Furry, Friendly and Fun: The Joys of Rats as Pets

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Rats are intelligent, extremely social and enjoy human interaction. Males are called bucks, females are does, the young are pups or kittens. They are commonly active during the night and rest during the day (nocturnal). Rats hide in objects but will come out when people come near the habitat.

Here are some reasons why rats make great pets:
  1. They’re highly intelligent: Rats are highly intelligent animals that can learn tricks, respond to their names, and even solve puzzles. This makes them highly entertaining pets that can keep you engaged and entertained for hours.
  2. They’re social animals: Rats are highly social animals that thrive in groups. This means that they enjoy being around other rats, as well as human companions. They’re affectionate and love to cuddle with their owners.
  3. They’re low maintenance: Rats are relatively low-maintenance pets that don’t require a lot of space or expensive equipment. They’re clean animals that are easy to care for, and their diet consists of simple, affordable foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, and protein sources like tofu or cooked chicken.
  4. They’re easy to train: Rats are highly trainable and can learn to do a variety of tricks and behaviours. They can be trained to come when called, to use a litter box, and even to play fetch.
  5. They’re cute and cuddly: Rats are cute and cuddly pets that make great companions. They’re soft and furry, and love to snuggle with their owners.

TIP: Home Preparation

Before bringing your snuggly squeaker home, make sure you have all the necessary supplies and equipment, such as a cage, bedding, food, toys, and a litter box.

Do your research: Before adopting a rat, learn about their care requirements and behaviour to help you make an informed decision and ensure that you’re able to provide them with a safe and happy home.

Rat Care Tips

If you’re considering adopting a rat as a pet, here are some tips for rat care:

Provide a safe and comfortable living space: Cages especially designed for rats will usually be of plastic and wire and may be on two or more levels. The floor should be solid, as wire can injure rats’ feet. Rats love to climb and will appreciate separate areas for feeding, sleeping and exercise. Cage tops should give rats at least 30cm of space to be able to stand on their hind legs and observe other cages and cages should be escape-proof.

Substrate: Bedding

Sawdust/wooding shavings are commonly used as bedding material and it should be free of fine dust, microbial and chemical contaminants. At least 4cm of bedding should be placed in the habitat. Resinous wood shavings especially cedar and pine can be hazardous to small pets and should be avoided. Shredded paper or tissue paper can be used as nesting material.

Temperature

Rats choose to manipulate their own microenvironments via activities such as huddling, nest building and tunneling. Optimal temperature range for keeping mice is 20°C to 24°C. In the case of high environmental temperature or overcrowding, rats cover their body with saliva. Large fluctuations in temperature and draught must be avoided, as these can increase susceptibility towards air-borne infections, especially if levels of relative humidity are high.

Lighting

A regular day/night cycle is essential for establishing normal behaviour patterns, and for the normal expression of many physiological processes.

Sound and Vibration

Rats are very sensitive to sound. Especially sudden, irregular noises and could affect breeding and normal behavior. Neonates or young pups use ultrasound to communicate distress therefore noise should be minimized as far as possible.

Feed them a healthy diet: Rats are omnivores and will enjoy a varied diet. A complex mix suitable for rats should be the basis of the diet, supplemented with small amounts of fruit and the occasional boiled egg. Fresh drinking water should always be available in a water bottle designed to fit the cage. Food should be free of contaminants and pests and should be fresh. Some food needs to be hard to avoid overgrown teeth.

Patience and Understanding

Rats can be shy and take some time to warm up to their new surroundings and owners.

Be patient and understanding as your rat gets used to their new home and schedule.

Also, take the time to bond with your rat through play and handling to build a strong relationship.

Social needs, play and interaction: Rats are very social with members of their own kind, and should be kept in pairs at minimum. Males can do well together if introduced when young. Females are more accepting of new friends introduced later in life. If males and females are kept together they must be sterilised to prevent breeding. Rats also love to interact with their owners. Spend time playing with them and providing them with toys and puzzles to keep them entertained. 

Handling Rats

Rats can become very tame if handled well from a young age. It can be restrained by placing one hand under the chest and around the shoulders and using the other hand to support the hindquarters. Never pick them up by the tail, the tail sheath can come off and this is very painful for them leaving the tail open and prone to infection.

Enrichment

The cage should be furnished with a nest box, ladder or climbing frames and hiding places (toilet rolls, PVC pipes etc). Gnawing blocks should be added to prevent overgrowth of teeth. A selection of toys should be made available and rotated to avoid boredom.

Keep them clean and healthy: Rats are clean animals that require regular grooming and hygiene. Provide them with a litter box and keep their cage clean and well-maintained. Routine cleaning and maintenance, and a high standard of hygiene are essential for good husbandry. Remove wet spots daily, change bedding weekly or more often, as needed. Be careful not to clean cages too often when there are pups as this disturbance may lead to cannibalism.

Take them to the vet for regular checkups to ensure they’re healthy and free of any health issues.

Rat Health

Signs of a healthy animal: Active, alert, and sociable, eats and drinks regularly, healthy, clean fur and clear eyes, breathes clearly and walks normally.

Signs of ill health: Skin lesions, abnormal hair loss, distressed breathing, lethargic, overgrown teeth, eye and nasal discharge, diarrhoea or dirty bottom.

Looking to adopt a Rescue?

Browse through our gallery of small mammals and see if you can offer a loving home to a lucky little rodent pal or two:

Virgil
Dali
Chino
Andries
Rats are highly intelligent animals that can learn tricks, respond to their names, and even solve puzzles!

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