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Rats as Pets: Should You Own and Keep Them?

When we think about rats, many people believe them be unclean and nasty creatures. They were the ones who caused the plague, after all, right? Well, not so fast. It may amaze you to know that rats were not the cause. Sure, they got the blame, but the real carriers were lice, fleas, and humans. If you want to blame anyone, blame your fellow species.

The truth is that rats are very clean creatures, and make wonderful pets.

If a rat gets something on its fur, it immediately cleans it. They love to groom each other, and are great hunter-gatherers, often organizing and storing their food. When it comes down to it, the rats we think live in the caverns below us are far removed from the rats which people, keep as pets. Let’s take a look at why so many people believe to keep rats as pets.

Check: Are Rats Nocturnal?

Why Do Rats Make Good Pets?

As we already mentioned, rats are actually very clean animals.

Keeping a rat is no different than keeping a guinea pig or rabbit, and they will clean themselves with equal vigor. They like to keep themselves clean, their homes clean, and their food clean.

Rats Are Smart

You have probably heard about lab rats. There is a reason why rats are used so much in lab tests, and that is due to how smart they are.

In psychological studies, rat behavior is often very similar to human behavior, so they make wonderful subjects.

Rats can be taught to respond to their names, and will often come to you when called.

Rats are also very easy to train, making them popular with kids (and adults too). Rats can perform tricks, navigate through mazes, solve problems, and perform tasks once they have been shown them.

Rats can be taught to respond to their names, and will often come to you when called. It has been shown that rats will show empathy and compassion towards their fellow rats.

This is a quality which other animals do not have. Rabbits and guinea pigs may be cute and fluffy but, if it is a smart pet that you want, then a rat is the way to go.

Rats Create A Bond

a rat with bond with his owner when rats as pets with them

Many pets will create a bond with their owners, but rats are particularly good at it, mainly due to their intelligence and compassion.

They can recognize their owners, even recognize their voices, and will come when they hear you.

Rats are sociable creatures and, once they have formed a bond, they will love to hang out with you. They often sit on shoulders and laps and like to be groomed.

Once they have spent enough time with you, they treat you like one of their own. They love to bask in their owner’s warmth and cuddle up.

Rats make wonderful pets.

How Long Do Rats Live?

The life of a rat is all too fleeting. They only have a lifespan of two to three years, which is a lot less than a guinea pig or a bunny. This is a longer lifespan than wild rats but is still a lot shorter than many other pets.

If you are thinking about getting a rat as a pet, you should be prepared for this, especially if the rat is for a young child (do not worry, if a rat is treated correctly, there is no danger to anyone).

If a rat is properly cared for, then it can live for up to four years, but that is rare.

Baby Rats

When a female rat gives birth, they can expect a litter of 8-15 baby rats. If you are thinking about breeding rats, then this is what to expect.

We are getting ahead of ourselves, however, so let’s talk about baby rats in general. When you get a pet rat, there is a good chance that you will start with a baby. So, what should you expect?

Baby rats are separated from their mother after 4 weeks. At this time, they can begin to look after themselves. One thing to think about with a baby rat is the cage.

If you have a cage where the bars are not close enough together, then a baby rat can squeeze through and get itself into trouble.

Baby rats are smaller than adults, but that really is the only difference between them. You will care for them just as you would an adult.

Pet Care For Rats

a women caring rat as she has rats as pets with them

Rats are intelligent creatures that need care and attention to get the most out of themselves. They are relatively low-maintenance, when compared to many other animals, and quickly create a bond with their owners. Take a little time, and you will have a furry little friend.

Rat Cages

Rats love to climb, so find a compromise between bars which are spaced so that the rat cannot get out but not so close together that the rat cannot climb up the inside of the cage.

a rat in a cage

A wire cage is the best home for your rat. We always recommend going as large as possible. Take into account how much you can spend on a cage and how much room you have in your home, and go big.

Rats are active creatures so, if you cannot let them out of their cages a lot, then you are going to need a large cage for them to run around in. 25” x 40” x 25” is the smallest size which we would recommend.

Look for a solid floor to protect their feet and metal wire on the sides which cannot be chewed through.

