Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why Pet Rats!?

3 years ago I decided to get pet rats. I had had a pet Ferret for 4 years but she passed away from adrenal cancer.

After our Ferret passed away, I wanted another small animal pet. I had always loved mice and rats, even as a kid, but I never owned any as pets. Our Ferret was litter trained and after reading about rats online, I found out they too could be litter trained which was interesting to me. I didn't know too much about pet rats at all 3 years ago!

October, 23rd 2007 I purchased my first two pet rats. Sugar and Spice. Sugar was a PEW, Spice was a Himalayan. Sugar was shy & sweet. Spice was outgoing and spunky.


Care:

3 years later I've owned 20 rats. 8 have gone to the Rainbow Bridge. Currently I have 9 girls and 3 boys. 3 are rescue rats, 17 have been from various pet stores in my area.

(As of 2014 I've owned 41 rats, but currently own 9)

The number one con about owning rats is their short lifespan. Rats only live approximately 2-3 years. The other big con is females are very prone to developing mammary tumors. (Typically they develop around or after 1 year.) I've had 5 females that developed mammary tumors and 3 of my girls had to be put to sleep because of them. They are usually benign but tend to impact quality of life as they grow. Not all females get tumors, but they are very common.

This is the downfall of owning pet rats. Pet rats are so susceptible to tumors, cancer, abscesses, respiratory infections, etc. (Rat Health Guide). But when you're a rat owner, you take the good with the bad. They have so much personality, are so smart and have so much love and affection to give, that it makes up for the short time they are with us... any rat owner will tell you that. It's also the reason most rat owners have more than 1 rat. They definitely get into your heart even though they aren't with us for very long.

And just because they are so small doesn't mean they are cheaper when it comes to the veterinarian. I've had tumors removed, had a rat spayed and neutered. Each costing in the triple digits. So anyone that says a rat is a cheap "pocket pet"; they are quite mistaken. Owning a pet rat is definitely a commitment, like any other pet. Cat or Dog, etc.

Females are more active and outgoing, hyper even! Male rats are more laid back, lazy and tend to like being cuddled or pet. Female rats are about half the size of a full grown male rat. Male rats do have a musky odor that can be controlled with bathing or by neutering. (Males or Females?) Hairless males do not have any odor.

They are very clean animals. If you've ever seen a cat bathe him/herself, a rat bathes itself about 10x's more a day than a cat! They don't generally need to be bathed but light colored rats can get red streaking around their neck or on their body from grooming or other rats grooming them. This is because their saliva, tears, (even snot!) have a red pigment called porphyrin. and after awhile even if you do keep your cage very clean you might want to give your rat a bath occasionally if they smell a bit. (I usually bathe mine with baby shampoo every 2-3 weeks or so in the sink.)

There are so many different colors and varieties of rats it would take forever to describe them all. (AFRMA Rat Varieties.)

Why multiples? 

Rats are very social animals. They do best in pairs or groups. Especially if you're out at school or working for a certain number of hours each day. Having a pair of rats is ideal, because they keep each other company when you can't be around.

And once you've owned 1 or 2 rats, rat lovers are very susceptible to GGMR (Gotta get more rats!) Rats are nocturnal but they easily adjust to your schedule. Occasionally at night time, I might hear a few squabbles or some chewing, but for the most part they are pretty quiet at night time.

Rats aren't just social with other rats. They are extremely social and curious about their human owners! In the morning when I wake up, or when I come home from work, there will be a dozen little faces peering out the cage at me, waiting for attention.

Having been a rat owner for 3 years now, in my opinion; rats are the most well rounded pet. They are as affectionate and loyal and sociable as any cat or dog. And smart! Rats are one of the most intelligent of the rodent species. You can teach a rat to respond to its name, just like any dog. It always gives me a smile when one of my rats is at the other end of the sofa or bed and I call their name and they come running over to me. It's just amazing what they are capable of! You can even teach them tricks! They are extremely versatile and adaptable to any situation.

Oh boy and the agility of a rat! A rat can jump vertically almost 1-2 feet and horizontally up to 3 feet! They are great climbers too. Rats do not have paws. They actually have individual fingers. (4 fingers and a nub thumb on their hands. 5 toes on their back feet.) And they love to climb! They will scale the inside of their cage and sometimes even hang from the ceiling in the cage. I call them "little monkey's." They actually use their tail when it comes to climbing. Their tail also helps them to balance. When you're holding a rat, it will probably try to wrap its tail around your arm to steady itself. (That Wonderful Rat Tail). A few of my rats that love to explore have even climbed to the top of my 5 story bookshelf!

Nutrition:

Rats are similar to dogs in another way. You can actually feed them certain types of dog food. You want the protein to be between 15-20% and the fat to be between 5-7%. Lower is better. (Article on Rat Nutrition). Rat's are similar to humans in that they also have a sense of taste. They can taste salty, sweet, sour and bitter.

Of course they need a well rounded diet. A staple diet of either dog food or rat lab blocks. I use Nutro Natural Lite  or Harlan Teklad 2014 lab blocks for their staple diet. (I don't use Nutro anymore- they changed the protein content) I am currently using Native Earth 4018 Lab Blocks or Oxbow Regal Rat.

Added to that every few days are fresh (or frozen) veggies and fruit and sometimes even baby food or baby rice cereal. Some people make their own well rounded mix. (I used to use a mix similar to Suebee's more for treat purposes that I fed once a week.)


