There are around 200,000 pet rats in the UK, but less is known about their day-to-day wellbeing than other popular pets like cats and dogs.
This has prompted a survey, conducted by Dr Vikki Neville from the University of Bristol, of more than 650 rat owners to find out more about how they are cared for at home.
The RSPCA hopes the findings can help to educate the public about how to care for these incredible animals.
Dr Jane Tyson, RSPCA’s rodent welfare expert, said: “Rats are sociable, intelligent and friendly animals but they can often be misunderstood and underestimated.
"As a charity, we sadly dealt with more than 670 reports about rats in need of our help last year.”
There were 670 reports of rats in need reported to the RSPCA’s cruelty line - that’s 55 a month or nearly two rats reported to the charity every day.
Jane added: “This is why it’s really important to understand how rats are kept, so that the best and most helpful advice can be given to owners on how to care for rats and improve
“Although the survey revealed lots of good news about how rats are cared for, it also highlighted some common issues such as a lack of enrichment and time outside of their
cages, and owners not taking their rats to the vets.”
It was discovered some rats were being housed without separate bedding and nesting materials, but it is important they are given both.
Materials like wood chips can make good bedding, while shredded paper or tissue paper works well for nesting – saw dust is best avoided.
Owners were also encouraged to both give enough play time for their rats and ensure they visit the vets for check-ups.
Dr Vikki Neville, who carried out the research, said: “Understanding how companion animals are cared for is a vital step in working out what we need to do to, if anything, to improve their welfare.
“We had a great response to our survey, and it was amazing how enthusiastic owners were about their pet rats and reassuring that high levels of enrichment were generally provided.”
However, the survey did flag up a few areas of concern, including some cases where rats were not provided with opportunities to explore outside their cage or were not provided
with both bedding and nesting materials.
“I hope that we’ll now be able to communicate the importance of these aspects of husbandry with owners so that they can best look after their rats. Rats are such intelligent
creatures and are full of personality, just like tiny dogs, and I think they deserve the best life we can give them – if our research helps to improve their welfare then I would be