Pet Rats – Rat Habits

Rat Habits

Pet rats, often known as fancy rats, generally reach adulthood at five to six months and have a lifespan of up to three years.


As rats are mostly nocturnal, Ronnie and Derek sleep for about 10 – 12 hours, usually from 8am. Unless they’re very sleepy, they’ll usually get up and spend time with me even if I open the cage during the day and speak to them (or offer them food!). However, the best time to interact with them is after 8pm or before 8am when they’re at their most active. Sometimes they’ll nap during the night too.

They usually sleep close together (or on top of each other!) in their house, but sometimes sleep elsewhere in their cage or in the coconut shell hideouts.


Ronnie and Derek usually eat when they first get up (after they’ve cleaned and groomed themselves), then eat during their day when needed. They particularly enjoy ‘stockpiling’ food  when offered it – this is likely a natural instinct where they take the food and store it somewhere for later consumption. This can indicate that a rat is full as well. See here for more info on diet and weight.

See the Care page for more info on food/drink.


Rats are generally intelligent and very inquisitive which makes looking after pet rats an interesting experience. Ronnie and Derek are always interested in anything new that’s put in their cage or placed on top, reaching and stretching up on their hind legs, if necessary, to investigate.

Rats’ eyesight is quite poor, so they rely on their good hearing, sense of smell and whiskers to build a better picture of their surroundings. Derek sometimes sways from side-to-side, which is apparently to try and increase depth of vision, but Ronnie doesn’t do this so much.


Interaction with pet rats is an important aspect of caring for them. Ronnie and Derek were a bit nervous at first, but they only took a few days to settle in and be happy to interact with me. When opening the cage door, they generally both come over and see what I’m up to (and if there’s any food!). They’ll happily climb out of the cage and onto my arm, before walking around my shoulders and head.

They’re usually very active and don’t keep still for long – probably because they’re still so young – but sometimes they stay put for a bit longer. Derek, in particular, enjoys climbing down my top! 


‘Bruxing’ is when rats grind their teeth, which can also cause their eyes to ‘boggle’ and their cheeks to quiver. They usually do this when relaxed and happy, but can also do it when stressed. Ronnie and Derek both do this, often when outside the cage and happily exploring with me.


Ronnie and Derek often aggressively groom each other and then one lies on his back in a ‘frozen’ position. This is apparently a way of deciding who’s dominant, but they do it to each other so it’s probably more a form of playing. This apparently could lead to a proper fight breaking out among rats who don’t get along or aren’t familiar with each other.

Watch a video clip of Ronnie and Derek play fighting here. They’ve recently started to often roll on their backs in the cage when I go to pick them up, so I can ‘groom’ them in the way they groom each other while fighting. Watch a video clip of this here


Rats are intelligent animals and can be trained and there are plenty of online videos  about this. Ronnie and Derek are still young and haven’t yet been trained, but this will be updated once it’s (hopefully) been successfully attempted!

After a few weeks, Ronnie and Derek associated a ‘clicking’ noise with food, as I’ve always made the noise when feeding them. Even if they’re dozy in their house and I click, they’ll now drag themselves out and over to the cage door as they know they’re going to get food (maybe a treat!). They also come over when I open the plastic boxes I store their food in, as they recognise the noise now.

They’re also now used to the noise of the front door being unlocked, so if they’re in their house when I come in, they’ll pop their heads out to see what’s going on. It’s a welcome sight to come back to!


Rats’ faeces is pellet-shaped and quite hard, even when first defecated. Neither their urine nor their faeces has much of an odour unless you deliberately get close and smell it.

During the first fortnight or so, Ronnie and Derek quite often defecated and occasionally urinated when they were out of the cage, but this rarely happens now. This is apparently a way of marking new territory and/or being a bit nervous in an unfamiliar place.


Rats reportedly easily develop respiratory problems. During the first few weeks, Ronnie sneezed quite regularly but there were no signs of porphyrin (see the Care page for more info) building up on his nose. This is apparently quite common among rats when they’re settling in to a new home, which seemed to be the case with Ronnie. He still sneezes every now and then, whereas Derek doesn’t so much.



All content hosted on this website, including text and visual materials, is Copyright © David Watts 2019. It cannot be reproduced in any form without the prior permission of the copyright holder. All information provided on this website is based on experience of caring for Ronnie and Derek. Whilst the information will hopefully be useful to those interested in caring for rats, it must not be treated as a defintive care guide. If in doubt regarding the health and well-being of your rat(s), be safe by contacting your vet.

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