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 Rats As Pets

In the wake of Disney/Pixar's triumphant film Ratatouille, kids may start wanting a furry, little Remy of their own. Most parents, when faced with the question of rat ownership, will conjure up notions of disease, bites and disgusting, fleshy tails, and instinctively blurted out, "No way!"

Rats As Pets

But the rats sold in pet stores are far different than their cousins who inhabit basements and sewers. They're called 'fancy rats,' and they couldn't deserve a better name. If you're looking for an energetic, loving, intelligent, easy-to-maintain, and relatively inexpensive pet for your children, you may not want to be so hasty in your decision. Rats might be just the thing you're looking for.

PROS

Rats are extremely clever - they can perform tricks, learn their names - even come when they're called. They love to spend time with their owners playing on the floor, snuggling in their arms, or just hanging out on a shoulder. They show affection by nuzzling and giving off loving, soft squeaks and squeals. Unlike most small pets (like mice, hamsters, gerbils, and rabbits), fancy rats rarely bite humans, even when provoked, so they're safe to handle.

They can be entertaining for hours, climbing on ropes and ladders, chasing each other, and wrestling with one another. Children are free to stretch their imaginations by building mazes, tunnels, and obstacle courses for their furry friends. And feeding time is always amusing - rats go crazy over fresh fruits and veggies.

Rat cages are surprisingly easy to maintain. They eliminate in one communal corner of the cage, so cleaning is a snap. They keep themselves squeaky clean, grooming each other often during their awake times. Because they have sleek fur, they won't have an odor (as long as you're doing your part in keeping the cage urine-free).

Cons

Rats are nocturnal, so they will be most active at night. It's ideal to keep the cage in a communal area of the house, such as the family room, so the rats can interact with the family as much as possible. If keeping the cage in a child's bedroom, be aware that rats love to play at night and might disrupt your child's sleep patterns.

Rats do not do well alone, so it is recommended that they be kept in groups of two or three. It is also recommended that they be kept in same-sex groups of either all males or all females. Females are smaller than males so they are better for younger children with small hands, but females tend to get a bit agitated once a week when they're in heat. Males are larger and a bit lazier, but both sexes make great pets.

Since rats are so intelligent, cage-life can get boring quickly, so rats need about an hour of playtime outside of the cage a day. When they're outside of the cage, make sure vents and holes or crevices are blocked off - rats like to burrow into small spaces and you might have a hard time retrieving them. Some children make a "playpen" out of couch cushions or toy blocks for their rats. Also, always keep dogs and cats in a separate room when the rats are out.

Taking your rat outdoors is not recommended for several reasons: your rat could contract a disease or acquire fleas and ticks, which results in more vet bills; if you lose sight of your rat, he or she might be lost for good; and, the most important reason - birds of prey will not distinguish your pet from any other rodent. Believe me, you don't want your child to go through that! Keeping your rat indoors is always best.

And lastly, the life-span for a rat is about 2-3 years, so if you're looking for a long-lived companion, rats might not be for you.

Cage

I've searched pet stores and the web and the best cage I've found is the Small Pet Cage by Pet Cages, Etc. This size is great for three rats. It has two stories with ladders for optimal exercise, the bar spacing is ideal for tiny rat feet, and the bottom tray slides out for easy cleaning. This cage is $67.00.

Food

It's best to feed block or pellet feed and supplement each day with a few fruits and veggies during outside playtime. Block or pellet feed ranges from $3 to $10, depending on bag size, and lasts longer than the seed and berry mixes. Here are some good choices for fruits and veggies: broccoli, peas, carrots, berries, apples, grapes, and bananas. Rats also enjoy unsweetened cereals. Nuts in shells are great specialty treats but should not be fed often since they are high in fat. For instance, each Christmas my rats received a few walnuts to play with. They make great puzzles as well as snacks.

Rats As Pets

Bedding

Never use cedar or pine bedding for your rats as it can be toxic. Most pet stores carry Carefresh bedding which is bio-degradable, absorbent, dust-free, and controls odors. Aspen bedding is also safe and is less expensive than Carefresh.

Accessories and Toys

You'll need a food bowl and a water bottle - glass bottles are best, but plastic ones are less expensive. Ramekins make great food bowls and are less expensive than the bowls sold at pet shops. You'll also need a nesting box for your rats that is big enough for all the rats to snuggle into together. I like the plastic Pet Igloos the best. I also always love to provide a hammock for my rats at the top of the cage - you can find them online or in the ferret section of any pet store. Some rats like chew toys but they aren't necessary.

Crow & fox Hunting


If you've made it to the end of this article, I commend you. It means that somewhere, maybe way deep inside, you're considering a rat as a pet. Either that or the idea was so appalling to you, you had to see if I was serious. Either way, I hope you've learned a thing or two. And even if rats still aren't your thing, you should at least be able to see why there are many who adore them.

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