Are you ready to own pet rats?
Seventeen serious questions to ask yourself before adopting.
1. Will you first research and learn all you can about the care of pet rats? The Internet is an amazing resource for rat health, rat information and general rat care.
2. Are you or anyone living in your home allergic to animals? If you are not sure if rats my also cause allergic reactions it is best to find out before adopting if everyone in the house can tolerate rats as pets. Have everyone play with a friend's adult rats or visit a breeder. Baby rats often will not bother some people with allergies but adult rats will. Allergies can surface in different ways. The rat's dander can be a problem for some causing watery, itchy eyes and respiratory distress/asthma or worse but also the protein in the rats saliva and urine can cause raised welts on the skin for those with allergies. Sometimes a hairless rat will not cause an allergic reaction to those sensitive to furred animals but there may still be an allergic reaction to the saliva and urine. Knowing a head of time will save tears when you find you cannot keep the little baby rat that you've grown to love.
3. Does your landlord accept rats as pet in apartments or rented houses? Some landlords only know rats as the typical, destructive, disease ridden wild kind (Rattus Rattus) and relate all rats to sewer rats, brown rats, roof rats, and wharf rats. They don't know that pet rats are a different species of rat (Rattus Norwegicus) which have been domesticated for better than a hundred years. Some landlords accept hamsters but NO RATS! It's not a good idea to adopt pet rats if you think you may be moving in the near future and do not know for certain if you can bring your rats with you. Would you move into a new apartment that didn't allow children and leave them behind?
4. Are you willing to adopt pet rats in pairs? Rats are very social and need a rat buddy to play, groom, cuddle and sleep with when their humans are off at work, shopping, school and during the long nights when we sleep and they are up ready to play. Rats will wake up eager to play with you any hour of the day or night and can adapt to your schedules but in general they are nocturnal by nature.
5. Are you ready to make your pet rats members of your family just like you would the family dog or cat? The whole family should be involved in loving and caring for the rats. If the children lose interest or go off to college will you as the parent continue to care for, love and play with the rats? DO NOT ADOPT RATS FOR CHILDREN OF ANY AGE….ADOPT PET RATS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY!
6. Can you devote two to three years or more providing quality care and attention for your pet rats? RATS ARE NOT DISPOSABLE POCKET PETS! They are extremely aware, social, loving animals that bond with their human caregivers and trust them to do the right thing. RATS HAVE FEELINGS…you can see the love, trust and even the hurt or grief in their eyes! Can you promise not to let them down?
7. Do you have ½ hour per day (preferably much more) to spend loving and playing with your rats? Rats look forward to their daily time out with you. Rats love routine and feel more secure when they know what to expect, just like human children.
8. Will you diligently supervise small children with the rats? You cannot leave young children alone with rats even for a few seconds. Children are fast but rats are faster! Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. Children have knelt on rats, sat on rat, dropped, thrown, and crushed rat's bones and internal organs in a tight grip. Children have picked up rats and swung them by their tails causing the skin to tear away exposing the tail bone (degloving). Socialized pet rats do not bite unless extremely frightened, being hurt in some way, or injured. Small children are more likely to be bitten than anyone else. Simply put… RATS DO NOT MAKE GOOD PETS FOR SMALL CHILDREN.
9. Will you provide your rat with a nice, roomy cage to live in? A decent rat cage will run anywhere from $50 to $80 or more depending on the brand and size. The larger the cage the better. Will you provide toys and other fun things to stimulate your rat's mind? An empty cage is a boring cage! Rats are very smart. Did you know that rats are third only to dogs and pigs in intelligence and trainability..
10. Can you find a proper pet sitter willing to take good care of your rats while you are on vacation? Many sitters won't or don't know how to care for or handle rats. Believe it or not some are even afraid of our sweet, innocent, little ratties.
11. When introducing new rats to your existing rat family will you quarantine them from all other rats for at least two weeks (three is better) in a room with separate air flow or a separate building to avoid passing possible carried illnesses?
