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Monthly Archives: December 2001

Key Facts about Pet Rats - My rattie girl Tiga grooms herself while laying on my hand.

Key Facts about Pet Rats
My rattie girl Tiga grooms herself while laying on my hand. She clearly didn’t mind a bit of a photoshoot.

Having a rat as a pet is not as unusual as you might think:

In Britain rats have been kept in captivity from the 1800s on. There were even fancy rat shows from the 1900s. Rats became especially popular as pets during the 1970s.

Still, say the word ‘rat’ and most people would think of dirty rodents living in the sewage. But a pet rat is as different from a wild rat as a dog is from a wolf.

Yet, in comparison to most other pets, pet rats are easy to keep and adapt quickly to their owner’s habits and life style. In addition they are full of love and fun. With their curiosity, intelligence and highly sociable nature one of the best pets to have.

The following rat facts will explain why rats make great pets:

Pet rats are very easy to keep

Rats don’t need to be walked, they don’t require a garden or a quiet street for their territorial wanderings. They also don’t want to fly around or fancy a dip in a water tank.

Rats are completely happy living with you in a single room or little flat. They adapt quickly to their new environment, accept it as their territory and – even faster – take it over. You will be surprised how many exciting things there are to explore in your home. Everything will be investigated and, if small or light enough, captivated…

You can take your pet rat with you wherever you want

Pet rats love sitting on your shoulder and travel with you, so they would not run away. They are curious about new places and when they get tired they simply sleep in your bag or make themselves comfortable around your neck or in one of your pockets.

They even like to take part in activities: If it is cycling or Inline skating, as long as they feel safe on your shoulder they enjoy facing the airstream and go for a ride.

Obviously, rats are not allowed in certain venues. But then again: who would search your pockets for a pet rat?

Rats are anarchists

Still, rats appreciate having their own home. Give them a little corner, if it is a box, a terrarium or a cage, so they have their own place where they can retreat to.

Don’t lock it though. It just seems to be against the anarchic view of a rat to be locked away in a cage. No matter how clever your cage is locked, they will work hard, night and day, or at least whenever you are not looking, to get out of it. In their newly gained freedom it might very well happen that they fall asleep right next to their cage. It seems to be a question of principles, so don’t even think of challenging them. Let them run around free in your home.

As it is their home too, they will keep it in order. Which might mean objects disappear in mysterious ways. You will soon learn that your home and everything in it actually belongs to the rats. With a casual implicitness they will take hold of your belongings. One of the reasons, why you should have your things in order, as everything, really everything can be of interest for a rat and is gone into the depths of a rat’s dwelling quicker than you expect…

Rats are house-trained

Unlike most other rodents, rats go to a toilet like a cat. Provide a little box with special litter and train them to use it as their toilet.

When you carry them on you, they would not pee on you. They actually hold it until you let them down. If they cannot hold it any longer, they will try to get to the ground by all means. So it is your turn to be aware when to bring your rat to a toilet. Literally. Somehow they can understand that the bathroom is the place to pee…

Rats are very clean

They groom themselves, each other and you, too if you want almost constantly throughout the day. Rats wash themselves more often than cats do.

Still, keeping white white is also difficult for a rat. So if your rat looks a bit grubby, it is time for a bath. Not pleasant for a rat, but for you: As they use the smells around them to disguise themselves, they function like little odour-holders. Use your favourite shampoo or perfume on them and they will freshen up your home every time they wander around.

Then again, as smell is so important for them, they do mark their territory with little drops of urine. Males more than females. It does not stain fabrics, nor do those little amounts of urine smell for our nose. So if rats leave drops on you, all they are doing is marking you as their belonging.

Rats don’t carry any diseases

As rats usually do not run around outside, they don’t even have a chance to get in contact with any harmful bacteria. Besides, although a lot of knowledge about human illnesses was gained through experiments with rats, rat’s illnesses cannot be transferred to humans. The Black Death epidemic for example was transferred by fleas that used to travel in the rat’s fur.

However, many rats are infected with an incurable respiratory infection caused by Mycoplasma bacteria. Rats and mice are the only species affected. It displays itself in sneezing and wheezing. Unfortunately most pet rats have it by birth. All you can do is avoid extreme temperature change and drafts and fight it with antibiotics.

Rats are easy to feed

You can feed your rats basically everything. This however does not necessarily mean, they would eat it. Rats are very picky with their food. Wild rats even have a pre-taster to check if the food is alright.

Pet rats normally live very well from your leftovers. There is also rat food available, but every rat has different preferences, and once they have tasted a good supper or some chewy vegetables, they will not easily return to hamster seeds. They need a good mix of proteins and vitamins. As long as you eat healthy, your leftovers will also provide your pet rat with a healthy diet. A selection of favourite foods: Sweet corn, banana, nuts, yogurt, salad, cereals, peppers, peas, tuna.

Rats’ teeth constantly grow and need to be ground. If you are lucky, your rats will grind their teeth against each other, which makes a funny chattering noise. But is important to provide them with something they can gnaw on: Nuts, chicken bones, fruit stones, dried bread, juicy branches.

Remember, rats are rodents and therefore have the tendency to chew on things. They like cables and will try to build a nest if it’s with your duvet or leather sofa… So make sure, your home is rat-proof when you let them run around without supervision.

Rats are very social

Rats have a sophisticated social system. Wild rats have a strict order of tasks and status, which also defines the living order in their underground system: Mothers with babies have a nursery in the deepest den, protected by the experienced old males sleeping in the surrounding dens. On the outer boarders live the adolescents, who would die for their clan if under attack.

Rats have a distinct sense of family and are very affectionate, which is transferred to their human family as well. They make great companions: If you pet them, they will groom you back with licks and gentle nibbles. If you play with them, they will wrestle, chase, hide and seek with you.

