Rats

The Ultimate Guide to the Top 100 Foods to Feed Your Rats

what do pet rats eat

We all know that rats can eat almost anything, but with all that choice available, which foods are good for rats – and why? In this guide, we have chosen our top 100 foods for rats based on the healthy nutrients they contain or their usefulness in a specified situation.

For each food, we will briefly explain why it made the list and give you any key details that will help you to make good choices. We’ll also give you clear portion sizes per rat at the end of each brief.

The amount and frequency are generally for fresh food ‘extras’ and don’t relate to any of these foods items that are part of a daily dry mix or pellet. Where foods would generally be used as a full or partial meal replacement, we will make this clear.

Introducing New Food to Your Rats

When you are trying out new foods, you need to understand that rats are neophobic, which means they are afraid of newness. This is an adaptation that researchers believe is linked to their inability to vomit. If they eat something poisonous, they will often die as a result.

This behavior remains in domesticated rats, though it is much stronger in some than in others. What this means is that when you give your rats something new to eat, they may appear not to like what you are offering.

But this has nothing to do with taste preference. Their tactic is to do a taste test and then wait to see whether they get ill. If they stay well, they will usually come back to the food and eat a little more and then wait again.

In research studies in labs, it took about three days of having the food available before they accepted a new food to the point of eating a full portion. So, leaving new food has nothing to do with not liking it!

Thankfully, rats also learn to choose safe foods from simply smelling those foods on the fur and breath of other rats. This means that if you have rats who already eat a wide range of food, any new and cautious cage mates will learn from them what is safe.

Top Vegetables and Herbs for Rats

We all know how good vegetables and herbs are for our health and this is true for rats as well. But what vegetables can rats eat? And are some better than others in terms of nutrients?

To help you, we’ve chosen 20 common vegetables and herbs that are a great addition to your rats’ diet. We’d encourage you to feed something from this list each day alongside a great dry mix or lab block.

Most rats will happily accept vegetables and herbs raw. Cooking veg will reduce the levels of some micronutrients in food, so raw is best for your rats. However, if you have individuals who will only accept cooked vegetables this is far better than no veg at all.

A note on pesticides

Some of the vegetables and fruit that are most useful to feed to rats are also the most likely to contain pesticide residue. Buying organic removes this issue. Alternatively, make sure that you wash the produce thoroughly before use.

Green leafy vegetables

This group of vegetables provides an excellent, readily available source of calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P) in the perfect ratio to support growth, bone development, and ongoing health. This is especially true during reproduction, growth and to support healing.

Greens contain soluble and insoluble fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients and a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Many people feed their pet rats green leafy vegetables most days throughout their lives. Chop them coarsely to serve.

Kale

Dandelion (leaves)

Arugula (rocket)

Spinach

Broccoli

Other vegetables

When feeding mixed vegetables go for a good mix of colors and varieties over the course of a week to give the best spread of benefits from micronutrients and phytochemicals. Some rats prefer root vegetables grated. The amounts given are based on feeding one vegetable a day, plus greens. If feeding two, give half the amount of each.

Cauliflower

Brussels sprouts

Asparagus

Red sweet (bell) pepper

Carrot

Pumpkin

Green peas

Beet (beetroot)

Cucumber

Garlic

Mushrooms

Seaweed

Mint

Basil

Cilantro (coriander)

Top Fruit for Rats

Fruit can be just as healthy as vegetables, although all fruit contains some fructose (sugar) so you do need to be careful not to give too much. Berries are often favored because they tend to have the highest density of nutrients for the lowest amount of sugar. However, many different fruits are good for rats.

We’ve chosen 20 wonderful, readily available fruits that will make an excellent addition to your rat’s diet. Some, like citrus and pineapple, have been left out because they can be problematic to rats – we discuss these fully in the article What foods can’t rats eat – and why?

Each entry gives you interesting information about the fruit plus details of which nutrients it contains. We’ll finish off with a guideline as to how often and how much to feed. This amount is based on feeding only one type of fruit per day. If you feed two types, then half the amount recommended.

Can rats eat dried fruit?

In principle, yes, but drying fruit concentrates sugar and many types of dried fruit are then sweetened with extra sugar or honey and preserved with sulfur dioxide. This chemical causes sensitivity reactions in some individuals (rats as well as humans), affecting both internal gut health and/or the respiratory system.

It is probably best to feed fresh fruit whenever possible, or fruit that has been dehydrated at home. When choosing dried fruit, check the labeling for sulfur dioxide and added sugar.

Berries

Berries are small, colorful powerhouses of nutrition. They have excellent properties mainly due to their high levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals – naturally occurring nutrients and chemicals, which help to protect cells from damage.

They are great at supporting your rats’ health and well-being. We’d recommend that berries make up at least a half of all the fruit that you give to your rats.

Blueberries

These little purple berries have good levels of vitamin C and K, but their main benefit is that they are crammed with phytochemicals.

These have a supporting effect on the rat’s blood vessels, helping them to stay healthier for longer. They also boost immune system health and protect against cancer and the aging process.

Can be fed fresh or frozen. Feed up to 3 times a week. (2 small berries – or 1 large – cut in half per rat)

Strawberries

These soft, summer fruits are full of vitamin C and antioxidants, with fair amounts of folic acid and fiber. The antioxidants are thought to help maintain normal blood pressure and heart health, as well as fighting the effects of aging on your rat’s brain. Can be fed fresh or frozen. Feed up to three times a week. (¼ of a large strawberry per rat)

Raspberries

Deep red raspberries are loaded with phytonutrients as well as some vitamin C, K, and manganese. The antioxidants may help fight various types of cancer, protect the brain as it ages, and decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke. Can be fed fresh or frozen. Feed up to three times a week. (1 large raspberry per rat)

Cranberries

These tiny pale red berries are low in sugar and high in fiber and antioxidants. They also contain some vitamin C, E, and K, as well as manganese. Cranberries won’t treat your rat’s urinary infection, but they can help to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Other benefits include boosting the immune system and gut health. Can be fresh or frozen. Feed up to three times a week. (3 cranberries per rat)

Blackberries

These robust, deep purple berries are often found growing wild. They are full of antioxidants including polyphenols, which are thought to reduce the inflammation that leads to heart disease and cancer.

They also contain good amounts of fiber, vitamin C, E, and K plus manganese. Can be fed fresh or frozen. Feed up to three times a week. (1 blackberry per rat)

Avocados

Surprise! Avocados are single-seeded berries. Keep the skin and stone away from your rats as these contain toxins, but the soft flesh is entirely safe and full of vitamin C, E, K, B5 and B6, folic acid, potassium, copper, oleic acid and omega 3/6 fats.

