Once you have decided that rats are for you be sure to do some advanced planning before going to your nearest pet store and buying the first rat you see. Purchasing a new pet should never be an impulsive act. Research the aspects of rat ownership and be sure to have a cage, accessories, and the right food ready in advance.
First … examine your lifestyle
Before obtaining a pet rat think about your own lifestyle. Make sure that you have the time to interact on a daily basis with your rat. Keep in mind you will need to thoroughly clean the cage on, at least, a weekly basis. If you travel be sure that you can either take your rat, or provide them with an adequate sitter. Think about whether or not you have a veterinarian that will see your pet and keep in mind that there will be medical expenses at sometime or another in your new pet’s life.
Look around your home and make sure that you have an appropriate space for a good-sized rat cage. Rats do much better when they aren’t living in cramped cages or aquariums. The rats cage area should be indoors, climate controlled, away from drafts, stressful noise, and predators. Your rat will need cage accessories to play with and live in.
Make sure that you live in a place where pet rats are allowed. Many a rat has ended up homeless because the landlord, parent, or spouse threatened its owner with an eviction notice.
If you have young children make sure that you can keep a rat in a way that both the rat and the children are safe. Little fingers, often smelling of food, sticking through the cage bars can inspire even the friendliest rat to bite. On the flip side, many rats have been hurt and even killed by young children who weren’t supervised around the family’s pet rat.
As with any other pet there must be a commitment made to provide a safe environment, appropriate interaction, and proper medical care. Just because a rat may cost less than many other pets, that doesn’t mean that they deserve anything less than the best care possible.
These adorable intelligent creatures are very sociable and should ideally live in same sex pairs. In that way they provide company for each other, are less easily stressed and make for healthier rats. Needless to say since many of us can’t be with our rats to entertain them all day long, they need a friend to groom, play and sleep with. Two rats are no more difficult to take care of than one and are infinitely more entertaining to watch at play. You can house more than two (same sex) together if you have a roomy cage. This is not to say that you can’t have just one rat if you have a lot of spare time for interaction. But, keep in mind that it is so much more beneficial for them when they have someone of their kind to be with. In the event that you have only a male and a female, one or both of the rats can be spayed or neutered so that they may live together.
How many is Too Many?
Most people start off with just a single rat or a pair of rats. But it doesn’t take long for some people to fall under their spell and run right back to the pet store for just “one more.” And too often the “just one more” turns into 5 or 10 more rats. In the fancy there is even an acronym for this type of behavior. It is GGMR, and it means “Gotta Get More Rats.” So be sure to take it slow and not overwhelm yourself with more rats than you can care for.
Where to Find a Rat
There are a couple of places to obtain pet rats such as pet stores, local breeders, local rescue centers, and by asking your veterinarian. No matter where you get your rat from you will need to take a small carrier with you, as they usually are not supplied. Many pet shops will only provide you with a small box or bag to put your rat in which will be frightening to a rat.
Pet stores will often have rats as pets and/or feeders. Usually the pets will have fancier colors and markings than the feeders but often they come from the same sources. Be sure if you choose to obtain your rat from a pet store to get as much information as possible about their background. Also make sure that the males and female rats are housed separately. Female rats can get pregnant as young as 5 weeks of age and you could end up with a lot of unexpected rats within a few weeks.
Baby rats wean at a minimum of 4 weeks. So make sure that if you choose a young baby that it hasn’t been taken away from it’s mother at too young of an age.
One of the drawbacks to getting your rat from a pet store is that often they are bred “mill” style and unfortunately are not bred with health and temperament in mind. That does not mean that just because a rat is from a pet store that it will not make a good pet. Just take your time to choose a healthy, alert, and friendly fellow. Pet store rats usually range from $2.00 – $10.00.
Local breeders are probably your best bet if you want to get a rat from a known breeding line. Also, through a breeder, you can find many different types and colors that cannot be found in the pet stores. To find a local breeder you can do an Internet search for “rat breeders.” Many national clubs and rat web sites have breeder directories.
Once you have found a local breeder you can contact them to see if they have any litters available. You may want to contact several to find the one you are the most comfortable with. Get references as much as possible to make sure the breeder you are dealing with is ethical, reputable, and honest. Unfortunately not all breeders are good ones. Once you find a good breeder and get your rat, the breeder should supply you with your rat’s history in the form of a pedigree and should offer support as long as you have the rat. Rats from breeders usually range from $8.00 to $25.00, although very fancy rats can sometimes cost much more.
Rescues and Vets
Often there are local animal shelters that have rats up for adoption both young and old. You may be able to locate these in your local phone book. Your veterinarian clinic may also have clients who are looking to place adult rats or babies.
Many times people have accidental litters then can’t place the babies. Sometimes the rescue rats are adults that have been abandoned by their owners. Adult rescues can have a lot of behavioral and/or health issues. Often female rescues are already pregnant. It is generally recommended that only experienced rat keepers try to adopt special needs rats. There sometimes is a small adoption fee with rescues to ensure that they aren’t being used as snake food.
How to choose a rat
In choosing a healthy rat some important things to look for are bright clear eyes, good thick fur (except with hairless), and clear breathing. Watch out for things like puffed up fur, swelling around the face or neck, drainage around eyes or nose, sores, noisy breathing, sneezing, a foul smell from ears or mouth, or scabs on the body (parasites). These are all indications that there might be an illness in the rat and/or the entire colony.
If you already have rats please make sure that you quarantine your new rats, even if they appear healthy, at a separate location for a minimum of 2-3 weeks to ensure that your resident rats don’t pick up any illnesses.
The rat that you choose is going to be your companion for several years, so take the time to handle and interact with the choices before you decide. Some rats are more active than others so try to find one with the qualities that you are looking for. You will want to avoid a rat that is skittish or squeaks whenever touched. Also avoid taking a rat that shows any signs of aggression. If you choose a rat that is skittish or aggressive you will need to consider that extra time must be spent to tame the rat. But a rat that begins its life with you already tamed will be much easier to deal with.
Male or female
Males are usually larger than females. They tend to be calmer, especially with age, and although some can still be rather active it is safe to say that they make better “lap” pets. A small percentage of males, as they mature, will urine mark or show signs of other hormonal behaviors. Though neutering them will sometimes eliminate some of this type of behavior, there still remains some controversy with this. Males obtained young will generally get along well with each other.
Females tend to be smaller and much more active than the males. They are inquisitive by nature and often are not content to just sit on your lap, preferring instead to run around checking out their surroundings. Female rats go into heat every 4-5 days. There is no discharge from them as there is in other mammals.
Of course these are only blanket statements. Some females are very laid back and some males are as active as any female. Either way you will still have a charming, intelligent, endearing pet.
Getting home with your new rat
Once you arrive home with your new furry friend be sure to take it slow so that the rat will not be stressed out. Let the rat get used to his new environment and then begin offering him treats and handling him carefully. Some rats are shyer than others, but with time and patience your new rat will come to know and trust you.