Looking for a Unique Companion? Consider a Pet Rat
When most people think of rats, it brings up thoughts of nasty rodents scampering through a sewer or of horror movies, in which dozens of rats attack unsuspecting people. In crime dramas, if you’re called “a rat,” that means you turned on your friend.
Indeed, rats have been given a bum rap. Domestic rats, many known as “fancy rats,” have been around for centuries, but people shy away when considering rats as pets, which is too bad. If you're in the market for a good domesticated pet, a rat might be just the answer.
Hear us out, rats are many things. They are cute, intelligent, low-maintenance and clean freaks. Pet rats are also much cheaper to take care of than dogs or cats, and they definitely don’t leave a mess behind like these other animals do. Most of all, rats respond well to their owners, creating a unique bond that’s unlike any other relationship.
Check out these 30 reasons rats make good pets.
Pet Rats Are Low Maintenance
Unlike some pets, including dogs and cats, rats can be quite self-sufficient, simply hanging out in their cages as long as they have enough food and water. In fact, they instinctively stockpile their food over time, so they can see they have enough food.
Furthermore, rats are not needy animals, and they don’t really need loads of attention, so if you have to work a late shift, rats will be just fine. You can even consider getting another rat, and they can hang out in the cage as best buddies until you get home.
Rats Are OK With a Roommate
Speaking of best buddies, rats respond very well to having a roommate to share their cage. They make high-frequency sounds to communicate with each other. In fact, it is recommended by some experts that you should have two rats if you are thinking of having them as pets.
While rats react very well to their owners, they can become lonely living alone. Rats are very social animals, and they react well to constant companionship, which is something an owner may not be able to do if there are time constraints. Just make sure the cage is big enough to house two rats. Of note, female rats do better as roommates, and if you want two males, make sure to introduce them at a young age.
They Can Be Super Cute
Rats have been given a bum rap for being nasty creatures, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Look at that little face with its tiny eyes and whiskers. Who would pass that up in the pet store?
Indeed, rats are adorable when they scamper around with their little legs and long tails. Many owners even let their rats move up their arms to sit on their shoulders as they explore their surroundings. When it’s bedtime, rats love to snuggle in their cages, maybe in a blanket you got them, with their little eyes shut. It doesn’t get any cuter than that.
Pet Rats Are Very Friendly
For some people, rats can come off as being scary rodents, but they are actually friendly and affectionate. Rats are known to bond with their human owners by just hanging out with each other.
Furthermore, rats love to be stroked by their owners. Rats also won’t turn down a gentle massage or a simple scratching behind the ears. Rats will respond by licking your hand ever so slightly. That is known as the rat “grooming” its owner. It feels a little weird, but it’s well worth encouraging the bonding between owner and rat.
Rats, and even mice, are known to be highly intelligent. What is unique about rats is that they are natural students who are very adaptable to learning and understanding many concepts. Consider a comparison to dogs in that a dog’s brain is obviously bigger than a rat’s, but a rat can figure things out similar to a dog.
Besides, they can remember things even better than elephants, And, while a rat’s eyesight is not very good, they have the smarts to learn how to navigate through a given route. Rats also recognize people they’ve seen before.
A Rat Will Respond to a Given Name
Let’s say you decide to call your rat “Milo.” Is it possible for you to get Milo to respond to his name? Absolutely. We have talked about how intelligent rats are, so naturally, he or she is capable of coming to you by calling his or her name, something like you can do with dogs.
So, how does this work? Once again, make sure to have treats ready. Call your rat’s name, and if they come, give them a treat. But if that fails, put the treat where they can see it on the floor and call their name again. Repeat the process until they get it or when they get bored playing this game. The key is to use their name as often as possible until it comes naturally to them.
They Keep Themselves Clean
Believe it or not, rats do not like dirt. Period. If anything gets into their fur, they work hard to get their fur clean nearly to the point of being obsessed about getting rid of dirt. Rats groom themselves more frequently than cats.
What helps is rats who constantly clean themselves are less susceptible to disease than other pets. So, rat owners rarely have to worry about bathing their rats until their later years when they have a tough time grooming themselves due to obesity or arthritis.
