How Long Do Rats Live?

Last Updated : May 7, 2021
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We all wish our beloved pets could live forever, but unfortunately, we outlive most of our pets. Rats are no exception. Pet rats, however, tend to have a much shorter lifespan than more common pets like dogs and cats.

How long can you expect your pet rat to live? Is there anything you can do to extend their lifespan? In this guide, you’ll learn all about rat lifespan and how to properly care for a pet rat for longevity.

How Long Do Rats Live as Pets?

In the wild, rats usually don’t live more than one year. Several factors contribute to this short lifespan, including:

  • Predation
  • Food shortages
  • Human control

Pet rats, also known as fancy rats, fare a bit better without exposure to these risk factors. But even a rat living in a home with a human owner may not live longer than two years.

When it comes to pet rat lifespan, sources vary widely. Some pet stores will tell you your rat lives up to five years with proper care, veterinarians and other experts keep the number limited to two. When you adopt a pet rat, it’s important to have a realistic idea about its lifespan. Of course, you want your pet to live as long as possible. And with proper care, you can extend your rat’s lifespan a bit. You shouldn’t expect more than two years with your pet rat, or just slightly more.

Why do rats only live two years?

A rat’s limited lifespan is due to several factors, including:

  • Genetics: A rat’s genetic makeup can predispose it to illness, poor immune system, or other health-related issues that shorten its lifespan. 
  • Activity level: Rats with an active habitat are more likely to stay active, which will keep them fit longer.
  • Weight and dietary habits: Obesity is a cause of shorter lifespans for rats, so overfeeding and lack of exercise can make them die sooner.
  • Illness: Like all pets, rats can fall victim to a number of diseases that can shorten their lifespan significantly.
little girl holding a pet rat

Can You Extend Your Pet Rat’s Lifespan?

By taking proper care of your rat, you can help it live a healthy, slightly longer life. That doesn’t mean that a good diet will allow your rat to live for five years, but proper care can keep your rat from dying prematurely.

By sticking to the following tips, you can help extend the life of your beloved pet rat:

  • Adopt your rat from a reputable breeder. An ethical, informed rat breeder will give rats a proper diet in the first part of their lives, helping to stave off any early onset feeding habits or resulting diseases. Pet stores don’t pay as close attention to rats’ feeding habits or genetic makeup, so adopting a rat from one of these stores increases your chances you’ll have a rat with a shortened life. It’s important to note that different rat breeds might have different life expectancy. Store-bought and “feeder” rats tend to live between one and two years. These rats are typically brown rats and are more likely to have a health problems, especially the rats bred to feed reptiles. Fancy rats are bred to less prone to disease, and may live between two and three years.
  • Let your rats be active. Rats need to climb, forage, dig, and balance to stay fit. Provide your pet rat with an open habitat that promotes these activities. Also, allowing your rat to forage rather than setting food in a bowl for it will help maintain a healthy weight.
  • Feed your rat antioxidants. Your rat should have a daily portion of fruits and vegetables that are nutrient-dense. Some good fruits are berries, kiwi, and nectarines. Good vegetables for your rat are carrots, broccoli, dandelion grasses, beetroot, or red bell pepper.
  • Don’t leave the food bowl out 24/7. Putting out a food bowl and leaving it available for your rat to eat from all of the time can lead to obesity. Feed your rat once a day with the recommended amount (usually about 15 grams of dry food and a tablespoon of fresh fruit and veggies) then take the food bowl away once it’s done eating.
  • Start good eating habits early. Growing rats shouldn’t eat to capacity like some other animals. Researchers have noted that rats that overeat before reaching adulthood are much more prone to being overweight or obese as adults. Obesity is linked to several illnesses in rats, including mammary tumors, kidney failure, stroke, ovarian disease, fatty liver, and cancer.
  • Find a good vet. Proper checkups and healthcare are also essential to longevity. As rats are becoming a more common pet, more veterinarians are available to treat them. Finding an experienced vet who specializes in exotic pets can be tough, however, so always look for local recommendations online first before committing to a new vet.
  • Keep rats safe from toxins. Harmful toxins can shorten a rat’s life. Try to keep your pet rat away from cigarette smoke, phenols from untreated pine and cedar (materials often used for bedding), and ammonia from urine that’s broken down. Use safe bedding materials such as paper, card, hemp, or aspen, and change your rat’s litter often to avoid ammonia buildup.
  • Reduce stress for your rat. Rats, much like people, may not live as long when they’re exposed to stressors on a daily basis. Prolonged stress in rats can even lead to depression and PTSD. Things that might cause a rat substantial stress include moving to a new home, social struggles with other rats, the death of a cage mate, or loss of a primary human carer.

Final Thoughts

With some attention and care, you can extend the life of your rat. Even if your rat doesn’t live past the average two years, at least you’ll have taken great care of your pet and given it a happy and healthy life!

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