The Redeeming Qualities of the Rat
by Angela Desimone
Rats over the centuries have definitely endured quite a bad reputation. Most popularly due to the outbreak of the “Black Plague” in Europe during the late 1300’s. The big misconception being that the rats actually caused the plague, which in reality, the fleas that hitched a ride on the rats caused when biting a human and thus passing on the disease.
Today, however, rats are rising in popularity as a wonderful companion pet. If bred in captivity and properly cared for there is little to no risk of any infectious diseases being passed on to their human care givers. Common sense should prevail when caring for a pet rat, as it should with any pet you may choose to bring into your home. Keeping a clean environment for both your rat and yourself should be number one on that list!
Despite their reputation as dirty animals, rats are extremely clean. They bathe themselves very frequently, much like a cat does. They also prefer to keep their cage as clean as possible. A healthy rat will use any available material, such as newspaper or cedar chips, to construct a large rat’s nest for sleeping in. Inside the nest, they rarely ever defecate or urinate, reserving a specific area of the cage for these functions. In fact, this instinctive behavior can work to your advantage if you provide a litter box, which makes cleaning the cage much easier.
More than just being cleaner than you may have thought, rats are also highly intelligent, social animals. Much smarter than their other rodent cousins such as the mouse, gerbil or hamster; rats are not typically aggressive or biters (like the hamster can be), they love to be handled by their human companions (unlike many gerbils) and are easily trainable. You can train a rat to come when called, retrieve objects, sit up on their hind legs on command, and most commonly, they can be trained to quickly maneuver through mazes and agility courses.
Rats definitely love to be outside of their cages and join in household activities. Many rats like to hang out on their owner’s shoulders while they go about their daily activities. Affectionate animals, rats like to groom and lick their favorite human companions, and they can easily differentiate between different people. Rats enjoy sharing meals with people and even washing up afterwards. They are extremely sociable and curious, and they love human contact.
Whenever possible, pet rats should be kept in at least pairs. When space permits, rats happily follow “the more the merrier” rule of thumb. However, to avoid having more rats than you can handle, make sure the pairs are of the same sex, as rats are quite profuse and successful breeders. If you are only able to care for one rat, it is important to spend a great deal of time with him or her to maintain its quality of life.
There are many different types of “breeds”of rats, which come in a variety of colors and sizes. Here are a few breeds, though there are many more; The Standard (typical looking, bred in captivity), Rex (wavy/curly haired), Hairless (bald), Dumbo (large eared), Odd-Eyed (each eye has a different color). Some color varieties are Fawn (golden tan), Chocolate (brown/dark brown), Blue (blue-gray), Black and Merle (mottled splotches of gray, brown and white). If you are a rat enthusiast or considering becoming a rat parent, do your research, you will be sure to find a breed of rat that will suit your aesthetic pleasure.
As you can see, if you are able to get over the negative stigma of the rat, they can actually be quite charming pets that will provide you with much companionship and love. You should be warned that it is very easy to get quite attached to their adorable little faces and lovable personalities, and you could end up with a house full of rats!
Should you choose to adopt a pet rat into your family, please schedule a consultation and wellness exam with Dr. Mandel or Dr. West at our hospitals to get all of the proper information regarding housing, feeding and providing your rat with the healthiest lifestyle possible.