They stay close to be near you and they will check on you from time to time to see if everything is alright. The love of a rat is unlimited as long as you are good to them. With a rat you are never alone.

Pet rats won’t get old

Rats can become five to seven years old. But unfortunately, they can die from cancer with only three years of age. Pet rats are offspring of lab rats that were freed by animal-rights activists. They can have a cancer gene in them, inherited from genetic experiments. Dying from cancer is very painful, for the rat as well as for the owner. So make sure that you buy your rat from a reputable pet dealer, who took care of breeding with healthy rats. Be careful when buying pet rats from pet shops. Ask where the rat babies come from. There are often babies of accidents for sale, which might be in-bred. They are still cute, but can easily develop illnesses. Also check carefully if the litter is separated by sexes. Far too often rat girls are bought pregnant and will produce a big surprise a couple of weeks later…

Rats can be trained

Though it works differently with a rat: You cannot punish them like a dog, you can also not trick them like a cat. Rats cannot be trained with simple things like food. Only maybe if you starve them first. The only way to train rats is through compromise and good will. Call their name and laud it with little treats and they will come every time you call them. If they annoy you about the food you are eating, give them a bite of it and they will happily munch it away in a corner and leave you in peace. If you don’t want them to do certain things, tell them so in an austere voice. They will understand and know exactly what they are allowed and what not, but it is still of their choice if they want to follow these orders. If not, it can become tricky: They think of many strategies to fool you just for getting their own way.

Pet rats are very friendly

Rats would never bite. If they do so, it was evoked by a cruel and traumatic treatment that would leave them acting against their nature. In fact, rats are so patient and calm, they are the perfect pets for kids. If rats feel uncomfortable by for example a too tight grip of an infant, they would try to escape that situation. If that is not possible, they will just display this ‘Ah, well, some time it will be over’-look and endure the kid’s play. At no point they would not turn nasty.

Rats are witty and intelligent

When playing with rats or just by watching them, you will be surprised by their cleverness. Challenge them with building labyrinths or riddles to get to their food. If you don’t have enough time to play with them or let them explore their surroundings, have two rats so they can entertain each other.

Yet it is far more their strong will, that is impressive: If they want something, they will get it. They just seem to think much bigger of themselves as they actually are. The funny thing is: It works. They carry heavy things, they eat far more than could ever fit, they get everywhere they want. In a rat’s world, there are no limits.

Rats are very brave

Don’t worry about having other pets with your pet rats. Rats are very bold and straight forward. They will easily stand up to dogs and cats, so that they rather keep a healthy distance from those strange little furry fellows. Be careful with anything smaller though and also with rats from other breeds. Their natural instinct is that everybody not belonging to their clan is their enemy. As small and cute as they might look, they definitely know how to stand their ground.

Rats are amazing acrobats

Rats love to explore. Their curiosity leads them to get into every little corner of your house. And there is nothing that can stop them: Rats can easily jump 1 meter up onto a chair and with being able to jump up to 3 meters wide, your dining table is in easy reach. Rats love heights. Climbing up your shelves or curtains, balancing along your blinds or pulling themselves up the edge of an open door, you will be speechless watching them. Running up your wallpapers or doing pull-ups with one arm is not a problem. Too lazy to jump, they often stretch out double the length of their normal seize.

Rats would just do everything to get high up and… stare down. Maybe that is the time when they think. Maybe that is how they come up with all those clever plans to trick you and get what they want…

Naturally with such quantity of circus acts, they will also fall down from time to time. But like cats they won’t get seriously hurt. So just watch them and enjoy their acrobatic performances. You can’t stop them anyway: With running 100 metres in ten seconds, you won’t even have a chance to catch them.

Rats need their long tail

In contradiction to the common believe: a rat’s tail is not hairless. It is covered by little hairs that make the tail very sensitive. It might look repellent to some people, like a snake or earthworm, but it is an essential tool for a rat. They need it for keeping the balance when climbing and more important: Rats don’t sweat, so they need their tail to give off excessive heat. It keeps their body temperature on a constant level and if it gets chopped off, the rat would probably die. There are new breeds of tailless rats though, but they are very difficult to keep as they suffer from a lot of illnesses.

Pet rats have their own unique character

Rats have their own personality. They are very different from each other and easily distinguishable alone by their behaviourism. In this case they resemble human beings, and if you have a bunch of rats, you will soon have your own private soap opera taking place in your home. The smallest rat is the biggest attention seeker, the males try to show off and mums will be loving and caring and do everything for their kids. Diverse affairs across the whole group – if it is male / female / sister / brother – will round up the scandal side of the story. Some rats are more active, others rather want to be petted, some chew a lot, some would prefer your chocolate, some are friendly with strangers, some might be a bit shy. So if you get a pet rat, let your heart make the decision. There might be a pretty rat with a nice colour, but it could be a boring one. Stay away from aggressive rats. Hold the rat for a while and give both of you time to get to know each other. If you cannot decide, simply let a rat choose you!

More info on pet rats:

If you would like to know more about rats as pets and get information where to buy and how to keep them, you can find further information here:

The Rat Fan Club, founded in 1992, focuses on rats as companion animals. It is an international club with more than 600 members in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, England, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, USA:

National Fancy Rat Society, established in 1976 for the promotion of domesticated rats as pets and exhibition animals: NFRS, PO Box 24207, LondonSE9 5ZF,

London & Southern Counties Mouse and Rat Club (LSCMRC), UK’s leading Mouse & Rat Club which was founded in 1916 is not a pet club – it is a club for breeders and exhibitors of Fancy Mice and Rats:

© Julia Seiffert 2001

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