Rat Health Care & Information
Now to the fun part, choosing your rats!
Basically you can either buy your rats from a breeder or you can go to a rescue centre or a pet shop.
Breeders are easiest found by requesting the NFRS breeders list (see NFRS website) but also read my article on choosing breeders. It is usually best to buy your rats from a breeder as they are more likely to have been handled from birth and better socialised and also if you collect from the breeder's house, you can meet the parents of your kittens. Talk to the breeder and get to understand their breeding ethics and make sure these are compatible with your own and be wary if they don't ask you many questions - interrogate them and expect to get interrogated! A good quality breeder will want to ensure that you will provide these rats with a happy healthy environment and that you have as much information as possible to help with their well-being. There are good and bad breeders out there, so be aware and ask lots of questions. Be very suspicious of a breeder who isn't prepared to let you visit their rattery.
If you are interested in buying a specific variety of rat, you will almost certainly have to buy from a breeder. If you want something a bit more unusual, expect to be put on a waiting list until the breeder has a suitable litter. If the breeder has a litter currently, you may be able to reserve from the litter but it is more usual to have to go on their waiting list until the next litter. When you collect the rats from the breeders home, a good breeder should be happy to show you the parents of the litter and also answer any questions you have. They should also be willing to help you with any problems you may have in the future and if you get problems where you can no longer keep the rats, the breeder should be prepared to at least help you with rehoming if they won't take them back themselves. In many cases breeders will expect you to sign a non-breeding contract for your new pets.
If you are looking for adult rats, either because you prefer them to already have been tamed down or for company for an existing rat that may have lost its cage-mate or any other reason, it is well worth contacting breeders as they often have retired breeding rats of anything from about 6 months old onwards available and unlike rescues, these adult rats usually have a well known and reliable background. Breeders normally do own quite a number of rats so often it is a really nice thing for rats that have been bred from to be able to live out the rest of their lives being spoilt rotten in an environment with less rats where they can be centre of attention rather than one of quite a few.
Rescue Centres/foster homes
Rats from rescue/rehoming centres or foster homes are likely to be an unknown quantity as virtually all rats in rescue will have started out as pet shop rats. There tends to be two main types of rescue available; the actual rescue centres and the foster type individuals.
The first is the actual centres, which are often charities and will usually be quite a reasonable size and may have other species apart from rats and will probably be run by several people or may even be big enough to have a number of staff. Rescue centres vary in quality and some do not specialise in rats and may know very little about them, but will take them in rather than see them suffer and try to rehome them. There are a number of specialist rat rescues across the country who have highly experienced individuals who are also experts at dealing with troublesome cases when returned rats were biters or problem rats.
The second are individuals that assist in foster cases either of adult rats being given a temporary foster or maybe fostering a litter during the growing up stage - sometimes these are breeders and sometimes solely pet owners but usually they tend to be quite experienced with rats and capable of dealing with problem cases.
Anyone involved in rescue of either kind should ask you plenty of questions about your knowledge and cage and will normally ask you to sign a non-breeding declaration. Some may even do home checks - RSPCA often does - but it will depend on the centre and the resources they have available to them. Some adult rats from rescue centres may well have had a bad start in life or been abused but with care and understanding many can still make wonderful pets, whilst others may have started as a much loved pet and then neglected or given to a rescue centre because of allergies so continue to be good pets. A good rescue should match you up with your ideal pet. If you are inexperienced with rats, you are best going to a breeder really or if you really feel rescues are for you, then you are best considering the calmest of adults or maybe kittens from a rescue rather than taking on something you may not be able to cope with.
Another side of rescue is the kittens - with many pet shops mis-sexing rats in recent times, there are often unwanted kittens available from these sorts of accidents and often if you are selecting kittens in rescue, they will have been born and raised in the rescue centre or with the fosterer.
The rat rehome website is probably the best place to start if you wanted to rescue a rat.
If you still choose to buy from a pet shop, ensure the conditions in the shop are clean and comfortable and the cages are not too small and crammed full of rats. Ensure that the kittens are in single sex cages, otherwise if you bought does, you might end up buying more than you bargained for when she has babies a couple of weeks later. Ask if you can handle the rats. If the rats are reluctant to be handled or have lumps and bumps or scratches and scabs, it doesn't look like they will have had the best start in life; they will almost certainly be from a rodent farm (mass breeder). Also check eyes, nose and ears for any discharge. Red discharge is porphyrin, which is a rats normal way of saying something is not quite right, maybe stress or illness.
If you consider a pet shop's conditions to be poor, pass your views to the owner (and maybe the authorities as well if they are that bad!) and go somewhere else. Good pet shop personnel will ask you lots of questions and should never be prepared to sell a rat alone. Generally it's better not to buy your rats from the larger chain stores or DIY stores or any pet shop that won't tell you where they got the rats from.
Taking your new rats home
When you get your new rats home, put them in their new cage and leave them to settle in and explore for a couple of hours. They may well be a little skittish to start, so once they've had a chance to explore their new cage, the best thing you can do is spend some quality time with them cuddled up inside your jumper, t-shirt or a rat-bag and get used to the new sounds and smells and learn to associate you with safe.
Have a read of my Rat Introduction article for the next steps with your new rats.
Article written by Estelle
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Last modified: March 19, 2008