They are affectionate, intelligent, clean and fun are just a few reasons why I love rats and if you do, too, or have been thinking about keeping rats as pets, this article is for you.
Softie, My First Pet Rat
My first pet rat came about in a strange way, and completely by surprise because I had never thought about having one as a pet before that time. I am going back to 1987 (I was in my 20’s then) when I was living in Plymouth in Devonshire England. I had recently met a girl at the gym I used to go to and she invited me over to her house one evening.
I love all animals and I was interested in the fact that she had a pet snake. What freaked me out though is that she said she had live rats to feed that snake, which of course, I knew was done. Long story short, she invited me to come down to the basement of her home where she had several cages with baby rats. She said “you are welcome to have one” and I instantly thought yeah! Rather than ending up as snake food, I could at least save one of them.
Knowing next to nothing about rats, I told her to pick one for me and she brought out a little white, pink-eyed female, put her in a little cage, gave me some food and that was it. I had a pet rat. I named her Softie.
I fell in love immediately.
If you have ever had a rat as a pet, you know what I am talking about, but if you haven’t just let me say you can’t believe how affectionate and intelligent they are. Within a short time, Softie would come to me when I called her name and follow me around the house, running up my leg and sitting on my shoulder as I walked around. She was very easy to care for (I bought a book at the time to learn what to feed her) and I was amazed to see how often she cleaned herself, like a cat. She always smelled fresh.
I had that rat for over 4 years. Luckily, the guy I started dating (and subsequently married), loved all animals too and he really loved Softie. When the time came when we had to put her to sleep (she had developed cancerous tumors), it was really tough to go to the vet, but I did, and she had a peaceful passing.
But there were more rats in our future!
Fast forward many years to my husband and me living in Arizona, up towards Sedona in a lovely town called Cottonwood. We had two rescue dogs with us by then, one from Palau, Micronesia and the other from the Turks and Caicos Islands (stories about how we got those two in future articles). The place we were staying had a huge backyard and enclosed indoor area for the dogs so they did not come into the house too much.
We were at a pet shop buying dog food one day and saw a cage with hairless rats. A mom and many babies. We looked at each other and I said: “Well, what do you think”? My husband smiled back and we picked out two of the female babies. We called them Lily and Daisy.
Not only are rats an easy-care, loving companion for you, but they also thrive with other rattie friends.
I learned that it was better if you had more than one rat since they are such sociable creatures. These two were sisters and it was so much fun to watch them interact with each other.
We let Lily and Daisy run loose around the house and they would run up and down the furniture and hide from each other. One would pounce on the other playfully and they would cuddle up together when they slept. Honestly, they were amazing pets.
Of course, rats, like all animals, have to be taken care of properly and we made sure we re-educated ourselves on caring for these little girls.
One of the most important things to consider when having pet rats is that you get the same sex, otherwise, you will be breeding them for sure and they can have up to 22 babies at a time. I opted for the females (just by chance with the first one, Softie) but by choice the second time. I had read that, although all rats can be affectionate, the males tend to be a little more ‘couch potato-like’, with the females being more active.
Two rats are not more work than one, believe me. And the companionship they have with each other will help you,too because rats do need a lot of attention and handling to become tame and interactive. The additional food and bedding costs will be minimal compared to the advantages of multiple ratties.
Other Pets in the House
This is something to really think about though, because if you have other pets, especially cats, you don’t want to tease the cat or inadvertently hurt the rat, so if you still decide to keep rats, it is a good idea to put them in a different room and make sure there is no contact between species, just to be safe.
In my case, when I had my first rat, Softie, I had no other pets so this wasn’t an issue. When we got Lily and Daisy we had two medium-sized dogs that we had acquired on our island living experiences. The house that we were living in when we got the rats, as I said before, had a gigantic yard. We would take the dogs out hiking daily and then they would conk out in a room attached to the garage, which was perfect for them. So, they never interacted with the rats.
What happens if you go out of town and don’t take your pets with you?
Well, we would happily take care of your rats in your home because of course, that is what we do at Riviera Maya Housesitting! But, if you don’t live here, you may still need to go away and have someone look after them.
In the past, I enlisted my brother’s help, when he lived close by, but you may not have a family member who is willing to look after your ratties. Not everyone understands how they are. My mother would never have done it!
Nowadays there are so many Facebook groups that you can connect with where it might be possible to find like-minded rat-lover in your neighborhood willing to take care of them. People are becoming more and more interested in this type of pet and they are gaining in popularity. I would contact my vet too and see if one of the veterinary nurses would look after them (and I would pay for this service). I have found that the nurses will often do pet-sitting on the side and it would be worth asking. Make sure you line up a few people in advance of taking a trip.
Choosing your rat
As you recall, my first rat was obtained from a person who was breeding them. But, the second two came from a pet shop.
