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Rats as Pets: Guidelines and Tips

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: August 31, 2017
Rats as Pets: Guidelines and Tips

Rodents used to be frowned upon, but nowadays they are considered excellent pets: there are increasing numbers of people who choose to share their home with these friendly creatures. It is now common to see hamsters, guinea pigs, squirrels, gerbils or mice adopted as pets.

It isn't as common to see someone keeping rats as pets because of the popular association of this animal with dirt and disease. However, you should know that rats can adapt easily to living in a human home; in fact, they make great pets!

In this AnimalWised article we will talk about keeping rats as pets, clarifying any doubts you may have about the subject with our guidelines and tips.

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Do rats make good pets?

Rats, above all else, are very sociable animals that always stay in groups or pairs, making it a bad idea to only get one rat as a pet. Loneliness can cause this type of rodent to end up suffering from stress and depression.

Contrary to what you might believe, rats make exceptional pets. This is because these rodents are affectionate and playful animals, and also very intelligent, to the extent that they can even learn simple tricks.

It is important for rats to be domesticated from a young age, which will facilitate their adaptation to a home environment. Once the rat has passed the adaptation period, during which it will be shy and distrustful, it will develop a strong attachment to its owner. In fact, rats require the daily presence and affection of their owner in order to enjoy a full state of well-being.

Rats as Pets: Guidelines and Tips - Do rats make good pets?

Before adopting a rat as a pet...

Even though rats don't require much looking after, it's important to understand that you are responsible for meeting all its needs in order to ensure that it has a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Therefore, you need to understand that you can't only get one rat as a pet: you need to adopt at least two.

It is best to get two pet rats of the same sex, preferably two females, because males can be aggressive with each other if they aren't neutered. It is also possible to get a female rat and a male rat, but they need to be separated between 6 to 8 weeks of age. This is the point at which they reach puberty and are therefore able to reproduce.

The origin of your rat is also important. It's best to get in touch with a specialist rat breeder, or you can go to rodent shelters. Take your time to learn about the different types of domestic rats and choose according to your lifestyle. However, before deciding on one rat or another, you must avoid taking in any rat that has the following signs:

  • Reddish eye secretions
  • Reddish nasal secretions
  • Open wounds
  • Lethargy
  • Wheezing
  • Acute feces

As with any other type of pet, it's important to pay special attention to the rat that seems keen to interact with you, since this might be the animal that is best suited to adapting to your home.

Rats as Pets: Guidelines and Tips - Before adopting a rat as a pet...

What do you need to keep rats as pets?

If you're going to adopt a pair of rats as pets, you'll need to make sure you can meet the following requirements to ensure their environment and space is healthy and safe:

  • Pet rats must have a large cage: each rat should have a space of approximately 25 cm (10 in) squared for itself at the very least.
  • The rats' cage should contain a food bowl, water bowl and a small home or nest in which they can hide.
  • The rats' cage should have a bed of wooden chips, but make sure you avoid pine, aspen or cedar chips because they can irritate the animals' respiratory tract when they come into contact with urine.
  • You should give your pet rat 12 ml of rodent compound food every day, and supplement its diet with fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Rats love cheese. However, it's not recommended to feed it to them because they can end up getting obese.
  • Rats need to keep themselves entertained in order to channel their huge curiosity. Therefore, the cage needs to include various hanging toys that are suitable for rats.
Rats as Pets: Guidelines and Tips - What do you need to keep rats as pets?

Can you play with a pet rat?

If you adopt rats as pets, not only you can play with them: you must. Rats need your presence and interaction on a daily basis. Remember that these animals can become strongly attached to their owner.

You should pick up your rats and give them attention several times a day for periods of roughly 10 minutes. If you don't think it will be possible to dedicate this much time to them, perhaps it's not the best idea to take a rodent of this type into your house.

It's also hugely important that the rats can perform daily exercise outside the cage. As such, you need to be willing to grant them a larger space in your house, and not just keep them inside their cage.

Rats as Pets: Guidelines and Tips - Can you play with a pet rat?

Caring for a pet rat

Domestic rats can live for up to 5 years since they are particularly tough animals, but they carry a predisposition to developing cancer.

Besides considering all of the above, you should also groom your rats with a clean cloth and a soft brush at least once every three days in order to keep them in optimum condition. However, you should bathe your pet rats only once a month at the most.

In addition, you must also disinfect and thoroughly clean the cage once a week. You can't use bleach to disinfect your rats' cage, as they will find it highly irritating. Therefore, we recommend that you go to your trusted veterinary centre and ask for suggestions on disinfectants that are suitable for pets.

Even if rats don't usually get ill, it's important to know how to spot the signs that tell you something isn't right:

  • Lumps or swellings on the skin
  • Red, irritated and inflamed skin
  • Hair falling out
  • Continuous scratching

When you notice one or more of these common symptoms of disease, it's important to see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Rats as Pets: Guidelines and Tips - Caring for a pet rat

Do you love rodents?

As you know, there are many types of domestic rats that you can adopt as a pet if you have decided to get one. Among them you will find fairly delicate species such as the Egyptian rat, which will need extra attention, or hardier varieties.

If you finally choose to adopt a rat, we recommend the following articles:

Rats as Pets: Guidelines and Tips - Do you love rodents?

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Alana
I've have more than 16 pet rats and not even one of them have lived more than 2.3 years. Saying that they can live up to 5 is very unlikely to happen, so you should say the average. That is around 2 years because they get cancer and if they get a cold, or any type of sickness, they almost always die within a week, though it's usually less than a week.

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