Above: homemade grain mix.

So many of the commercial rat diets out there are full of ingredients that are either inappropriate for rats or simply aren't liked by rats. This leads to a lot of waste, and a lot of fat, unhealthy rats. For example, most mixes contain tiny seeds and alfalfa pellets that do not get eaten. Rats have a hard time digesting alfalfa, so they rarely eat it. Peanuts and other nuts, while enjoyed by rats and fine as treats, contain too much fat and protein to be a staple part of a rat diet. Finally, dried corn can not only contain fungus, but also creates nitrosamines in the stomach, which can lead to cancer. Add to that the preservatives many pet foods contain (namely Ethoxyquin, which is NOT approved for human consumption), buying commercial mixes is just not the best option.

In an effort to keep my rats healthy and happy, I have been working on my own homemade diet. As I learn more and more about rat nutrition, the menu changes, so this is always a work in progress. Invaluable resources for me include The Rat Fan Club, the RMCA, and one of my past veterinarians, Dr. Carolyn Orr in Brockport, New York.

I have had a hard time in the past getting my rats to consistently eat lab blocks, so after reading a lot of dry dog food labels, I have decided to feed my rats a staple diet of Solid Gold Holistique Blendz dog food. The protein is listed as 18%, and it is all high quality protein. Compare the ingredients list to other dog foods, and you will clearly see the difference. Other recommended brands include Wellness Healthy Weight, Natural Balance Vegetarian, Natural Balance Lite, and Blue Buffalo Lite.

I supplement the Solid Gold with a homemade grain mix, detailed below. I fill the bowl each evening, at "feeding time," giving them about half Innova and half grain mix. The grain mix is not complete by itself. It needs to be supplemented with a high quality lab block or dog food as the staple.

Many people choose to use a high quality lab block, such as Harlan Teklad, instead of the dog food, and I highly endorse this. A high quality lab block, if you have access, is always recommended. I'm limited in my mail order abilities, so I often have to rely on what is locally available to me. You can get Harlan Teklad lab blocks from Kim's Ark Rat Rescue. All proceeds from sales at Kim's Ark benefit the rat rescue. If you use a high quality lab block, you don't actually need to feed my mix at all. Lab blocks are a complete diet.

This is a homemade mix that I have formulated using items from my local supermarket (pictured above). As often as I can, I buy from the bulk bins or the store brands. The only item I tend to splurge on is the Total cereal, because it is very nutritious, and recommended by both the Rat Fan Club and my vet. Overall, it costs me between $15 and $20 to put together the grain mix, which lasts me a couple of months, depending on how many rats I have. The weights listed are approximate.

1/2 to 1 lb. dry rolled oats
Quaker is fine, but may be more expensive; I buy mine in the bulk bin at the supermarket. Keep in mind that oatmeal is binding, so too much can cause constipation problems.

(1) 5.3 oz. box puffed wheat cereal
Malt-O-Meal, Quaker or Kashi. Cheerios are also a viable alternative, if the other two are not available, but keep in mind that there may be added sugar. I use the Quaker, as it has no sugar content. The exact oz. amount between brands is not a big deal. The 5.3 oz is the weight of the Quaker box.

(1) 6.4 oz. box puffed rice cereal
Quaker is the best brand, because it contains no sugar. Rice Krispies really are not recommended, because of salt and sugar content.

1 12 oz. box Total Cereal
Highly recommended by The Rat Fan Club and my veterinarian for its exceptional nutritional content, due to added vitamins and minerals. It's only available in the United States. If you can't get Total, you can add a children's vitamin/mineral tablet to their diet, or use small animal vitamins.

Note: some people think Total has too many vitamins. Keep in mind that on an average day, a rat will only eat a few flakes of the cereal if fed as a part of this mix. The US RDA listed on the box is based on a full bowl. A rat will eat nowhere near this much on any given day.