Avocado is a great source of fiber too. Feeding the fruit alongside other plant-based food can help the absorption of nutrients in the gut. Feed up to 3 times a week. (½” cube per 4 rats)

Other fruits

Beyond berries, there are many other wonderful fruits that offer their individual benefits to the average rat diet. We have chosen our best 14 recommendations to complete this section. We’d suggest that fruits from this section do not make up any more than half of the total amount of fruit that you give to your rats.

Apple

A staple in terms of cheap, healthy fruit, apples can also be cored, stuffed and used for enrichment. They contain a small amount of almost all the vitamins and minerals, plus a fair amount of fiber, but most of the health benefits are due to their high polyphenol content.

They are proven to be good for heart and gut health, maintaining normal blood pressure, protecting against cancer, and improving brain health in aging rats. Feed up to 3 times per week. (½” cube per rat)

Banana

This carbohydrate-rich fruit contains a fair amount of fiber, vitamin C and B6, folate, potassium, and manganese. They are rich in antioxidants and have many benefits including supporting a healthy gut, immune system and heart. Vitamin B6 is needed for energy regulation and healthy blood.

Bananas are well received by rats and can be fed fresh, baked or dried. Frozen banana whizzed in a blender makes a perfect rattie ice cream. Feed up to 3 times a week. (1 x ¼” slice per rat)

Tomatoes

While often considered a vegetable, tomatoes are actually a fruit. They have fair amounts of vitamin A, C, E and K, folate and potassium. Their superpower is being full of antioxidants, including lycopene. These have been linked to reduced inflammation, heart health, and protection against cancer. Feed up to 3 times a week. (½ a small cherry tomato per rat)

Plums

Despite only having a small amount of most vitamins and minerals, plums are thought to have significant benefits. This is due to being full of antioxidants, which improve heart and vascular health (reducing stroke risk), gut health, bone density, and immune system function.

They may also help coat growth and condition. Feed up to 3 times a week. (½” cube per rat)

Papaya

This is a low sugar fruit with excellent quantities of vitamin C. It also contains fair amounts of vitamin A, folate and potassium.

It’s antioxidants, phytonutrients and flavonoids make it a great (and often underused) fruit with benefits like protecting against cancer, aging, hypertension, and stroke. It has great anti-inflammatory properties too. Feed up to 3 times a week. (½” cube per rat)

Peaches

Like many fruits, peaches have a small amount of almost all vitamins and minerals (vitamin D and B12 being the exception). However, they are loaded with antioxidants including good levels of vitamin C and carotenoids.

Benefits include supporting immune system health and slowing the aging process. Nectarines are closely related and provide the same benefits. Feed up to 3 times a week. (½” cube per rat)

Kiwi

The Chinese Gooseberry is a great addition to your rats’ diet, as it is rich in vitamin C and phytochemicals, as well as good amounts of vitamin E and K, potassium, and copper. Make sure you leave the skin on as this is full of nutrients.

As most fruits are red or orange the green kiwi adds chlorophyll – amongst several other phytonutrients – which is thought to promote wound healing and help prevent anemia and infection. Feed up to 3 times a week (½” cube per rat)

Cherries

One of the purple-red fruits, some of which should be fed most days to reap the greatest benefit. Sweet, red cherries may only have a small amount of most micronutrients but are brimming with antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, which have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Other benefits include supporting brain and cardiovascular health and protecting against cancer and aging. Feed up to 3 times a week with stones removed.  (½ a cherry per rat)

Grapes

All varieties of grapes are useful to feed to your rats and apart from good levels of vitamin K and manganese, they have the low-level wide spread of vitamins and minerals so typical of fruit.

However, they contain a number of antioxidants that provide protection against aging, heart disease, and cancer. Grapes have a higher sugar content than most fruits, so don’t overdo it! Feed up to twice a week. (½ a grape per rat)

Pear

Despite low levels of vitamins and minerals, pears contain good amounts of fiber and phytochemicals, which make them useful for supporting gut and heart health. Their fluid and fiber content can also help us to get obese rats to lose weight.

Red-skinned pears have extra flavanols and carotenoids which have antioxidant properties. Feed up to 3 times a week. (½” cube per rat)

Melon

All melons are high in water content and loved by rats – so they make a great fluid source when rats are traveling, having surgery, or are off their food. The flesh contains carotenoids (antioxidants) and the seeds contain melanins, which have been shown to have antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

Benefits include hydration and protection against aging, heart disease, and cancer. Feed when needed, up to daily. (1” cube per rat or more for hydration purposes)

Pomegranate

These small red seeds can be used from frozen for convenience. They contain good levels of vitamin C and K, folate, copper, potassium, and manganese. They are also a rich source of antioxidants.

Benefits include supporting brain and cardiovascular health and protecting against cancer and aging. Pomegranate juice from the seeds is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Feed up to 3 times a week. (5 seeds per rat)

Coconut

Whilst technically a drupe, coconut can be considered a fruit. The water in a fresh coconut is a great hydration fluid as it contains some minerals and antioxidants, but it’s the flesh that is a rattie superfood, being rich in copper, selenium, iron, potassium, manganese, and folate plus antioxidants and healthy fats.

Benefits are broad affecting the healthy function of most systems in the rat’s body. Feed regularly up to 4 times a week, reducing the amount of dry food given slightly to account for the extra calories.  (½” cube per rat)

Olive

The olive is a bitter fruit which is made edible by soaking in a salt solution to remove the bitter compounds. Olives contain oleic acid which decreases inflammation and heart disease.

They are also a good source of vitamin A, E, and copper. Other benefits include supporting bone health and protecting against cancer. Their high sodium content means they need to be limited. Feed up to once a week. (¼ of an olive per rat).

Top Nuts, Seeds and Oils for Rats

Seeds and nuts supply protein add essential healthy fats to the diet. They should never be excluded even though they are high in fat, but they need to be fed selectively and in moderation.

We’ve chosen 9 nuts, 6 seeds and 5 wonderful oils, which will help you to make choices about this excellent addition to your rat’s diet. If you make up a mix yourself you will already include some seeds in that, so extra oils are not generally necessary.

The exception to this is giving oil as a supplement to top up vitamin D and giving a small piece of nut a couple of times a week to boost minerals.

Each entry gives you interesting information about the food item plus details of which nutrients it contains. We finish off with a guideline as to how often and how much to feed. This amount is based on feeding only one type of oil, seed or nut once or twice a week. If you feed two types, then half the amount is recommended.

Nuts

These little – but powerful – packages of nutrients also perform well in terms of mineral content, with some of them being key to boosting levels in the rat’s diet. Nuts are only ever fed in treat portions and are easy to offer to each rat by hand.

Sometimes you may want to give them in their shells for extra enrichment – in this instance, one nut per rats is fine. All nuts offered to rats should be unsalted.

Brazil nuts

These edible seeds from the Brazil nut tree boast the richest food source of selenium, a micronutrient that helps support the immune system. It is also essential to enable the thyroid gland to produce the hormones that drive metabolism.

Brazil nuts contain healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, thiamine, copper, zinc, calcium, and iron (amongst other minerals) in good amounts.

