Pet Rats – Could A Rat Be Your New Best Friend?

pet rats

Are you wondering if pet rats are for you? Do rats make good pets?

Pocket pets such as domestic or fancy rats make wonderful pets. Contrary to popular stereotypes, these warm-blooded mammals aren’t icky, scary, or dirty.

Pet rats are clean, smart and friendly. They live in groups and can bond strongly with their owners. Although they need a very spacious cage, they are incredibly rewarding and entertaining pets.

Did you know that it’s possible for a domestic rat to respond to its name, and that you can even teach it a simple trick or two?  If you’re thinking that a rat would make a great family pet, you’re right.

With the right supervision rats can be a joyful addition to a child’s life, and one that won’t take up a lot of space.

Diminutive rats hold great appeal for owners with limited living areas such as apartment dwellers, or those whose landlords forbid dogs or cats.

If you are considering adding a rat to your household, you will find yourself with an entertaining and engaging little friend. Domestic rats come in a variety of sizes and colors, including black, rust, white, and even blue.

Before buying a pet rat, be sure to check out this article, which explains the pet rat information you need to know prior to bringing one home.

Are pet rats good with kids?

Do you know what to do once you’ve brought “my pet rat” back to his new surroundings? If not we’ve got all the pet rat facts you need to know in regard to keeping rats as pets.

This includes pet rat behavior, how to care for a pet rat, pet rat supplies, even pet rat diseases.

Along the way we’re going to answer all of the important rat FAQs such as: how long do pet rats live, what to feed pet rats, and how much is a pet rat.

Fancy rats as pets

Let’s start at the beginning and take a look at the types of pet rats you’ll encounter on your search for the best pet rats.

There are tons of cute pet rats. Have you considered Dumbo rats as pets? Or a large pet rat?

Maybe a giant pet rat or a black rat pet?

First off, fancy rats are rodents recognized by the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association.

Fancy rats come in a multitude of colors and coat types.  Black, white, brown, beige and rust colors are common, as are various color combinations.

Dumbo rats are a variation of fancy rat, and a popular pet choice. Dumbo rats (named for the beloved Disney elephant) have big, circular ears that stick out from the sides of their heads.

This is in contrast to a variation in which smaller ears sit on top of the head.

On average, Dumbo rat females weigh between one half to one pound, while males can reach up to one and a half pounds. Both can reach up to a foot and a half in length.

If you want to learn more about the endearing Dumbo rat, be sure to check out this article.

Fancy rat coat types are classified as either normal or standard, with females having a softer coat than the typical coarse male coat.

Hairless rats are common inside of laboratories. They are not recommended as pets due to the wide variety of medical issues present within the population, including kidney and liver disorders, and various skin problems.

Overall fancy rats as pets make excellent companion animals for kids, provided that they have been properly socialized and trained (the rats, not the kids!). Rats that are accustomed to handling are sociable and rarely bite.

Do pet rats bite?

Overall, pet rats are much tamer than their wild counterparts. However, startled or scared rats will nip with their teeth.

This is why kids need to be taught to gently handle them, and treat them with respect at all times. No tail pulling!

It’s also a good idea to wash hands before handling pet rats, as even the most mild-mannered rat might be tempted to take a little chomp at “cheeseburger hands” or fingers that smell strongly of their favorite foods.

Which brings us to the topic of pet rat food. Or specifically, “What can pet rats eat?”

What do pet rats eat?

Are you wondering what to feed pet rats? A pet rat diet is a relatively easy proposition, with rat nugget or pellet food readily available to buy at all pet stores.

This should constitute the bulk of your pet’s diet as it is a complete and balanced food source. And don’t forget, fresh water needs to be available 24/7.

Rats are omnivores which means they can eat meat as well as plants. So if you’d like to share a nibble or two of your own food, your pet rat probably won’t complain.

Fresh fruit and veggies, as well as bits and shreds of meat and cheese, are fine for your little one. Just remember to give tastes in moderation, and not as a substitute for her commercial food.

Pet rat cost

How much will you spend for a pet rat?

Today it’s typical to find pet rats selling between $10 and $20. Beyond this initial cost, you’ll want to factor other expenses into the overall cost, including a cage, toys, and dishes and water bottle.

Ongoing expenses include food, and bedding which must be replaced regularly. And don’t forget any medical expenses that might be incurred due to illness.

Best pet rat cages

There is a wide variety of rat cages available, and a standard rule is to provide at least 2 cubic feet of space for each rat in the cage; of course extra space is welcome providing you have the room.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends a minimum cage size of 2′ x 2′ x 2′ for the living requirements of two rats.

A good option is to choose a cage that has multiple levels, thus restricting the cage’s footprint while still expanding the rats’ living space. This allows for multiple toys, private areas, and room to play.

Many rats become irritable and fight when there is a lack of living space. That’s another good reason to provide as much space as you comfortably can.

Wire and glass cages are two popular options, but wood should never be used. Wood will absorb odorous urine, rats can possibly chew through the wood and escape, and wood splinters can be dangerous for your little one.

For more on rat cage ins and outs, be sure to check out this article.

Are pet rats nocturnal?

A common rat stereotype is the one in which they appear only at night, skittering around the baseboards, leaving a trail of droppings, and stealing cheese.

Actually, this is mostly true, except the bit about being able to open the refrigerator door and grab a spot of Muenster.

