The rats are sometimes called "super pets". They are small, clean, intelligent, amusing, lively, trainable, easy-to-care-for, fun-to-be-with animals. Their life span is 2-3 years.
Fancy rats had been bred for hundreds years, and while they still resemble their wild ancestors, they look and behave differently. There is a reserch that actually showed that the brain of a fancy rat has different structure than a wild rat's... The rat, raised by humans, shall NEVER be released in the wilderness (the same as a dog shall not be "set free" in the forest...)
The best housing for a rat is a large wired cage with spaces between the wires no more than 1" (we use powder coated cages from Martin's Cages ). We suggest cages with solid floors and the shelves made of wire. The large glass aquarium (20 gal minimum) is an option, but it does not provide good ventilation nor does it give enough opportunity for exercise... Rather than using an aquarium, consider extra-large (30 gal) storage bin made of non-toxic plastic and covered with wire. You can also make your own cages: it's a great opportunity to satisfy that "I Can Do It" urge (and a fast way to bond with your kids or significant other)!
Avoid drafts and too hot or too cold areas. We keep our rats in the temperature range of 65-70 F (hairless rats are especially sensitive to cold, and tailless rats are sensitive to over-heating).
Our rats love to use exercise wheels! The best are solid ones, to avoid injury.
We use CareFresh, aspen, or maple shavings bedding. Pine and cedar bedding commonly sold in pet stores are associated with respiratory problems, and shall NOT be used.
You can bathe your rat! Some of them actually enjoy it... The best shampoo is rabbit or kitty ones. Make sure you rinse your rat well - they lick their fur.
You can trim the rat's claws, using small human nail clipper. Make sure you don't cut too short - they have blood vessels within the shaft.
Drinking water shall always be available. If the rat has to be transported, provide plenty of juicy fruits to prevent dehydration (we use strawberries, grapes, watermelon, or oranges).
The best staple food is lab blocks - make sure you shop for good quality product. We use Harlan Teklad diet (direct order from the company). You can also compose your own recipe, like this one:
or more here:
Give your rats fresh vegetables and fruits (our rats love carrots, broccoli, and dandelions we pick in our back yard), and raw soybeans or usalted sunflower seeds. You can give your rat almost anything you eat within a reason (no carbonated beverages, please...), but don't overfeed! Research studies show that moderate food restriction in adult rats leads to a longer life (same as us, humans!).
Rats get better the more you play with them (unlike toys, *smile*). Tickle them, hug them, carry them around, but "rat-prove" your play area. Rats, just like restless toddlers, are accident-prone.
Rats shall live in the company of their own (same sex groups). They sleep together, play together, groom and comfort each other, form friendships, grieve in times of separation... Respect it! Matching up cagemates is as difficult as ... finding a good roommate in college?! Can be done, but takes effort. Don't ever underestimate rat's sensitivity: treat them as small dogs; you can't go wrong with that approach.
Most of all - enjoy your rats and let them enjoy you. They don't live long, and a day of a rat's life equals to weeks of ours... Keep up with their pace!
Additional readings (highly recommended and fun!):