1/4 to 1/2 lb. roasted, unsalted soy nuts
These are somewhat high in protein, but contain valuable cancer-preventing agents, so they are a good addition to the mix. Not all rats like them. May also be calle
d roasted soy beans -- I think the "nuts" thing is a marketing ploy for humans! If you can't find them, you can work soy into their diet in other ways, such as soy milk, tofu, soy crumbles and soy yogurt. You can also purchase Just Soy Nuts online. Raw dried soybeans can also be toasted at home - Roasted Soy Nuts Recipe. Note: I recently read that roasted soybeans are also a good source of vitamin K.

1/2 lb dried fruits
Dried bananas and cranberries. The bananas offer potassium, and cranberries are good for the urinary tract. Until recently, I used the banana chips, which unfortunately are fried. I have since discovered Just Bananas, which are nothing more than dried bananas. They also have a lot of other fruits and veggies that make great treats, or additions to the mix. Recently, I have been including Just Fruit Salad instead of buying separate dried fruits.

If you don't want to include the fruit, you don't have to. I know some people prefer to give their rats fresh fruits, instead. I do this when I can, but we don't always have fruit in the house. Some people also avoid fruits in general due to high sugar content. Use your discrection and common sense.

1/2 lb dry pasta
The tri-colored spirals, with spinach and tomato flavor. Nice and crunchy for the teeth, and a good source of carbohydrates, which helps balance the protein in the soy nuts. The box I buy is actually 12 oz., a little more than 1/2 lb.
Whole wheat pasta ia also a good choice.

2/3 cup sunflower seeds
The large sunflower seeds for birds (the black and white ones) are best. I used to give my boys the unshelled, unsalted seeds from the bulk department, but they weren't enjoyed as much. Keep in mind that too many sunflower seeds can add too much fat and protein to the diet. Use common sense.

1/4 lb muesli (optional)
Sometimes (especially in winter), I have a hard time getting the rolled oats in bulk -- too many people eating oatmeal, I guess. I found a mix called "muesli" in the bulk department that had a lot of interesting items in it that the rats really like, including rolled oats, granola, pumpkin seeds and raisins. It offers a nice variety, but I would use it sparingly due to sugar content.

Mix everything together in a huge bowl (or divide ingredients in half and make two batches if you don't have a bowl big enough for everything -- I actually end up doing three batches!). Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. This makes quite a lot of mix, and will last you quite a while if you only have a few rats -- I usually don't have more than four rats, and it lasts me two months.

Of course, every rat needs and deserves treats! Life would be boring without treats, and some of the items in the list below are also important dietary supplements. Fresh fruits and veggies offer a lot of important vitamins.

You should always give your rats healthy treats... No chocolate or jelly beans or potato chips (ok, ok, I'm guilty of it, too!). Pretty much anything that is healthy for humans is healthy for rats. Below is a list of the various things I feed my rats as treats.

  • Gerber instant baby oatmeal (great for mixing in supplements)
  • cooked pasta or rice
  • fruits (fresh and frozen), including watermelon, blueberries, plums and grapes
  • veggies (fresh and frozen), including broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas, corn, and lima beans
  • fresh wheatgrass - mine love Petgrass, or you can grow your own from seeds - I get mine from Sprouthouse. Once it starts to turn yellow-brown, throw it out. If there are any yellow or brown blades in the pot, don't buy it, as it is already on its way out. It should be about 2" tall when you purchase it. This is why I prefer to grow my own.
  • wheat or multigrain bread
  • plain popcorn
  • occassional healthy table scraps
  • olive oil - this helps the coat stay shiny and dandruff-free. I give my adult boys a small piece of bread soaked in the oil about once a week.
  • yogurt
  • Dried fruits and veggies from Just Tomatoes
  • Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Treats

As always, this diet is a work in progress, and as I learn more about what rats need and which foods are the best sources of those needs, I will be altering and perfecting the recipe.

UK Version - from Shunamite Rats

For more information on rat nutrition, I highly recommend the following links:
RMCA Homemade Diet Information
Rat Fan Club Diet Information - includes food to feed with caution, and foods to avoid

For more information on general nutrition, such as what foods contain what minerals, etc., I highly recommend the following links:
Nutrition.org Nutrient Information

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