Pet rats may not be everyone’s first choice, but they’re certainly worth it. These smart, affectionate creatures are easy to train and playful.
Read the article below to find the answers to your most burning questions. You’ll learn how to care for them, how to help them live longer, and how to choose the right breed for your needs. You’ll even find out if they smell and make noise, so read along!
Do rats make good pets?
Most people cringe when they think about rats, but keeping rats as pets is nothing like having to deal with a wild rat. Wild rats are completely different both physically and mentally than their domestic cousins.
Rat breeding has started almost three hundred years ago, so your pet rat will be nothing like the cholera-spreading rat of the Middle Ages. Chances are you’ll get a cute, friendly character, with an innate sense of loyalty.
Domestic rats make good pets because they are:
- Affordable compared to having a bigger pet
- Independent without ignoring their owners
- Docile and easy to potty train
- Loyal and loving toward their human parents because they experience human emotions such as empathy and need to help when they sense distress in others
- Smart enough to learn tricks and respond to their names when you call them
Domestic rats are a good choice if you’re not looking for long-term commitment and constant interaction with your pet. That’s because rats don’t live as long as dogs or cats, and they sleep for two-thirds of the day. They’ll wake up if you want to play with them, but they’ll live you alone most of the day.
If you have a child, might be good to get him a pet rat instead of a hamster or rabbit. These are more fragile and they also tend to bite, whereas rats very rarely bite kids. Besides, rats enjoy playtime more than other rodents and you can train them as well as you’d train a dog.
How long do pet rats live?
The pet rat lifespan is two to three years, almost twice as much as that of a wild rat.
- The average lifespan of UK rats is 21 months according to surveys.
- The oldest rat in recorded history is Rodney, who lived for over 7 years according to 1995’s Guinness Book of Records.
Tip: Beware of pet stores who claim that the rats they sell can live up to five or six years with the right type of care. These statements are mostly false and cause an unnecessary sense of self-blame when the rats die earlier.
You can, however, help your rat live longer. Below are some quick tips to extend your pet rat’s life expectancy:
- Choose your rat from an ethical breeder who takes care of their rats to reduce the risk of genetic illnesses.
- Make sure your rat lives in an open space with multiple opportunities to stay active. Rats like to climb, hide, and dig. If you don’t allow him to stay active, your rat may get hind leg weakness or develop obesity.
- Feed your rat fresh fruit and veggies treats to strengthen his immune system and to avoid age-related chronic oxidative stress.
- Try intermittent fasting, which has shown prolonged rat lifespan in studies. This method works because wild rats don’t have a fresh bowl of food available at fixed times.
- Keep your rat’s weight in check because domestic rats are predisposed to obesity, especially if they’re neutered.
- Take your rat to the vet for yearly check-ups. Choose a vet who’s specialized in diagnosing and treating pet rats.
- Keep your rat in a clean environment, with no toxins. Clean the rat’s cage constantly because urine ammonia is dangerous. Make sure the cage has no untreated pine or cedar materials, which emanate phenols.
- Don’t stress your rat. Constant moving or an overcrowded cage cause severe symptoms similar to PTSD.
- Ensure your rat sleeps well in a dark, noiseless area. Sleep deprivation in rats leads to a drastically shortened lifespan.
- Show your pet rat how much you love him. Rats thrive in social groups and they need positive connections with you and other rats.
- Play some music. It’s been shown that classical music and enrichment noise can lengthen your rat’s lifespan because they’re soothing and relaxing, so they reduce overall stress.
Pet rat breeds
It’s important to consider various pet rat varieties before choosing your companion. Some varieties live longer, others are smarter, and others are lower maintenance. Consider your most pressing need before deciding.
The most common types of pet rats are categorised according to:
- Standard. These rats have normal-sized, top ears. They’re smart, friendly, and don’t require special food.
- Dumbo. Dumbo rats have big, round ears on the sides of their heads. Dumbo rats are among the friendliest and are famed to live longer than other rats.
- Manx. These rats generally have no tails, but some individuals can sport a short stub. They’re small and need extra care.
- Dwarf. Dwarf rats are a third of the usual rat size, so they’re more difficult to handle. They’re low-maintenance and easy to train.
- Standard. These rats have smooth, short and flat coats, with either long or curved whiskers. Females’ coats are usually softer than males, so males require more maintenance. Improper care may cause your pet rat’s coat to become dry or brittle.
- Rex. Rex rats have curly fur, whiskers, and eyelashes. Their coats are velvety and fleecy, which is why they’re known as sheep rats. These rats require special care and they’ll probably get bald patches when they grow old.
- Sphynx. These rats are completely hairless so they’re more predisposed to illness because they have no fur for protection. They’re easily affected by the cold and various infections, so it’s essential to pick an ethical breeder.
The varieties above have individuals of different colours, the most common of which are:
- Black. The rats will turn brown when they get older, if they’re sick, or incorrectly fed.
- White. White rats usually have red eyes and a light-coloured belly.
- Blue. These rats have silver bellies, with blue, grey, or silver coats.
- Mink. These varieties are very popular because their brown coats have intriguing nuances, from cinnamon to chocolate.
Caring for a pet rat
Before deciding to get a pet rat, you should understand the basics of caring for it, such as housing, food, play, and companionship.
Looking after a pet is not that hard if you follow the tips below:
Get the right home
- The cage has to be at least two square feet.
