Separate Baby Rats from Their Mother

Having your first litter of baby rats is a wonderful experience, but it also comes with a big learning curve. Luckily for rat owners, the mother rat instinctively knows what to do to look after her pups.

All you have to do is provide her with a comfortable enclosure and food. The mother does most of the heavy lifting for the first few weeks of the pups’ lives.

But there comes a time when you have to step in. You must eventually separate the baby rats from their mother. This comes with multiple considerations.

How should you do it, and most importantly, when’s the right time to do it? We’ll discuss this in wide detail in this article.

Keep reading to learn more about the best time and strategy to separate young rats from their mother.

When to Separate Baby Rats from Their Mother?

Baby rats need to spend enough time with their mother to develop properly. You shouldn’t separate them any earlier than four weeks of age (or 29 days since birth).

They rely on their mother for feeding and won’t reach their full growth potential if separated too early. The rat’s mental development is equally important as baby rats learn to socialize from their mother.

Mother rats begin weaning their pups around 21 days after birth, or roughly three weeks. By this age, baby rats should be able to feed themselves by consuming solid foods.

However, three weeks is still too early to take the rat pups away. They’ll need an extra 1-2 weeks to learn socialization skills from their mothers.

Taking them away too early can lead to mental distress and developmental delays. In other words, the baby rats won’t learn how to rat. Four weeks is the bare minimum, and up to five weeks would be even better for the rats’ well-being.

For these reasons, most reputable rat breeders won’t sell rats younger than 5-6 weeks.

Why Should You Separate Baby Rats from Their Mother?

Baby rats benefit from spending enough time with their mother. The first 4-5 weeks of life are critical for their physical and mental development, and they should be next to her as much as possible.

But beyond this point, there comes a time when you must separate the pups from mom.

This is necessary for the following reasons:

– To Prevent Pregnancies

Male rats can reach sexual maturity as early as six weeks, but some might take up to 10 weeks. Female rats reach sexual maturity at 8-12 weeks.

Keeping the rats together too long after weaning can lead to additional pregnancies.

A young male rat might try breeding with the other females in the cage (either his sisters or the mother).

Unless you want one more litter of pups, you should take the males away from the mother by six weeks after birth. Female rats may stay with their mother indefinitely.

– To Reduce Stress on the Mother

Pregnancy, birth, and rearing are all stressful for the mother rat, especially if she has a large litter to look after. As the pups develop, you’ll notice they have a lot of energy to spend and need to feed increasingly more.

Their needs can become taxing for the mother. As rat pups grow, the cage also starts feeling more cramped for all the rats involved.

It’s common for mother rats to become skittish and defensive in such conditions, especially when it’s time to wean her babies. Even the kindest rat mom needs a breather!

Naturally, as the pups mature, she’ll begin spending less and less time around them. Give her a helping hand, and let her roam free for a few hours daily until the rats are fully weaned and ready to leave the nest.

– To Help the Rats Develop Their Personalities

Separating rats too early leads to emotional problems and skittish behavior. However, keeping the rats together for too long might lead to dependency issues.

Baby rats need some freedom to learn things on their own too!

Independent rats will be more motivated to explore, climb, search for their own food, and try new play opportunities.

These new activities keep them mentally stimulated and allow them to develop physically.

How to Separate Baby Rats?

You’ll need at least one spare cage to separate the male pups from their mother and sisters. But you might need more cages depending on the litter size and the male-to-female ratio.

The first thing to do when separating your baby rats is sexing them. Gently lift the rats’ tails and look at the distance between the anus and urethra. Male rats have a longer distance between these organs, while females’ are much closer together.

Once you’ve got an idea about which pups are male and female, it’s time to split them into groups.

Prepare the spare cage for your male rats. Female rats can live with the mother indefinitely, but you may move them to another cage if you want.

Follow the next tips to make the transition as stress-free as possible:

– Start early and take it slowly

Rats are born dependent on their mother. They need her for nourishment, protection, and comfort. As you can imagine, an abrupt change can be very stressful for the pups.

That’s why you must start early and very slowly. Little by little, give your rats time to adjust to living without their mother.

Ideally, you should start by 16 days of age once the rats can hear, see, and walk steadily.

Allow the pups to play by themselves every day. Let them roam a little bit out of the cage, or take the mother out for a few minutes at a time.

You can start with 15-minute play sessions and see how the rats react. Gradually increase the alone time bit by bit every day.

– Keep the mother in sight

When moving the baby rats to their own cage, it’s best to keep their enclosure next to the mother’s. The pups should see their mothers there; this helps ease their separation anxiety.

The rats might still be timid for the first one or two days in the new cage. But they should get over the anxiety sooner if they know the mother is close by.

– Keep at least two rats together

Rats are highly sociable creatures and shouldn’t be kept alone. Loneliness would only make the transition harder and more stressful.

Make sure you have at least a pair of same-sex pups in the same enclosure when separating them from the mother.

It’s best if these pups came from the same litter. You may also keep multiple pups together as long as the cage is roomy enough.

– Don’t cut the pups off completely before 4-5 weeks

The baby rats should be physically and mentally ready to leave their mother. That means they must be fully weaned and capable of socializing properly with other rats.

As I’ve already mentioned, full development takes at least four weeks. But up to five weeks with the mother would help the baby rats reach their full potential.

You shouldn’t separate the pups from their mother before this point. This is even more important if you introduce baby rats to other adults.

Adult rats don’t like misbehaving newcomers. If the pups don’t know how to act around others, the adults could get aggressive and turn on them.

So, allow them more time to learn good manners from their mom.

Do You Keep Male and Female Baby Rats Separately?

It depends on their age. Up until 6-8 weeks of age, baby male and female rats can live together comfortably.