Rats Respond Well to Nice Cages
Like people, rats love to hang out in a nice pad. So, some good advice to rat owners is to supply your buddy with a new rat cage and not anything used. The choices can be tough to make because there are so many rat cages from which to choose.
Still, the best cages are multilevel where your rat has the freedom to run up and down tiny ramps and one that has places for multiple water bottles (rats can never have enough water).
It’s an Affordable Pet
For anyone who owns a dog or a cat, they tend to be expensive with special food, toys and trips to the vet for various reasons. Dogs and cats can be so expensive that there is actually pet insurance available for pricey vet bills.
On the other hand, rats are not that expensive. All you need is a cage with accessories like a water bottle and food that’s appropriate for rats. And maybe a toy or two designed for rats. It is recommended that rats visit the vet at least once a year for a check-up, but that’s about it for expenses.
Rats Rarely Get Sick
Unlike other domesticated animals, you won’t see a rat at the vet office as much as dogs or cats. That’s because rats have a natural immune system that fights against illness and disease, so they stay healthier for longer periods of time.
Still, no one is perfect, and that goes for rats. For instance, female rats often suffer from mammary tumors, which can lead to a loss of appetite with no weight gain, increased appetite with no weight gain or being lethargic, among other things. Also, you may see tumors that need to be removed. All in all, this is about as bad as it gets for rats.
Celebrities Really Dig Them
Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars actually own rats. The late Michael Jackson owned rats, which makes sense because one of his biggest hits, “Ben,” was essentially an ode to a rat.
In addition, Angelina Jolie also had a pet rat but, unfortunately, it ate her curtains, and she had to get rid of it. Other stars known to have pet rats include Clint Eastwood, Jamie Lee Curtis, Paris Hilton and Kim Basinger.
Rats Are Easy to Feed
Finding the best food to feed a rat is actually quite simple. It only needs to eat rat food that you can pick up at the pet store, such as nutritionally complete pellets, or you can even feed a rat a wide array of nutritious food for humans, such as bananas, apples and broccoli.
In fact, you can have a little fun with this. Take a pellet or a small piece of apple, and you can hold onto it through the rat’s cage. Watch as the rat approaches and quickly snags the fruit from your grip and scampers across the cage to add it to its food collection. Then, you repeat the process. No, the rat wasn’t rude to swipe that from your hand. It’s just how they roll.
Rats Can Be Trained to Do Tricks
Rats can be trained to do many things, and you’ll definitely get a kick out of watching them perform. After a few weeks of training, rats can go beyond just responding to their names. There are certain commands that will lead them to stand on their back legs or jump through hoops.
It’s best when you’re training your rat that you have some food on standby. This will motivate your rat to work for the food. Furthermore, it’s best to train your rat when it's young, probably no more than 2 years old. When your rat is properly trained, you can have hours of fun with your favorite rodent or show your friends, and this will blow their minds.
They’re Unfairly Blamed for the Black Death
For many years, rats have been blamed for carrying the bubonic plague, known as the Black Death, in the 14th century.
But a study conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science suggests that it was actually human ectoparasites (like body lice and human fleas) that were the culprits, having carried the disease from Asia where the plague originated.
Rats Are Fun Pets to Watch
It may not be the Olympics, but a rat can be quite entertaining to watch as it acts like a little gymnast within its cage. It’s fun to see how a rat interacts with toys and races from level to level if it’s housed in a multilevel cage.
Interestingly, a rat is a very aggressive digger, using its entire little body to move objects or burrow into or set up its bedding. You’ll find yourself entertained by your little buddy for hours.
Rats Chuckle When Tickled
It's not a myth. Rats do give a chuckle or two when they are tickled. When they are tickled on their back or on their belly, they make a squeaking-type noise, their version of laughing.
What’s really interesting is how rats react when the tickling stops. They sort of look around, trying to find the person who was doing all that tickling. So, we are left to conclude that, while humans don’t like to be tickled for a long period of time, rats actually like it and want more.
