust Free Hay and Hay Box are ones I recommend. Bedding and litter may require changing more reguarly depending on how smelly & soiled it gets, especially if keeping a larger group of rats.
Cage accessories/toys/luxury items - There are many places to buy items for rats - some of them don't even have to be items that are aimed at rats/small animals (for example, garden hanging baskets). Some of my favourites for accessories & toys are Rustic Ratties, A Rat's Tail, Mini Petz, Scarlett's Parrot Essentials and Ratcessories. Wheels are not essential for rats but they are good to have for rats that do enjoy running on them. 12" is the minimum size but 14"-16" ones are available and will suit most rats from young to large adult bucks (whereas some may not be comfortable running in a 12" wheel). For my own rats I have a 16" wheel from Tic Tac Wheels - they are metal, attach onto the cage bars and have a flat 5"deep running surface and also come in many different colours. There are many hammock makers around - here at Furrykind Creations I make many styles of hammocks, beds & bags which I aim to make the best quality I can to ensure they are durable and comfortable for rats.
Vet bills/medications/health issues - Rats can be prone to many health issues sadly and some of them you do get used to and understand more over time when keeping rats - some of the most common issues include respiratory diseases, heart failure, kidney degeneration, urinary tract infections, ear infections, tumours, abscesses. The list could go on. Some rats may be lucky and live a healthy life and others may unfortunately have a number of issues in their short lives. It can be difficult but it's worth trying to find a vet/practice that has experience & knowledge of rats - and/or willing to work with you to try other options if needed (e.g. being open to learning, trying other medication that aren't licenced in rats, etc). There is a Rat Vet Reviews UK page on Facebook which is handy. Insurance is not worth it for rats so it's important to ensure you have savings for any vet visits and bills that may pop up at any time. In my experience, I've had more respiratory issues in rescue/rehomed rats I've had (that have originally likely come from rodent mills/unethical breeders). All breeders can vary and have their own ways & ethics (so it's important to find one that matches your own) but in general, a reputable breeder aims for rats with improved health & temperament but rememeber that these are still rats so can still be prone to health issues unfortunately (any that claim otherwise are ones to avoid). It's something to be prepared for and expect when keeping rats.
Useful links for more information and in-depth reading:
The Scuttling Gourmet
Rat Care UK
Naturalistic & Bioactive Rat Setups
Some of own photos of my rat care:
One of my cage layouts. Totally not essential and the rats don't mind either way but I do enjoy doing themes.
Another one of my themed cage layouts. I enjoy a naturalistic setup with elements of interest for them.
One of my cage setups when I was using bioactive soil - it did not suit me or my rats so I went back to loose substrate which is our preferred.
My 40cm deep perspex cage base tray. Allows for a nice deep layer of substrate. Cut to size from my own meausurements and put together with strong (Gorilla) tape.
Deep perspex base tray in the cage. I also have ones for my shelves for litter/substrate.
Bales of Pureflake Extra wood shavings (dust extracted and kiln dried).
My 16" Tic Tac wheel.
A collection of my wooden branches and cage accessories which is forever growing still. It's an addiction...
A view of my little rat room.
Another view of my little rat room.
A little L shaped rat room. Enough space for the cage, play time and some storage.
One of my storage units.
Built in storage cupboards.
Storage cupboards and boxes on top.
My homemade rat free range climbing and play tree.
Some examples of what I use in my homemade rat mix. They vary as I like to change it up a bit.
An example of one of my homemade rat mixes.
Back in the day when I had a triple Savic Royal Suite cage. This was when I kept a larger group of bucks.
One of my baby/temporary cage set ups.
Another baby/temp cage set up. They're not in it for long but I still like to make it interesting and entertaining for them.