Rats love to climb, so find a compromise between bars that are spaced so that the rat cannot get out but not so close together that the rat cannot climb up the inside of the cage.

Litter Training

We mentioned that rats are intelligent and can be trained, and this makes litter training a breeze. Rats can easily be trained to keep their cages clean (and will try to do so without any training).

Litter should be used to absorb the ammonia and droppings, and keeping the cage clean will also have a positive impact on the health of your rat.

What to Feed Your Rat

a rat eating protein

Rats are omnivores and will eat a little of everything. They need protein to survive, and this should be supplemented with grains and vegetables.

Many rat owners use dog food as the main source of protein, though you can also buy specialized rat food. No matter which food you are buying, we always recommend investing in quality.

Rats like to eat table scraps, and that is fine as long as you watch what you are giving them.

If a rat gets fat, then it can be hard for them to lose that weight and is very detrimental to their health.

Fruit, sweet vegetables, and sunflower seeds can be given as treats (and are great for training) but should always be given in moderation.

Just like us, rats need lots of clean, fresh water. A water bottle is the best method for this and will stop the water from becoming contaminated. Be sure to check it at least once a day and clean or refill it as needed.

Exercise & Toys

a rat doing exercise

Rats are active animals and need lots of exercise. At the bare minimum, it is expected that you let your rat out of its cage for at least an hour every day.

When you do let them out of their cages, letting them have free rein in a room is recommended. If you do let them out and into a room, be sure to rat-proof the room first.

Rats love to play, so be sure to furnish their cage and play area with lots of toys.

Rats love to climb and chew. Makes sure to take anything from the floor which you do not want to be chewed. Close all doors and windows too. You do not want your rat to escape.

Rats love to play, so be sure to furnish their cage and play area with lots of toys. A wheel will give them some additional exercise but make sure that you do not get one with spokes as it can be dangerous for them.

Cardboard tubes and boxes make for fun places to run around in, and plastic drainpipes too.

Handling A Rat

Rats should be handled as close to birth as possible for them to get used to human interaction.

If they are handled early, they will have no problem being handled later in life, and often enjoy the company of their owner and being petted.

Cup a rat in your hands as you lift it but never squeeze it.

Rats like warmth, so, if you do pick them up, carry them around the house inside of your sweater. If you are sitting on the couch, watching some Netflix, sit them on your lap and pet them. Rats are small and can be injured easily, so never pick a rat up by its tail.

Cup one hand under their chest and forelegs, and the other under their back legs. Cup a rat in your hands as you lift it but never squeeze it.

Rats are very social and will let children pick them up, as long as the children are careful. We always recommend adult supervision when a child is picking up a rat.

Being so social, we would also recommend buying multiple rats; they thrive when they are part of a group.

Do Rats Make Good Pets For Children?

While many people are put off rats, they really do make wonderful pets. But, how about as a pet for a child?

a child and mom playing with rat as they have rats as pets in their home

There is no reason why a child should not have a rat as a pet.

As with all animals, we always recommend adult supervision and help when a young child is looking after an animal, but a rat will not treat an adult and child any different, as long as the owner treats the rat respectfully.

Rats make wonderful pets for people of all ages.

As rats are such social creatures, they can actually benefit from having kids around.

As adults, we often do not have enough time to do all of the things which we want to do, and this can extend to spending time with our pets. Children can give rats the social interaction which they need.

Wrapping Up

Rats make wonderful pets for people of all ages. They are loving, compassionate, and smart. If you treat them with respect, then they will craft a loving bond with you which will last a lifetime. Take the plunge and find a pet like no other.

a rat as pet with a girl

Do you have rats as pets? Let us know the experiences in the comments

Alina Hartley
Alina Hartley

Alina Hartley is a small-town girl with a ginormous love of bearded dragons. It all started with Winchester, a baby bearded who was abandoned at the shelter by his former owners because of a birth defect that caused one front leg to be shorter than the other. Alina originally went to the shelter looking for a guinea pig, but one look at Winchester and it was love at first sight. From that day on, Alina has dedicated her life to learning everything she can about bearded dragons. She loves helping new beardie parents start their incredible journey with these magnificent reptiles.
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