0208 943 2303   info@alpha-vets.co.uk
24h Emergency Service 0208 783 2850


How to care for your rat

As well as hamsters, we also welcome rats to our veterinary surgery. Our specialised rat vets provide a range of consultations, as well as general and geriatric health checks. A highly qualified rat veterinarian for our dedicated team will be on hand to give you advice on nutrition, husbandry and preventative care.


Please call our regular telephone number:  0208 943 2303 (Alpha Teddington); 01372 460107 (Claygate) during office hours and speak to one of our receptionists who will help book you for the correct consultation appointment.

Please remember to inform our receptionists how many pets you will be bringing. Each pet will need to be scheduled individually for a consultation to allow the vet time to properly examine each pet and discuss its problems.

Please note that our staff who answer the ‘Emergency Call’ number outside of office hours are unable to book regular day time consultations.

Here is a guideline to the different types of consultations we normally provide:

  • Regular Consultation: This is our standard 15-minute consultation with the vet for an animal with a new health problem, a problem that has recurred from some time ago, or an ongoing problem.
  • Second Opinion Consultation:  If your pet has been to see another vet for this problem (within the last year) and you would like our opinion on the problem, then we need to read the previous medical record, blood results and x-rays etc. We can then learn what medicines have been used and what the original vet found on examination. We need to do this in order to properly understand your pets’ condition and provide you with a good second opinion. As this takes time to arrange the consultation must generally be booked at least one day in advance. As this is a more complex and time-consuming procedure, we normally schedule for you to spend 30 minutes with the veterinarian and we charge a higher fee.
  • Walk in Consultation:  If you come in without an appointment booked we will try our best to fit you in; however you may have to wait for an hour or even longer if the vets are busy. Of course if your pet’s life is in danger we will assess their condition and may admit them into the hospital while we make a vet available. The Walk in Consultation is generally scheduled for 15 minutes with the veterinarian but is charged at a higher fee than the Regular Consultation.
  • We strongly advise our clients to try and make an appointment, as we are often fully booked or very busy. We do not want your pet to become stressed if they have to wait a long time.
  • Referral Consultation: This is when another vet has asked you to come and consult with us as they feel we have more expertise with rats or with your rat’s specific problem. In these cases the other veterinarian will directly fax us a ‘Referral Letter’ and your rats medical records. Afterwards we will also inform your original vet of the outcome of the case. This also requires the extended 30 minute consultation.

Once you have made the appointment please make sure that you, or whoever is bringing in the pet, has all the information as follows:

  1. How long your pet has been sick for and what symptoms is it showing.
  2. What food your pet is fed on, including any snacks and supplements.
  3. Any medicines that may have been given to your pet (please bring in the packets or containers).
  4. What is the origin of your pet and what animals has it been in contact with.
  5. What are the urine & faeces (poop) usually like and what are they presently like.
  6. That the owner or a decision maker will be available on the telephone if they cannot come in.

Please note that to sign a consent form (for example for an operation or if you pet needs to be admitted into hospital) legally it must be someone over the age of 18 years old to sign.

We require payment for the services provided immediately after a consultation. If your pet does unfortunately need to be admitted to hospital or for surgery you will be required to pay a deposit. To try and make it more convenient for you we do accept payments by cash, cheque, debit and credit cards.

And don’t forget to collect your  ALPHA CARD – our free loyalty card which gives you 1% back on everything you spend with us! You collect points on your card, which you can redeem against any of our services or products! The card is free to all clients, and we even give you 500 points (=£5) to get you started! Ask at reception for more details when you come in.


We do not currently recommend vaccinations for rats.

Health Checks

A NEW PET – Congratulations!

We hope your new family member will bring you much joy and happiness

We recommend a health check shortly after bringing your new pet home.

Bring in details of all foods and any supplements or medicines you may be using.

Collect samples of urine and faeces from that morning if you can.

Take videos of any behaviour that you are worried about or confused by.

Isolate your new pet from the rest of your animal family at home (that means do not introduce or let them play together) until after the first check up and the vet has assessed the pet as being healthy.

If you do wish to introduce them then please ask us how and when this should be done.

At the ‘Health Check’ we will perform a full physical examination. We will be assessing your new pet’s overall condition, the muscle and fat levels, and hydration and checking for anaemia.

