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Keeping Rats as Pets

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Are Rats for You?

How Many Rats?

Bucks or Does?

There are many reasons for choosing a rat as a pet. My original reason for getting a pair of rats was down to my living arrangements. Since I was a very young child, there was always animals around me but since leaving home and setting up on my own, I hadn't owned any pets of my own. At the time I decided I needed a pet I was living in an upstairs flat and working full time, so that discounted cats and dogs really. I felt that guinea pigs and rabbits would be too smelly in a small flat and I find birds too noisy and fish not interactive enough, so really that left the rodent family.

Hamsters seem to get bad press as biters, I felt gerbils and mice were too small really and also mice do have a certain aroma. Chinchillas and chipmunks seemed too specialist for what I needed at the time, so rats seemed the obvious choice really. I wanted an animal that would interact with me. I went to my local library and raided the rat books which consisted of Nick Mays 'The Proper Care of Fancy Rats' plus a couple of thin paperback rat books. Although I know better now and would use a breeder in preference, I went into the local pet shops which always had rats and started asking questions. One of the pet shops bred their own rats and seemed pretty knowledgeable so I purchased 2 rats and cage and accessories from them. (Should add, this was back in 1997 and most pet shops did breed their own rats or source from local breeders back then, but current common practice for the vast majority of pet shops and pet sections is to get their supplies from rodent farms so I am not condoning the current pet shop small animal trade.)

Blondie and Roxy were my first pair of rats. They were about 6-7 weeks old when I bought them. I soon realised they were very intelligent creatures as they soon learned to come when called and if you repeated something more than once it became a habit for them!!

Are rats for you?

  • Can you afford a suitable cage and accessories and most importantly veterinary care when they need it?

  • Do you have time to spend with your rats, giving them 'out-time' and general love and care and daily handling, plus weekly or twice weekly cleaning out?

  • Bear in mind rats can be destructive if allowed to roam free, so can you 'rat-proof' the area you will be letting them out in? Rats will chew on wires, furniture, books and anything else that looks eminently chewable! (usually anything that looks expensive or important makes a great target!)

  • Does anyone in your household suffer from asthma or allergies? It can make it very difficult to keep the rats if a member of the household is being made to suffer because of them.

  • Do you have someone who will look after your rats when you go away on holidays or in an emergency?

  • Do you have a good local vet and can you afford to pay for the vets fees should your rat get sick? (see finding a vet)

  • Rats are for life, even though it's only a short one at between 2-3 years!

    How many rats?

    Rats should always be kept in a minimum of single sex pairs, they are very social animals and need company of their own kind. Even in the most active household, the rats are unlikely to be out of their cages for more than a few hours a day, which means an awful lot of every day in a lonely cage otherwise. Rats spend a lot of their days sleeping, but they also spend a lot of time grooming and mutual grooming is far more fun - it's far easier to let someone else clean your ears out properly, also bouncing around on your playmate is also great fun! Rats that are well handled from birth are very friendly towards humans and very rarely bite. If you have time to train your rats, they can learn their names and allsorts of tricks! Many people choose to go for three rats initially so it is less likely they will be left with one alone when the first one passes on as it hopefully gives time to get another pair in to keep the remaining pair company. Adding a pair of youngsters to an old group is a great way of adding a bit of life to the oldies as well as often if does give them a new lease of life.

    Below are 3 good articles explaining why rats should not be kept alone.

    http://www.ratfanclub.org/single.html

    http://www.nfrs.org/company.html

    http://www.curiosityrats.com/infolone.html

    Bucks or does?

    Choosing between bucks and does is really like choosing between the generally more laid back, slower, larger buck rat and the lighter more inquisitive, faster doe. Does tend to be more lively and interactive and if you want to attempt to train your rat, you are probably better off with does. The one downside of does is that some do get benign mammary lumps as they get older and these will often need to be surgically removed. Some people suggest spaying does makes a difference to the occurrence of these lumps but as quite a high percentage of does will never get lumps anyway, it is a very invasive surgery to do on a 'just in case'.

    Personally, I tend to think that bucks are probably more suitable for younger children as they are slower and easier to hold because they are bigger and more of a handful, whilst does are more suited to older children. For adults, I think it's just down to personal preference! Occasionally bucks can become aggressive towards each other as they get older, but this is unusual, particularly if the bucks have been introduced to each other as youngsters. If you do get problems with a buck later in life, they can either be treated with Tardak and/or castrated. See Article on Tardak for more information. There is no good reason to routinely castrate bucks for any potential health related problems they could get in later life - some sites mislead people into believing that testicular cancer is common in bucks, when it is a very rare occurrence. The picture on the right shows Winston being laid back.

    Both bucks and does do slightly spot urine while they are running around as a form of 'marking territory', but it is barely noticeable except in the most hormonal of bucks. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, it is recommended to only keep one sex of rats per household as not only does this effectively extend their out-time, it also takes away the risk of accidental pregnancies. If you do choose to have both sexes, never allow them to free-range together and ensure at all times the cages are secure and the bar distance is small enough to stop any rat from getting into the other group's cage. Mistakes are often made by ratsitters or children, so only having the one sex of rat in the house will have many benefits.

    The next things to consider are choosing your cage, accessories and bedding and understanding diet and feeding of your planned ratty friends.

    Article written by Estelle

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    Images & Text Copyright 2006 Estelle Sandford, Alpha Centauri
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    Last modified: January 03, 2008