Author: Pattie Larson, LVT
Whether or not we like to admit it, we all know that junk food isn’t good for us. With that in mind, it’s not a stretch to assume that the same less than healthy snacks we might enjoy from time to time aren’t a smart choice for our pets either. In this short article, we’ll take a look at why it’s particularly important to avoid feeding junk food to our rat friends, in spite of even their most passionate of pleas.
What Is The Ideal Rat Diet?
Before we get into the foods rats shouldn’t eat, let’s start with a quick refresher on what rats should eat each day to stay happy and healthy. Feeding a balanced diet is extremely important for your rat and should consist of the following components:
- Complete, age-specific fortified food
- A mix of fresh veggies, greens, and fruits that provide nutrients, water and enrichment,
- Healthy treats (e.g. small amounts of oats, sunflower seeds, barley, cooked brown rice, and healthy packaged treats)
- Fresh water should be available at all times
Following strict dietary guidelines for your rat promotes a healthy lifestyle, and nutritional enrichment and also increases your friend’s lifespan.
What Is Considered “Junk” Food For Rats?
Rats are notorious eaters and can eat just about anything. This is one reason they survive so well in the wild. Pet rats are also quick to learn how to beg for treats, so it can be difficult to say “no” when they are looking for a yummy-smelling treat.
Items to Avoid Feeding Your Rat Include:
- Items with high amounts of fat
- Examples: potato chips, bacon, French fries, etc.
- Items with high amounts of sugar
- Examples: cookies, cake, donuts, candy, chocolate, fruit juice, etc.
- Items with high amounts of salt
- Examples: pretzels, ham, salted nuts or popcorn, etc.
- Carbonated or caffeinated beverages
- Fast food items
- Examples: hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.
- Granola or other snack bars
A good rule to follow is that if it is considered junk food in your diet, it’s best to avoid feeding it to your pet!
Why Are These Particular “People” Foods So Bad For Rats?
Most of us enjoy junk food in moderation, so what makes it particularly bad for our rat friends? The same health concerns we associate with an unhealthy diet (obesity, diabetes, other damage to internal organs like the kidneys) apply to rats. Unfortunately, the onset of conditions such as obesity can occur especially quickly in rats. After all, what may seem like a tiny bite of a chip to you can easily be a whole meal to a rat.
Junk Food & Selective Feeding in Rats
Portion size aside, rats, like people, can become addicted to the taste of junk foods. To make matters worse, studies have shown that rats will begin to refuse more balanced options, holding out for their new favorite flavors rather than eating their fortified food and fresh veggies. This selective feeding can lead to deficiencies of essential nutrients, leading to health issues, increased chances for contracting diseases, and an overall chance of decreased lifespan.
Immediate Health Concerns to Consider for your Rats
In addition to the serious long-term issues we’ve discussed, feeding junk food to your rat can cause more immediate issues as well. Foods high in fats, salts or sugar can upset your pet’s digestive system, leading to diarrhea and stomach upset. Junk foods are also often soft, depriving your rat of the needed gnawing to keep their ever-growing teeth in check. This can lead to dental issues that could require costly surgical intervention.
Just skip the junk food treats, no matter how much they beg!