Pet Rat Lifespan: 9 Ways to Keep Them Healthy & Happy

Rats are not long-lived, but with extra attention and care you can keep them in top shape and help them live a full life.

Published July 19, 2023
Two rats cuddling on a hammock.

Rats are particularly well suited to be our pets. They're very smart, playful critters who adjust to humans quickly and who love to spend time with us. Unfortunately, they aren't the longest lived pets we can keep. In fact, their lifespans are typically rather short. Luckily, you can do a few things to promote their health and with proper care, you can extend their life expectancy.

How Long Pet Rats Live

Pet rats typically live between two to three years. However, with optimal care - including a balanced diet, regular vet check-ups, and a secure, clean environment - some rats hit the age of four. Rats have a very high metabolic rate, which means their bodies just wear out faster.

Wild rats have even shorter lifespans, averaging around one year or less. This is because they live in unsanitary conditions, and face predation, disease, and starvation. Pet rats are protected from all these things, but they still aren't long-lived. Keep this in mind, because it's very easy to bond with these adorable, affectionate pets.

Fast Fact

The oldest pet rat ever recorded was named Rodney, and he lived to the ripe old age of 7 years, 4 months!

Do Certain Types of Rats Live Longer?


There's a misconception that white rats have shorter lifespans. The term "white rat" usually refers to albino variants of the Norway rat, which is the species domesticated as pets. "Fancy rat" is a term used to describe all domesticated rats, with various colorations and patterns, including the albino or white rats.

Essentially, white rats are the same as fancy rats. Since they belong to the same species (Rattus norvegicus), their life expectancy is the same, averaging 2 to 3 years. There is one exception, however. Hairless rats tend to have more health problems, and typically live around 1 to 2 years.

How to Maximize Your Pet Rat's Lifespan

Taking good care of your pet rat is the most important thing you can do to increase their lifespan. Focus on giving them the best care, a high-quality environment, and lots of exercise.

  • A healthy diet: Like other pets, rats need a balanced diet. Purchase high-quality rat food from pet stores that is specifically formulated to meet their nutritional needs.
  • Fresh fruits and veggies: In addition to commercial rat food, supplement their diet with fresh fruits and vegetables to pack in essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Regular physical exercise: Rats are active creatures who need regular physical exercise to stay healthy. They should have enough space in their cage to wander and explore. Get your rat an exercise wheel to keep them occupied.
  • Mental stimulation: Mental health is just as important for rats as physical health. Regular playtime outside of the cage, puzzle toys, and interaction with humans and other rats can keep their minds sharp. Teaching them tricks can also keep their mental and physical health up to par.
  • Keep their living area clean: Keeping your rat's cage clean is crucial for their health. Regularly clean and sanitize the cage to prevent the build-up of harmful bacteria. Replace bedding frequently to avoid any contamination.
  • Check-ups with the vet: Regular vet check-ups can help identify potential health issues early, especially if you have a vet who specializes in small animals.
  • Avoid overfeeding: While it's important to feed your rat a balanced diet, overfeeding can lead to obesity, which can significantly reduce their lifespan. Feed them appropriate portion sizes and avoid too many treats.
  • Dental care: Your rat's teeth continuously grow, and if they're not properly managed, overgrown teeth can cause serious health problems. Provide safe items for your rats to gnaw on, like untreated wood chews, to maintain oral health.
  • Make sure they sleep well: Rats are nocturnal, so they aren't always awake when we want to play with them. Plan to give them a calm, dark space to rest so they get proper sleep.

A Blend of Actions for Rat Health

Maximizing your pet rat's lifespan requires a blend of good nutrition, regular exercise, mental stimulation, and proper healthcare. By taking care of all aspects of wellness, you can provide your pet rat with a healthy, enriched environment that can contribute to a longer, happier life.

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Pet Rat Lifespan: 9 Ways to Keep Them Healthy & Happy