Fun things to feed rats

Whole fruit. I used to give our first set of rats a whole clementine orange and let them argue over it. Eventually one of them figured out the best way to take possession of it was to get there first, open his mouth as wide as he could, gator-style, sink his teeth into the peel, and then just let go of the cage bars. He landed with an almighty WHOMPH in the bedding on the bottom of the cage, with an orange fully half as big as he was in his mouth. It took them a day or so, but eventually I could reach into the cage and fish out a perfectly clean orange peel, intact but for one hole, just about the size of a rat face. The guys I have now think that eviscerating a whole banana is loads of fun.

Uncooked pasta. I feed them dried rotini and elbows and stuff on a regular basis, just so they have something they can nibble on to keep their teeth worn down, but the entertainment value of pasta varies directly with its length. Comedy is feeding an eight-inch rat a ten-inch piece of uncooked linguine, and watching him try to maneuver it into a safe corner for nomming. It's reminiscent of the classic silent film gag involving an inattentive painter and a dangerously long ladder.

Jell-O. Any kind of gelatin dessert, really. Parfait and molded flán work just as well. They can't figure out if it's a solid that they should bite into and scurry off with, or a liquid they should be shoving the other rat's face out of. Tofu sometimes works, but they're not usually too interested in it. As an added bonus, they like to grab at food with their front paws, which also works hilariously badly on Jell-O. Their little fingers just go splorch right through it.

Tea bags. Rats generally shouldn't have caffeine -- it's no more toxic to them than it is to us, they're just gluttons and it's too easy to OD -- but 99% of the caffeine in your tea stays behind in your cup, so it's all right to give them the tea bag once you're done with it. Herbal teas, of course, work fine. (No catnip/catmint. I don't know why, but I've always been told it's bad for them.) They seem partial to things with a plant-sweet aroma, like rose hips or jasmine. Tea smells fascinating to them; hang it from the top of their cage and they'll play piñata with it until they get it open and strew the contents all over creation.

Candy canes. Well, just one. Hook it to the top of their cage, wrapper and all. Try to find a spot where they can just barely reach it from nearby shelves or hammocks. Shenanigans will ensue. They usually manage to get an inch or two off the bottom over time, depending on how well they can break it, before they get bored.

Fortune cookies. Rats love food they can open. I throw them into the cage still in the cellophane, so they get to open their food twice. They go absolutely mental. THIS IS MY COOKIE MINE MINE MINE MINE. It's their favorite part of Chinese takeout.

Valerian. It does to them what catnip does to cats. (Cats and dogs respond to valerian, too, by the by.) You can get it as capsules or as a tea at pretty much any health food store, and some drugstores; it's marketed to humans as a sleep aid. Fair warning: It smells like stewed gym socks. They become happy chittery little puddles of stoned rat. Who also smell like stewed gym socks.

Leftover condiments. You can give them those little plastic pots of sauce you get with takeout, and they'll chew their way in to get at whatever's left. If there's a lot left of something that might spill everywhere, like sweet and sour sauce, dump some oatmeal into it. It absorbs liquid the same way kitty litter does, and it's got food value. I think porridge tastes like warm, wet cardboard, but the rats inexplicably love the stuff. Ketchup packets are also fascinating to them, although you might have to open a corner on the first one to prove to them that it can be done. Whether they're interested in mustard depends on the rat -- they all seem to like spicy things, but some are more hardcore about it than others.

Blueberries. You could just hand them the berries, I suppose, but it's much more fun to drop them in a dish of water. Ripe blueberries float. So do a few other things, most notably some kinds of peas. A lot of rats are fussy about getting their widdle feets wet, so they scamper around the bowl for a while, as if they're trying to take the water by surprise. Eventually one of the berries floats close enough to the edge to reach, and then they snatch it and scuttle off with their prize.

Peanut butter. It sticks to itself well enough that, if you can get one of the rat's front paws, you can just give him what amounts to a handful of gluey peanut butter. They love this. It keeps them occupied for a while, too, since they first have to finish their handful of food, then they have to wash the peanut flavor off that paw, then they have to wash the other paw because fair's fair, and sometimes they then have to fix their whole coat for good measure. If you can get them to stretch out for it, it can also tell you your rat's handedness. Rats have dominant paws just like people have dominant hands -- most of them are right-handed as well, but the boys I have now all reach with their left.


  1. OMG, that's awesome! I can just picture them playing pinata and leaping for the candy. I have a hamster and she is nowhere near as entertaining as your boys sound. She does do one hilarious thing though which involves perching her back left foot on the bars of the cage and then running on the *outside* of her wheel. She falls with regularity and then does the "who, me?" embarrassed face.

  2. Not to be a total party pooper, but orange peels and orange rinds are carcinogens for male rats. :-/

    1. A) They're rats. Everything is a carcinogen for rats. This is why rats are used to study cancer.

      B) I didn't do it very often. They got maybe half a dozen over the course of two years or so. Too much fruit also gives them diarrhea, which is rather a disincentive for the person who cleans the cage to give them a whole bunch.

      C) Cancer studies of any kind need to be taken with a grain of salt. Even rats exposed to no carcinogens of any kind generally expire of random tumors. This is also a problem with cancer studies on humans -- you have to eventually die of something, and if you've largely eliminated the usual hazards of disease, accident, and predation, your only options left are basically dying of cardiovascular problems, or dying of cancer.


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