Rats are indeed mainly nocturnal, meaning they are active at night, precisely when most of us humans are inactive. Keeping your pet rat’s cage outside of your bedroom provides a simple solution to any noise issues that might crop up at 2 a.m.!

Would you believe it if I told you that rats rival cats for the amount of time spent in blissful slumber? It’s true!

At least one rat study found that subjects spent up to 18 hours a day asleep. Compare that to a normal cat’s 16 hour sleep cycle!

Pet rat care

A rat’s living environment is one of the most important aspects to his general well-being and safety. Rats need to live in groups, as they are social creatures.

They function at their best with at least one friend (preferably more) to share daily life with. A true rat pack consists of at least three rodents!

Living communally is natural for rats, so a rat who lives by its lonesome is truly an odd man out. The only time singleton life is recommended is when a rat just cannot get along with or tolerate his cage mates, leading to continual fighting and strife.

Furthermore, in order to keep the peace within the cage, it is recommended that owners take home all male or all female rats from the same litter.

This arrangement is still expected to provoke a bit of tussling between the rats at first, but within a few weeks the awkward “getting to know you” period is over, especially for females who are a bit friendlier toward one another.

Should different littermates be housed together?

The outcome of a mixed living arrangement can go either way, but a couple of safety precautions need to be put in place first.

It’s better to introduce young rats (up to 6 months old) into a cage that is new to both of them. And having enough space is crucial to making the experiment work.

Integration does not equal total immersion, however. Keep the rats together for only a few minutes at a time each day.

You can increase the meeting times each day until harmony prevails and they are ready to cohabitate.

How long will this take? Détente will take place with one or two weeks, and until then you can break up minor spats (blood-drawing or injurious fights should not be allowed) with a soft squirt from a water bottle.

For more on the finer points of introducing unfamiliar rats to each other be sure to read this article.

pet rats

Keeping pet rats healthy

Not surprisingly, captive fancy rats face fewer health issues than their wild counterparts. Unlike rats in the wild, pet rats are fed a proper diet, have safe housing, and clean environments.

Still, there certain health issues to be aware of when caring for pet rats.

Mammary tumors present one of the biggest health threats to pet rats, and frequently afflict both genders. One research study found that being overweight may be linked to female mammary tumors.

They can get dental disorders, age-related disorders, and chromodacryorrhea, which colors their tears red.

In addition, stressed rats living in too-close quarters have been known to come down with protozoic parasite infections and pseudotuberculosis, which causes respiratory distress and weakness.

Humans can transfer disease to pet rats, with Streptococcus pneumoniae being one of them. Rats can transfer diseases to humans as well.

Other diseases that easily transfer among pet rats who find themselves living in acute proximity include Rat Coronavirus Infection (a respiratory illness) and Murine Respiratory Mycoplasmosis, affecting the respiratory, reproductive, and immune systems.

High-calorie diets also have the potential to result in pituitary tumors, and ringtail (tail necrosis) can develop under conditions of high temps combined with low humidity.

Pet rat lifespan

How long do rats live as pets? It should come as no surprise that well cared for domesticated rats live much longer than their wild counterparts.

It helps one’s longevity when you have caring parents who look out for you!

A healthy pet rat can be expected to live from two to three years, versus an average of less than one year for wild rats.

This doubled life expectancy is possible because pet rats have a safe, clean supply of available food and water, a safe habitat, and health care if needed.

Of course it doesn’t hurt that a rat’s natural predators are unable to reach it within the cushy confines of his household cage!

Disease also plays a part in life expectancy, with wild rats at greater risk for being afflicted with internal parasites such as tapeworm. Pet rats are at greater risk of being exposed to human-transmitted infection.

Do pet rats smell?

The good news is that as long as pet rats change their socks and remember to shower every day, they will not smell—just kidding!

Another common stereotype about rats makes them out to be smelly and germy.

And this is true for the wild rat variety that must roam about all day on a survival mission with no time for niceties such as grooming.

Pet rats on the other hand love to constantly lick and groom themselves, leading to clean, non-smelly rat fur. Whew!

So, if you do smell an onerous odor when you’re around your pet’s cage, it may due to it not being cleaned enough—by you!

Keeping rats as pets – a brief history

Exhibitions of fancy rats got their start in the very early 1900s. But within a couple of decades these events fell out of favor.

It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that public interest was once again stoked, in part by the formation of the English National Fancy Rat Society.

Today there exist many global fancy rat competitions and events, and domestic rats can be bought in most pet stores and from responsible breeders.

Are pet rats the right choice for me?

Would having a pet rat be the right choice for you? That’s a question only you can answer.

Having a pet rat can be a big responsibility but an even greater joy. Keeping pet rats happy, healthy, and friendly is an enjoyable pastime once one knows what to do.

Friendly pet rats aren’t born, they are made, through lots of early handling and socialization. Later on in life these same contented pets will need friends around them in order to remain well-adjusted.

Healthy animals require a proper diet (and some regular inspection on your part), and a great way to keep your pet happy is with plenty of healthy kibble and a spacious, entertaining cage.

But the best way to insure that your pet stays happy, healthy, and friendly is through your steady and cheerful presence in its life. If you’re ready to provide all of these things to your pet rat, then you’re going to be a great pet rat mom or dad!

Do you have a rat tale or two to share with us? We’d love to hear about your experiences.

Resources and Further Reading


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