We will be paying particular attention for parasites & for signs of any infectious diseases.

We will be focusing on gut function and on the diet, whether is it appropriate and the amounts suitable.

We may not perform a full dental check on young animals if the incisors look normal.

Once we have examined your pet, hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of your pet. If there is time we will talk to you about handling and training as this is the right age to be teaching your pet!


Regular Health Check


Once your new pet is settled in and any health problems have been solved, then we recommend a six-monthly general health check.

Please ensure you know the brands of foods your pet is on, and any supplements or long-term medications.

Bring urine and faeces from that morning if you can.

We would also like to see a photo of the cage set up.

At this check we will assess body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration and check for anaemia.

We will check the eyes, ears, and perform the very important dental examination.

We will feel the lymph nodes, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and listen to the heart and lungs.

We will search for parasites, and examine the skin, and look for any pressure sores or ‘sore hocks’ on the feet and also assess the nail length.

Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of the pet.

Geriatric Health Checks

Rats have short life span with the reported life span being 2-3 ½ years.

A pet rat survey in UK showed an average lifespan of 21.6 months.

Once your rat is older, or ‘geriatric’ we advise moving to checks every six months, as it is safer. (6 months for a rat is roughly equal to 15 years for a human.)

We believe this ‘geriatric’ to be over 18 months although just like humans, animals age at different rates! If you are worried or would like a check every 3 months, that’s fine with us. We do understand that many of our owners worry very much.

At this check we will assess body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration and check for anaemia.

We will check the eyes, ears, and a dental examination.

We will feel the lymph nodes, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and listen to the heart and lungs.

We will check the whole body carefully as growths are one of the most common problems in older rats.

We will search for parasites, and examine the skin, and look for any pressure sores or ‘sore hocks’ on the feet and also assess the nail length.

We will also be paying particular attention to the ‘gait’ or movement of the pet, and the flexibility as mobility problems become more common in the older animal. As they are often too nervous to move freely in here a video of walking and running, and self-grooming can be very helpful.

We may suggest taking a blood test every 6-12 months to monitor the blood cells, and organ function.

We usually collect the blood from a vein in the tail, we use a small needle and collect about 3 drops of blood, and it should be over in a few seconds. We often give some anaesthetic gas and oxygen, as it makes this quicker and easier.

Once we have examined your pet, hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of your older rat.

Nutritional Advice

The wild rat lives on a diet of anything he can find, however we do not recommend a diet of dropped French fries and fish balls!

The best diets are those that have been specifically designed for rats- such as lab rat food or Mazuri Rat and Mouse diet. These can be hard to find though, and if not fed since the rat is young then may be difficult for the rat to adjust to.

Seed & cereal mixes are a reasonable choice as long as the rat is not overfed them. If they are overfed they will pick out all the tastiest high fat seeds first.

You must not keep adding more food into the bowl as your rat will carry it away and hide the not-so-delicious stuff for later – but eat the favourite straight away!

Feed a restricted volume 2 x a day – a large teaspoonful morning & night should be plenty.

Offer a mix of several different vegetables and fruits every day – we suggest 5 types, and try to vary as much as possible.

For example:

  • Monday – Broccoli, cucumber, pumpkin, strawberry, apple.
  • Tuesday    Sweetcorn, carrot, choi sum, tomato, orange

Vegetables may be cooked or raw.   A small amount of dry pasta is good for keeping the teeth short.

Remember any diet changes MUST be slow and gentle. Upsetting the gut causes bacterial imbalances. Please take a week or two to gradually introduce a new vegetable or a new brand of pellets.  Rats are reluctant to change, and it is important to get them onto a good quality pellet plus the missed veg/fruit when they are still young.

One of the major health problems we see is obesity from loving owners over-feeding and under-exercising.

Neutering (De-Sexing) Surgeries

We recommend chemical de-sexing of female rats rather than surgical, and are happy to discuss this in consultation.

We would de-sex a male rat to allow a pair to live together without breeding, although we do recommend same sex pairs.

Preventative Care

Parasites are rare.  The main health problems we see are respiratory disease, obesity and growths.

