Pet rats are relatively low maintenance, but that doesn’t mean they need little care. They need plenty of attention and exercise outside of their cage – at least an hour a day is ideal. They are also easy to tame, which makes them ideal pets for people who like to handle their pets.
Facts about pet rats
- The average life expectancy of a pet rat is 18 to 36 months.
- Most pet rats are a species of a rat called a Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus). The Norway rat is also called the common rat, brown rat, street rat, sewer rat, Hanoverian rat, Norwegian rat, or wharf rat.
- The body of a Norway rat is usually 10 to 20 inches long. Their tail is another 20 to 30 cm long.
- Rats come in a wide range of brands and breeds, including standard/smooth, rex, hairless, and tailless.
- Rats are nocturnal and therefore most active at night.
- Rats are social creatures; therefore, they are most comfortable when kept with another rat or a group of rats.
- Male rats are called bucks, females make, and the babies are pups.
- In general, males are larger, somewhat lazier than females, and have coarser fur. Females are smaller than males.
- Male rats are sexually mature at 6 to 10 weeks of age and female rats at 8 to 12 weeks of age. Rats should not be mated at such a young age. Therefore, be sure to separate males from females before they reach this age.
- Once they reach puberty, females are in heat for about 24 hours every four to five days and can seem restless during this time.
Rats as pets
Since rats are very social, they should never be kept alone. Same-sex pairs or groups are ideal. Males usually get along well with other males, especially if introduced at a young age or if they are litter mates.
Keeping rats in groups does not make them harder to tame if they are handled at a young age. Even if you keep multiple animals, you don’t have to worry about building a bond with your pet. Many rat owners love their pet’s curiosity and compare the companionship of a rat to that of a dog.
Where can you find a pet rat?
There are a few options available to you when you are looking for a new pet rat. Although this is the most obvious option, a pet store is only a good way to get a pet rat if the staff is well-informed about caring for rats. Make sure they keep them in proper, clean housing with good food and handle them regularly. Also, look for stores that house males and females separately to avoid surprise litter.
Breeders (called rat catchers) are the best option for finding a young, well-socialized rat. Also, a breeder is probably your only option if you are looking for a specific coat type or unique color in a rat.
Animal shelters should always be considered if you are looking to rescue a rat that needs a home. Check with local animal shelters or look for special rescue groups for rats. Choose a rat with a good temperament, but keep in mind that rescued rats can be a bit skittish or shy at first.
Regardless of the source, you should avoid aggressive rats. This is more difficult to overcome and most rats are not naturally aggressive.
Choosing a pet rat
When choosing a rat as a pet, you need to make sure that it doesn’t react in a panicky manner, especially if it doesn’t relax quickly. On the other side of the spectrum, you should also avoid rats that are overly calm and collected, as they could be sick. A good choice is often a rat that is curious enough to approach you.
Rats should be alert and active when observed. Also, pay attention to these characteristics:
- Their body should be firm and well-rounded, as young rats tend to be skinny.
- The nose, eyes, ears, and hindquarters should be clean and free of discharge.
- The coat should be clean and well-groomed (healthy rats spend a lot of time grooming themselves).
- The feet should be free of sores or “blisters” and they should walk without a limp.
- Lice are common in domestic rats. So check for nits – small white eggs on the hair – behind the ears, where there is less fur.
- Watch the rat’s breathing to make sure it’s not gasping for air, sneezing, or having a runny nose or eye. All of these can be signs of respiratory disease, which is quite common in rats.
- Look for drool or moisture in the mouth, which can indicate dental problems.
If you are careful when choosing your rat, you will be very happy with your new companion and will enjoy it for a few years.