This is my rat’s tale and also, a love story.
Of course, I had to get over the literal “tail” first before I could fall in love with a rat!
This long appendage is likely the primary reason that domestic rats are often overlooked when seeking a pet rodent. Many people move right on to gerbils, hamsters and guinea pigs.
In my opinion (and experience—having owned all the aforementioned) the domestic rat, species Rattus norvegicus, is the superior choice. Of all the rodents, they make the best pets for reasons I will briefly share in this article.
Anyone who has owned a pet domestic rat knows exactly why they are called “low maintenance dogs.” They do indeed exhibit an appealing blend of intelligence and loyalty. A well-socialized, happy rat makes for a friendly, sweet, inquisitive, intelligent and interactive pet.
I would stress interactive because a rat is interested in people. You walk into the room after being away all day and the rat looks up at you to welcome you home! Your rat will never ignore you! This may be the best reason to share your home and heart with rats.
But back to my tale. I never wanted a rat, but I ended up with five. Well, actually fifteen but that is the long tale. I would recommend two since they are social animals, but just be sure to get two males or two females unless you want five or 15! I thought I had two females, but be warned that you can’t always tell when they are very young.
My husband was the one who had always wanted a rat having had a roommate in college who had one and so it came about that one day while visiting a pet store we inquired as to the availability of rats. They did indeed have some and brought out two for us to inspect. I asked if many people bought rats and was told they were sold for “feeders” and then with this knowledge how I send them back to be sentenced to death.
Nicolas and Alexander graced us with their presence (and progeny) for about two and a half years. The saddest part of sharing your life with rats is their short life span. This in my opinion is the only downside to our relationship.
Nevertheless, during that short time they entertained us with their antics day and night. We found that a large birdcage made an excellent home for them and we could watch them and they could watch us. They found us very interesting and were always eager to sit on our shoulders, nest in our hair and purr in our ears. Yes, rats purr or something very like it.
I told you this was also a love story and after experiencing rat companionship and finding it a pleasure I became an advocate for the rat as a pet.
The reaction I get most often when I make the suggestion is “Yuk.” I have to get people to look past the tail. If they can and will, they do find an excellent choice for a child’s introduction to pet ownership. Caring for rats is lower maintenance than caring for a cat or dog, but of course there is care to be given.
Your rat will need a clean and well maintained home, water, food and yes toys, too. Rats love to play and enjoy toilet paper rolls, small stuffed cat toys, ping-pong balls, hammocks.
But most importantly, your rats (again remember two is the ideal number) need you. Take them out of the cage two or three times a day and pet and play with them for ten minutes of more. Spend time with you rats—actually handling them and teaching them tricks. You want a happy rat and a happy rat is a well socialized rat.
Please make certain they have regular veterinarian care as every animal deserves attention to health and well-being.
If you dare to become the care giver for pet rats, I think you will be surprised by how friendly, sweet, inquisitive, intelligent and interactive a pet the rat makes.
You too will have your own rat’s tale and love story.
If you find yourself seriously interested in obtaining rats as pets please visit the following site for helpful information and guidance: www.wikihow.com/Care-for-a-Pet-Rat
The Rev. Elizabeth Morgan is Vicar of St. Lukes’s Episcopal Church in Newberry and an active member of the Newberry County Humane Society.