They are excellent fed raw to rats – an eighth of a nut is enough to top up several minerals that are often lacking in the diet. Feed regularly a couple of times a week. (⅛ nut per rat)

Almonds

Almonds are great nuts to feed in their shells for extra enrichment, as the shells are easy to get into. With an abundance of healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, vitamin E, B group (except for B12), copper, zinc, iron, and calcium, almonds are an excellent healthy treat.

A great little top up to support skin health and coat condition and color. Feed regularly up to twice a week. (½ to 1 nut per rat)

Cashew nuts

The cashew is the king of nuts for mineral content, with good amounts of iron, copper, zinc, and selenium – some of the harder nutrients to find in a natural rat diet. 1g of cashew has 22 micrograms of copper, which is around a tenth of the daily requirement.

These readily available nuts are rich in essential omega 3 and 6, phytochemicals, proteins and antioxidants. Cashews can help to protect against heart disease, cancer, anemia, and infection.

They are high in phosphorus so need to be limited in old age. Feed regularly up to twice a week. (½ a nut per rat)

Pistachios

Pistachios are edible seeds and can easily be bought in their shells for extra enrichment. They are packed with B vitamins (not B12), fiber, protein (21%), minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats, and phytochemicals.

Benefits include a protein and copper boost, protection against heart disease, stroke, cancer, anemia, and infection. They also support healthy skin and coat. Feed regularly up to twice a week. (1 nut per rat)

Pecans

These gorgeous nuts have the highest fat content of all nuts – but these are healthy fats, and this can be useful when trying to maintain weight in an older or sick rat. Good levels of fiber, B vitamins (not B12), minerals and phytochemicals.

Other benefits include supporting gut, cardiovascular and immune system health, promoting skin and coat health, reducing cancer risks and the rate of aging. Feed regularly up to twice a week. (¼ of a pecan per rat)

Walnuts

With great amounts of omega 3 (ALA), walnuts are excellent for heart health. They boast the highest levels of antioxidants of any nut. Great levels of fiber, vitamins (especially the B group) and minerals. Phytochemicals include polyphenols and melatonin.

Other benefits include reduced risk of inflammation, cancer, and stroke, plus improved gut health and fertility (in males).

Walnuts in shells are hard for rats to break into, so can provide great enrichment. 1g of the nut has 16g copper, which gives a nice boost. Feed regularly up to twice a week. (¼ of a walnut per rat)

Hazelnuts

These little gems are a perfect size and ease to present to rats in their shells – giving enrichment and nutrition in one package. Hazelnuts contain great amounts of fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins (especially B group) and minerals. 1g of the nut has 17g copper, which gives a nice boost.

Health benefits include supportive effects on the gut, immune system, skin, coat, and cardiovascular health plus a reduced rate of decline with age. Feed regularly up to twice a week. (1 nut per rat)

Sweet chestnuts

A nut with a difference – sweet chestnuts are low fat and high carbohydrate nuts, in keeping with your rats’ main dietary needs. Yet they contain omega 3 and 6 fats plus loads of vitamin C and good amounts of B group vitamins (not B12), manganese, iron, and copper.

Sweet chestnuts are great for skin and coat health, preventing anemia, supporting the immune system and cardiovascular health. Feed up to daily. (¼ to ½ a nut per rat)

Peanuts

Not strictly a nut, but a legume, peanuts are often included on forbidden food lists when raw. There is no substance to this and many animals, including humans and rats, can eat raw peanuts without impacting their health.

The main antinutrient in peanuts is phytate, which is present in all nuts, grains, and seeds and reduces the amount of the minerals which can be absorbed from food. So long as the diet is rich in these nutrients this is not a problem.

Peanuts are 25% protein and contain good levels of fiber, omega 6, vitamin E, B group (not B12), iron, magnesium, copper, zinc, and manganese. Rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals, many of which are contained in the skin, so, best-eaten whole. Feed regularly up to twice a week. (1-2 nuts per rat)

Seeds

Some nutrients in smaller seeds (such as calcium in sesame seeds) are found in the hull along with antinutrients such a phytate and oxalate. Rats may not eat the hull in dry seed.

Soaking and – to a greater extent – sprouting seeds can increase the availability of nutrients significantly, by reducing levels of antinutrients and encouraging the ingestion of the whole seed.

Seeds are typically included in any home-made mix, in which case they do not need to be fed separately.

Hemp

Technically a nut, hemp is an excellent seed for rats because it contains 25% complete (all the essential amino acids) protein, loads of omega 3 (and 6) plus a range of minerals including good levels of iron, zinc, and copper.

Hemp seeds are edible and widely used as a ‘health food’ in the UK, as they only contain a negligible amount of THC; the active ingredient in cannabis.

Benefits include excellent quality protein and fat plus factors that reduce joint inflammation, support gut, immune system, and heart health and promote healthy skin and coat. Feed daily as part of a mix or add to the diet regularly as fresh food. (3 or 4 seeds per rat)

Flax (linseed)

These tiny seeds pack a mighty ‘well-being’ punch! They are 18% protein and have a massive 22% omega 3 component plus good amounts of omega 6, B group vitamins (no B12) and all key minerals other than sodium. Copper, iron, zinc, and selenium all well represented.

Benefits include reduced likelihood of stroke, heart disease, and cancer, with increased gut health and immune system function. Feed daily as part of a mix or add to the diet regularly as fresh food. (5 to 8 seeds per rat depending on how often you feed them)

Pumpkin

Pumpkin seeds are 25% protein and 45% fat with about half of that being omega 6. They offer excellent amounts of vitamin K, manganese, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc and copper, plus some B group vitamins. These mighty seeds are also high in antioxidants.

Benefits include reduced inflammation, protection against cancer, heart disease, and rapid aging. The magnesium helps to improve bone health and the zinc will support fertility in male rats. Feed up to daily. (1 to 3 seeds per rat)

Sunflower

The kernels of the sunflower seed contain 21% protein and 51% fat (almost half of which is omega 6). They provide excellent amounts of vitamin E, B group vitamins (not B12), and most minerals, including 18 micrograms of copper/g. Selenium levels are also high with good amounts of zinc and iron.

Excellent to support a healthy immune system, skin and coat, and also helps to improve bone health. Add to this antioxidant protection against cell damage, cancer, and aging – all in one small seed.

Some rats seem to have skin and coat issues if fed loads of sunflower seeds so don’t overdo it. In the absence of any problems, feed up to daily. (2 or 3 seeds per rat)

Sesame

An excellent little seed to boost copper levels in the diet as they contain 41 micrograms/g, 18% of the daily requirements for a rat. They also have 18% protein and 50% fat just under half of which is omega 6 – plus a little omega 3. Excellent amounts of calcium, iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium and some B group vitamins.

