A "foodie" is defined as one who has an ardent interest in food. That being said, RATS ARE FOODIES! The rat's greatest pleasure in life is eating and eating well. We feed our rats well because it's not only enjoyable for them, it's necessary for good nutrition.
FIRST, we feed the rats a healthy staple diet. Bowls of the staple diet are kept full at all times so the rats can eat whenever they want and it won't make them obese.
SECOND, we feed the rats a portion of raw vegetables daily and we vary what we give. One day it may be kale, the next carrot, the next green beans, the next spinach, etc. All varieties of potatoes must never be given raw. Corn has been linked to cancer in rats so feed very sparingly. For examples of portion size, an adult rat can have a 2" piece of large carrot per day or a 4" x 4" piece of kale. Rats are kale crazy so you may want to feed it every third day. Don't think of veggies and fruits as treats. These foods ARE the rat's diet so be generous.
THIRD, we feed the rats a portion of fruit no less than 4 days per week. For examples of portion size, an adult rat can have a 1" slice of banana, 1/8 of an apple, 1 small strawberry, or 1 very large seedless grape. It's best to NOT give oranges to male rats, but females may have a bit.
FOURTH, we feed the rats a small portion of cooked foods anywhere from daily to 4 days per week. A good rule of thumb is to offer your rats a bit of whatever you're having for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Rats love people food and they'll be thrilled to get some of your waffle, omelet, mashed potatoes and gravy, pastas with various sauces, tacos, etc. Don't give rats meat fats, bones, globs of cheese or peanut butter (choking risk), or anything too spicy.
The staple diet we feed is Native Earth (it's a Harlan product) 4018 Rodent Diet. It's a pellet food formulated with 18% protein from plants, 5% fat, and added vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It promotes healthy growth, is nutritious, and our rats love it more than any other staple diet.
Rats Are Foodies!
Some of the Rat's Favorite Vegetables Eaten Raw
Kale (#1 favorite!)
Some of the Rat's Favorite Vegetables Eaten Cooked
Red Leaf Lettuce
Some of the Rat's Favorite Fruits
Unhealthy Foods for Rats
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Foods containing birdseed, bright colored mystery ingredients, and sunflower seeds with shells are routinely passed off as "rat food" by pet stores, but it's a poor diet for a rat. Rats aren't birds so they shouldn't be fed as if they're birds. See information on our "staple" diet above.
Dangerous Foods for Rats
Peanut butter is fine if spread lightly on food, but globs of peanut butter is very dangerous because it can get stuck in the mouth or throat and cause death by choking. In an emergency quickly wipe out the mouth gently with a Q-tip, but don't push the peanut butter down the throat.
Cooked eggs are fine, but not egg shell because it can get stuck in the mouth or throat and cause death by choking. In an emergency quickly wipe out the mouth gently with a Q-tip, but don't push the shell down the throat.
Melted cheese is fine in tiny amounts, but not sticky globs because it can get stuck in the mouth or throat and cause death by choking. In an emergency quickly wipe out the mouth gently with a Q-tip, but don't push the cheese down the throat.
Sunflower seeds are fine, but NOT shells because they can get stuck in the mouth and throat or perforate a bowel if swallowed. Feed ONLY unsalted or lightly salted roasted sunflower seeds without the shell. NEVER feed raw nuts and seeds.
Bone is hard to digest and fragments can get stuck in the mouth and throat or perforate a bowel if not chewed before being swallowed.
Help for Special Needs Rats
1/3 parts soy-based (not milk or lactose) infant formula
2/3 parts baby oatmeal cereal (don't use rice cereal because it is lower in calories)
Warm water - just enough to mix the formula and cereal to the consistency of pancake batter
*Important* - if the rat has limited mobility due to strokes, hind end degeneration, etc. it is important to add some extra water to the mixture to keep the rat hydrated since they are likely unable to drink from a water bottle. This cereal mixture will be not just their nutrition source - it is their water source too. Don't make the cereal watery though because you want to make sure the rat is getting enough food.
