Why Rats Are the World's Most Underrated Pets
As a lifelong owner of pet rats, it surprises me how many people still see rats as sewer-dwelling, diseased carriers of the bubonic plague. Quite the contrary, rats are clean, social animals that rarely bite. Because they're so incredibly smart, they're easily trained to use use a littler box, do tricks, and even come when you call.
The smartest of my personal pet rats aren't even caged. They waltz around with the cat and the dogs, watching TV on the couch, and joining the family for spaghetti dinners served on her own little saucer. Rats are sweet, loving critters with individual personalities.
What Do Rats Like?
In the wild, rats will stay in groups. Often mistakenly called a "pack," a group of rats is called a "mischief." Unlike hamsters or gerbils, they are not content in being alone. They are happiest and behave best when handled (petted, played with, carried) regularly by their owners.
Even regular interaction won't leave your rat totally satisfied, so at least one cage-mate is highly recommended. While you don't want to overcrowd a cage intended for one animal, rats are happy to share the space. They amuse, occupy, and comfort each other when you’re not available or can’t be around.
Did You Know?
A group of rats is called a mischief.
What Kind of Homes Do Rats Like?
Rats are naturally curious and playful. Because they enjoy climbing and exploring, a wire cage is best as it allows them to climb around easily. Tubes, tunnels, hammocks, stoops, ladders, and toys are all excellent additions. A water bottle, food dish, and igloo (or home of some kind) are essential. Avoid cedar or pine litters as they cause respiratory disease and can shorten your new friend's life dramatically.
What Do Rats Eat?
Almost anything! Rats are omnivores and therefore eat both meat and vegetables. Adult rats should be given some grains, vegetables, and protein every day for optimum health. Grains could be in the form of whole grain brown rice, oats, millet, or whole meal bread; rats will eat most fresh vegetables, and their protein could be provided in the form of lean scraps of meat, fish, or even dog food. For snacks, you could give them a rodent mix brought from your local pet store, a piece of fruit, or a carrot to gnaw on.
Rat Food Mixes
If you cannot provide them with fresh food, they can still have a nutritionally balanced diet with a rat food mix from the pet store. Although these mixes claim to be ‘complete’ and include all the constituents that make up a healthy diet, they will only be ‘complete’ if your rat eats all of the components, which is not very likely— your rat will probably pick out his favorite bits and leave the rest!
If this happens, you need to give fresh vegetables such as potatoes, peas, carrots, etc. and snacks of fresh fruit such as apples, grapes, strawberries, and bananas, plus some protein in the form of dog food or cooked meat. Rats will also enjoy your table scraps, but be wary if these are fatty or full of sugar. Things such as sunflower seeds and peanuts should be kept for special treats and not be included in their daily diet.
Rats like to rummage for their food, and if you only provide them with complete blocks of rat food, they will become bored and won’t have the opportunity to select their favorites!
It is essential that you provide fresh water daily. Water must be available to your rat at all times. The easiest way to enable them to drink is by using a drip feed bottle attached securely to the side of the cage. The bottle should be emptied and re-filled every day.
You can give water in a bowl, but chances are it will be knocked over, or bedding and food will end up in it. If your rat is unwell, he may find it difficult to drink from a drip bottle, so then a bowl would be best; you’ll just have to clean up the mess more frequently. It is also nice to put a bowl of water inside the cage occasionally to enable your rat to wash.
Will My Rat Have Babies?
Do not mix males and females in one cage unless you're prepared for dozens and dozens of cute baby rats. Rats have large litters and can reproduce at incredible rates. The little pink wigglers get fuzzy and cute in no time. In the first weeks after birth, it can be difficult to determine male from female. When separating, look closely, as any oversight can have you running your own pet store!
How Do I Know If My Rat is Male or Female?
Determining gender is very easy after those first few weeks after they're born. See for yourself in the photos below.
Where Can I Get a Rat?
I personally love rats and only want to raise awareness of these tiny little friends. I buy mine from pet stores that sell them as food, and as I get to know them, it breaks my heart that other great rats were never given such a chance.
You can buy a suitable cage, litter, water bottle, food, toys, and accessories, plus a couple of rats, for around $80.00. If you have a birdcage around already, then you're looking at closer to $25.00. These little guys live an average of three years, but I have had many live five.
It's worth taking a closer look at rats. You may be surprised at what you're missing!
Do you think rats make good pets?
After reading this, are you more likely to buy a pet rat?
© 2009 Kelly Downey