They also contain phytosterols, lignan, and sesamin, which are plant chemicals that help to reduce inflammation in the body (which is thought to play a major role in cancer, auto-immune, heart and kidney disease).

Sesame oil has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers in rats with kidney disease. Feed up to daily. (Up to 1 g of seeds depending on how often you feed them)

Chia

These interesting seeds are 16% protein and 31% fat, with over half of this being omega 3. They are really high in soluble fiber, so excellent for supporting gut health.  Packed with antioxidants, they contribute to decreasing cell damage, cancer, and aging.

Chia seeds also contain excellent amounts of calcium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus – making them perfect for supporting bone health. Giving alongside a food rich in vitamin D will improve absorption.

Feed up to daily – best fed in wet food because of their tiny size. (Feed ½ teaspoon per 4 rats).

Oils

Oils can be useful in cold environments when trying to maintain a rat’s weight or to add omega 3 if you aren’t feeding seeds. However, they are not like-for-like seed replacements, as they don’t contain the mineral elements that seeds provide.

Some oils can also be used as supplements for vitamin D. Vitamin D does not occur naturally in many foods, and supplementation is always necessary for a pet rat’s diet.

Salmon flesh oil

An easy way to supplement omega 3, EPA and DHA in particular. Salmon flesh oil has the added benefit of containing naturally occurring vitamin D, which may also be further supplemented in some oils.

Benefits of salmon flesh oil include helping to maintain brain, heart and joint health, plus (vitamin D) improving calcium absorption and supporting bone health. Use as a supplement 2 or 3 times a week. (0.2 to 0.4ml per rat depending on which seeds and other fat sources are in the diet.)

Olive oil

A healthy, store cupboard oil that is high in the monounsaturated fat, oleic acid, as well as containing about 11% omega 3 and 6. Monounsaturated fats are quite resistant to heat, making extra virgin olive oil a healthy choice for cooking for rats. Good levels of vitamin E and K.

Benefits come from oleic acid and high levels of antioxidants. They include reducing chronic inflammation, which can have a major role in cancer, heart disease, renal failure, arthritis, senility, and obesity.

Use in low heat cooking for your rats or supplement 2 or 3 times a week. (0.2 to 0.4ml per rat depending on which seeds and other fat sources are in the diet.)

Flax oil (linseed oil)

Flaxseed oil contains high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which has to be converted into active forms of omega-3, like EPA and DHA for use in the body. This process is inefficient and only a small proportion is converted.

However, flaxseed has so much ALA that it can easily supply enough EPA and DHA to meet daily requirements. It also contains good levels of the antioxidant, vitamin E.

Flaxseed oil is useful for those who don’t have flax seeds to their dry mix. Benefits include helping to maintain brain, heart and joint health and anti-inflammatory effects.  Don’t cook with flax oil as it can form harmful compounds when exposed to high heat.

Supplement 2 or 3 times a week. (0.2 to 0.4ml per rat depending on which seeds and other fat sources are in the diet.)

Avocado oil

This oil, like olive oil, is high in the monounsaturated fat, oleic acid. It’s also rich in vitamin E and K. Monounsaturated fats are quite resistant to heat, making extra avocado oil a healthy choice for gentle cooking.

Benefits come from the oleic acid and high levels of antioxidants, and they include reducing chronic inflammation which can have a major role in cancer, heart disease, renal failure, arthritis, senility, and obesity. Supplement 2 or 3 times a week. (0.2 to 0.4ml per rat depending on which seeds and other fat sources are in the diet.)

Coconut oil

The fats in coconut oil are called medium chain triglycerides and they are metabolized differently than most other fats. They are processed quickly and either converted to energy in the liver or released as ketones. Ketones can have positive benefits on the brain.

Coconut oil can help with weight reduction by increasing calories burned by around 5% and reducing appetite, so it’s useful for helping rats to lose weight.

This unique fat also contains large amounts of the fatty acid, lauric acid. When lauric acid is digested, it also forms a substance called monolaurin. Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill some bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Can be used in cooking for your rats, or as a supplement up to daily. (A one-gram scoop or quarter teaspoon per 2-3 rats.)

Top Meat, Fish and Protein Foods for Rats

There are many times in a rat’s lifetime when you may want to feed them fresh protein-based foods. These include:

  • during pregnancy and lactation
  • when they are growing rapidly (under 10 weeks)
  • when they are going through a growth spurt
  • during illness
  • after surgery
  • as a treat
  • for enrichment
  • for nutritional benefit when you want to replace your dry food with a complete fresh meal.

So, which protein-rich ingredients are good foods for rats? As we have seen there are some excellent seeds and nuts that contain good amounts of protein, but we don’t want to give these in large volume because of the amount of fat they also add to the diet.

Instead, we need options that will increase the protein content of the diet without creating difficulties such as unwanted nutrients or other negative side effects.

For instance, red meat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke due to the saturated fat content. Processed meat increases cancer risks, as well as adding unnecessary salt to the diet.

Rats who are elderly are likely suffering a degree of kidney failure. The type of protein you feed them matters a great deal in terms of the amino acid content, digestibility, and impact on the kidneys.

An egg is probably the best fresh protein to reach for in these situations, but chicken, fish, and cottage cheese are also good. Studies seem to show that soya can slow down the decline, once kidney damage has begun.

How much should I feed?

A rat needs approximately 2g of protein for maintenance per day, around 4 – 4.5g for reproduction and rapid growth, and somewhere in between to support surgery, illness or a molt.

Most protein foods are around a quarter protein, so that’s roughly 8 grams of protein food to add to carbs, seeds, and vegetables (per rat) if you are doing a maintenance diet fresh meal replacement.

Just use half as much if you’re going 50/50 fresh and dry. These values would increase a little to support illness and healing.

Animal flesh protein foods

These proteins contain all the essential amino acids and are relatively equal in terms of digestibility and impact on the kidneys. However, it is the other nutrients that they bring to the table that separate them out in terms of desirability.

Oily fish is by far the best option in choosing an animal flesh protein for your rats, as it contains omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Wild caught fish is way ahead of farmed fish in vitamin D content.

Fish can be lightly baked, steamed, microwaved or grilled and still retain most of the vitamin D and omega 3 content, while frying reduces it by 50% or more. There is no need to add oil or seeds to a meal if you feed oily fish, though a few seeds can boost the mineral content of your recipe.

Salmon

This orange, oily-fleshed fish is an excellent source of protein (27%), omega 3, vitamin B12, D, and selenium – all nutrients that are often deficient in a natural grain-based diet. B12 is essential for the nervous system and brain health, and the production of red blood cells.

Not all salmon is equal. Try to go for wild caught salmon for maximum nutritional value and fewer pesticides.  If you don’t want to eat the bulk of a purchase yourself, just freeze it in rat sized portions, for future use. This will not affect the nutritional content.

Benefits include positive effects on almost every system in the rat’s body, including boosting the immune system. Feed when desired. See section introduction for amount guide.

