Pet Rats

Sleeping rats
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Rat Facts

  • Average lifespan of a rat is two to three years.
  • A rat is typically nine to eleven inches long with their tail being an additional seven to nine inches long.
  • Rats are nocturnal so they will be most active at night.
  • Male rats are called bucks, females are does, and babies are pups.
  • Rats are social so they do best if kept with another rat (or group of rats).
  • Rats reach puberty very young at six to eight weeks of age. They shouldn't be bred this young though, so make sure males and females are separated before this age.
  • Females go into heat every four or five days (for about 24 hours) and may seem agitated or restless during this time.
  • Rats have a wide range of markings as well as varieties (e.g. standard/smooth, rex, hairless, tailless).

Keeping Rats as Pets

  • Rats are intelligent, social animals that can make wonderful pets.
  • Rats are easily tamed.
  • Rats are relatively easy to care for but are not low maintenance pets.
  • Rats require a fair amount of attention and exercise time outside of their cages (at least an hour a day is ideal).
  • Rats are very social and should never be kept alone. Same sex pairs or groups are ideal. Males usually get along fine with other males especially if introduced at a young age or they are litter mates. Keeping rats in groups does not make them more difficult to tame if they are handled from a young age.
  • Rats are very curious.
  • Many owners compare the companionship of a rat to that of a dog.
  • As a rule, males are larger, somewhat lazier than females, and have a coarser coat. Females are smaller and tend to be more active and playful than males.

Finding a Pet Rat

  • Pet stores are only good options for getting a pet rat if the store/staff are knowledgeable about caring for rats. Look to see if they keep them in appropriate, clean housing with a good diet and handle them regularly. Look for stores that house males and females separately to avoid a surprise litter.
  • Breeders (ratteries) are the best option for finding a well socialized young rat. A good breeder will make sure the babies are socialized and handled from an early age. Also, a breeder is probably your only option if looking for a particular coat type or unique color of rat.
  • Shelters should always be considered if you'd like to rescue a rat in need of a home. Check with local shelters or rat specific rescue groups. Choose a rat with a good temperament but keep in mind that rescued rats may be a little skittish or shy at first but you can probably overcome this with some patience. Avoid rats that are aggressive, though, as this is harder to overcome and most rats are not aggressive.
  • Whichever source is chosen, make sure the rat appears to be in good health and condition and is well socialized.
  • If buying an older rat, try to make sure it has been handled from a young age.

Choosing a Pet Rat

  • Try to avoid rats that are panicky when handled, especially if they do not relax quickly, and also those that are overly quiet and calm (as they may be ill). Often a good choice is a rat that is curious enough to approach you.
  • Rats should be alert and active when observed.
  • The rat's body should be firm and well rounded. Younger rats are likely to be on the lean side.
  • The nose, eyes, ears, and rear end should be clean and free from discharge.
  • The coat should be clean and well groomed (healthy rats spend a lot of time grooming). The skin on the ears and tail should be clean and pink, not red or brown.
  • The skin should be free of sores and not red or flaky. Lice is common in pet rats and these can be signs of an itchy rat.
  • Watch the rat's breathing to make sure it is not labored and make sure the rat is not sneezing or having discharge from its nose or eyes (all can be signs of respiratory disease which is fairly common in rats).
  • Watch for drooling or wetness around the mouth which can be a sign of dental problems.

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT