Keeping pet rats is becoming more and more popular nowadays—and for good reason! Despite their dubious reputation as vermin, rats, or “fancy rats” as enthusiasts call them, make great little pets and are actually highly affectionate, friendly, and easily trainable.
Rats are small, and so it’s not unreasonable to assume the cost of keeping one as a pet will be small, too. While caring for a pet rat is fairly uncomplicated, there are some costs involved, of course. This includes adequate housing, bedding, food, and accessories, plus the cost of adoption. You can expect to adopt or buy a rat for $0-$20 and have yearly expenses of $400-$500.
Depending on how many rats you aim to keep, they can actually be a fairly expensive pet, despite what you may have heard. There are many things to think about before bringing home your first pet rat, and it can become overwhelming. In this article, we’ll take a look at everything you need to own a pet rat, plus all the various costs involved.
Bringing Home a New Pet Rat: One-Time Costs
The initial cost of buying a rat is not great, but you need to consider the fact that your pet rat will be a whole lot happier when kept with other rats. We recommend having at least a pair to keep each other company, but the more the merrier! Of course, you’ll also need to purchase a cage, bedding, feeding bowls, and accessories. These extras can be expensive, but you’ll only be buying them once!
The idea of a pet rat sounds great to a lot of pet enthusiasts, but often it doesn’t work out quite as they planned. Maybe the responsibility is just too large, their rats have had babies they want to give away, they moved into a new home, or their cat has caught on about the new meal hanging around the home! In any case, there are often owners looking for new homes for their pet rats and are happy to give them away for free. Check out your local SPCA or a pet adoption website.
One great aspect of adopting a pet rat from a shelter is that they usually have regular check-ups and so are most likely in a healthy condition.
Depending on the breeder, you can expect the pet rat price to be no more than $20. As mentioned earlier, rats are highly social creatures and so you’ll want to get a pair at least. Still, it’s a low initial outlay, and many breeders may even offer a small discount if you buy more than one, so you may get them for under $10 in these cases. We highly recommended going and visiting the breeder and making sure the parents are living in a clean and healthy environment.
The total cost of supplies you’ll need before bringing home a pet rat will largely depend on how many you plan to have. For the purposes of this article, we’ll keep estimates under the assumption of a pair of rats, as this is the most common situation, and there is no real difference in cost in owning one or two.
List of Pet Rat Care Supplies & Cost
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Once you’ve got your pet rat’s cage, toys, and other initial outlays covered, there aren’t many other large expenses to be concerned with. Depending again on how many rats you own, your main annual cost will be food, treats, and bedding. Bedding needs to be changed frequently to avoid nasty smells and an unhealthy environment.
Rats are fairly healthy pets, although they do have a tendency to form tumors. While many of these tumors are benign, they will still need to be operated on and removed. This is usually found in females as they are prone to mammary tumors, but males can get them too.
$100–$150 a year for health care may not seem like a lot, but you need to consider that this price is for a single rat, and you’ll more than likely have multiple rats. Not only that, but rats only have a maximum lifespan of 2–3 years, so you may need to visit the vet to put them down, at which point you may purchase another rat, and thus the cycle continues. It is for these often-overlooked reasons that keeping pet rats may not be as affordable as most people assume.
Luckily, rats and other small rodents do not require vaccinations, but a checkup with the vet will cost around $30.
Treatments for Parasites
If your rat’s cage is kept clean and healthy, there is usually little concern about external parasites. That being said, external parasites can still be introduced by new rats you bring home, by commercial bedding, or any toys or equipment that may have come into contact with an infected rat.
Mites are the most commonly found parasite and causes itching and scabbing in rats. If you notice that all your rats have scabs and itchiness, it’s highly likely you have a mite infestation.
As mentioned earlier, female rats are fairly prone to mammary tumors and depending on how serious the tumor is surgeries can be expensive. Males also tend to get abscesses which sometimes require medical attention, plus rats of the same sex may fight and get injured. Neutering males may help, and this procedure typically costs $50–$100. It’s a good idea to keep $150 aside for any emergencies that may come up.
Insurance is a great idea for pet rats, but not all insurers will cover them. The ones that do will likely be fairly expensive, around $15-$20 a month, and so it may be a better idea to keep the money aside yourself.
The annual food cost for your pet rat can vary widely and depends on several factors, including the food you give them and how many you own. For a single rat, you can expect to pay around $5 per month on the cheaper side and up to $15 for more expensive food. It will significantly lower your food costs to buy in bulk, especially if you own multiple rats.
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The biggest maintenance cost for pet rats is their bedding, and natural paper bedding is best as it is dust-free, unscented, and free from dyes. Paper bedding is also highly absorbent and only needs to be cleaned once a week or so. Shredded paper is a great affordable option but be sure it is blank paper; newspaper is a definite no-no due to the ink. Pellet bedding is also great but can get highly expensive if you have more than two or three rats.
Lastly, Aspen bedding is a popular choice, but can get messy and is not as absorbent as other bedding options. Depending on the type of bedding you use, you’ll need to change it every 5–7 days.
Total Annual Cost of Owning a Pet Rat
If you decide to go for things like pet insurance, high-quality food and bedding, and have regular health checkups, the costs of owning a pet rat can quickly stack up to $500 per year or more. Any medical emergencies will push these costs even higher, and so we recommend putting away some money in case of any serious medical issues—unless you have insurance. However, you can expect to pay around $400 per year on average for food, bedding, and general maintenance.
Owning a Pet Rat on a Budget
For more budget-minded pet rat owners, there are some things you can do to bring down the costs a fair bit. Firstly, the most obvious step would be to only own 2 or 3 rats and make sure they do not breed or fight, so purchase only males or females. Adoption is also a cheaper option than buying rats from a breeder, and you may even be able to get some pet rats for free.
Your initial outlay can also be brought down by buying second-hand equipment. There are many would-be rat owners who decide that these pets are not for them, and you can easily find second-hand cages on eBay or dedicated Facebook groups. As mentioned earlier, insurance is not a necessity, and it makes more sense to put a small chunk of money aside for any emergencies.
Lastly, you don’t necessarily need to purchase specialized bedding, especially if you only own several rats. Shredded paper that is free from dyes and inks is a great free option for bedding, although you’ll probably need to change it far more often than commercial options.
While owning a pet rat is nowhere near as expensive as other pets like dogs and cats, it is still most certainly not cheap, and the costs can quickly add up. With the addition of cages, feeders, toys, wheels, and medical expenses, the façade of a pet rat being a low-cost pet quickly dissolves.
You can expect to outlay roughly $200–$300 initially for a cage, bedding, food, and accessories, plus around $10–$20 for the cost of a rat. Annual expenses can often vary fairly widely, but you can expect to outlay around $400-$500 per year, depending. With all this in mind, the first year of owning a rat can easily cost you up to $800, but this will be significantly less after the initial equipment outlays.
With all this in mind, rats cost comparatively far less than most other popular pets and are fairly simple to look after. They make great pets that can be easily tamed and you’ll find yourself quickly becoming attached to these little critters!
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Featured Image Credit: Elena Sherengovskaya, Shutterstock