Sardines

Small silver fish who feed on plankton so have no mercury accumulation issues. Sardines are 25% protein plus great amounts of omega 3 and 6, vitamin B12 and D, calcium, iron, and selenium. They are a very healthy protein source for rats and canned sardines are cheap to buy. May also be fed fresh (baked, steamed or grilled).

However, sardines are best avoided in any quantity as rats age (over 18 months) because they contain a substance that converts to uric acid in the body and this is a chemical normally excreted in the urine.

Older rats tend to have a degree of kidney failure, which can then lead to uric acid build up and kidney stones. Feed when desired to young and adult rats. See section introduction for amount guide.

Mackerel

Larger silver fish, which can be used fresh or canned. 24% protein, with a fair amount of omega 3 and 6 plus loads of vitamin B12, D, and selenium. Other B group vitamins are well represented (not folic acid).

As well as being a great protein source, benefits include improved brain, heart, eye, bone, joint and immune system health, plus reduced inflammation, rate of aging and cancer occurrence. Feed when desired. See section introduction for amount guide.

Tuna

This large fish is available fresh or canned. If using canned try to find tuna in spring water, rather than brine or oil. As a large fish (who eats other smaller fish) tuna does have a problem with the concentration of mercury in the food chain. Mercury is a heavy metal that is toxic if ingested in any quantity.

Tuna offers 25% protein that is low in fat, though it does still contain some omega 3 plus niacin, vitamin B6, B12, D, and selenium. Useful where you want to reduce fat intake. Feed up to twice a week. See section introduction for amount guide.

Young sprats or whitebait

These tiny fish are usually fed dried to rats, sometimes as part of a mix or as treats. In season they can also be bought fresh when they contain 17% protein, plus plenty of omega 3, vitamin B12, D, and iodine, plus a fair amount of all B group vitamins except for folic acid. Minerals include selenium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and copper.

Great as the protein source for a wet meal when served fresh, or as a tasty protein snack when dried. Can be used as the protein source in a home-made mix. Feed up to daily. If fresh see section introduction for amount guide. If dried (60% protein), ½” piece of fish.

Shrimp and prawns

Shrimp has 20% protein and also contain a small amount of omega 3, plus good amounts of vitamin D, B12, niacin, iron, phosphorus, copper, iodine, and selenium. Shrimp is low in fat and makes an excellent protein source for regular use, or as a treat. Useful for assisting weight loss in rats.

Benefits include support for a healthy heart, thyroid gland function, immune system health and can help to reduce chronic inflammation in the body. Feed as desired. See section introduction for amount guide.

Chicken

The nutritional values that follow are based on cooked chicken breast. Chicken contains 31% protein and 3.6% fat including a small amount of omega 3 and 6. This makes it lean meat that doesn’t add unnecessary saturated fat to the diet. Also rich in niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, and selenium.

It can be used to boost your rat’s protein when needs are high, as a snack, or as a training aid (use tiny strands). Try to use the best quality possible to avoid giving unwanted hormones and antibiotics – and to support welfare for farmed birds. Feed as desired. See section introduction for amount guide.

Chicken Bones

Not a protein food, as such, but included here as they don’t fit any other section of the guide. Chicken bones are great to feed regularly to rats for extra enrichment and nutrition. As rats gnaw and grind their food you don’t need to worry about splinters as you do with dogs.

Chicken bones are an excellent source of calcium for rats and the bone marrow of the leg bones also offers protein, vitamin B12, riboflavin, collagen, and conjugated linoleic acid. Offer one leg or thigh bone per rat as a fortnightly treat when available. These particular bones have the most bone marrow.

Turkey

The nutritional values that follow are based on cooked light turkey meat. Turkey contains 30% protein and 3.2% fat including a small amount of omega 3 and 6. This makes it lean meat that doesn’t add unnecessary saturated fat to the diet. Also rich in niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium.

Like chicken, turkey can contain unwanted hormones and antibiotics, so use the best quality you can, which will also support the welfare of farmed birds. Use for a meal replacement, snack or training treat (tiny strands). Feed as desired. See section introduction for amount guide.

Whole insect protein foods

If you can get past the eeeew factor, rats enjoy insects, which would probably make up part of their natural diet in the wild. It’s difficult to find full nutrient details for insects, but major nutrient levels are available.

Their exoskeletons contain protein but this is unlikely to be readily digestible, so that needs to be considered.

Mealworms

A favorite treat with many rat keepers and their rats. These worms are often presented dried, but fresh mealworms contain around 20% protein and 12% fat. This fat is likely to be a mixture of Omega 3, 6 and 9 plus saturated fat. Because the whole mealworm is eaten it will provide a wide spread of vitamins and minerals in small amounts.

The high saturated fat content makes mealworms unsuitable to use as the regular protein source in your mix. However, they do make a tasty and nutritious treat. Feed once or twice a week. (1 worm per rat)

Crickets

These little hopping insects have 21% protein and half the fat (around 6%) of mealworms, so make a much more suitable insect meal for your rats. Some people feed them live but be warned they escape easily unless fed inside a carrier or tub.

Crickets, if fed whole, will provide a small amount of a wide range of vitamins and minerals. You can find dried crickets easily as they are sold for reptile food. Offer a single small cricket per rat as a nice protein treat once a week or so.

Animal product protein foods

Eggs

An egg is only 13% protein which makes it the perfect fresh protein meal or a treat for aging rats whose kidneys may be failing, and egg is a firm favorite with most rats. A hard-boiled egg in its shell offers great enrichment and solid nutrition once opened! Egg protein is highly digestible and easily processed in the rat’s body.

Other nutrients in good amounts include omega 3, 6, and 9, most B group vitamins, phosphorus, and selenium. Also, small amounts of iron, calcium, and zinc. Feed up to daily as required. (1 medium egg between 4 rats)

Cottage cheese

Choose the light plain version and your cottage cheese will have 12% protein and 1% fat as well as a little riboflavin, vitamin D, calcium, sodium, phosphorus, and selenium. This cheese is low in lactose and won’t cause digestive upset.

Cottage cheese is an excellent source of low-fat protein. Other benefits include supporting the immune system and bone health. An excellent fresh meal for aging rats as it’s easy on the kidneys plus protein levels are at the low end of normal for rats. Feed up to 3 days a week. (1 rounded teaspoon per rat)

Yogurt

Choose plain fat-free Greek yogurt which is zero saturated fat (you can add your own seeds or oil if you like) and around 5% protein. It also offers some B group vitamins – including B12 – plus calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. Also full of live cultures of good gut bacteria.

Although yogurt isn’t high protein, it is a protein food that’s excellent for bone health. Mix it into other foods such as cooked grains and fish or just give plain with fruit and seeds. Feed up to twice a week. (1 teaspoon per rat)

Plant protein foods

Soy

Fresh soy contains all the essential amino acids and can be fed as edamame beans or tofu, both of which have oodles of phytochemicals and antioxidants. Edamame beans are often available frozen. They are 11% protein and 5% fat, which includes omega 3,6 and 9. Other nutrients include vitamin C, E, K, and B group (not B12), plus iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc copper, and manganese.

