Pet Care Guides Small Pet

Rats and Mice


Fancy rats and fancy mice are selectively bred versions of wild species (Norway Rats, House Mouse). While rats and mice are often considered pests, those bred in captivity make for intelligent, entertaining and friendly pets.

Rats are social creatures that prefer to live with other members of their own species. Rats can be kept in same-sex groups, provided they are introduced at a young age, or are from the same litter. Rats can also be kept as a male-female pair, but this is not recommended; even though rats are good parents, a female rat can bear between 8 to 18 babies every 3-4 weeks for an entire year! The health of your female rat may be compromised if she is bred repeatedly.

There are occasions, especially during the first year of growth, when rats become territorial and may fight for dominance among their cage mates. Once the social structure is sorted out, they should get along. If one pet shows aggression towards another, the aggressor should be separated to avoid injuries. That Pet Place cannot guarantee that any animal will get along with any other animal, even if they are purchased from the same cage.

Mice are also social animals, but you should avoid housing males together. Females can live together without many problems, and one male can live with several females. As mice breed prolifically, we recommend keeping 2 or more female mice or a single male. That Pet Place cannot guarantee the sex of any animal of any age, especially young rodents, since they are very difficult to sex.

Creating a Habitat for Rats or Mice

Wire cages suit rats best, but it is important to choose a cage with a solid bottom and small mesh wire shelves. The shelves should be made of mesh with spaces no larger than 1/2 inch to avoid toe injuries. Rats grow rather large when compared with other small mammals. A cage for one small or juvenile rat should be at least 24"L x 14"W x 16"H. As your rats matures, you should move them to a larger cage, such as one built for a ferret or chinchilla. Rats are extremely intelligent and the more room they have in their cage for ladders, toys, and hiding places, the better.

Mice can be housed in wire cages (if the wire bars are close enough to prevent escape), aquariums (outfitted with a cage topper or a metal screen) or plastic habitats. We recommend a 10 gallon aquarium with a metal screen lid and clips for a pair of mice. These rodents need a few inches of small pet bedding to dig in and to absorb waste. We recommend aspen or Carefresh bedding. Do not use cedar chips or corncob. Natural oils in Cedar can cause respiratory complications, and corncob may be swallowed and swells when ingested.

Provide 2 water sources- a plastic or glass hanging water bottle & also a shallow bowl. A ceramic food dish is recommended, as plastic dishes will be chewed and possibly ingested.

Rats and mice need places to climb and explore. Exercise wheels, tubes and other furniture should be provided for activity. Rats may be more likely to enjoy climbing fixtures, like shelves and ladders, while mice may use a wheel more. Rats and mice also prefer an enclosed area to sleep. A hide-away den will give them a place to feel safe and secure.

Rodent teeth grow constantly. It is very important to provide plenty chewable items in the cage, such as wooden chew toys, cardboard tubes and other similar products to satisfy their natural chewing instinct and keep their teeth worn to a manageable length. Enrichment items from Oxbow are highly recommended- remember to change out enrichment items frequently.


Rats and mice are relatively low-maintenance pets, but they still need the most basic care that would be given to any pet. They require fresh food and water daily, preferably in bowls and bottles that have been washed clean each day.

Cage bedding should be changed once each week. Wash the cage with a mild solution of bleach and allow it to sit for about 20 minutes before rinsing until the smell of bleach is gone, drying it out and refilling it with bedding. Wooden toys should be replaced if they are well chewed.

Feeding Your Pets

Rats and mice are omnivores and do best on a varied diet. We recommend Oxbow Rat & mouse food be used as the staple of the diet, but other things can be added to make sure the animals are receiving the optimal nutrition. Feed a basic diet of Oxbow food for the first two weeks, until your animal has adjusted to their new home. You may also offer seed mix periodically after 3 months of age.

After the first two weeks, you can offer small amounts of dried fruit, fresh veggies, and seed blends as a small portion of the daily diet. Whole wheat bread that has been left out overnight, whole grain pasta, and even fresh, hard fruits and vegetables (like carrots, apples and pears without the seeds) make good treats, but should only be offered occasionally. Tame rats are often eager to share anything their human companions are eating, but avoid items containing caffeine, chocolate or alcohol.

Care and Handling

Check on your pet daily to be certain it is healthy. All animals should have a veterinarian check-up soon after you bring them home. The most common ailments in rats and mice are respiratory infections (sneezing, runny nose, wheezing), skin problems (excessive itching or bald patches) and tumors. If you observe any symptoms or signs that your pet may be ill, see a vet as soon as possible.

In a new environment, your new pet may be rather nervous. Use caution when holding or handling your pet as they may try to jump out of your hands. Handle your pet in a seated position to minimize the chance of a fall. Any small mammal that has suffered a fall should see a vet as soon as possible, as not all injuries are externally visible.

Rats and mice have very fragile tails. The tail is an important appendage, aiding in balance and helping to regulate body temperature. Rats should not be picked up by their tails. Mice can be lifted by the base of their tails if necessary. The tail may break off if injured, and will not grow back.

Be aware that some rodents may not prefer to be handled like some other pets. Young children should be supervised by parents at all times when interacting with their pet. Not only are these animals fragile, but they can, if frightened, bite or scratch. Parents are encouraged to handle the animals first to get them used to contact and to teach children the proper way to hold or carry their pet.

Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. This habit will help to prevent the spread of germs, and help to prevent accidental bites by washing away smells that may entice them (like if you recently handled food or treats).

When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life as your companion. Animal care is always evolving– please continue to research & monitor your pet’s behavior to ensure your pet is thriving in their environment.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our small animal department at 717-299-5691 ext. 1274 or