Feeding pet rats is not difficult, but there are some important items to include when doing so. Specially-formulated rat diets should always make up the bulk of your pet rat's meals, but you should also offer different fresh foods.
There are some homemade diets you can make that are recommended by rat experts as an alternative to prepackaged foods, but you must stick to these recipes very closely and make sure your rats get a variety of fresh supplements. A diet without supplements can end up being nutritionally imbalanced and cause problems for your rats (however, some lower quality formulated rat diets are also lacking in nutrition). For most owners, a combination of a good rat block and some fresh treats as supplements is the easiest and best way to provide a balanced diet.
While you are shopping for food for your pet rat, look for a diet that has been made specifically for rats. This will usually be a pellet or block-type (essentially a large pellet) diet since they have historically been considered the best rat diets (although there are some concerns with pellets). Loose seed mixes can be very well-balanced diets but only if your rat eats everything in the mix (and many don't). Alternatively, if you feed a block or pelleted food, a rat won't be able to pick and choose which parts they do and not want to eat. These rat blocks can be left available to your rat at all times.
A commonly recommended pellet diet is Oxbow Essentials rat food, but a rat and mouse diet that meets the same general requirements (e.g. low calorie, low fat) is a good compromise if you cannot find a good rat-specific diet. However, stay away from hamster, gerbil, and other rodent diets, as they are not a good substitute. The nutritional requirements in these foods are different, and they usually contain alfalfa which is not very digestible in rats.
Feeding Pet Rats Other Foods
Rats benefit from eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, and other fresh foods. This is great news because it's fun to share things you are eating with your rat. Keep in mind though that serving sizes are pretty small (as in a teaspoon or half-inch cube) for a rat so avoid giving large amounts of fruits or vegetables in each meal or diarrhea may result. The following is a list of treats you may wish to try, keeping in mind that feeding a wide variety of foods is the best way to ensure optimum nutrition and health:
- Fruit: apples, cherries, grapes, bananas, strawberries and other berries, melons, plums
- Vegetables: broccoli, potatoes, peas, carrot, cooked sweet potato, kale, parsley, bok choy, squash
- Cooked liver and other very lean cooked meats
- Whole wheat pasta and bread
- Cooked beans (including soy)
- Yogurt (especially with live cultures)
- Brown rice
- Unsweetened breakfast cereals
- Small dog biscuits
- Special treats (given only occasionally): whole nuts in the shell (almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts), sunflower seeds (high in fat), carob chips
- Leftovers from your meals are OK in moderation
Foods to Avoid
On the flip side, there are also foods you should not feed your pet rat:
- Raw beans
- Raw sweet potato
- Cabbage and Brussels sprouts
- Green potatoes
- Sweet, sugary treats and any other human "junk food"
- Caffeinated beverages
- Carbonated drinks
- Green bananas
- Wild insects (due to parasites and pesticides they may contain)
- Poppy seeds
- Do not feed any foods with d-limonene in it to male rats (lemon and orange peels and juice, mango, black pepper, nutmeg)