Tofu is prepared bean curd and the firm kind is easiest to feed to rats. It has 16% protein and 8.7% fat with plenty of omega 3, 6 and 9. Also contains some B group vitamins and excellent amounts of calcium, iron, manganese, selenium, zinc, and copper.

Feed both forms when desired, with tofu being especially useful to boost protein and several important minerals that tend to be low in a grain-based diet, such as, calcium and copper. (3 or 4 beans of a ½” cube of tofu per rat)

Lentils

These small disc-shaped pulses are a useful source of protein (raw 26%) with only 1% fat! They also boast a great spread of micronutrients, including loads of folic acid, thiamine, iron, zinc, copper, and manganese. Which means they have plenty of antioxidants, with all their protective effects.

Whole lentils are excellent when soaked and sprouted (very easy to do at home) as this reduces naturally occurring antinutrients, making the mineral and protein easier to absorb. Lentils can be fed raw, boiled, canned or sprouted – cooking will dilute the nutrients as they absorb water. Feed up to daily. (Up to 8 whole lentils per rat)

Chickpeas

These are a favorite with many rats and should be soaked overnight before boiling, roasting or sprouting. Soaked and cooked chickpeas are 9% protein and 2.6% fat, mostly omega 3, 6 and 9. Sprouting chickpeas reduces antinutrients and allows for better absorption of protein and minerals.

Other nutritional benefits include small amounts of all vitamins except for D and B12. Folate is the exception as levels are excellent. Minerals include calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, and manganese. Chickpeas are thought to protect again heart disease and cancer among other health benefits.  Feed up to daily. (1-3 peas per rat)

Mung beans

A small, green bean that is easy to sprout after soaking. The nutritional information is for raw sprouted beans which may contain less protein but are full of antioxidants with loads of vitamin C and K, plus a wide spread of minerals and vitamins at low levels. The soaked and cooked beans are 12% protein.

The beans have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties as well as supporting heart and gut health. They make a great addition to the fresh element of a rat’s diet. Feed up to 3 times a week. (up to 6 sprouts per rat)

Black beans

Like many beans, black beans should not be fed raw. Cooked canned black beans are around 9% protein (the dry beans are 22%) and less than 1% fat. They also contain B group vitamins and all key minerals at a moderate level. Like all legumes, black beans have good levels of fiber.

Their final flourish is saponins (phytochemicals) which amongst other benefits have anti-cancer properties, antioxidant activity and a protective effect on liver health. Useful to feed on occasion, for a low-fat protein boost. (Up to 3 beans per rat)

Plant milk

Plant milk is a good substitute for cow’s milk for rats if you want to make porridge or smoothies for them. It’s lactose-free and while all types are relatively low in protein it’s worth knowing which plant milk has higher levels.

From lowest to highest are cashew, almond, hemp, oat, soy, and pea. Use as needed.

Grains and processed carbohydrate foods

Carbohydrate packed grains are the backbone of any healthy rat diet and for a large part of a rat’s adult life, these will mostly be unprocessed (or minimally processed) grains in their daily dry food.

These whole grains also add fiber, B group vitamins (except for B12) and minerals to the diet. The fiber is mostly found in the bran layer that coats each grain, along with antinutrients, both of which can significantly reduce the absorption of protein and minerals.

If this bran layer is included in a food, it is considered whole grain. Whole grain foods are often called complex carbohydrates.

Where the bran has been removed or partially removed, the carbohydrates and minerals are much easier to digest and absorb into the body. These are simple carbohydrates. Both are useful parts of a rat’s diet.

Phosphorus and kidney disease

When thinking about any grain for rats over the age of around 18 months we must consider phosphorus. While phosphorus is an essential mineral in the body it also increases the rate at which kidney disease progresses in older rats.

Kidney disease is so common in older rats that you are wise to assume that from about 18 months onwards the disease is present. Signs of the disease do not show until it is well established.

A low phosphorus diet will not prevent kidney disease, but once the disease process has begun it will help to slow down progression.

Rats need approximately 45mg of phosphorus per day for maintenance on a mixed diet (based on eating 15g of dry food) and up to double this for growth and reproduction. Grains are high in phosphorus and this amount is likely to be exceeded quite easily in any grain-based diet. This means you need to actively reduce phosphorus in the older rat’s diet.

Roughly 3mg of phosphorus per gram of food is needed for maintenance, and we’d be aiming to try to stick to that for rats over 18 months. We’ve listed the phosphorus content of all the grains to help you choose the ones that contain less phosphorus.

What about processing?

Any grain in your mix that still looks like a small grain is unprocessed, a squashed (micronized) flake or a puffed wholegrain is minimally processed, and anything that resembles a biscuit or pellet is highly processed, though may still contain lots of fiber.

To make biscuits and pellets the grain has usually been ground into flour and mixed with other ingredients before cooking. If the whole grain is used, the fiber and anti-nutrients are still in the pellet and reduce the amount of minerals and protein absorbed.

Processing does make the carbohydrate easier to digest. This can be useful and is something to consider when boosting calories is a priority. No rat should have simple, processed carbohydrates all the time, but having some included as part of the diet can really help with the absorption of nutrients overall.

In this section we will be looking at grains that have been prepared for human consumption, some are minimally processed whole grains, and some are highly processed and therefore have less vitamins and minerals, including phosphorus.

How much should you feed?

Carbohydrate can be fed freely and should account for around 80% of the diet. This means around 12g of dry weight carbs. Obviously, cooked carbs can be fed in larger amounts as they contain a lot of water.

The suggested amounts refer to the maximum to offer if feeding mainly one carbohydrate, that will replace some (or all) of your dry mix for the day. However, it’s always better to give variety, and smaller amounts of several grains are preferable.

Carbohydrate foods can also be fed in small, treat-sized portions.

Rice

Like rats, rice is one species with many varieties (over 40,000!) but we’ll just discuss the common descriptions and grouping:

  • Paddy rice – rice with no processing where the grain is still in its husk.
  • Wild rice – not a true rice but a different species of grass.
  • Long grain rice/medium grain rice/short grain rice – simply a categorization by size.
  • Risotto rice – a group of rice varieties that contains a phytochemical that releases a lot of the starch content during cooking.
  • Brown rice – usually long grain rice that has had the inedible husk removed but still has its bran coat – a whole grain.

Brown rice (uncooked) is 8% protein, 0.7% fat (most of which is omega 3,6 and 9) and is an excellent source of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium. Phosphorus 3.3mg/g. White rice still has good amounts of phosphorus, manganese, and copper. Phosphorus 1.2mg/g.

