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Clever, cute, and small, it’s no wonder fancy rats are popular pets! But do their smaller size and shorter life span make them a cheaper pet? It is a common misconception that pet rats are inexpensive starter pets due to their short lifespan (maximum 2-3 years) and low maintenance requirements.
Pet rats, on average, cost between $400 – $500 per year per rat. The initial costs for new rat owners are around $800. Although buying a Fancy Rat is not that expensive, a cage, accessories, and veterinary care can quickly add up.
Before jumping into the fantastic world of rat ownership, it is good to have a wallet check. Your rats will most definitely reward you with years of joy if you take good care of them. Nobody likes unexpected expenses, and you might be surprised to find the hefty price tag attached to this pocket pet. In this article, we have compiled a budget guide for the fixed and variable costs of owning a pet rat.
The Costs Involved
Like any pet, you will have to plan and budget for the costs of owning your rat. These costs can be split into fixed costs (once-off costs that apply to the initial purchase of your rat) and variable costs (costs that are not constant and may arise due to different circumstances).
For simplification and transparency, the common costs encountered have been split into two tables; a table for the fixed costs and a table for the variable costs (see below).
Buying The Rat
Domestic pet rats can be purchased from pet stores or adopted from rescue agencies or local shelters. They come in many different varieties (from dumbo to rex and everything in between) with many unique characteristics (different color patterns, large ears, small ears, etc.).
Mainely Rat Rescue (in New England) and Any Rat Rescue (in Phoenix, Arizona) are two examples of rat rescue organizations from which you may acquire your new rat. In addition, the Travelling Rat is a nationwide resource that provides a list of rat-friendly local shelters and rescue organizations by state.
Some pet stores may also sell pet rats for around $14 each; however, feeder rats can be as low as $2 each. It is important to remember that feeder rats are bred for feeding snakes, are likely to carry diseases, and may not make good pets.
The minimum cage size for two rats should be 30″ x 14″ x 17″. It is recommended to buy the biggest cage you can afford to have lots of space for environmental enrichment, such as toys and accessories. And let’s face it: there’s a good chance you will want to get more rats as soon as you fall in love with your first two rats.
When buying a cage, look for a cage with multiple levels and lots of vertical space. Not only does this require less floor space in your home, but it also allows your rats to have various levels to climb, giving them more space to move around in.
The Kaytee Rat Home is a good starter option for one or two rats (provided that they will be allowed to spend time outside of the cage), and the Prevue Pet Products Deluxe Critter Cage is an excellent multi-level option for 4 – 5 rats.
If you have a smaller cage, it is recommended to have a rat-proof area outside their cage where they can spend 30-60 minutes every day to keep them entertained and active.
Pet Vet Tip: For more information on how to let your rats can safely spend time outside of the cage, have a look at this handy guide on our website.
When buying toys, look for non-toxic natural material are rats love to gnaw on nearly everything. Cheaper options such as tissue boxes are a hit, and so are toilet or paper towel rolls.
Food puzzle toys such as the slow-feeding ball or this sliding puzzle toy will keep your rats busy for a while. The Niteangel Fun tunnel is another good environmental enrichment addition to your rat enclosure.
An exercise wheel is another essential addition to your rats’ cage to keep them active and healthy. The Alfie Pet Exercise Running Wheel and the Savic Rolly Exercise Wheels are both excellent options that are easy to clean and sturdy.
Food And Water Bowls
There are many bowls to choose from. The bowls or water bottles should be non-toxic and easy to clean, and water bowls/bottles should be filled with cool, clear, fresh potable drinking water that is always available.
These Stainless Steel Parrot Feeding Cups are a good option as they can be attached to the side of the cage, making your rats unable to tip the bowl. These cute ceramic bowls on Amazon are also a good chew-proof option.
For water containers, a non-drip option that can be attached to the side of the cage, such as the Kaytee Clear Water Bottle, works best.
Hammocks, Igloos, and Hideouts
Rats need a comfortable spot to hide out and relax. You can make these yourself or buy hammocks such as the Niteangel Hanging Hammock or the Lixit Critter Hollow Home. Having a washable hammock is great, as your rats will likely pee on their hammocks. The hut works well as it is sturdy and less likely to be chewed up by your rats (or at least it will take them a while).
Pet Vet Tip: Want to learn more about a pee rock for your rat and how it can help litter train your rat? Have a look at this article!
Sterilization not only helps prevent unwanted pregnancies but also reduces aggression in male and female rats and the chance of mammary tumors, the most common tumor in rats.
Sterilizations can be a costly once-off expense but reduce the likelihood of other health conditions developing and, therefore, may save you money in the long run.