12. Will you health check your rats daily? Their eyes should be big and bright. Listen to their lungs to make sure they are clear of wheezing or rattling. A rat's respiratory system is their weakest point and immediate care is needed when respiratory flare-ups occur. Check teeth to make sure they are growing properly and are not too long and look through your rat's coat for cuts, bites, scabs, lumps and mites?
13. Are you willing to take your rats to an experienced rat veterinarian if they get sick or injured and spend the money necessary to get them well? RATS ARE NOT INEXPENSIVE PETS! Veterinarians consider fancy rats as exotics and most charge more accordingly. Seek out a qualified rat vet before your rat gets sick or injured. There are many listings on the Internet of veterinarians who treat rats. You can also ask for referrals from the rat clubs and breeders in your area. Choose a vet that has been highly recommended. Just because the vet tech who answers the phone says the vet sees rats doesn't mean that he knows a lick about them!
14. Are you willing to spay or neuter your rats if necessary? Some veterinarians firmly believe that altering your rats will provide them with a longer, healthier and happier life. Sadly our pet rats are prone to tumors, especially females. Spaying girl rats when they are young has been found to decrease or elimnate fatty mammory tumors. Neutering male rats decreases and eliminates territorial marking (leaving little drop of urine here and there) it also takes away any agression problems that may develope down the road. More on Spaying and Neutering Pet Rats.
15. Can you handle your friends, acquaintances, coworkers and even some family members being grossed out at the thought of you having rats as pets? Some folks can be quite rude and insulting. They certainly don't understand how you could love a rat or when you grieve the loss of a rattie just passed on. Joining rat clubs, rat organizations and online rat message boards can be a lot of fun. There you will find support and friendship with people that understand and care about rats as you do.
16. Can you handle becoming so in love with these little beings and understanding all the while that their time with us is short? Rats live on average only two to three years yet they pack those years with more love and gratitude than most of the human race. It can be devastating to lose your best little buddy after only a few short years.
17. Lastly, if the time comes when nothing will ease your sick or aging rat's suffering will you love them enough to have them humanely put to sleep? This can be the hardest, yet kindest act you can do for your pet.
If you disagree with any of the statements above then maybe you should not get rats as pets. Returning rats to the pet store will most likely lead to their demise. Returning rats to the breeder simply because you did not think through your situation before adopting isn't fair to the breeder or the rats. Older rats are harder to place than baby rats. It costs the breeder time and money to care for and re-home the rats. A good breeder will take their rats back but shouldn't have to if the adopters are serious about their commitment to their new pets in the first place.
It's also not fair to the rats to adopt them and change your mind later. Rats bond with their new families very quickly. Rats are pack animals and once adopted they become part of your pack. You are their pack leader and they look to you for all their needs...emotional and physical. It isn't right to lose interest after a few short months and abandon them. They still love you! Parents: You know how children can beg and plead for a new toy or pet only to lose interest a short time later. Ask your kids how would they feel if mom and dad lost interest in them and decided to ignore them or give them away. It's a good time to teach your children about empathy and a good time to instill in your children a sense of responsibility and commitment. Then ask yourself if maybe you are not as involved with the rats as you should be. What kind of example are you setting? Having pet rats can be a wonderful learning experience for children. Besides empathy, responsibility and commitment you can teach your children gentleness, and a lasting love and respect for all animals.
These are serious facts to consider before deciding on pet rat ownership. Those of us who are lucky enough to have the love and joy that pet rats bring to our lives know it is all worth it. Rats are giving, grateful, precious, special, and amazing little creatures! What more can I say!
Hilloah Whealser, 8/17/05 Revised 1/1/06, Revised 5/1/06
This article may be reprinted and reproduced in its entirety only... acknowledging the author and linking the originating web address. Hilloah Whealser, www.RatzRealm.com.