How to Breed Rats for Snakes(and 3 reasons why you should too)

Rats are an essential part of a snake’s nutrition. If you have a snake(or many) especially ball pythons, rats have the most nutritional value and are the most sustainable than any other rodent you can feed your snake. 

In this post I will give you instructions on how to start your own colony and the tips I’ve learned 1 year into breeding my own rats.

I have been breeding rats for over a year now so I know all about the good, the bad, the lessons learned and what it takes, so I want to share my experience with you so you know what you’re getting into before taking on the project of rat breeding. 

Rats are also a sustainable food source for ball pythons. They can produce up to 6 liters a year each litter having up to 16 pinkies. A pair of breeding rats can feed a handful of ball pythons for well over a year if you plan it out correctly. 

3 Reasons to Breed Your Own Rats

1. You WILL save $$$

When I buy live or frozen rats from the pet store I spend about $6 per rat. Ball pythons need to eat once a week so I need 4 rats for each ball python a month…

Here’s where I save money. I have about 50 ball pythons to feed and that’s BEFORE eggs start hatching for the season.

So 50 ball pythons needing 4 rats per month, I would need about 200 rats…multiply that by $6? I can’t even fathom.($1200) 

My point is that the cost of breeding your own rats will quickly outweigh the cost of buying frozen, thawed or even live rats from your local pet store and online. 

Below I’ll break down my costs of keeping enough rats to feed 50 ball pythons.

2. It’s Sustainable

Breeding rats for your snakes is less wasteful than buying from the stores.

Hear me out.

Chain pet stores have frozen rats and mice for your reptiles which is convenient, but think about all of the processing and packaging that goes into making those rats, packaging, transporting, etc. Yikes.

When you breed your own rats you are helping the environment creating less waste and a smaller carbon footprint.

Remember those food scraps that talked about earlier? Instead of tossing those in the garbage, you can feed them to your rats. 

3. The Best Nutritional Value

As said before, rats have more nutrition than mice. That is, IF they are fed right. Breeding your own rats allows you to feed the rats the right nutrition so they can get those nutrients to your ball python.

What should you feed your feeder rats?

Rat’s thrive on a variety diet. Pellets provide all of the nutritional value your rats will need. Combine pellets with other rat-safe foods and your rats with have the best nutritional value for your snakes.

For a full list of food for rats click here.

Rats provide over 10% more crude protein and about 4% more crude fat than a similar-sized mouse.1

I have had a picky ball python that chose to only eat mice and she grew significantly slower than other females at the same age that ate rats. The proof is in their growth.

How Much Does it Cost to Have a Rat Colony?

As promised earlier here is my breakdown of what I spend a month maintaining a 60 rat colony.

Cost Breakdown

Food: $27.97 at feed store

50 lb. bag of Mazuri rodent food will feed about 40-45 rats for a month(sometimes longer)

I have a colony of about 60-70 and the bag lasts me about 3 weeks. 

(Click the image to view the bag on Amazon)

If you have less or more rats than that here’s how to measure:

1 adult rat eats about 15 grams of food a day. That’s about

.033lb x 30 days = 1lb 

You’ll need approximately 1 lb. of food every month for every rat you have.

Keep in mind that baby rats are weaned after 21 days so you’ll need food for them 3 weeks after they’re born. 

Fruit, vegetable, and whole grain leftovers from cooking = $0

I supplement the rat’s food with cooking scraps that are safe for the rats. The more nutrients they get, the more nutrients your ball python will get. 

 Substrate: trackside shavings(wood shavings) x 3 @ $7.99 = 23.97

(click the photo to purchase online)

Water – $0 (tap water)

Enrichment ($1+) Toys are not necessary but something fun you can add to your rats enclosure. They have plenty at the dollar store. In my opinion these help prevent rats from running a muck in their home, chewing through their enclosure and fighting. 

MONTHLY TOTAL approximately $55

Enclosure(One time cost $30+)

One of the biggest costs is the enclosure or cage. A basic setup is a container with a metal lid that. I’ve had luck finding these on eBay or reptile shows. With these cages you set up the food on top and the water bottle to feed and water your rats. 

There are plenty of tiered cages for rats that you can find anywhere too. These cages are meant to give your rat a home. This would be useful for a small colony, but not preferred for a lot of rats. 

I had my breeding rack custom made, but there are some commercial racks that are sold as well. 

Choosing the Right Rats to breed

When picking your rat you want to make sure both male and female are mature enough to start producing babies. Rats can start reproducing around 10-12 weeks old. 

Mature rat about 10-12weeks old
This size is the smallest they should be to start breeding.

The way to identify a mature rat is to make sure their eyes are open, their fur is full, and they no longer need to drink their mothers milk. 