Malnourished and Sick Rats who are Mobile - we often take in rats who are thin and/or sickly so we start them on the cereal mixture. Place the cereal in a heavy low profile bowl with a solid base. A heavy bowl with a solid base helps to keep the rat from knocking over the bowl and soiling the cage. And, a low profile bowl is important because immobile rats can't lift their heads into a deep bowl to eat. If all the rat can do is crawl or wiggle like a seal over to the bowl he may not have the strength to do more than point his face in the direction of the food. Offer the cereal mixture 2-3 times per day, but give only what the rat will eat in a few hours because the mixture can congeal and need to be disposed of. You may find that 3 heaping tablespoons of food is just the right amount or that 5 tablespoons is. Don't let the rat run out of food. He needs to eat as much as possible. Remember to give him plenty of food before you go to bed each night so he will have enough to last him the night, but fresh food should be given each morning.
Rats with Tumors - If you have rats with tumors you need to know that tumors "eat first" and rob the rat of all nutrients. The rat will slowly starve to death if you don't intervene. Even though the rat may appear to eat normally he will get thinner and thinner as the tumor grows. First and foremost, tumors should be removed by an exotics veterinarian when they first appear. Don't ever allow a rat to live with a tumor because tumors will only get bigger and cause a host of problems. Tumors are operable! If you have a rat with a tumor start them on the cereal mixture, but still offer their regular diet, and get them to an exotics veterinarian as soon as possible.
Both of the above products are available only at Walmart, but you can find similar products elsewhere. Just make sure you buy good quality products that are NOT low in fat and protein.
Feeding Rats who are Immobile due to Stroke, Etc. - Sometimes rats are too sick or weak to eat on their own and need help from their human family just as people do. Please don't stress out about this, alright? Hand feeding is easy and you will get the hang of it after just a few feedings. The feedings will be a time of special bonding with your rat because he is now helpless and needs you. You can do it!
Set-up for Feeding an Immobile Rat - (1) Put a folded (just to give the rat more cushioning) cloth towel on your kitchen table to keep things tidy. (2) Fill a baby food jar or other small container about half full of cereal mixture (you'll want to mix it fresh every few feeding) and place it on the table. (3) Get a few paper towels semi-wet with warm water and put them in a bowl next to the cereal mixture. The bowl is just to keep the paper towels wet instead of placing them on the cloth towel where water from the paper towels will be absorbed. (4) Fill a second baby food jar or small container about half full with water. This jar of water will be used to rinse off the syringe each time before you place it in the rat's mouth otherwise cereal from the outside of the syringe will start to form at the rat's mouth and drip onto his neck and chest making clean-up worse. After doing this a few hundred times we learned what helps.
How to Feed an Immobile Rat - Using a 1 ml syringe suck up the mixture to the 1.0 line and then swish off the syringe in the jar of water. The cereal mixture will need to contain more water than usual so it can flow freely through the syringe. To feed the rat, you must hold him in an upright position so he does not choke or aspirate the mixture. The rat must never ever be on his back or in a reclining position when eating. Keep the rat upright at all times. While holding the rat upright with one hand you can operate the syringe with your other hand. Another technique is to allow the rat to stand while you hold him up at his shoulder area. Never bend his neck backward or you can cause a neck injury. So, lift the entire shoulder area only, not just the neck. Once the rat is in an upright position squirt 1/4 of the syringe's contents just inside the rat's lips or cheek and give him a few moments to work the mixture through his mouth and swallow. It is important that the syringe be placed only just inside the lips or cheek and not be placed far into the mouth or near the throat because it may cause an injury. Suck up another 1 ml of cereal mixture with the syringe, swish it off, and continue feeding. A 1 pound rat should eat about 10 full syringes worth of mixture at each feeding and be fed 4 times each day, eating no less than 30 ml of mixture each day. A lighter or heavier rat will need proportionally more or less mixture. If you are not making the mixture too thick it should supply all the fluid the rat needs so additional plain water is unnecessary. If you are unsure that your rat has received enough water, you may offer some plain water by syringe, but be very careful he is in the upright position or he may very well aspirate it since it is liquid. I can't emphasize this enough. Even after being syringe fed some rats seem to be thirsty so you can offer some water or a low-sodium clear broth. Some rats actually enjoy being syringe fed and will lick the end of the syringe if you place it up to their lips. As long as the rat is licking you can keep squirting slowly, but give the rat a break after each 1 ml or less. Some rats don't take to syringe feeding as well as others do. If your rat struggles try to hold him still and get that food in his mouth. Each time will get easier. Hang in there! After you finish feeding, cover the cereal mixture with the jar cap or put on plastic wrap and refrigerate. With a wet paper towel wipe off the rat's mouth, face, neck, and anywhere that cereal may have dribbled because if you don't it will dry in the rat's fur like a plaster and mean more frequent baths. Before the next feeding take the chill off the food by running the jar under hot water for a minute or putting it in the microwave for about 15 seconds. Stir the food well and then test the temperature with your finger to make sure it will not burn the rat's mouth.