Husbandry Advice


24 hour access is essential.  A sipper bottle is best. Do not change water abruptly (i.e. to a bottled water) as it may taste different and your rat may not drink it.

We have seen animals dehydrated or in gut stasis for reasons such as the water sipper ball getting stuck, and because the animal did not like the taste of the new water.

Rats do like to play in water and floating a few peas in a shallow tray of water (like a painting tray) will give them lots of fun – and make lots of mess!


Size is important. We advise at least 45x 60 cm2 floor space per rat.

The floor of the cage should be solid, not wire, as wire may cause ulceration of their feet.

If you leave a corner of the cage with wire, many rats will use that corner for the toilet. You may also put a special toilet in.

Of course you must keep the cage clean and dry. Newspaper may be used to cover the base as the inks are soya based and non-toxic.

You should then use bedding such as hay or paper bedding like care fresh. We don’t like woodchips here as they can be dusty, irritant and even poisonous.

A hide box in the corner will help keep ratty feeling safe.

A solid wheel will help with exercise.

Several layers, hammocks, swings, climbing ropes, tubes and boxes will keep them active and playing. All surfaces should be solid.



We would like all rats to have at least one companion as they are a very social species. Bonded rats will groom each other, talk to each other and play together. They can be kept in larger groups as long as they are “single sex”

Having a friend or three will make all those hours in a cage, waiting for you to come home go quicker.

A young rat should take quickly to a companion, but adults may not and they may fight and cause injuries. Please ask us during a consultation how best to introduce your adult pet to a potential companion.


We have a ward dedicated to our exotic patients who like warmth, such as rats, reptiles and birds.  It was designed by our vets to keep these special animals as relaxed and comfortable as possible during their stay here.

This ward is kept warm to 25-30 ‘C degrees to keep them comfortable. The cats and dogs that are potential predators (and therefore very scary) are kept in separate wards out of the sight and smell of these nervous creatures.

We try to keep it calm and quiet in this ward and most animals settle down quickly.

We have a wide range of pellets, and vegetables available to tempt the appetite, but if you would like to pack a little lunch box of the home foods you are very welcome. If necessary we will support feed with a liquid food.

You may also bring in your pet’s own water bottle too.

We have a wonderful team of nursing staff, all with British and Australian qualifications, who are very experienced with the care and handling of these nervous creatures. This is particularly important when they are not eating and need to be support fed, as many of our sick patients do.

Weight Monitoring

Many of the pets we see become overweight as they mature. They have an easy and comfortable life with food available every day and often not enough exercise.

If you feel that your little darling is overweight (or if the vet tells you this!) you are welcome to make an appointment for a ‘Weight Consultation’ with one of our veterinarians.

The vet may also discuss this and recommend a weight loss diet during a health check or consultation and give you advice on the right combination of foodstuff for weight loss for your pet as well as how to encourage exercise.

The vet will set a target weight & a time span to lose this weight over.

Losing weight too fast is not healthy, and as these animals are much smaller than us, we may plan for them to lose a few grams per week.

Once the diet plan has been set we will then be happy to make free “weight monitoring” checks for you to follow up, usually every month or two months, and these will be with one of our British Vet nurses or our Australian trained Vet Assistants.

It can be very rewarding to see a little, chubby rat regaining a slim healthy shape and becoming more active and flexible!


Rats are active, intelligent animals that really enjoy and need enrichment. They are social animals so a companion is very important for them. If not you must spend time every day playing & interacting with your pet and providing a variety of different enrichments.

They are very keen on their food so a wide variety of vegetables will keep them happy.

Make a foraging tray which you can fill with pieces of cardboard or old hay (hay that the best bits may have already been eaten but is not dirty or mouldy) and hide their vegetables in here so they need to search for them.

They are inquisitive and like exploring so let them out of the cage every day to explore, making sure there are no electrical cables they can chew on.

A big pile of boxes and tunnels will be a castle for them.  Provide them with a hide box for when they need to sleep.

Always offer them chew toys made out of safe woods so they always have something to nibble on.

Learn more about your pet

You can download our PDF documents for more information.

Cushings Syndrome

Guinea Pig – Feeding


Cat – Moving House

Exotic – Critical Care

Cat & Dog – Bereavement

Remember, you can contact us anytime!