The Fixed Costs Of Owning Pet Rats
|Rat||$10 – $20||Many different varieties of rats are available to choose from. The cost of a rat will depend on whether the rat is adopted or purchased from a pet store or breeder. It is also recommended to have two rats (or more) as they are highly social animals and thrive on companionship.|
|Cage||$100 – $500||Large, vertical cages are recommended, as rats love to climb.|
$5 – $15
Puzzle and forage toys
$10 – $30
|Ideal toys are those that can be chewed and those that can have treats hidden in them. Toys are an important and relatively inexpensive way to provide environmental enrichment for your rats. Rats are likely to destroy the toys, so natural materials (such as wood) are preferred.|
|Exercise Wheel||$15 – $45||Recommended to keep your rat entertained whilst in the cage and to prevent obesity by providing a source of exercise.|
|Litter Box||$4.59||Aids keep their cage clean as they can be trained to use the litter box.|
|Rat Carrier||$20 – $50||Ideal for transporting your rat to and from the vet or other destination or temporarily housing your rat while you clean their cage.|
|Feed and Water Bowls||$8 – $15 each||Rats tend to chew on things, so ceramic or steel bowls are preferred over plastic ones where possible.|
|Hideaways/Igloos/Hammocks||$8 – $25||Provides a place for relaxation and hiding.|
|Sterilization||$200 – $300||Recommended avoiding aggression (especially between males), health issues (such as the development of mammary tumors in female rats), and overpopulation (if males and females are kept together).|
Food is probably the most significant part of variable costs. An adult rat should eat 15-20 grams of food per day or around 60 calories, divided into 2 – 3 meals. It is best to monitor your rat’s weight by weighing them on a kitchen scale every week to check that they are not losing or gaining weight and then feed them accordingly. An adult female rat should weigh around 250 – 400 grams, and males should weigh about 300 – 600 grams.
That means each of your rats will eat approximately 1.3 pounds each month. Pelleted food such as Oxbow Essentials is preferred to a muesli mix such as the Katy Fiesta, as some rats will pick out their favorites from the mixture.
Pet Vet Tip: To read more on rat diet, have a look at this article. Although it is aimed at feeding senior rats, many of the principles can be applied to the nutrition of rats of any age. To read more about how much you should feed your rat and wether they will over-eat, have a look at this article.
Other variable costs include bedding, pet insurance, and other medical expenses.
The Variable or Recurring Costs Of Owning Pet Rats
|Food||$2 – $6 per pound or $2.6 – $7.8 per rat per month, depending on the brand and size of the bag, with larger bags being cheaper per pound of food.||A pelleted diet (a highly nutritious low-fat diet that is beneficial to prevent deficiencies and obesity) can be supplemented with fruits or vegetables.|
|Treats||Most treats will cost between $10 – $30 per bag.||Treats may be given but should be included as part of the total daily intake of your rat to prevent obesity. Treats should not make up more than 10% of your rat’s diet.|
|Bedding||$4 – $15 per rat per month, depending on the type||There are many different types of bedding to choose from. It is essential to select a bedding type that is rat-friendly, dust free, absorbable, and non-toxic. Ink-free paper bedding is a cheap (even free) alternative to store-bought bedding.|
$7 – $25 per rat per month, depending on the type of plan.
|Rats are exotic pets, so you need to find pet insurance companies that cover exotic animals. The cost varies between the different insurance companies (as are the other plans they offer) and may cost up to $250 per year.|
|Annual Vet Appointments||Anywhere from $70 upwards per visit (usually around $100 – $150 per year)||Rats should be taken to exotic vets yearly as they are prone to developing tumors and respiratory infections.|
|Savings for Medical Emergencies||Medical emergencies may cost anywhere between $150 – $200||Pet insurance would help mitigate these costs, and the amount of money that you put aside depends on your financial situation|
*The costs presented in this article are correct as of 19 October 2022. Various sources were utilized to obtain these figures and data, including Petco®, Amazon®, and more.
Due to the short lifespan of pet rats, their “cost of living” is very high. If you decide to purchase high-quality food and bedding, have pet insurance, and have regular check-ups, the cost of owning a rat can drastically increase. You can, however, own a pet rat on a budget by using ink-free paper bedding, adopting instead of buying your rat and buying second-hand equipment.
Domestic pet rats are highly social creatures who love to play and enjoy the company of their human companion. They are resoundingly intelligent and can be taught to perform tricks, go over obstacles and even retrieve items in a classic game of “fetch”. Contrary to popular belief, pet rats are clean, low maintenance and are often awake during the day (a bonus as you won’t need to endure the sound of squeaky wheels churning while you try to sleep).
These endearing qualities mean many people rush out to buy a pet rat rather than a new kitten or puppy. There are an increasing number of places where they can be acquired, and it is essential to consider the costs involved before you get your own fancy rat.
I hope this guide makes planning and buying everything rat-related just a tad easier. If you can plan to provide your rats with a good environment, the nutrition, and the care they need, they will be able to provide you with many years of happy rat-ownership!
- Banks, R., 2013. Exotic small mammal care and husbandry. Hoboken: John Wiley, pp.81 – 92.
- Hou, C.Y. and Protopopova, A. (no date) Rats as pets: Predictors of adoption and surrender of pet rats (rattus norvegicus domestica) in British Columbia, Canada, PLOS ONE. Public Library of Science.
- Meredith, A. and Redrobe, S., 2002. BSAVA manual of exotic pets. 4th ed. Quedgeley: British Small Animal Veterinary Association, pp.13 – 25.