- The flooring on all levels and the ramps have to be solid.
- Avoid wire flooring because they’re difficult to clean and may cause bumble feet. Consider Perspex or wooden cages.
- Rats need burrows, so purchase a nest where your rat can hide and sleep.
- Ensure the surrounding temperature is 65-75 F.
- Do spot-cleaning daily.
- Do a complete cleaning every week.
- Avoid using bleach.
Arrange feeding areas
- Keep the water and food bowls clean.
- Add more food sources throughout the cage if you have more rats to avoid fighting.
- Opt for sipper bottles because they’re safer and easier to clean.
- Refresh the water daily
- Incorporate fruit and veggies in your rat’s diet.
Choose the right bedding
- Opt for soft, sponge-like materials such as wood shaving, but avoid pine or cedar, which emanate phenols.
Get the toilet
- Rats don’t like to do their duty where they’re sleeping so buy a dedicated box where they can go.
- Remember to clean it regularly.
- Rats like to stay active, and you should get them safe toys such as small bolls, stuffed animals or an obstacle course.
- Ensure they have plenty of places to hide in their cage.
Keep your rat healthy
- Take your pet to regular pet visits.
- Look out for symptoms of illness, such as weight loss, interrupted breathing, lack of appetite, smelly or weirdly coloured urine, diarrhoea, skin lumps, and scabbing.
Make your rat feel part of your home
- Place the cage somewhere in your home where you can see it, so the rat doesn’t feel alone.
- Play frequently with your rat to make him feel loved and to reduce stress.
- Teach your rat tricks because he’s a very intelligent animal. You’ll be entertained and your rat will develop a sense of self-satisfaction with every new trick he learns.
- Take your rat for a walk in a special harness or buy a bigger outdoor cage.
Pet rats facts/history
Domestic rats have a history that stretches all the way to the Ancient times. During the 18th century, European rat catchers hunted rats and sold them for blood sports, such as rat baiting. In this activity, a dog’s cage was filled with rats and people were betting on how much time the dog would need to kill all of them.
Ratcatchers and betting people bred the rats depending on the features that made them better for these sports. Eventually, they began selling the rats as pets.
The pioneers of rat breeding were a rat-catcher called Jack Black and a public sporting house’s manager called Jimmy Show.
Mary Douglas was the woman thanks to which rats formally began taking part in competitions. In 1901, she asked the National Mouse Club in England to include her pet rats in the exhibition, and one of them won the “Best in Show” Award.
After her death, domesticated rats were no longer a fashionable hobby. The National Fancy Rat Society formed in 1976 revived this fashion, and now rats are a common pet rodent that takes part in various contests.
Now that you’re here, you’ve learned a lot about rats, including the basics of caring for them, how smart they are, and the basics of caring for them.
Below are some of the most common questions people have before getting a pet rat, so read along to find out more about them.
How much is a pet rat?
A pet rat is anywhere from £5 to £20-25, depending on his age, temperament, and variety. Consider that you’ll spend more than that on buying the right cage, toys, food and drink containers, bedding, and nest. These additional expenses add to £40-60. A bag of rat pellets amounts to about £20 and a visit to the anywhere around £20-30. So whereas they’re not expensive to buy, the maintenance isn’t as cheap as you expect.
Do pet rats smell?
Rats don’t smell, although pet mice and hamsters do. Some people claim that rats have a distinctive smell, especially male rats, but other people can’t feel this smell. Most of the time, an intense smell from your pet rat indicates an infection or an unclean cage.
Should you bathe your pet rat?
Rats don’t need to be bathed because they’re naturally clean. If yours gets his coat dirty, you can simply wipe the stain off with a moist towel.
If you want to give your rat a bath anyway, don’t throw him in a full tub. Put just an inch of water in a small basin, and let the rat enjoy himself without splashing him too much.
Do pet rats make noise?
Rats are quiet creatures that don’t make a lot of noise unless they’re in trouble.
Rats are nocturnal animals, so they’re more active at nighttime. Although they won’t scream or screech, you might hear noises such as how they drink water. If you have more rats, you might hear them running after each other in the cage.
If you’re a heavy sleeper, you won’t be disturbed by this noise.
If you’re a light sleeper, consider moving the cage somewhere else or making a schedule for your rat. Let them play around ten to midnight, so they’ll sleep for longer during the night.
Do pet rats bond with their owners?
Pet rats bond with their owners because they’re loyal and affectionate creatures. Pet rats recognize their owners and enjoy spending time with them. Rats are capable of human emotions and can grieve for a departed owner or someone who’s moved away from the home.
Do pet rats get along with other pets?
Pet rats get along with other rats, but they might not get along with other pets. Rats tend to attack smaller pets, like canaries or fish.
A rat and a guinea pig can make good friends. Rats can get along with cats or dogs, if they grew up together or if they’re introduced gradually to one another. Don’t bring a new pet rat into your dog or cat’s home without ensuring the rat is safe in a cage. Give your dog or your cat enough time to acquaint themselves with the new pet from a distance.
Pet rats are friendly, happy creatures. They respond to their names, they like playing, and they will bond with you in a unique way.
Before buying your pet rat, ensure you can offer him the best conditions. Ensure he has plenty of space to run around and things to play within a clean, spacious cage, but most importantly, show him your love.