They’ve Starred in Movies and Television
Let’s set aside “Willard” and “Ben” for a moment and look at how rats were portrayed in a good light on the big screen. Who can forget “Ratatouille” in which a rat named Remy communicates with a young chef in Paris, and the two combine to create some of the finest cuisines amid some misadventures.
In addition, other rats carried starring roles in movies and TV, such as Master Splinter from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Rizzo the Rat from “The Muppets Show,” Nigel Rathburn from the TV show “Arthur” and Steve McQueen from “House.”
Unfortunately, no animal has ever won an Oscar — they are not eligible.
A Rat Can Be Its Own Dentist
Have you ever seen a dentist giving an oral examination on a rat? Probably not. So, what’s a rat supposed to do with its teeth? The rat does its own dentistry. Unlike humans, rats’ teeth do not fall out, and they continue to grow. Their teeth grow to the point that rats need to saw their teeth down to prevent infection and abscesses, which can lead to starvation because it’s too painful to eat.
Furthermore, you will notice that a rat gnaws on whatever it can find to shave its teeth down. However, it’s up to the rat’s owner to give the little friend some help with this process. Go out and get some safe wood, rat pellets and toys so the rat has something good to gnaw on.
They Can Travel on Vacation With You
Why leave your best buddy behind to go on vacation when your rat can join you on the trip? Yes, rats can adapt well to places outside their normal surroundings as long as the weather conditions aren’t too extreme.
For instance, rats can visit many parts of the world just like their owners and even partake in sailing trips. But, even like their human counterparts, rats are prone to motion sickness after a long car ride or boating trip. Don’t worry, though — when the motion stops, rats recover quite quickly.
You Can Train a Rat to Run a Maze
Running a maze is second nature to a rat that has the intelligence to get through the course, and it’s fun for owners to watch. You can pick up a maze online or at the local pet store. If it’s the first time, you should get a simple maze until your rat gets the hang of it. Then, your rat can graduate to tougher mazes.
So, how do you train a rat to run a maze? Start with treats, of course, and lay them down throughout the maze until your rat eventually figures out how to get to the end. Try experimenting with fewer treats until your rat masters the course. You’ll have loads of fun seeing how smart your rat really is.
They’re Actually Quite Popular
According to the Pet Food Manufacturing Association, it estimates that there are about 100,000 pet rats in the U.K. alone and, in the U.S., about 500,000 families own a rat or mouse, based on statistics from the American Pet Products Association.
Indeed, people are starting to see the benefits of having rats as pets, including the low cost of owning a rat, and the number of owners is rising. “Mice are great, but rats are smarter. They know you, and they want to be out with you,’’ American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association founder Karen Robbins told Parade.com.
Rats Make Good Starter Pets for Kids
As a parent, you would like to introduce your children to their first pet. But you need a pet that is small, contained in a safe place and easy to maintain. Maybe your child isn’t ready for a dog or cat. There are a lot of options, but rats are considered a good choice for a child’s first pet. Sure, there are some things a child must endure with a pet rat, mainly keeping the cage clean, but the benefits definitely outweigh that.
Children can enjoy how playful a rat can be and the tricks they can teach a rat. In addition, rats tend to be friendly, so it’s OK for kids to pick them up, hold them and even allow them to sit on their shoulders. As far as a kid’s first pet goes, a rat is a solid option.
Rats Come in Many Breeds
So, you go to the pet store to find a rat or rats as new pets, and you’re wondering, “How do I choose?”
There are seven types of fancy pet rat breeds to choose from, and they include:
- Standard rat: It's a loving pet that's brown, and its tail is as long as its body.
- Rex rat (or sheep rat): Their hair has a wooly feel, but it grows thin as they age.
- Manx rat: It has almost no tail, and, because of that, it may need extra care. After all, without a tail, it has trouble with balance.
- Sphynx rat: It has no fur and looks a bit out of sorts. Without hair, this breed easily gets sick and needs help staying warm.
- Satin coat rat: They have cool-looking shiny coats with straight whiskers.
- Dumbo rat: Their ears are big, and they have the same loving nature as the standard rat.
- Bristle coat rat: Their hair feels like a wire brush and comes in a variety of colors.
Rats Also Like Exercise Wheels
We know that hamsters and mice enjoy jumping on a wheel and running in one place for long periods of time, but did you know that rats can enjoy running on an exercise wheel? While rats do not totally need a wheel, it can act as a good source of exercise while they’ve been in their cages for most of the day.
A wheel for a rat is different from a hamster or mice wheel because those are too small. Buy a wheel intended for a rat and watch them run!
They’re OK With the Landlord
One of the most frustrating things for pet owners is trying to find a place to rent or lease with a dog or cat. Many places won’t take pets, and if they do, you’re looking at a pretty hefty pet deposit. (And good luck getting that deposit back after the mess left behind by a dog or cat.)
That's not the case when it comes to owning a rat. You don’t have to worry about your rat urinating all over the apartment or having loose hair all over the place. A rat does not leave a big mess in its cage and makes very little noise. Odds are you won’t even need a deposit, and your neighbors will love you for having a pet that is relatively quiet.
You Can Teach Rats How to Swim
Now, this might sound pretty far-fetched, but it’s actually a fact that rats are capable of swimming. The important thing here is that, when you’re teaching your rat how to swim, do not stress out your rat. Take things nice and easy. The key is the rat needs to get used to the water before you move on to teaching it how to swim.
At that point, your rat has developed the natural instincts to swim and tread water. So, fill up a kiddie pool with some water, and watch your rat go. Keep a close eye on your rat. If you see any signs of stress, back off a little bit. Eventually, when your rat settles, you will see your little buddy motoring in the pool.
Rats Like Certain Types of Music
Rats have shown an affinity for music, and owners can have a good time with this. A study conducted by Harvard University showed that rats exposed to music from the age of 10 days old showed a liking for music later in life.
Now, we’re not talking about Metallica or AC/DC, but the genres of music to start with would be classical music or something that’s soft to the ears that rats can respond favorably to. In fact, an owner can pique a rat’s interest by playing the piano or guitar. Each rat has slightly different tastes in music, so do some experimenting and find out which music makes your rat the most comfortable.
Rats Have Their Own Temple
If you visit a place and see dozens of rats running around, you might think there is a problem somewhere. But not in Deshnoke, India, where a Hindu temple is dedicated to rat goddess Karni Mata. Here, thousands of rats are free to scamper around the temple, and these rats are actually worshiped as the holy descendants of the goddess. Visitors are required to remove their shoes before entering the temple, and it’s actually considered lucky for a rat to run across your foot.
So, how did Karni Mata’s offspring take the form of rats? Apparently, Karni Mata made multiple attempts to plead with Yoma, the god of death, to revive a storyteller’s drowned son. Finally, Yomsa gave in with one hitch — that the boy and all of Karni Mata’s male offspring would be reincarnated as rats. And so it goes.
Rats Are Sensitive to Temperatures
Since rats do not sweat or pant, it’s tough for them to regulate their body temperature. Rats are very sensitive to hot and cold, and new rat pet owners need to understand that. And, by all means, keep them away from direct sunlight.
Typically for a rat, the ideal temperature range is from 64 degrees to 79 degrees Fahrenheit, with a midrange for humidity between 30 and 70 percent. If temperatures reach the mid-to-upper 80s, that could cause heat exhaustion, especially if there’s more than one rat in the cage.
So, be aware of your rat if the temperature gets extreme. If it’s too cold, add some soft, warm bedding to the cage. If it’s hot, there are many solutions, so consult a veterinarian or a tutorial to get some ideas.
They Do Have One Downside
Unfortunately, rats have a short life span. Typically, a rat will live for three years at most and, often, just two years. It’s difficult for rat owners to endure how they’ve bonded with their buddy only to have it taken away sooner than later.
The important thing is that if you decide to own a rat, know that this little creature is intelligent, playful and a great pet, but it doesn’t live as long as other pets. Keep that in mind if you decide to bring home a rat, and then make the best of the short time they will be part of your family.