Pet stores would call this a “small” rat. 

And of course you’ll need at least 1 male and 1 female to start your colony, but you can house up to 4 females for every male you have. 

You can differentiate a male from a female by the testies on the male. These will start showing at a young age so they should be prominent in the adults you’ll want. 

I DO NOT recommend housing two males together since it could entice them to fight over females

Rat Gestation Period

The gestation period for a rat is 3 weeks but can go up to 24 days. When you put the male and female together they will start breeding right away if they are at the mature age. You should see signs of pregnancy on the 3rd week.

How to know if your Rat is Pregnant

To identify if a rat is pregnant the female will start nesting. If you have them in substrate they will start piling up the substrate and create little dens for them to keep their babies in.

I like to give them paper towels, cardboard or grass as nesting materials to keep them comfortable. You will also see their stomach get wide and their nipples will enlarge. 

Rat’s Growing Process

Pinky Rats

Rats can birth up to 16 babies. When they are born they are pink, hairless and their eyes are closed. They’ll start drinking their mother’s milk right away. 

A healthy pinky rat will be moving around with a bright pink color. You should see white in their bellies which is a sign that they are getting milk from their mothers. 

If you have more than 1 female in a cage or tub its ok to have their babies get mixed up. Rats are communal creatures so they will take care of each other’s babies. 

It’s normal for the female rat to pick up their babies with their mouths. They are not trying to eat them, that’s just how they move them. 

Fuzzy Rats

After a week, the pinkies will lose their transparency. This is when they are considered fuzzies and they start developing fur. They will still have their eyes closed, but they should be significantly bigger.

Watch for rats that aren’t growing or gaining weight as fast as the others. This means they aren’t getting enough milk. To help it get more nutrition try to help it get close to their mother’s nipples. Put them on top of the other pups so they aren’t smothered and struggling to get food. 

Rat Pups

2 weeks after they’re born they’ll start looking like their adult forms. At 2 weeks old they are considered pups. They’ll have most of their fur and they’ll start to open their eyes.

At this age they’ll still need their mother’s milk so it’s important not to separate them at this time. They’ll start exploring more and crawling away from their mother at this time. 

Weaned

At 3-4 week the baby rats will start weaning off of their mothers milk. At this age you’ll see them start to eat solid food and drinking water. 

Adult

On the 5th week they are ready to be separated from their mother. At this age they’ll be eating solid foods only and drinking water. This is when they are considered small, then medium then large and xlarge. 

As soon as the babies are separated from their mothers the females are ready to reproduce again. I usually wait 2 weeks after the babies are weaned to introduce the male back to the female. 

Rat life cycle

Unfortunately, rats don’t live forever. In fact their lifespan is quite short. It’s rare to see a rat live past two years. 

It’s important to check on the health of your rats especially the females. As a female rat gets older her litters will get smaller and smaller. At this point it’s best to swap out your female for a younger female to start breeding. 

Rat Behavior

Rats are curious creatures. A rat will be scared of you at first but will eventually warm up to you. Its important for them to get familiar with you so they are more comfortable with you being around them and their babies. 

Rats will sometimes bite, but their bite may be out of curiosity and not defense. If you notice one of your females is fighting a lot with other rats its best to separate her or switch her out. Their behavior can be passed down to their babies. 

Clean Up

Keeping a colony of rats for breeding is a lot of work. They are constantly making a mess and need cleaning. Their substrate should be changed frequently. They also stink. I recommend getting an air scrubber to dull the smell down.

The less odor you want coming from your rats, the more often you should clean them. Since I have a dedicated room for my animals I deep clean once a week. 

Tips

If you are planning on growing out the rats that are born I would separate them by gender once they are weaned so they don’t reproduce with each other once they mature. 

If you overproduce rats, freeze them so you have a stock of reptile food for later.

Keep the rats at a comfortable temperature. Having their environment too hot or too cold could be detrimental to the rats and their litter. They may even produce less if the temperatures are too extreme. 

If you have a rack make sure you add a water system. Rats drink a LOT of water. You can make one yourself like I did or you can have one built in if you buy from vision or a similar company

Click here for a tutorial on making your own watering system.

I like to remove the male after signs of pregnancy so the female rat doesn’t stress out. This also gives the female a break between pregnancies. I add the male back in once the babies are weaned. 

Conclusion

Breeding rats is no easy task, but breeding your own rats is one of the most sustainable, cheapest, and healthiest way to feed your reptiles. A female can produce more than enough rats to feed your growing reptile for over a year. I recommend producing rats if you have more than one reptile to feed.

1. Ellen S. Dierenfeld, PhD, Heather L. Alcorn, BS, and Krista L. Jacobsen, MS – 2002. Provided by Rodent Pro.com

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