Cooking dilutes the amount of nutrients by weight as water is absorbed, but it also makes nutrients more accessible. Rice can be fed raw, cooked, puffed, or flaked. Feed freely as part of a mixed diet. (Up to 2 tsp cooked rice per rat, less if raw).

Wheat

Wheat is a high phosphorus grain which is often heavily processed for human consumption, and this processing will often reduce the amount of phosphorus. You can find whole grain flaked wheat (similar to rolled oats) in most health food stores.

Based on the wholegrain product, wheat has 11% protein, 2% fat, plus good amounts of most B group vitamins (not B12) and minerals including zinc, selenium, copper, and iron. Phosphorus is present at 4mg/g.

Other presentations, such as low sugar human cereals (see below) and whole wheat bread can also be useful for rats. Feed freely as part of a mixed diet to rats under 18 months. (Up to 2 tsp cooked wheat per rat, less if raw).

Bulgur wheat

Bulgur wheat is made by processing grains of durum wheat, the hard wheat species generally used to produce pasta. The grains are cleaned, parboiled and then cracked into small pieces. This processing means that it is very easy to cook and more easily digested than the whole wheat seed.

Bulgur wheat can be whole grain or stripped of the outer bran layer. Nutritional data below is for the stripped grain option, which is more common and creates a useful, easily digested carbohydrate meal base.

Once cooked it contains 3% protein, 0.2% fat, plus small amounts of most B group vitamins (not B12) and minerals with the phosphorus level of 0.4mg/g. Feed as a high carbohydrate energy boost to which oil, protein, berries, and vegetables can be added (Up to 2 rounded tsp of cooked bulgur wheat per rat, less if raw).

Couscous

These tiny, easy to prepare ‘grains’ are made from processed durum wheat. The wheat is ground and the coarse grinds (semolina) are sifted out, mixed with water, spun into tiny balls, steamed, dried and cooled! This makes it quick and easy to prepare.

Dried couscous has 13% protein, 0.6% fat, some fiber, B group vitamins (not B12) and minerals. Phosphorus 1.7mg/g or 0.2mg/g when cooked. This presentation is great when you want to feed a readily digestible, quick meal.

Couscous is also available as whole grain and large piece size, which is more suitable for feeding raw as it’s easier to hold in tiny hands. Feed freely as needed. (Up to 2 teaspoons of cooked couscous per rat, less if raw).

Rye

Rye is usually sold as wholegrain rolled rye flakes, rye-based crackers, and rye bread. It’s a high phosphorus grain which should only be fed in limited amounts to rats over 18 months. Flakes can be used in your mix, made into porridge or mixed into a protein food like scrambled egg. Small amounts of crackers can make a tasty treat, but watch out for the extra salt.

Values are given for the whole grain, which is 15% protein, 2.5% fat, high in fiber, B group vitamins (not B12) and minerals including zinc, selenium, copper, and iron. Phosphorus is present at 3.7mg/g when raw. Feed freely as part of a mixed diet to rats under 18 months. (Up to 2 tsp of cooked rye per rat, less if raw).

Barley

A grain of barley is notoriously difficult to remove the hull from without also removing some of the bran layer. Human grade barley is available as:

  • pot barley – dehulled and polished slightly which removes some of the bran. This barley still looks caramel in color.
  • pearl barley – dehulled and polished more vigorously which removes more of the bran, leaving a white or caramel flecked white grain.
  • dehulled barley – the complete grain with its bran coat.
  • barley flakes – steamed, squashed and dried whole grains.

All can be fed raw or cooked to rats. Wholegrain barley is 12.5% protein, 2.3% fat (over ¾ of which is omega 3, 6 and 9) and is rich in most B group vitamins (no B12), iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium. Phosphorus 2.7mg/g when raw.

Pearl barley has less of all nutrients, including protein (10%) and fat (1.2%), but still has good amounts of the vitamins and minerals. Phosphorus 2.2mg/g when raw.  Feed freely as part of a mixed diet. (Up to 2 tsp cooked barley per rat, less if raw).

Spelt

Spelt is an ancient grain that is generally sold as a whole grain, flaked whole grain or puffed. It is very similar to modern wheat in terms of nutrients and has 15% protein, 2.4% fat, and good amounts of B group vitamins (not B12), iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium. High in phosphorus at 4mg/g when raw. Best avoided in the main for older rats.

The grain, flakes, and puffs can all be fed raw, or the grains and flakes can be cooked. Like all whole grains the seed can be sprouted, which reduces antinutrients and makes the nutrients easier to digest. Feed freely as part of a mixed diet. (Up to 2 tsp of cooked spelt per rat, less if raw).

Corn

Often listed as problematic for rats, corn is actually an excellent grain for supporting kidney health. There are four main varieties of corn that are used for food in the United States. These are sweetcorn, popping corn, corn for flour and dented corn (which is only used for animal feeds).

Human grade corn is available as:

  • Fresh, frozen, canned or ground (meal) sweetcorn – wholegrain and readily available.
  • Puffed corn – whole grain, usually presented as corn cakes/thins.
  • Flaked corn – processed grain, human breakfast cereal. Supermarket basic brands often have less sugar added (aim for less than 5g per 100g).
  • Popping corn or air-dried popcorn – wholegrain (unsugared).
  • Flour – processed grain.

Dried wholegrain corn contains protein (9%) and fat (5%) – phosphorus 2.1mg/g – fresh sweetcorn has protein (3.2%) and fat (1.2%) – phosphorus 0.9mg/g. Other nutrients include vitamin A, C and most B group (not B12), plus a small amount of all the main minerals.

Feed raw, low salt canned, or frozen (great for ‘fishing’ games). There is no need to cook sweetcorn for rats. Popcorn (air popped, unflavoured) and puffed corn provide easily digestible carbohydrate and can be added to a mix. Single kernels make nice treats. Feed freely as part of a mixed diet. (Up to 2 tsp of corn kernels per rat).

Buckwheat

This angular pseudocereal is actually a fruit seed from the same family as rhubarb, which boasts 13% complete protein (all essential amino acids) and 3.4% fat, most of which is omega 3, 6 and 9. Buckwheat also contains a good amount of B group vitamins (not B12) and minerals – great copper source at the equivalent of 10mg/kg.

Buckwheat is sold as whole grain, puffs, and flakes and can be fed raw or cooked. Phosphorus 3.5mg/g when raw. It has the added benefit of great antioxidant content. Feed freely as part of a mixed diet. (Up to 2 tsp of cooked buckwheat per rat, less if raw).

Quinoa

This pseudocereal is not a grain (grass seed) but comes from an annual flowering plant that’s related to spinach. It’s a great protein source (14%) that contains all the essential amino acids in good amounts, plus 6% fat most of which is omega 3, 6 and 9.

Quinoa has good amounts of most B group vitamins (no B12), vitamin E and essential minerals. Phosphorus is high in the uncooked seed at 4.5mg/g. Sold as whole grain, flakes or puffs and can be fed raw or cooked. Phosphorus 2.8mg/g when cooked.

