Rats as Pets
Smart, inquisitive, cute, friendly… Rats have many qualities that make them a rewarding pet to own. Hilarious and touchingly affectionate, they’re a joy to welcome into the family! Here’s some things to know before getting your new friends.
The best things come in twos – or more! Highly sociable animals, rats should have at least one same-sex friend to spend their days with in addition to your company. Many pet shops and most breeders now work on this policy and will not sell a rat unless paired.
Rats are energetic creatures that enjoy exploring, climbing, playing, jumping, tunneling and nesting. Many cages marketed toward rats are below satisfactory size. Instead, cages aimed at ferret-owners make a better browsing choice. Often you can acquire a good cage second-hand for a fraction of the original price. The cage should contain nesting ‘igloos’, along with platforms, ladders, ropes or tunnels. Wire surfaces should be covered to prevent injuries from feet getting caught in-between.
There are many clip-in hammocks available for your rat to snuggle into. Soft fleece makes great bedding for igloos, but should be layered with absorbent material underneath such as newspaper. Shredded soft tissue can also be strewn about to serve this purpose and satisfy their nesting instincts. Rats can be easily trained from young to use a corner litter tray, however this works mainly for #2’s; They’ll pee where they wish!
For a healthy rat, aim to provide a dry mix consisting of an all-in-one vitamin/nutrient pellet such as ‘Selective Rat’, grains, seeds, flakes and nuts (sparingly). Give fresh vegetables and fruit several times a week. Calcium supplements such as Liquivet can be added to water to aid growth and development. (Citrus fruits should not be given to male rats, due to studies linking it to cancer.)
Giving your rat occasional treats from your plate is a nice way to bond, and they are happy to eat almost anything, which also includes junk food! Their cute, begging faces make it easy to over-feed them or be tempted to give them rubbish, so be responsible and exercise moderation.
Arguably, all fancy rats are born with a virus called Mycoplasma. A type of bacteria that lives within the rats’ lungs, its presence is characterised by occasional ‘hiccupping’. On it’s own, it usually doesn’t affect the rat much, but it can make them more susceptible to secondary respiratory infections. Because of this, it’s important to keep your rats away from drafts, cold, damp, fluctuating temperatures and soiled bedding.
The Right Touch:
To pick your rat up correctly, begin by gently cupping the sides with palms flat, sliding underneath, scooping them up whilst making sure their limbs are supported, and calmly bringing them close to your body (or on the shoulder). Alternatively, slide your palm underneath and lift. As a general rule, never grab them at the waist, nor hold them out in the air. Rats particularly dislike being pulled out of entry-ways like cage doors. Wait until they are partially out the door so you can use the scoop or lift technique.
When rats are very happy they perform two significant actions: ‘bruxxing’ and ‘boggling’. Bruxxing involves a rhythmic grinding of the teeth; the result of this is the eyeballs ‘boggle’ outward. This can be odd to newbies, but it’s great to have such clear feedback of how your rat is feeling. Sometimes, rats do this to self-soothe in times of stress, so it’s important to observe the overall situation.
So, there are some basics to get you started on your rat journey! For more in-depth information on each of the topics covered… (coming soon).