When you think about rats, what do you picture? Do you imagine filth, garbage, or the Plague? What about a ferocious creature with long hairless tails? The only correct part about any of those scenarios is the long hairless tail. The domestic rat is as different from wild rats as Labrador Retrievers are different from wolves. The domestic rat has been carefully bred to be calm, intelligent, and sociable with humans. As rats begin to lose their stigma, they are quickly becoming popular pets.
Like most other uncommon pets, however, there is limited information out there for the new rat owner. Although there are a growing number of sites on the Internet for rat lovers, they are sometimes hard to find. The average animal lover is not often exposed and introduced to the basics of owning a rat. In this article we will introduce you to basic rat facts and give you a few tips on housing your new rat.
Rats make great first pets for children. If a child is committed to taking care of a pet everyday, a rat will bring all the benefits of a dog. It will teach the child responsibility and they will form a close bond. However, a rat is also smaller than a dog and can be entirely kept inside. Its short lifespan (two to three years) means it is not a long time commitment like a dog or cat. Keep in mind that the short lifespan is also unfortunate when you take into consideration the bond and emotional attachment that you or a child will form with it.
Rats are very social creatures. Like dogs and cats, if they are properly handled when they are young, they will become very affectionate with their owners. It is very common for owners to form a close bond with their pet rats. Spending time with your rat is very therapeutic and rewarding for both you and the rat. In fact, rats actually require daily interaction. They are not like a snake or turtle that you can simply observe from outside of the tank. Rats are very intelligent creatures that will get frustrated if they are not mentally stimulated.
Your pet rat will appreciate stimulation in the form of toys, as well! They will sometimes use a wooden wheel to run on. Rats also enjoy a variety of simple toys, such as cardboard boxes. They are like rabbits; they like toys they can chew on. Therefore a lot of plastic toys will not last long for a determined pet rat! Many parrot toys that are constructed out of rope or wood provide great activities for rats.
Rats do best in groups. A rat kept with other rats will be happier, because it has stimulation when you’re gone, and it fulfills the need for a social group. It has been often shown that rats housed together are in fact even more interactive with their owners than rats housed alone. Rats housed together may also have a decreased amount of health problems. Many people choose to get two rats. However, when you get more than one rat, they should always either be of the same sex, or be neutered.
The intelligence and problem-solving nature of rats also influence what kind of cage it should have. A rat cage should have multiple levels, with hammocks and bedding to play in. A coated metal cage is best, with horizontal bars so they can climb up the side of the cage if they choose to. One thing to note is that ferret cages are not appropriate for rats, because most rats are small enough to escape!
The bottom should be covered with a paper-based bedding. Cedar and pine wood shavings are bad! Hardwood shavings aren’t bad for rats, and can be put on top of the paper-based bedding. Rats are very clean creatures and will generally choose one area to use as a bathroom. Rats can even be trained to use a litter box. This area should be cleaned at least every other day, while the rest of the bedding is good for about a week. The best suggestion is to simply keep an eye on the bedding, and to make sure your rat is never walking on wet bedding. There are many bedding choices, and you should research them carefully before choosing what suits you and your rat.
There is one common health problem that all rat owners should be aware of. Rats are prone to respiratory infections. Coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing is not normal. There are some ways that you can help prevent respiratory problems. Make sure that you keep your pet rat away from drafts from windows and doors. By keeping them in a room that you frequently spend time in, not only will you keep them alert and happy, but you will also keep them away from drafts. Also, your rat should be kept in a cage, and not an aquarium. A cage has better ventilation, and when it is properly cleaned it is almost free of anything that could bother your rat’s lungs.
One final note: remember that rats are nocturnal. They won’t get mad if you wake them up during the day, and they actually tend to become active and awake in the daytime when you interact with them. However, they will also be active at night!
Hopefully you have learned a little about the interactive and affectionate nature of the domestic rat. There is in fact a limitless amount of information about getting, and caring for, your pet rat. Good resources include rats enthusiast groups on the Internet, your local veterinarian, and articles written by veterinarians who specialize in exotic pets. Good luck, and remember to never pick a rat up by its tail!
By Ashley O’driscoll – Pets.ca writer