Wild rats may be impressive scavengers but your pet rat’s food options are entirely up to you. Just because rats might want to eat anything you give them doesn’t mean every food is safe or healthy for them to consume. The last thing you want is to make your pet sick, so before feeding something new, take the time to find out if it’s okay for your rat to eat.
Humans know that oranges are delicious and full of vitamin C, but can rats eat oranges? Female rats can safely eat oranges, however, the answer is more complicated when it comes to males. A substance found in oranges can be dangerous to male rats in high amounts, so it’s generally recommended to play it safe and avoid feeding this fruit to male rats.
The Trouble With Oranges
D-limonene is a chemical occurring naturally in many edible plants, including oranges. This natural substance is used in many human items, including cosmetics and orange-scented or flavored products. When this chemical undergoes testing to determine its safety for humans, rats are often used.
During safety testing of d-limonene, it was discovered that the chemical interacts with a protein found only in male rats, leading to disease and cancer in their kidneys over time.
Now, it’s important to keep in mind that these tests artificially exposed the male rats to a much higher amount of d-limonene than they’d get just by eating a bit of orange, even every day.
Because of this, an occasional snack of oranges is unlikely to bring any ill effects to your male rat. However, with so many other perfectly safe fruits and vegetables available to offer, most rat owners prefer to avoid feeding oranges to their male rats.
What Should Rats Eat?
Like people, rats are omnivores, meaning they need nutrients from both plant and animal sources. Also similar to humans, rats are prone to both overeating and enjoying unhealthy foods, high in sugar and salt. A rat’s health and ultimately how long they live is very dependent on the quality of their diet.
The majority of a rat’s daily calorie intake should be made up of quality, nutritionally balanced rodent pellet or block food. Many commercial rat diets are a seed/fruit/nut blend that’s often high in fat and less nutritionally complete.
Besides the rodent block, your rat should be offered a variety of healthy foods and treats. Fruits are just one type of food that falls into this category.
You Are What You Eat: Rat Edition
Just as important as what you feed your rat is how much food you are giving them. Eating too much can cause both short-term and long-term health problems for rats. Just one teaspoon of food makes up a single serving for a rat!
Obesity is a common concern in rats, even those fed an overall healthy diet. Rats just don’t know when to say when and will happily overeat if given the chance. Being overweight contributes to poor overall health and a weakened immune system in rats.
Long-term, rats who consume more than their fair share of calories are at a higher risk of developing cancer.
Because portions of fresh food should not only be small but also make up only a minimal part of your rat’s diet, it makes sense that you would want to stick to fruits, other than oranges, that you know for sure are safe for any rat.
What Other Foods Are Safe for Rats?
You’ve ruled out oranges for your male rat friends, but what other fruits and foods can be safely offered?
Besides fruits and vegetables, a healthy rat diet will also include grains and protein sources. Offering something different every day will give your rat variety in their diet as well as provide a range of nutrients.
Here are some better fruit options than oranges to offer your rat, as well as some vegetables they may enjoy:
Grains you can offer include brown rice and whole-grain bread or pasta. Rats can digest protein from both plant and animal sources, but they don’t tolerate large amounts of protein, so be extra cautious about portions there. Some possible proteins for your rat include the following:
Be very selective about offering your rat treats like nuts or even leftover human food. They may gobble them up, but these are only suitable for special occasions due to their poor nutritional value.
Oranges are a delicious and nutritious fruit, but it’s best to look elsewhere when it comes to fruits your rat can eat, at least when it comes to male rats. Unfortunately, pet rats don’t have the longest lifespans in the first place. Feeding an inadequate diet, whether it be the wrong food or just too much of any food, can cause a lot of problems for your rat. Give your adorable whiskered friend the best shot at a (respectively) long and happy life by avoiding potentially unsafe foods and feeding only the healthiest diet possible.
- Related article: Can Rats Eat Apples? What You Need to Know!
Featured Image Credit by Hermann & F. Richter, Pixabay