It is important to look closely at the rat when deciding to purchase one. Do they look healthy? Avoid picking an individual (or more ) with:
- dull coat
- runny feces
- discharge from nose or eyes
- noisy breathing
- open wounds
Enlist the help of a knowledgeable employee to make sure you are getting the sex that you want. If you can’t find someone who really knows what they are doing, go someplace else because you don’t want to find you got one of each and end up with a bunch of ‘kittens’ or ‘pups’ shortly thereafter. You don’t want to start a rat colony at home!
There are also Facebook forums dedicated to the rescue and adoption of rats which you might like to consider. Groups like this are also great resources for information and questions you may have.
For your new pets, you will need a large cage that has solid flooring and levels with ramps. They love to climb and explore.
Take your time choosing a house, too. There are many on the market and it is best to do your research. For each rat, there should be a minimum of two square feet of space. You will find a plethora of choice on the internet, so read up about the pros and cons of all the various types and what fits in best with your budget.
Whatever type of housing you finally decide upon, you want to avoid something called bumblefoot, which is a painful condition that causes ulcers on the bottom of their feet. This can be prevented by keeping the cage clean and dry at all times.
Paper pellets, such as Carefresh, are ideal for bedding because it works well and is fairly cheap. I used to use shredded newspapers, but updated information suggests the ink might not be good for your rat. Additionally, the ink will stain the lighter colored fur of your rat. If I was getting a rat now, I would definitely use the paper pellets. Wood shavings can be used too but make sure they are not scented pine or cedarwood as this can become toxic to your pet when the fumes mix with their urine.
A nest is also a good idea for your rat, too, and you can purchase a little plastic one, or they also have them made out of wicker. You can even just use a cardboard box, although you will have to replace that often as it will get chewed.
I noticed with our rats that they often knocked the food and water bowls over so I had to check on this frequently. Rats eat approximately two heaping teaspoons of dry pellet food a day. So, increase that depending on how many you have, and also put out separate food bowls to avoid resource-guarding between them. There are many brands of food available which again you need to research online to see what fits your budget and what is easily available to you.
Here is the fun part. Rats, like people, can eat just about anything! I used to feed Softie leftovers from the fancy restaurants my husband (then boyfriend) used to take me to in London, so she really had it cushy. It would be easier to Google a list of what rats can’t eat because it won’t be very long.
Just be careful not to give them too many sweet things because they can get obese, just like people. They love fresh fruit, veggies (all 3 of my girls loved corn) and unsalted nuts.
Rats are smart and love to play and explore. You can DIY it here and keep the cost down by giving them the tubes from toilet or kitchen rolls, or cardboard egg cartons. Lining up several empty tissue boxes to form a tunnel is another entertaining toy for your critter. Just Google it on the internet! There are so many videos about this.
Finding a good vet who treats rodents is doable. If you have a group of like-minded rat lovers, such as in a Facebook forum, someone is bound to know a suitable one. If you can find a vet that keeps rats themselves, then you will really be in luck.
I kid you not, when Softie was ill I took her to a (very expensive) Naturopathic doctor in London, who gave me treatments that did help her (she was developing cancerous tumors), though I knew she was close to the end of her life anyway. She did live over 4 years which is longer than most, so, for that I was grateful.
Daisy and Lily, on the other hand, did not live quite as long. Just over 2 years was all we were able to enjoy, but they had wonderful lives during that time. They both developed neurological problems and could not hold their food or stand properly. It broke our hearts to see it. Lily went first, then Daisy shortly thereafter.
A word about this. I made sure I was present for the euthanasia of all 3 of my rats, and I advise you to do the same. No offense, but you want to be there to witness that they make the animal as comfortable as possible during this dreaded procedure. It was heart-breaking, as it is with any pet, but this is the commitment we take on when we love an animal and it is important to be there for the end.
Now you know why I love rats.
From their playful antics such as stealing cookies and hiding them, to sitting on your shoulder and grinding their teeth (a sign of contentment-like a cat purring), to following you around the house, I can tell you that they are surprisingly wonderful pets.
Just please, if you decide to get one or two, find someone who already has them and take the time to see what they are like. Hold them, play with them and see if this is the kind of pet you can enjoy. They are not for everyone, but they were certainly for me. I would have never known how amazing they are until I acquired Softie on the spur of the moment (not a good idea of course, but it worked out).
There is a vast amount of free information on how to take care of rats and I found this WikiHow article to be a good starting point.
Do you love rats? I would love to know if you do. Tell me about your rat in the comments section. What are their names? What special silly antics do they get up to? Do they have any favorite foods you like to give them?
Don’t forget, if you live on the Riviera Maya and you need us to take care of your pet rat, dog, cat or whatever you have, we offer our service free of charge. We would love the opportunity to care for your pets and home!