Go to text version
Return to Hello Sailor start-page
Normal diet is grain-mix plus titbits. Like Norway rats, ship rats will eat some strange things (such as soap), but they are much less interested in food and in variety of food than are Norway rats. Unlike Norway rats, however, they will eat even when anxious or disturbed - possibly because if they didn't, the flightier ones would starve to death. I once found a tail emerging round the corner of a nest-box, lying so limp and flail that I thought the owner must have died, so I winched it in, exopecting to find a corpse on the other end, and instead found my black Rattus buck Peter Whimsy stolidly eating cucumber even as he was dragged backwards.
Unlike rabbits and guinea-pigs, rats make their own vitamin C and can live without fruit and veg., but ship rats are very partial to it. A chunk of cucumber or banana, a crisp lettuce leaf or a raspberry makes an ideal ship rat treat (though one of my boys, the immortal and apalling Yoyo, was so corrupted by living with humans that he would only eat fruit if it was served with cream and sugar).
Most ship rats are not nearly as keen on meat as are Norway rats, though they may consent to nibble a chicken bone in a desultory fashion.
They are not as neophobic as are Norway rats: that is, they are more willing to sample new foods. Although this is convenient from a pet-keeper's point of view, in evolutionary terms it's a weakness. There's a very good reason for the Norway rat's neophobia: since rats can't vomit they can't get rid of any poison they may ingest, so they take only a tiny sample of any new food and then wait to see if they get sick. Ship rats, on the other hand, will grab anything.
If you offer them something they don't like, they won't necessarily just ignore it - some will snatch it from you, chuck it over their shoulder and then glare pointedly.
Since their teeth are constantly renewed dental decay is not a problem, so rats can safely be given sweets. Ship rats are especially fond of the fruit-flavoured chocolate drops sold for guinea-pigs.
Ship rats will almost never eat enough to become fat. They are thrifty animals who need little food except when nursing.
They also drink very little, but clean water must be available for when they need it.