Once the rats have matured sexually, you should separate them unless you want a new litter of rats to look after.

Male rats might reach sexual maturity as early as six weeks, while female rats become fully mature at eight weeks or more.

Considering these figures, it’s safe to assume at least some of the female baby rats could get pregnant by eight weeks. If you want to avoid additional pregnancies, keeping the sexually-mature males and females separate is a must.

You can have male rats neutered by eight weeks of age if you want. Neutered male rats can be kept together with females well into adulthood.

How to Care for Baby Rats After Separating?

By the time you separate the baby rats, they’re fully weaned and prepared to live on their own. If the separation goes well, there’s nothing else to worry about.

Young rats have virtually the same needs and requirements as their adult counterparts. This includes proper enclosure setup, feeding, and regular care.

Let’s take them one by one:

– The Enclosure Setup

Keep newly-separated babies together with other same-sex rats. Socialization benefits a rat’s well-being and also helps the separation go smoothly.

Ensure the new cage is suitable for the pups. Like adults, baby rats need a comprehensive setup to meet their space, feeding, and exercise demands.

Here’s a checklist of everything the baby rats need:

  • A roomy cage (roughly eight cubic feet for 2-3 rats)
  • Comfortable bedding (0.25 inches high; best options include aspen, wheat litter, and newspaper pellets)
  • Water bottle and foraging toys for feeding
  • Rodent chew toys to maintain healthy teeth
  • A nesting space for sleeping
  • Exercise toys (tunnels, running wheel, ladders, ropes, stacked boxes, etc.)

– Feeding

Now that the baby rats no longer get all the nutrients they need from their mother’s milk, it’s time to feed them a varied and balanced diet.

Young rats need more protein than adults. They should also consume a high-fiber diet that’s low in fat and sugar.

To calculate how much food a young rat needs, add 5-6 grams for every 100 grams of the rat’s body weight. On average, six-week-old male rats weigh 200 grams, which translates to 12 grams of food.

Six-week-old female rats weigh 150 grams on average, which comes up to 9 grams of food. Separate the total amount of food into two meals per day.

You should feed them various rat-safe foods that other adult rats eat. Remember to introduce new foods slowly, though.

Young rats still need to get used to the amount of fiber and simple sugars in certain foods. A sudden diet shift could lead to digestive issues and runny stools.

Here’s a list of common and nutritious food for your pet rats:

  • Lab block: This should be their staple diet. This food is specially formulated to contain all the protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that rats need. Multiple products are available. I recommend purchasing a product labeled as “young rat food,” as these contain more protein and essential nutrients for growing rats.
  • Fresh fruits and veg: The importance of fruits and veg can’t be overstated. These foods should make a frequent appearance on the weekly menu. They contain fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help your pet’s health.

Not to mention, they keep mealtimes fun and exciting for your pets. A fresh piece of crisp fruit is certainly tastier to your rat than regular dry chow. Good options include apples, melons, berries, pears, carrots, broccoli, celery, green cabbage, and cucumber.

  • Occasional treats: Rats are omnivorous, so they can eat various foods. Boiled eggs, cooked grains, cheeses, meats, plain cereal, and seeds are all safe foods that provide nutrients like protein, B vitamins, and healthy fats to your young rats.

However, these foods should only be fed on rare occasions. The high caloric and fat content makes these foods fattening and potentially unhealthy if consumed regularly. Remember, rats are predisposed to obesity and health issues. But the dose makes the poison. As a rare treat, these foods are perfectly fine.

– Regular Care

Regular care includes maintenance tasks like cleaning, health check-ups, and monitoring the young rat’s environment.

Care requirements are virtually the same for baby and adult rats. Performing these tasks helps keep your rats comfortable and healthy.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Ensure ideal room parameters for your pet rat (64-79°F and 30-70% humidity).
  • Rinse the water bottle and clean the food bowl or foraging toys daily.
  • Remove wet or soiled bedding from the cage daily.
  • Replace all bedding and wipe down the cage and toys 1-2 times weekly.
  • Take the young rats to regular vet visits, ideally twice a year.

A note on regular bedding cleaning— you should still allow young rats to consume their droppings regularly. It sounds gross, but this behavior is natural and beneficial to rats.

It’s called “coprophagy,” and it allows rats to get a full array of nutrients from their food. Removing all the droppings from the enclosure could result in nutritional deficiencies and health problems for your pet rats.

Do Baby Rats Cry for Their Mother?

Yes, baby rats do cry for their mother. In fact, the crying of baby rats is one of the most widely-studied animal vocalizations.

According to researchers, the high-pitched squeaks of baby rats are an instinctive call for the mother’s attention when baby rats are in distress.

Rats cry when they feel threatened and uncomfortable. Newborn and baby mice also cry when separated from their mother.

We know they’re crying for their mother because the purpose of the squeaks is for the mother to find and retrieve them to the nest.

A mother rat’s body also excretes a high quantity of oxytocin. This hormone specifically helps the mother focus on the cries of her pups.


Young rats depend on their mother for feeding, protection, and learning valuable socialization skills.

Thus, it’s important for the pups to spend enough time with their mother to develop physically and mentally. You shouldn’t separate the babies from their mothers before 4-5 weeks of age.

By six weeks, male baby rats should be housed in a separate cage to avoid accidental pregnancies. But remember, separating young rats from their mother can be a distressing experience.

Thus, you need to take the transition one step at a time. Gradually allow the mother more time away from the babies.

The pups should become progressively accustomed to playing and feeding by themselves.

avatar Jane
Jane is an experienced animal care specialist with a focus on rodents and small mammals, with over 10 years of experience in the pet industry. Her articles provide practical guidance on choosing the right pet and managing common health issues. Jane is an advocate for animal welfare and supports organizations dedicated to protecting wildlife. read more...

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