THE RSPCA has revealed it received 670 reports about rats last year as latest research shows insight into how pet rats are cared for.

There are around 200,000 pet rats in the UK, but less is known about their day-to-day wellbeing than other popular pets such as cats and dogs.

This is why Dr Vikki Neville, from the University of Bristol, conducted a survey of more than 650 rat owners to find out more about how they are cared for at home.

The RSPCA hopes the findings can help to educate the public about how to care for these incredible animals.

Dr Jane Tyson, RSPCA’s rodent welfare expert, said: “Rats are sociable, intelligent and friendly animals but they can often be misunderstood and underestimated.

"As a charity, we sadly dealt with more than 670 reports about rats in need of our help last year.”

Of those reports, 90 were made across the South West, including 10 in Somerset.

Dr Tyson added: “This is why it’s really important to understand how rats are kept, so that the best and most helpful advice can be given to owners on how to care for rats and improve their welfare.

"Although the survey revealed lots of good news about how rats are cared for, it also highlighted some common issues such as a lack of enrichment and time outside of their cages, and owners not taking their rats to the vets.”

Dr Neville said: "Understanding how companion animals are cared for is a vital step in working out what we need to do to, if anything, to improve their welfare.

“We had a great response to our survey, and it was amazing how enthusiastic owners were about their pet rats and reassuring that high levels of enrichment were generally provided.

"However, the survey did flag up a few areas of concern, including some cases where rats were not provided with opportunities to explore outside their cage or were not provided with both bedding and nesting materials.

"I hope that we’ll now be able to communicate the importance of these aspects of husbandry with owners so that they can best look after their rats.

"Rats are such intelligent creatures and are full of personality, just like tiny dogs, and I think they deserve the best life we can give them – if our research helps to improve their welfare then I would be delighted."

  • Rats make great pets: Some of the survey respondents’ favourite things about their rats were that they are affectionate, entertaining, friendly and intelligent.
  • Bedding: Some rats were being housed without separate bedding and nesting materials, but it’s important to give your rat both. Materials like wood chips can make good bedding, while shredded paper or tissue paper works well for nesting. Some owners did report using sawdust for bedding, but this can often be too dusty for rats, so it’s best avoided.
  • Playtime: Lots of owners also reported that they didn’t often give their rats time to explore outside of their cages, but this can be a great way to keep your rats happy and stimulated. Giving them free time to explore a secure room or creating a playpen with lots of toys and space to run around is important for their stimulation and enrichment.
  • Veterinary care: A small number of owners reported that they never took their rats to the vet. Rats can suffer from health problems just like any animal, so it’s important to keep an eye on them for potential problems and take them for regular check-ups.