Why rats?

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Why Rats?

 

Rats make wonderful pets. but are they the right pets for you, and you the right person for them?

 

Rats have been domesticated since the 1700s. their close bond with humans has it's roots in dark beginnings. the rats we keep as members of our family are Rattus Norvegicus. the Brown Rat, or Norway Rat. they may sometimes be referred to as Fancy Rats. rather than meaning that they are unusually decorative, this refers to the Rat Fancy. Societies of people who breed and show rats.

while you will sometimes see a group of rats with different ear types referred to as Fancy Rats and Dumbo Rats, they are all in fact, Fancy Rats. likewise, there are not Fancy Rats and "Feeder" Rats. they are the same animals, and bred in the same rodent mills. often from the same parents.

 

our domestic rats ancestors were captured alive by 19th century and early 20th century rat catchers. the purpose of capturing rats alive was for their use in rat baiting, using terriers. a popular blood sport at the time. however these rat catchers, like Jack Black, famed rat catcher to Queen Victoria, were also astute businessmen. unusually attractive or docile rats would be kept back from the terrier pits and sold as pets or even bred to produce more unusually marked or coloured rats for this trade. this trend slowly grew.

 

at this time, the Mouse Fancy was already in full swing, and Mary Douglas asked to be allowed to exhibit and enter her rats. this was granted, and the rat fancy was born.

 

Over time, breeders have worked to improve the temperament of rats as pets, and produce a dizzying variety of colours, and coat types. in more recent years, the gene for low and open set ears, Dumbo rats, has proved especially popular, with their almost cartoonish faces.

 

so what makes people choose rats over other small pets? the latter part of the 20th century has seen many other small rodents becoming popular as pets, from hamsters, chinchillas, gerbils and degus to more exotic creatures, such as multimammates, or African Soft Furred Rats, and even the real life Rodent of Unusual Size, the Gambian Pouched Rat, famous for their pioneering use in detecting land mines and tuberculosis.

 

  • Rats are excellent pets. they are highly social in their group structure, and being intelligent creatures (they fall in the top ten most intelligent animals, placing them above cats and dogs) they form strong social bonds with their human companions as well as their essential ratty companions.

 

  • Rats are, despite their reputation, incredibly CLEAN animals. they are easily litter trained, often naturally opting to use only one area as a toilet, with some just needing a little encouragement. they spend approximately 80% of their waking time meticulously grooming themselves. when properly cared for, they have a very low level of scent. less so than many popular caged pets, including rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters. males have a distinctive musky scent that is not unpleasant, and even quite popular among rat lovers. females have little to no scent at all.

 

  • Rats are well domesticated and amenable to handling. they are extremely unlikely to bite. most rodent bites occur due to fear, and rats don't scare easily. pain may be a factor in biting, but even so, many rats will endure a great deal of discomfort before being driven to bite in self defence. I have had rats since around the beginning of the 90s, and have yet to be bitten by a rat, even by rats undergoing some very uncomfortable health care.

 

  • they are less fragile and jumpy than many other domesticated rodents. This, along with not being predisposed to biting, makes them an ideal childhood introduction to rodents as pets, under the supervision of a responsible adult to ensure their needs are adequately met

 

  • they are playful, and very entertaining. they respond well to training, especially clicker training, and can learn a wide variety of tricks and agility. they are also very affectionate and actively enjoy and seek out human interaction.

 

  • rats are NOT nocturnal. they are in fact Crepuscular. this means that rather than sleeping by day and being active by night or vice versa, they in fact sleep and wake for shorter periods throughout the day and night. they are instinctively most active around dusk and dawn, but adjust easily to fit your routines. if woken they are not likely to be grumpy, instead being eager to see what fun you have in store for them.

 

Rats are RELATIVELY inexpensive and simple to care for. however many people do underestimate the level of interaction they require, their housing needs, and their potential costs when they are well cared for.

Rats need large and well equipped cages. NEVER A TANK. and have sensitive respiratory systems. they are prone to a number of health issues, and it would be very rare for a rat to go their entire life without ever needing the intervention of a vet. so it's important to budget for vet visits, and ensure that your vet is open to providing good rat care. while some vets are experienced and excellent with rats, the training received on small animals can be fairly limited, as their small purchase price and short lifepan can often lead to them being seen as a disposable life. one that many owners will not be willing to spend much money to maintain. now a vet inexperienced with rats NEEDN'T be a massive hurdle, so long as they are open minded enough to learn with you, and try courses of treatment found successful by more experienced rat owners and their vets.

 

as small pets go, rats are quite a commitment. they need a lot of your time and attention, requiring at least an hour of time outside of the cage daily. to interact with you and their surroundings. this is for both exercise and mental stimulation, and social behaviour.

 

so it's very important to consider, not only are rats the right pets for you, but are you the right human for rats?

 

Do you have access to a good small animal vet?

Are you able to pull together the money for vet bills when necessary?

Do you have the time to spend interacting with your pets?

Do you have the space for an adequately sized cage for them?

Are you able to feed and clean up after the animals?

Do you have willing friends or family members that can look after the animals if you go on holiday?

Rats live on average around 2-3 years, but may live longer. one extreme case documents a rat reaching 7 years. Are you able to offer a home for the rest of their lives?

 

you can see, they may be small in size, but their small size doesn't come with any decrease in responsibility.

 

 

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