What are Harley Rats? Care Guide (With Photos!)

Rats are excellent pets to have. They’re smart, they’re friendly, curious, and they’re just so unbelievably cute!

One rat, in particular, is quickly getting attention, which is the Harley, and despite what your search engine says, we are not talking about the bike. 

Harley rats are domesticated rats with thick or sparse long, straight hair but no undercoat. A rat develops this coat when the recessive longhair gene is inherited from both parents. Harleys, however, molt severely and tend to have protein allergies and skin conditions.

If you don’t mind learning one or two things regarding special care for Harley rats, they will be healthy and joyful companions for you.

Keep reading to learn how to take care of Harley rats, the conditions they are susceptible to, and where you can find one.

Why are They Called Harley Rats?

The name “Harley” doesn’t necessarily designate a unique and specific breed of rat. It refers to the coat type. Harleys are domestic rats that have long hair.

Rats come with one of several different types of coats:

  • Standard – found on wild rats; Straight
  • Rex – Curly, kinky hair and whiskers
  • Velveteen – Wavy and thick, but short
  • Hairless – Completely hairless or slight fuzz
  • Harley – Long-haired with no undercoat

The Harley coat was named after the first rat and her litter that had such a unique coat.

Harley was found in 2002 and was the first of her kind (that we know of) to have the recessive longhair gene.

Not only that but four of her five pups inherited the gene from her!

The Harley gene can create either a wispy, sparse coat or a thick, luxurious one.

It’s not like the velveteen coat, which has thick hair. Harley coats have very fine hair.

Their poofy coat might make them look bigger, but Harleys will still be around the average length of a domestic rat of 9-11”.

Differences Between Harley Rats and Standard Coated Rats

Are there any significant differences between Harley rats and your standard coated rat?

Well, regarding hair texture, a classic coat has short, glossy, and smooth hair with an undercoat.

The Harley does not have an undercoat and has long fine hair. Harley rats may also be known as satin-coated rats, with very similar hair.

Both the standard “fancy” rat and the Harley can come in a wide range of colors.

baby harley rat on top of a hand
Adorable little rat!

Besides the hair, there is something important to note about Harleys when they’re born. 

Baby Harleys can start smaller than standard coated rats and have more fragile bodies. This is likely due to their below-average protein levels.

How to Take Basic Care of Harley Rats

Below we will try to focus primarily on any necessary details of rat care that are particular to Harley rats.

Missing subjects such as “toys” mean the care is the same as other pet rats.

However, if you want the best toys you can give your pet rats, here’s a list of the best 11 Pet Rat Toys, some of which you can even make at home with simple materials!


The diet of Harley rats is typical to other rats, except they need to have slightly lower protein given to them.

It’s highly advised not to give them protein treats like eggs or extra meat.

You will also have to pay attention to the protein percentages in rat food blocks. Mazuri usually has the highest protein at 23%, so avoid this brand.

When owning a pet rat with more special care, it’s good to get your vet’s advice since they can better know the nutrients and supplements your rodent friend needs!


According to Veterinarian Jamie, rats need between 10-12ml of water per day and per 100 grams of their weight.

So each rat will need to be weighed in grams to be sure you’re giving them enough water. 

If you don’t have a scale that weighs grams, 1lbs is equivalent to 2200 grams.

We would recommend watching your Harley rat’s water intake pretty closely.

They may be lighter than other rats, but they also have long hair, meaning they need more water for their grooming.

An excellent item to add to their cage is a water bottle, which is proper for rodents, like this Lixit water bottle on Amazon.

These bottles can hold a good quantity of water, so your pet rat always has plenty of water available. But there’s also no risk of any accident, like turning over the water bowl.


Even though they tend to mark things wherever they go, rats are extraordinarily clean.

Grooming is not something you will typically need to help even the long-haired Harley with unless they get extremely dirty somehow.

If you bathe them, use water only about an inch high at a temperature between 98.5℉ and 100.5℉.

You don’t need to bathe them if you notice them itching unless your vet recommends a medical bath.

Instead, you can apply coconut oil to their fur, which will moisturize the skin, is edible to the rat, and will help encourage them to groom themselves better.


There are several essential things to know with picking out a cage for a Harley:


Rats need a lot of space to explore and run around. If you have 3 or 4 rats, they need enough space to have their quiet corner if they need it.

If you want your rats to be happy, you will want more space. 2 cubic feet is usually required PER RAT. That’s the minimum.

Be sure your cage has 0.6inches (17mm) spacing max between the cage bars.

Try to find something even smaller to account for Harley’s smaller size.

You can see how many rats your cage will fit with this cage calculator.

For extra help, we have an article with some of our favorite cages for pet rats, along with their prices and features! You can read it here and find the perfect cage for your little companions.


Sawdust or wood shavings that have not been adequately dried can cause respiratory problems.

Dusty beddings can do the same, such as cedar or pine.

Look for bedding that states “low dust” or “dust extracted.” They aren’t always honest, so scrutinize the bags. 

The best bedding to use is enriching bedding.

Enriching bedding allows rats to practice their natural behaviors, such as digging. Pellets are too heavy for rats to dig in. However, pine and aspen can also work well.

We always recommend the Carefresh Dust-Free Natural Paper Bedding since it’s dust free and environmentally friendly.

Litter Bedding

Litter tray bedding is different.

For litter trays, you want something different from the main bedding so that the rats tell the difference.

Paper-based pellets are the best because wood can become more like sawdust. For example, the Small Pet Select Paper Bedding on Amazon is a good choice.