Rats with Dental Problems - For rats who don't have teeth or have malocclusions (imperfect positioning of the teeth when the jaws are closed), this mixture and foods like mashed potatoes and gravy, well mashed cooked veggies and canned fruits, and baby foods are important to their health.
Prepared Meals That You Eat - Rats LOVE Them!
Squee! It's pasta night!
At Tiny Toes Rat Rescue we feed our rats people food daily. Because we have so many rats it means preparing a meal for them each evening as there wouldn't be enough leftovers from our meals to feed each rat. Since we're strict vegan our rats eat vegan too. Here's an example of what we may feed the rats for dinner in the period of 9 days:
Rats truly are foodies so why not indulge their passion to eat well? They live such short lives so we believe in making them happy by catering to their craving for people food. Don't worry - it's actually healthy for your rats to eat a wide variety of foods. Unless your rats are obese, go ahead and serve your rats people food every day, but in moderation. When we say "people food" we mean whatever you would eat as a meal like dinner. As a way of estimating quantity, each rat should have no more than a level tablespoon of people food daily. That may not seem like much, but for their stomach size it's plenty.
You can either prepare dinner for your rat(s), prepare a little extra of whatever you will be eating for dinner, or simply save leftovers for your rats. Just remember the "Dangerous Foods for Rats" listed above on this page! We have seen rats nearly die from dangerous foods so we're passing on our experiences. Don't feed rats anything too spicy. And, if your rats are being treated with antibiotics they shouldn't be fed anything with dairy products because the calcium will make the antibiotics less effective.
Day 1 - Mashed potatoes and gravy with peas
Day 2 - Asian stir-fried veggies with steamed rice
Day 3 - Rigatoni with garlic sauteed in olive oil
Day 4 - Pizza with pesto and veggies
Day 5 - Black beans and rice
Day 6 - Spaghetti with marinara sauce
Day 7 - Boiled yams and lima beans
Day 8 - Black beans and rice
Day 9 - Ziti with
What About Junk Food?
Junk food really is junk so don't feed it to your rats excessively. As long as your rats are eating healthy foods like those mentioned above, it's not the end of the world if they get half of an Oreo cookie once in awhile. Yes, we do realize that your rats will be staring you down while you're eating that hot fudge sundae, but be strong rat moms and dads. Let the little stinkers have a few licks, but that's it.
Obesity in Rats
Like people, rats may become obese if overeating, eating a high calorie diet, or eating a high fat diet. While we want to feed our rats good foods and spoil them with an occasional treat we must also be responsible and not let them become overly fat or obese. As with people, obesity in rats can lead to heart disease, stroke, tumors, as well as bumblefoot. If you see your rat(s) getting too fat it's time to cut back on high calorie foods, high fat foods, and treats. Increasing the quantity of raw vegetables and fruit that you are giving to them daily will help, but cut back a bit immediately if they develop diarrhea. It's a matter of finding a balance. With regard to heart disease, we've taken in obese rats whose x-rays proved that they had heart disease. So many conditions can be prevented with proper diet.