This is a great grain for feeding to support reproduction and growth. Feed freely as part of a mixed diet in rats up to 18 months. (Up to 2 tsp of cooked quinoa per rat, less if raw).

Oat

Oats are one of the highest phosphorus grains with around 5.25mg/g and they should be minimized or removed from the older rat’s diet unless highly processed. For rats who are under 18 months, they offer 17% protein and 7% fat along with good levels of B group vitamins (not B12), minerals and antioxidants.

Oats can be found as groats (the whole grain without the husk), rolled oats, and chopped groats (oatmeal). Rolled oats can be minimally or highly processed (instant oats). Dry instant oats only have 1.2mg/g of phosphorus, making them suitable to feed as an easy to eat porridge in old age.

However, choose instant oats that have no added sugar, sweeteners or flavoring. You can add fruit or vegetables if desired. Make the porridge up with plant-based milk for extra nutrients. Feed freely as part of a mixed diet. (Up to 2 tsp of cooked oats per rat, less if raw).

Amaranth

Although amaranth has been cultivated as a grain for over 8,000 years it’s not a grass seed, so is technically a pseudocereal. It’s actually a group of over 60 species of grain. Aramanth contains protein (14%), fat (7%), fiber (7%) plus good amounts of B group vitamins (not B12), minerals, and antioxidants (including vitamin C and E, and loads of manganese).

Amaranth is generally only sold as the whole grain and is very high in phosphorus at 5.5mg/g. For this reason, it’s a grain best kept for feeding to rats under 18 months. That said, it offers excellent nutrition for younger rats. Feed freely as part of a mixed diet. (Up to 2 tsp of cooked amaranth per rat, less if raw).

Sorghum (Milo)

A group of 25 species of the same genus of flowering grass that is also called Great Millet, Dari or Milo. Sorghum is a medium sized spherical grain that can be cooked as whole grain, made into flour or even popped like popcorn!

Sorghum contains protein (11%), fat (3.3%), fiber (6%), B group vitamins (not B12), and good amounts of minerals like iron and potassium. It is relatively low in phosphorus at 2.85mg/g – even in its whole grain state – which makes it a useful grain to feed rats. Feed freely as part of a mixed diet. (Up to 2 tsp of cooked sorghum per rat, less if raw).

Millet

Millet is closely related to sorghum but is a smaller grain, which is commonly used in bird seed. It has protein (11%), fat (4.2%), fiber (8.5%), good amounts of B group vitamins (not B12) and iron, copper, potassium, and manganese.

Phosphorus level is 2.85/g in the whole grain, which makes it suitable to feed throughout a rat’s life. Millet can be found as whole grain, flakes or puffs, and can be fed raw or cooked. Feed freely as part of a mixed diet. (Up to 2 tsp of cooked millet per rat, less if raw).

Precooked grain mix

Example: Seeds of Change Quinoa and Brown Rice with Garlic.

These precooked grains and grain mixes are excellent for a super quick rattie supper, from a total meal replacement (with added protein, seeds, and vegetables) or just as it is to add interest and nutrients to their dry food.

Watch out for salt levels and artificial flavorings in some brands. Feed up to once a week as a treat or meal. (¼ tsp to 2 tsp per rat).

Uncooked grain mix

Example: Rice Select, Royal blend with flax seeds – light brown rice, whole wheat, pearl couscous, flaxseed, and black lentils.

Rice Select, Royal Blend, Wholegrain – brown rice, soft white wheat, rye berries, and wild rice.

These are two examples of mixed blends with no added flavorings or salt. Blends are a great way to buy multiple grains, that can all be cooked together. Easy to store, cook and feed. Can also be added to your dry mix.

Feed freely cooked or raw as a snack or meal replacement – add protein, seeds, and vegetables if using as a meal.  (¼ tsp to 2 tsp per rat).

Human breakfast cereals

These can be an excellent source of processed carbohydrate and are often enriched, adding to vitamin and mineral intake. Look for low sugar varieties and brands (under 5g per 100g). Human cereals can be added dry to a mix or used as a wet food with plant milk, which can help when feeding young, sick, or elderly rats.

Good examples are Cheerios (in the US – in the UK they have loads of sugar), Cheerios Ancient Grains, Shredded Wheat, and wholegrain wheat biscuits (like Weetabix). Feed wherever processed carbohydrates are needed to boost energy, digest easily and increase nutrient absorption.

The amount given will vary with the situation. The low/no sugar Cheerios also make great hand treats.

Pasta

Pasta is made from durum wheat flour dough that is rolled, cut, and shaped into sheets, strands, and spirals (to name a few varieties). The flour used can be white or whole grain.

Wholegrain, white and vegetable flavored pasta can all be fed dry in a mix or cooked. If you are putting pasta into a mix, choose the smallest piece-size you can find. This will help to share it out between your rats. Alphabet or soup pasta is good for this and works well for hand treats too.

Cooked whole grain pasta and other cooked whole grains are great foods to give before your rats have any physically demanding, potentially stressful experience, such as, traveling or going to a show. Feed sparingly in a mix, or on occasion as a meal or treat. (Up to 2 tsp cooked pasta per rat)

Noodles

Noodles can be made using buckwheat, quinoa, seaweed, egg, and other ingredients to expand the nutritional value of processed wheat. Look for interesting variations, but try to avoid added salt.

Dry egg noodles contain protein (14%), fat (4.4%), fiber (3.3%), a fair amount of B group vitamins (no B12) and minerals, with loads of selenium! Can be used dry in a mix or cooked. If you are putting noodles in a mix, break them into small pieces. This will help to share them out between your rats.

Feed sparingly in a mix, or on occasion as a meal or treat. (Up to 2 tsp cooked noodles per rat)

Sweet Potato

And finally, no carbohydrate list – or rat food list – would be complete without sweet potato! Raw sweet potato is often included on forbidden food lists for rats because they contain tiny amounts of cyanogenic glycosides (CGs).

CGs convert to cyanide when eaten, but the amounts in sweet potato are nowhere near toxic levels. Many other foods contain CGs yet are never mentioned. You can safely eat or feed sweet potato raw, but we would suggest baking it because it tastes much nicer!

This sweet, starchy orange root is packed with fiber, vitamin A, B group, C, manganese, potassium, and antioxidants. Good for gut health and protection against cancer and the aging process. Feed up to 3 times a week. (½” cube per rat)

The conclusion but not the end!

This concludes the Ultimate Guide, and we hope that you have learned a lot about which food you can happily feed to your rats. Why not bookmark the guide so that you can come back whenever you have a question about food that you think your little ones might enjoy?

Last Updated on

Alison
About author

Alison has been living with rats for the past 22 years. She researches and writes within the international rat community. Author of The Scuttling Gourmet and Ratwise Membership, she has recently launched the Ratwise Store and library.

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