Rat Terrier Lifespan: Average Life Expectancy and More!

Written by Cammi Morgan
Published: November 1, 2023
Share on:


If you’re thinking about adopting or just welcomed a rat terrier into your home, you may be wondering how long you could expect to have this pup in your life. For folks aiming to adopt a long-lived and spunky dog, a rat terrier may be the breed for you. On average, you can expect a healthy rat terrier to live 15 to 18 yearsone of the longest life expectancies of any dog breed!

In this guide, we’ll discuss the lifespan of a rat terrier, including average life expectancy, common health issues, and how to keep this breed happy throughout their life.

Read on to learn more.

Lifespan of a Rat Terrier

The title of longest-lived rat terrier currently belongs to Jake, a rat terrier who lived 21 years. Jake was born on July 21, 1994, and passed away a few days after his birthday in 2015.

Periodic vet visits, nutritious food, healthy genetics, living in an environment with low pollution levels, and consistent opportunities for exercise and enrichment are key aspects of helping your rat terrier reach their average life expectancy.

Elderly rat terrier dog in backyard

Rat terriers tend to be long-lived with an average life expectancy of 15-18 years.

©Nick Wiltgen/iStock via Getty Images

Lifespan of a Rat Terrier: Maturity and Size Standards

As a small breed, you can expect your rat terrier to reach physical maturity at about 9-10 months of age. They will reach mental and social maturity around 15-18 months old. According to AKC standards, a healthy, adult rat terrier should measure 13-18 inches tall at the withers. A miniature-sized variety also exists. Their AKC height standard is 10-13 inches tall at the withers. The average weight range for a healthy, adult standard-sized rat terrier is 18-25 pounds. Healthy adults of the miniature variety typically weigh 10-17 pounds.

Lifespan of a Rat Terrier: Common Health Conditions

While rat terriers are known as particularly hardy and healthy dogs, there are still some genetic conditions that they are at a heightened risk of developing. The following are some of the most common health conditions specifically associated with rat terriers:

  • Patellar luxation- a condition that causes the kneecap to slip outside of the proper position in the femoral groove
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease, such as mitral valve disease, especially in advanced age
  • Cancerspecifically of the brain and nervous system
  • A hip condition called Legg-Calve Perthes disease
  • Degenerative eye conditions, primarily progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and primary lens luxation

Currently, heart disease is the leading cause of death in rat terriers. Since this leading cause of death tends to present in old age for this breed, rat terriers tend to enjoy a long lifespan.

What Rat Terriers Need to Thrive

While it’s of course important to focus on the physical health of your rat terrier, it’s also crucial to ensure mental and emotional well-being throughout their life. Ensuring mental and emotional health for dogs typically requires understanding and meeting species and breed-specific needs. The rat terrier was bred, as its name suggests, to hunt and catch rodents on farms. With their small frame and agile build, these dogs can quickly and skillfully follow rodents into burrows.

In addition to providing for your rat terrier’s physical well-being, you’ll also want to help ensure mental and emotional wellness.

©Michele M Vogel/Shutterstock.com

Species-Specific Needs

While every individual dog is unique, as a species, it’s important to understand what dogs typically need to feel happy and safe. You may find that your dog doesn’t typically enjoy chewing toys, for example, but it’s still important to provide access to this option should they want to. The following are common components of providing a healthy and enriching life for a household, domesticated dog:

  • Voluntary exercise and play
  •  Scent and food-based enrichment
  •  Access to acceptable chew toys
  •  Access to a comfortable, safe place to rest which they can go to and leave at will (ie. not a crate with a closed door)
  •  Consistent social companionship (This may include people, other dogs, or other animals)
  •  Freedom from punishment, fear, and pain-based training
  •  Fresh, clean water and nutritious food
  •  Periodic to consistent access to natural environments, such as forest walks, parks, or meadows (depending on where you live and the accessibility of natural spaces)
  •  Access to high-quality vet care and pain management for preventatives, checkups, and chronic or acute illness and injury
  •  Freedom of choice and movement as much as safely possible

Lifespan of a Rat Terrier: Breed-Specific Needs

Many rat terriers exhibit a prey drive and desire to dig. Predation substitute training and enrichment can provide a safe alternative for terriers who don’t actively hunt. Without providing an outlet for digging and catching and shaking “prey”, you may notice that your rat terrier is hyperactive and restless.

As high-energy dogs, you may find that your pup needs access to at least 20-30 minutes of moderate-intense exercise per day. However, it’s important to assess your pup and make sure the exercise is voluntary, and enthusiastic, and ideally involves play, socializing, digging, or sniffing.

Finally, this breed is highly social as they were bred to accompany humans and other terriers on hunts. They may thrive best in a cohesive multi-dog household and with a human caregiver who can provide lots of attention and likes the idea of bringing their dog with them on outings.

Dog walking at sea beach

You may find that your rat terrier needs access to digging to feel content. You can provide a sandbox, mulch pile, etc. to provide this enrichment.

©Lazy_Bear/iStock via Getty Images

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/sjallenphotography

Ready to discover the top 10 cutest dog breeds in the entire world?

How about the fastest dogs, the largest dogs and those that are -- quite frankly -- just the kindest dogs on the planet? Each day, AZ Animals sends out lists just like this to our thousands of email subscribers. And the best part? It's FREE. Join today by entering your email below.

What's the right dog for you?

Dogs are our best friends but which breed is your perfect match?


If you have kids or existing dogs select:

Other Dogs

Should they be Hypoallergenic?

How important is health?
Which dog groups do you like?
How much exercise should your dog require?
What climate?
How much seperation anxiety?
How much yappiness/barking?

How much energy should they have?

The lower energy the better.
I want a cuddle buddy!
About average energy.
I want a dog that I have to chase after constantly!
All energy levels are great -- I just love dogs!
How much should they shed?
How trainable/obedient does the dog need to be?
How intelligent does the dog need to be?
How much chewing will allow?

Share on:
About the Author

Cammi Morgan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on mycology, marine animals, forest and river ecology, and dogs. Cammi has been volunteering in animal rescue for over 10 years, and has been studying mycology and field-researching mushrooms for the past 3 years. A resident of Southeast Appalachia, Cammi loves her off-grid life where she shares 20 acres with her landmates, foster dogs, and all the plants, fungi, and critters of the forest.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.