Inquisitive and intelligent creatures, rats can make wonderful, affectionate pets. These highly social rodents should be handled and given playtime each day to prevent boredom and encourage their curious nature. Many skeptical first time rat owners are often pleasantly surprised to find that rats can be trained to do tricks and tasks much like a dog can. They are relatively clean and easy to care for, although they do have fairly short life spans of 2 – 3 years on average. Rats come in a variety of colors, sizes, and breeds, including a hairless version. With proper introduction and supervision, rats can even become friendly with other pets, including dogs and cats. They often make great pets for children, as they usually only bite when frightened or mishandled. As with other pets in the home, children should be supervised when handling their rat to avoid injury to the child and/or pet.
A few things to consider when selecting a rat as a pet:
Habitat – Rat cages should be large enough to provide adequate space for climbing, burrowing, and exercise. Avoid pine and cedar shavings as substrate as they are potentially toxic to small pets. Cage should be cleaned thoroughly at least once a week to avoid a buildup of ammonia. As with all rodents, rats teeth are constantly growing, and they must have items to chew on to wear down their teeth. Providing ink free cardboard or wooden chew sticks designed for rodents will decrease the rat’s likelihood of finding alternative objects to chew on, including their cage.
Exercise – Wheels, free roaming balls, and “playgrounds” outside of their cage are all great ways for rats to exercise. “Playgrounds” may be constructed using nylon ropes hung horizontally and vertically from platforms to allow pet rats to utilize their climbing skills.
Food & Water – Fresh food and water should be provided on a daily basis. High quality commercial pellet diets are a good option for providing a balanced level of nutrition for pet rats. Diets can be supplemented with treats of fresh fruits and vegetables. Water should be provided in a sipper bottle to avoid contamination and spills.
Health – New pet rats should be quarantined, examined by a veterinarian, and monitored for illness prior to introduction to other pet rats. Rats are most prone to respiratory conditions and external parasites, and introduction of a new rat without proper monitoring can result in spread of disease. Rats commonly experience problems with cancer, abscesses, heart failure, constipation, and numerous other medical conditions.
Ask us at Animal Central for more information about rats as pets or visit: http://www.webvet.com/main/2008/07/01/rat-small-animals
Dr. Stroberg, DVM and Staff