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Fancy Rat: Care Guide, Varieties, Lifespan & More (With Pictures)

Emma Stenhouse

Fancy rats are sociable, playful, intelligent, and affectionate. They make wonderful pets, so if you’ve been considering adding a pet rat (or two!) to your family, then you’re in the right place. Fancy rats are gentle and make great small pets for kids, as they’re easier to handle and more playful than the more popular hamster!

Fancy rats do need a large cage and will also need time outside of their cage to explore their surroundings. Let’s go beyond the reputation of wild rats as dirty street creatures and discover everything there is to love about the domestic fancy rat!

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Quick Facts about Fancy Rat

Species Name: Rattus norvegicus domestica
Family: Muridae
Care Level: Medium
Temperature: Comfortable in standard house temperatures
Temperament: Sociable, playful, and smart
Color Form: Many different colors and markings, including marked, self-varieties, Russian, and shaded
Lifespan: 18-36 months
Size: Body 9-11 inches, tail 7-9 inches
Diet: Rat pellets or nuggets, fresh fruit and vegetables, occasional protein-rich treats
Minimum Tank Size: 2 foot x 2 foot x 2 foot. Wire cages preferable over glass tanks
Tank Set-Up: Bedding, hideaways, toys, food, and water
Compatibility: Best kept in same-sex pairs

Fancy Rat Overview

two fancy rats
Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

Fancy rats are the domestic variety of the Norway rat. They’re psychologically and physiologically different from their wild cousins. They’re sociable and playful, and it’s best to keep a pair of rats so they have company.

Fancy rats have unique personalities and can be great fun for kids and adults to get to know. They’re more likely to be active in the daytime than some other small pets, like hamsters, meaning there’s more time to interact with them during daylight hours and less chance of them keeping you awake at night!

How Much Do Fancy Rats Cost?

Fancy rats aren’t expensive, so you can usually find them for between $20-40 each. Choosing to buy your new rat from a breeder or reputable pet store will give you the best chance of getting a rat that’s bred specifically for a domestic home and will be happy being handled.

Baby rats that have been regularly handled while they’re young will be more likely to be friendly and outgoing.

Typical Behavior & Temperament

Fancy rats are outgoing and sociable. They enjoy interacting with humans and can be trained to learn tricks, like walking on a harness or even using a litter tray in their cage.

They enjoy playing with toys, so providing a range of chew toys, balls, and other toys can help keep them happy while they’re in their cage.

Rats enjoy being handled and will happily hang out on your lap or shoulder. They’re less likely to bite than other small pets, especially if they’re handled regularly.

Even if your rat has a large cage, it’s recommended to allow them time outside their cage each day. One hour per day is the minimum, but they will happily enjoy more if you let them!

Rats are sociable, so it’s best to keep them in same-sex pairs. Littermates can work particularly well together. You can keep male and female rats together, but be sure to have them either neutered or spayed to avoid the possibility of them having babies! Some male combinations can become aggressive, but this can usually be reduced by having both rats neutered.

fancy rat
Image Credit: olgagorovenko, Shutterstock

Appearance & Varieties

Fancy rats come in a huge range of colors, so you’ll have plenty of choices when it comes to choosing your new pet! These are the main varieties, as used by the National Fancy Rat Society:

Self

These fancy rats can be pink-eyed white, champagne, buff, platinum, quicksilver, British blue, black, chocolate, mink, and ivory.

Marked

Marked fancy rats can have markings categorized into Berkshire, badger, Irish, hooded, variegated, capped, Essex, blazed Essex, Chinchilla, squirrel, roan (husky), and striped roan (banded husky).

Russian

These fancy rats can be found in Russian blue, Russian dove, Russian blue agouti, and Russian topaz.

Shaded

Shaded fancy rats can be found in the colors Argente crème, Himalayan, Siamese, blue point Siamese, Burmese, wheaten Burmese, golden Himalayan, marten, and silver agouti.

Any other variety

The “AOV” class includes cream, topaz, silver fawn, silver, agouti, cinnamon, British blue agouti (opal), lilac agouti (lynx), pearl, cinnamon pearl, and platinum agouti.

Guide standard

This class includes fancy rats in cream agouti, golden Siamese, lilac, Russian dove agouti, Russian silver, Russian silver agouti, sable Burmese, and spotted downunder.

Provisional standard

This color class includes bareback, blue point Himalayan, cinnamon chinchilla, Havana, Havana agouti, merle, powder blue, pink-eyed ivory, Russian buff, Russian Burmese, Russian pearl, satin, silken, and variegated downunder.

You can also find Rex and Dumbo varieties of fancy rat. Rex fancy rats have a curled coat with few guard hairs and whiskers. They can be any color listed above.

Dumbo fancy rats have ears set on the sides of their heads, rather than the top. These are more prominent as well. They can be any color listed above.

The American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association also include hairless, bristle, and tailless varieties in their breed standard.

How to Take Care of a Fancy Rat

Habitat, Cage Conditions & Setup

 Cage

Some owners keep their rats in glass aquariums, but we much prefer using a tall wire cage with a solid floor. This allows for more air circulation, as well as giving your rat places to climb, which most of them love!

A 2-foot square cage is the minimum size that you should aim for, but selecting the largest cage that you can afford and fit in your home will mean your rat has more space to enjoy.

Temperature

As long as rats have plenty of bedding and hideaways, they will be comfortable living in the regular temperature of your house, somewhere between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid placing their cage in direct sunlight, and try to keep the humidity low if possible.

Accessories

In the wild, rats find small spaces to hide, and they also like to burrow to feel safe. Adding hideaways and tunnels to your rat’s cage can help them feel secure and happy. You can even get hanging hideaways if your rat loves to climb! 

Bedding

Paper bedding is best for fancy rats. You can also make your own paper bedding used shredded paper, but make sure to only use plain paper or paper with non-toxic inks.

Never use cedar wood shavings as bedding for your rat, even if you see it available and advertised as suitable. Cedar bedding has been linked to a mortality rate of 60% in pet rats. It’s thought that rats ingest or are exposed to a toxic substance within these aromatic wood shavings.

Aspen bedding is one wood-based choice, but some rat experts still recommend to steer clear of this as it does contain aromatic compounds that can lead to respiratory issues and allergies.

If your rat has been sneezing and scratching, has mucus around their nose and eyes, or is biting themselves, they may be suffering from an allergic reaction, which can sometimes be linked to their bedding.

You may choose to train your rat to use a small litter tray filled with pelleted wheat straw litter, and as rats are intelligent creatures, they can often figure this out pretty quickly! It also makes cleaning their cage quicker and easier.

Do Fancy Rats Get Along With Other Pets?

fancy rat in the cage
Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

Fancy rats can get along well with other pets, with some caution. Some fancy rats can live happily alongside cats and dogs, but they should never be allowed out of their cage unsupervised.

Some dogs and cats can show an unhealthy amount of interest in pet rats, which is to be expected, given that both cats and dogs are natural predators. Depending on your cat or dog’s prey drive, you may decide to keep your rat’s cage in an area of the house that your cat or dog isn’t allowed access to. It can be stressful for your rat to spend time in their cage if they know that they’re being watched by a predator all the time!

Overall, it will depend on the personality of your rat, as well as the other pets. Some combinations can co-exist quite happily and spend supervised time together. Others may need to be kept completely separate.

What to Feed Your Fancy Rat

Fancy rats will do best on a pelleted or mixed food that’s designed specifically for rats. While you might be tempted to feed them a food for hamsters or mice, this isn’t recommended. They will likely pick out the bits they like most, which will usually be the ones with the highest fat content, and leave the rest!

Rat’s teeth grow constantly, so their food needs to be abrasive enough to help trim their teeth as they chew.

You can supplement your rat’s standard diet with a small amount of protein from mealworms, small dog biscuits, or chickpeas.

Provide a small amount of fresh vegetables — around 1 tablespoon of vegetables each week is enough. While your rat may love fruit, this snack is high in sugar and should only be given as an occasional treat, in small portions. One teaspoon of fruit every other week is sufficient.

Rats can be prone to overeating, so monitor your rat’s weight to make sure they’re not at risk of developing obesity.

Keeping Your Fancy Rat Healthy

two fancy rats
Image Credit: Colin Seddon, Shutterstock

Fancy rats are generally healthy pets, with the two main health concerns being respiratory diseases and mammary tumors.

Some fancy rats suffer from breathing problems, which can be minimized by using dust-free bedding. Respiratory diseases can also be caused by exposure to a bacteria called mycoplasma. Rats may be exposed to this when they’re still young, and the effects may not be evident until they go through a stressful situation, like moving to a new house or getting a new cage mate. Usually, a course of antibiotics can help clear this up.

If female rats aren’t spayed, the chance of them getting mammary tumors is far higher. It’s recommended to have them spayed as early as possible for this reason.

The main health issue with rats is their relatively short lifespan, and they generally only live for around 3 years. This isn’t a problem in itself, but that time can fly by, and then you’re faced with losing your beloved fancy rat far sooner than you may have wanted to.

Breeding

It’s not recommended to breed fancy rats at home. Inbreeding can be a big problem, which can increase the risks of genetic diseases. You’ll also need to consider if you’re able to find homes for the kittens, and some rats can have litters as large as 20!

Breeding fancy rats is definitely best left to the professional breeders. They’re experienced enough to know how to breed healthy rats together, as well as ensure that the babies are well handled so they become sociable adult rats.

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Are Fancy Rats Suitable for You?

Fancy rats can make a wonderful family pet. They’re affectionate, playful, and smart. These sociable rodents love spending time with their human families, but it’s also best to keep them in same-sex pairs so they have a ratty companion to spend time with.

Most fancy rats can easily be handled by children and adults alike. They need larger cages than some other rodents like hamsters, but they’re also more interactive and will usually be active during the day time. They need a large cage, with plenty of clean bedding and places to hide. Rats also love spending time out of their cages and need at least 1 hour per day to have supervised exercise around the house.

Fancy rats can suffer from respiratory problems, and females are prone to mammary tumors if they’re not spayed. They also have a relatively short lifespan, with 3 years being considered old for a fancy rat.

If you’re considering becoming the owner of a fancy rat, let us know in the comments if you have any other questions!


Featured Image Credit: olgagorovenko, Shutterstock

Emma Stenhouse

Emma is a freelance writer, specializing in writing about pets, outdoor pursuits, and the environment. Originally from the UK, she has lived in Costa Rica and New Zealand before moving to a smallholding in Spain with her husband, their 4-year-old daughter, and their dogs, cats, horses, and poultry. When she's not writing, Emma can be found taking her dogs for walks in the rolling fields around their home...and usually, at least some of the cats come along, too! Emma is passionate about rescuing animals and providing them with a new life after being abandoned or abused. As well as their own four rescue dogs, she also fosters dogs for re-homing, providing them with love and training while searching for their forever homes.