Rat's can pretty much eat anything humans can, though it's not always good for them. It's always best to check the Forbidden Food List before feeding any new food to your rats.

Rat's love treats. A few treats I keep on hand for my rats are: Banana Chips, Yogurt Raisins or Peanuts. Gerber Graduate Puff's, Milk Bone Dog Biscuits, Spiral Wheat or Tri Color Pasta, Yogies.

They also love to chew! Anything and everything if you don't keep it out of their way! I always say, "Pet rats will teach you not to be materialistic!". And it's the truth! They will chew on ANYTHING! I've had many a phone charger, laptop wire, headphones, lamp wire, book bindings, etc; chewed by one of my pet rats. (Thank God for Ebay!) If you're not comfortable with something being chewed- it's best to place it out their reach! I actually get most of my sheets, pillow cases, comforters from a 2nd hand store. If you let the rats hang out with you on your bed, they will indeed chew a hole in your blanket!

Playtime:

Speaking of hanging out on the bed or sofa. Once your rat gets used to being handled by you and trusts you. You can pretty much let them hang out with you around the house where ever you are. I'm usually walking around my house with at least 1 rat on my shoulder! When I watch TV, there's usually a few hanging out with me, same goes for when I'm on the laptop or reading in bed. And surprisingly once your rat is litter trained you shouldn't have many accidents at all! Even better if you provide a place for them to relieve themselves when you have them outside the cage. I usually have a plastic carrier open on the sofa, etc for them to retreat too. I've had a few brats though that won't stay with you and just want to get down on the floor and explore! We used to have a ferret Super Pet Ball for my rat Nutmeg who loved to roam around the house!

For their chewing habits you can provide wooden chew toys from the pet store, give them tissue boxes to hang in or chew, empty paper towel or toilet paper rolls, rawhide chew sticks for dogs, I also give mine Super Pet Chilly Chews or 8 in 1 Cheese Chews. And you can give them cooked and cleaned chicken bone legs to gnaw on also. (Rat Toy Ideas).

You can take your rats outside with you if you're brave enough! If I do take my rats outside I never put them on the ground unattended. If I walk around I might have 1-2 on my shoulder. If I go to the park I use a Plastic Carrier or my Marshall carry sack. (Leashes made for small animals aren't ideal, rats can wiggle right out of them!) I love taking animal and nature photographs so I've taken quite a few of my rats to the park with me to get pictures. If a rat is well handled and trusts it's owner it will not run off. My rats usually stick quite close to me. Being outside usually intimidates them. (I only take 1 rat out at a time, when outside. The others stay in a carrier.)

Cage Care:

Wire cages are generally better than aquariums for pet rats. Wire cages allow air flow, while aquariums restrict ventilation. (Which can lead to heatstroke or even respiratory infections.) The only problem with wire cages, is the flooring. If the cage has a wire floor you will need to cover it with fabric, metal pan, etc. (Wire floors can cause bumble foot infection if not covered.) Rats can also get a foot caught or tangled on a wire floor which can lead to sprains or broken bones.


I own a Ferret Nation 142. The cage comes with two big plastic pans that cover the wire floor in the cage and can be taken out and cleaned when necessary. You also need at least 2 cubic feet per rat. (Cage Calculator). Bar spacing is also important. 1/2" bar spacing is ideal but most cages usually have 1" inch bar spacing.

My Ferret Nation cage has 1" inch vertical bar spacing and for the bigger rat's it's not a problem. But for smaller younger rats, I've had two escapees! The solution to this problem was to cover the outside of the cage with hardware cloth and zip ties! (Choosing the right cage article).

For the inside the cage, I myself use fleece or baby blankets from the Dollar Store to line the cage floors with. This is cheaper and cleaner than using Yesterday's News, Aspen or Care Fresh. (Care Fresh can sometimes contain mites- one way to prevent this is to freeze it before using.) Using fleece or fabric is a greener way of taking care of your rat's cage. It's also cheaper because you're not constantly throwing away used cage lining. I usually do one load of laundry a week (unscented detergent) just for the rat's stuff. I only get rid of the fleece or baby blankets when there's so many holes chewed in them it doesn't look like fabric anymore! (Do not use pine or cedar shavings. They are toxic to rats.)

Using fleece or fabric is also more cozy to your pet rat. They love to burrow deep down in the blankets or fleece when sleeping. I also put plastic igloos and plastic houses in their cages for them to sleep or hide in. (You will usually find all of your rats piled on top of each other sleeping!)

I usually do a full cage cleaning once a week with hot water and a little bleach. I empty their litter pans every few days. (I don't use litter or anything in the litter pans.) I will also change some of their sleeping fabric or blankets in the cage during the week if they begin to smell. (Rat urine doesn't have an odor in small quantities).

Overall:

If you've never owned a pet rat before you would be surprised how each one has a completely different personality. Some are shy, some are outgoing, some love to be cuddled, some don't like to be held, some over eat, some are lazy, some are playful. They are just like people with their own individual personality.

And yes some rats love to be pet just like a cat or dog! When they are happy (or nervous). They will make a teeth grinding noise and boggle their eyes. This is like purring for rats! They also love to be scratched behind their ears or nose. They are extremely social, curious affectionate creatures. Once you have owned one rat, it will probably not be your last! If you decide to get more rats, here is a good article on introducing new rats to your current rats!

You can also find me on Star's Rat Rescue Forum. I am a moderator there under the username: christianchickslc. Come over and share with us about your pet rats, or just pop in to learn about them!

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