As I'm about to leave on vacation myself, I thought I'd share my routine for leaving my rats behind. I see this topic often enough that I felt the need to write up a post with tips for leaving your rats with a caretaker. You deserve some time off without worrying about your babies.
Rat Vacation Guide
First, find someone that you trust unconditionally. This must be an adult. Even though your little cousin loves your rats and wants to take care of them for you, an adult must be supervising this activity for the care and safety of all involved. Be sure to compensate the caretaker for this important service. Some spending money in a card, a paid dinner, or a handmade gift all do nicely. Use your judgement based on the person you choose. Important: Have a back-up caretaker in case of an emergency!
You are going to be writing everything down, but it is very important that the caretaker visits before you leave so that you can go through the instructions with them. Even though they will have the instructions to guide them, it is extremely helpful to physically show them what they will be doing. Have a copy of your instructions with you during this tour to point the steps out on the page.
A few days before you leave, sit down at the computer to begin writing your instructions. Don't leave any crucial details out, but don't write an essay, either.
Write down the names of your rats and what color (in simple terms, not technical terms) they are so that they can be easily identified. If the rat has any important quirks (this one will try to escape, this one will want to taste your finger, etc.), write them down as well.
List the obvious things like food and water, but don't leave out details such as how to ensure that the cage is latched properly, being sure to refill the water bottle to the complete top and tapping the valve to ensure that it is working, and any other small things that you may not think of at first. Read over the list several times before you leave so that you can add things as necessary.
Even though you may "eyeball" the amounts of food you give your rats, don't expect the caretaker to do the same. Find a measuring instrument that closely matches how much you usually give, and keep that with their dry food. If the caretaker is rat phobic, a trick you can use is to get brown paper lunch bags to fill with daily portions of meals. Fold them up and store it all in a container so that the caretaker can just toss a bag in the cage quickly without having to spend time measuring and dishing out. The rats won't mind.
If your rats get fresh foods, you will be preparing that in advance. Fill enough sandwich bags (plus some extra) for every feeding with the food they'll be giving. Avoid getting complicated with special meals and just stick the basics in the bag. Place all of the bags in an easily accessible area of the freezer and ensure that your caretaker knows exactly where they are.
If your rats require medication, do your best to measure that out so that the caretaker doesn't have to struggle with dosing. You can get a bunch of tiny syringes from the vet or pharmacy with caps and assemble the proper doses so that they are ready to go. Even if your rat is not on medication, you may want to assemble some doses of ibuprofen in a first aid kit. In case of an emergency, write down your number and the number (and address) of your vet in case you can't be reached for whatever reason.
Consider avoiding instructions like free-range time. Your rats will not likely be comfortable with their change in routine and playtime could be dangerous. The last thing you want is the caretaker losing a scared rat. Your vacation is temporary, and your rats will forgive you.
As soon before your departure as possible, clean the cage and fill it with plenty of toys to occupy them during your time away. If you don't already have one, purchase a second water bottle just in case one should fail. Give the cage an inspection to make sure that latches are in working order, parts are secure, etc.
When your list is complete, print several copies. Leave one by the cage, one on the freezer, and one in a junk drawer in the kitchen or wherever. Make sure that the caretaker knows where all of these copies are. Also, email them a copy.
Finally, give your rats kisses and enjoy your vacation, knowing that they will be cared for well!