Owning a Pet Rat
Rats are very popular family pets. They are extremely intelligent, inquisitive, interactive and social. They can be easily trained to come when called and readily learn to perform tricks on command. If well socialized from a young age and treated gently, they are easy to handle, affectionate, interactive and rarely bite unless provoked. Rats tend to be nocturnal but are active for periods during the day. They do not shed a lot and seem to cause few allergies in people. They are hardy animals that are very clean (despite popular belief) and they are reasonably easy to care for.
“Rats tend to be nocturnal but are active for periods during the day. They do not shed a lot and seem to cause few allergies in people.”
Rats live between 2 – 3 years. Young children should be informed of this so that the “sudden death” of a 2-3 year-old pet does not come unexpectedly. Rats love to chew and are great escape artists. They make good family pets and are suitable as a first pet for children provided there is proper adult supervision when the child is handling the pet rat.
The incisors or front teeth of all rodents grow continuously throughout the pet’s life. The upper incisors are shorter than the lower incisors (approx. 1:3 ratio). The molars or cheek teeth do not grow continuously. Overgrown incisors are a reasonably common problem and can be prevented or minimized by providing the pet with gnawing opportunities such as access to pieces of wood and other chewing objects or toys. Treatment of overgrown incisors involves trimming (grinding or filing) by your veterinarian, often under anesthesia.
Rats are opportunistic eaters (meaning that they will eat whenever the opportunity arises) and if improperly fed, are prone to obesity. They are also prone to chronic respiratory disease and mammary tumors. Males and females get along well but be advised, they breed at an early age and will breed frequently.
Selecting your Pet
Rats can often be purchased at pet stores or through breeders. Ideally, select a young pup or baby rat. The eyes and nose should be clear and free of any discharge that might indicate a respiratory infection. A rat that is sneezing may have a respiratory infection that could become a chronic problem. He or she should be active, curious and inquisitive. Often an animal sitting quietly in the corner is a sick one.The rat should not be thin or emaciated. Check for the presence of wetness around the anus, which might indicate diarrhea. Also check for the presence of parasites such as fleas and lice. If possible, examine the rat’s mouth for broken or overgrown incisors (front teeth), discolored gums (they should be light pink), and any obvious sores. Finally, inquire as to any guarantee of health the seller is offering.
The First Veterinary Visit
“Many health problems with small rodents are the result of misinformation.”
Your rat should be examined by a veterinarian familiar with rats within 48 hours of purchase (this examination is often required by the seller or any guarantee is voided). Make sure your chosen veterinarian has experience in treating rats. The doctor will examine the rat, record its weight, and discuss housing, proper diet, and appropriate toys for your rat. A stool (fecal) sample should be examined for parasites. Rats require at least annual physical examinations and fecal tests to check for parasites. Neutering can be discussed with your veterinarian.
Rats do not require vaccination.
Rats generally make good family pets but should never be left unsupervised with small children. Like all pets, rats should be examined by a veterinarian at least once or twice annually.