Rats require an adequate amount of space. Making sure your rats have enough room in their cage makes for happier rats. Rats are bigger than the average small pet. Rats get larger than gerbils, mice, and hamsters. When looking for a cage, you want to look something that's more geared for a ferret. Guinea pig and rabbit cages are usually one level, and pretty boring for rats, unless you really deck it out with toys and huts. Ferret cages have levels and lots of space for multiple rats. You should look for something with 1/2" bar spacing, as some rats can sneak out of 1" bar spacing. If you find a cage you like, but it has 1" spacing, you can get 1/2" hardware cloth and cover the cage, so that the rats can't escape. If a rat can fit his/her head through, you can be sure that the body will get through as well. Aquariums are a BIG no no, because there is very poor ventilation, they have nowhere to climb, and really nowhere for toys. There are toppers that fit onto aquariums, but it is still not ideal for even 1 rat. Rats require at least 2 square feet per rat. You can check your cage at the link below to see how many rats will fit comfortably. Wire cages, such as those made by Super Pet, Martin, or MidWest are some of the best cages for rats.
Cage Calculator: http://www.rattycorner.com/odds/calc.shtml
Rats have very sensitive lungs, so using certain bedding can affect their health and even kill a rat. Pine and cedar have many different chemicals in them to make them smell nice, as well as kill any mites or lice may be hiding in it. Cedar is specifically not safe for ANY animal to use. Kiln-Dried pine is said to not be as dangerous, because all of the phenol have been removed, but there has still been evidence of it affecting rats in a negative way. Please stay away from these two beddings for the safety of your rats.
Aspen is the safest of wood bedding options, but because it does not have the chemicals, it can still carry species specific mites, lice, etc. and is still on the dusty side. To kill the bugs that might be carried around, you can freeze the bedding for at least 48 hours.
Certain CareFresh is safe, but they have recently added baking soda to most of their bedding. This is toxic to rats, and really any small animal. If using CareFresh, please look on your bag to see if the "NEW ODOR STOP" label is on it. If so, stop using it. Your small animal being on this all day will result in your pets becoming ill, and there have been many reports of death. If you don't see that label, but want to be 100% sure, you can call the CareFresh company here: 1-800-242-2287
Corncob bedding is not safe, because of how quickly mold can develop. Mold will surely damage your rats' health, especially if eaten. Sawdust bedding is not safe either, because it's dusty, says it right in the name. Sawdust will cause respiratory issues when inhaled. Most cat litter is also dangerous to your rats, due to the overwhelming amount of scent, plus if it clumps, it will cause your rats blockages if ingested.
Yesterday's News, shredded newspaper, and fleece are your safest beddings to use. Yesterday's News is a cat litter made of recycled paper. Our rattery uses it just in the litter trays, but it is acceptable as a bedding. If using shredded newspaper, please call the newspaper company to make sure they only use non-toxic soy or vegetable ink. Fleece is a very safe bedding to use, and if your rats aren't chewers, you can shake it off in the garbage, wash, and reuse it! If you are going to wash it, make sure to use a hypoallergenic laundry detergent.
*Any bedding should be changed AT LEAST once per week. No one wants to live in a dirty space.
*Your rats may start to look dirty from the ink, if using shredded newspaper.
When thinking of getting a rat, make sure you will be able to provide them with the proper diet. Rats should not be on any commercial seed diet. Rat food can be expensive, because of all that they require. Too high protein can cause tumors, and an extensive amount of buck grease in males. Rats are not "cheap pets." They are omnivorous animals, meaning they eat animals and plants. These are not pets you can turn into vegetarians. Rats should have free access to fresh food and fresh water at ALL times. Even if your rat needs to have a surgery, rats can't throw up, so it's safe to continue to allow them to eat throughout the night. If the vet suggests fasting your rat, please consider switching to a more knowledgeable vet. Sometimes people at the front desks don't know this, so please talk it over with the vet doing the procedure.
The most well known commercial rat foods are Harlan Teklad (aka Native Earth), Oxbow, and Mazuri. Each of these brands' specified rat diets are acceptable for pet rats. Cheap blocks and seed diets from Wal-Mart, etc. are not sufficient for a healthy rat. Rat diets should contain between 10%-18% protein. Some rat varieties require the lower percentage of protein, due to issues with their skin. This is mostly with Harley rats, but it can depend on the line as well. Not every single Harley rat will have these issues, but it's best to be aware.
You can also make a homemade diet, following specific guidelines. However, most rats will just pick and choose what they like and not receive all of the nutrients they need. This is why it's best to add lab blocks, even when making your own mix. This link will take you to a well known homemade mix, which fills all the needs for rat nutrition: http://www.ratsrule.com/diet.html
Rats, just like us, love treats. You can find a bunch of info here about what is safe or not safe to feed your rat(s): http://www.ratforum.com/showthread.php?39486-Good-and-Bad-Food-for-Rats-amp-Ratty-Recipes