By Jennifer Phillips
While rats are commonly regarded as creepy or gross, they actually make wonderful pets. They are very docile, intelligent animals that are quiet and easy to care for. This makes them great pets for both adults and children.
The fancy, albino and hairless rats that are kept as pets today are domesticated from the Norway rat. During the 18th and 19th century, rat catchers were responsible for capturing rats that would be used for food during famine, as well as live rats that would be kept for sport. The catchers began keeping certain captured rats that they thought were prettiest as their pets. Eventually, keeping rats became an organized hobby with the formation of the National Fancy Rat Society in 1976. Their popularity has continued to grow and today they can be found at nearly any pet store, as well as from shelters and breeders.
Many people are surprised by how much personality is packaged into such tiny creatures. They are very friendly, social animals that crave attention from humans. They are able to recognize individual people, and, much like a dog, a pet rat is excited to see you and will even come running to greet you! Many enjoy spending time snuggling with people and being petted. Sometimes, if a rat is particularly bonded with you, they will even groom you by licking and gently nibbling on you. This is their way of showing affection toward those that they consider part of their group.
Caring for pets rats is very easy, which is one reason why they make such excellent pets for children. They tend keep themselves very clean so, as long as their living space is kept clean also, they don’t tend to smell. Using a well ventilated wire cage will also avoid odors as well as prevent respiratory issues in the rats. There should also be enough room in the cage for separate food, sleeping and bathroom areas.
Rats are, by nature, social animals that live in colonies, so they are much happier and healthier if they have at least one cage-mate of the same sex. Not only will they play together and keep each other company, they will help each other groom hard to reach areas and will often sleep close together or in a pile to share body heat when it’s cold. This companionship is a very important, yet often overlooked, requirement to maintain their well being.
Rats will eat nearly anything offered, but maintaining a healthy diet plays an important role in their longevity. Like humans, rats are omnivores, requiring nutrients from both plant and animal sources. Although there are now foods formulated specifically for rats, the mix varieties are not recommended because they allow rats to eat only the pieces they like most rather than taking in a variety of nutrients. Lab Blocks are hard pellets of compressed grains and are the best way to ensure that your rat is eating a balanced diet. Not only do the Lab Blocks provide a healthy diet, they also promote healthy teeth. A rat’s teeth will continue to grow throughout its entire life, so they need to continuously wear their teeth down by chewing on wood, hard foods or grinding their teeth together, which is called bruxing. Without this tooth wear, the rat’s teeth will overgrow preventing them from eating, causing jaw problems and, ultimately, starvation.
There a variety of ways to provide entertainment and mental stimulation for rats. Wooden chew block are a great way to provide both entertainment and additional opportunities for maintaining teeth health. There are many small animal toys available that rats enjoy such as tubes, balls and running wheels. Rats also enjoy nesting so cardboard or wooden boxes can keep them busy for awhile and is yet another way to satisfy their chewing needs. Food-seeking games are another way to give rats something interesting to do. They are quite curious about new things, so it can be fun for the rat, as well as the owner, to try different things to see what the rat enjoys.
You can expect a pet rat to live to be around two to three years old. Like any animal, rats are prone to various ailments, especially as they get older. Some common problems are tumors, respiratory diseases, scabs and abscesses on the skin from scratches or bites and misaligned or broken teeth. The number of veterinarians that are experienced in rat care has been increasing due to their popularity as pets, so finding care is becoming easier.
People meeting pet rats for the first time may be somewhat apprehensive, but quickly discover how much fun they are! It’s hard to find many animals that are as easy to please and care for as rats that also bring so much joy and entertainment to your life.