Alternatively, if you prefer to use a different material for the litter, you can also try something like the Oxbow Eco-Straw Litter on Amazon.


Harley rats need their cages spot cleaned at least twice a week and deep cleaned at least once a month, much like any other pet rat.

You may need to clean the bedding more often or their litter bedding to prevent their urine or waste from clinging to their hair.

We like to do daily cleaning of their litter box and bedding. Too dirty parts should be cleaned and replaced with new bedding or litter.

Daily cleaning usually doesn’t take longer than 5 minutes and ensures that not only do your pet rats live comfortably but keep the cage and room odor-free for longer! 

Do Harley Rats Molt?

“Molting” refers to the shedding of fur that rats periodically experience.

Like specific dog and cat breeds, rats will develop a thick winter coat during the winter, and then when the weather turns warm again, they shed the winter coat.

harley rat molting, shedding it's fur.
A harley rat molting

This isn’t something you usually have to worry about or even help your rat with. Harley rats are neat, like other domestic rats, and will remove the lose hair themselves while grooming.

If you have a new baby Harley, you can expect the first shed when they are between 6 and 8 weeks old, where they lose all of their baby hair.

Don’t be scared about this, since it will be the most shocking molt, followed by the one when they reach 3 months of age because they will be virtually bald!

They’ll look weird and bald because of their lack of an undercoat. After that, the shedding will be less noticeable.

After those two periods, the molting should only be a concern if you notice too much hair loss akin to the first two times or if you see bald patches.

Bald patches could mean allergies or stress and need veterinary attention.

What are Common Illnesses of Harley Rats?

Rats, in general, are very fragile and can get sick easily, which is something you should know before getting one for the first time.

Harley rats are believed to have a kind of protein allergy or low levels of a particular protein, causing them to be more vulnerable to skin issues than other rats.

This was especially true with the first litters after 2002! 

They need to have low levels of protein, or else they can develop skin problems ranging from a little bit of skin irritation and dander flakes to scabs and bald spots.

Today, this will depend on their breeding, so if you buy from a breeder, ask about their Harleys’ skin. They will still require a slightly lower protein diet.

Harleys may also have trouble lactating and nursing depending on the breeding line.

In more severe cases, there could be issues with the nipples of the females, such as mastitis, an infection in breast tissue that causes swelling and redness.

Finally, like other pet rats, Harleys are vulnerable to respiratory infections, which you can recognize if you notice:

  • Excessive porphyrin
  • Sneezing
  • Fast and noisy breathing
  • Honking noises
  • Clicking noises

According to Dr. James Haberfield (vet), stress or a risk factor in the rat’s environment (i.e., cage) are the primary culprits.

This is why it’s vital to line their cage with a good, dry, non-dusty material and clean their cage thoroughly. 

Common Mistakes of Rat Owners

If you’re new to purchasing a rat but came across the Harley and instantly fell in love, there are a few things to be aware of before you take on this commitment.

Specifically, some of the common mistakes first-time rat owners make:

Only Buying One Rat

Rats don’t like to be alone except if their sick or they have an aggressive temperament.

They are highly social, so buying at least two rats is important to prevent depression and extreme boredom. You can purchase rats of the same sex without trouble.

Letting the Rats Free Roam with Your Stuff

All pet rats, especially males, will mark their territory while walking. So if you don’t want your things peed on, having a blanket you don’t care about in the free-roam area is a good idea.

At the very least, make sure nothing is on the floor. 

It’s also important to note that if there is anything soft right next to your pet rats or their cage, you can look forward to holes in your favorite clothes or blanket. 

We have a complete guide on pet rats free roaming, which you can read here.

Not Saving Money for the Rats

This is mainly because Harley rats will most likely get sick.

Exotic pet vet bills are not cheap, and pet rats are pretty vulnerable in their immunity, so it’s essential to have money set aside for vet visits.

Not Providing Enough Mental Stimulation

Rats are intelligent creatures.

So intelligent that a rat was sent into space from France in 1961!

For that reason, they get bored quickly, and it’s your responsibility to ease that boredom. 

You should fill your pet rat’s cage with exciting toys and provide them with enough activity with games and puzzles. Here’s a list of 9 Fun Games To Play With Your Pet Rats!

Where to Find Harley Rats

Harley rats aren’t always available at local pet stores like Petco or Petsmart, but they are rising in popularity, so it wouldn’t hurt to call them to ask. You may be pleasantly surprised.

However, if possible, you should avoid pet stores, and it’s better to find your next rodent friends through a rescue shelter or reputable breeder!

You can read more about this, along with safer places on where to adopt or buy pet rats, right here.

Although you might be able to find Harley rats in a rescue shelter, it is still a gamble whether they will have Harley rats specifically.

You can look up physical rat rescues near you, but there are also online rescues that don’t have a physical location but take care of the rats through foster homes and put them up for adoption online.

Examples include Small Angels Rescue, Any Rat Rescue, and Mainely Rat Rescue.

The most reliable place to find a Harley rat is to look for a rat breeder.

They are readily available online because Harleys have a very appealing luxurious coat that makes them adorable.

Although gaining more popularity, don’t be surprised if the selection of Harleys is a bit thin. It takes time to raise specific rats once they start becoming popular. 

Harley rat breeders you might try include:


Harley rats are truly adorable companions that are worth trying to find.

Their primary care is the same as any other domestic rat, and they only need a little more attention for their skin.

They are no less intelligent and sociable than rats with other coat types, and you only have to look at them to say YES!