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Planning Retirement Online

Out of the box - Keeping rats as pets                          January 2011 

This is our regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try.      

If you have tried something unusual or different, tell us all about it - and send in a photograph as well if you can – so that we can share your experiences with others.



This month we look at ……Keeping rats as  pets

RatMost of us would have been brought up with the idea that rats are abhorrent. Apart from bringing in the fleas that caused the plague, they are dirty, eat filth, and live in sewers.

Well, while some of that is true, rats don’t actually have to be like that. In fact that traditional small black rat or ship rat that is described with such horror in history books (rattus norvegicus) is nearly extinct in the UK.

While indeed there are wild rats living across the country, carefully breeding from the brown rat (rattus rattus) has developed a number of attractive breeds that make excellent and popular pets. Rats are very sociable and enjoy the company of people, especially if they are handled when young. But they also like the company of other animals and should never be kept on their own. Female rats are usually smaller but more active than male rats. Male rats can be more docile but occasionally can get aggressive; this can be cured by neutering them. Both female and male rats are highly intelligent and can even be trained to perform some simple tasks.

Another good thing about rats is that they are diurnal – awake during the daytime, which means everyone can enjoy their entertaining antics.

As for cleanliness, rats kept properly are wonderfully clean. All they need is a reasonably sized cage (around 18" x 24" and 18" high minimum for two rats) and you can buy these in most pet shops. Wire walled cages are preferable to glass or plastic so that the rats can climb around, but the floor must be solid to offer good support.

The cage needs a little bedding box or similar within the cage lined ideally with clean hay, again available from pet shops, and the floor of the cage needs to be covered in wood shavings. As long as the cage is regularly cleaned out, cleanliness with rats should never be a problem.

Feeding rats is very simple and, even better, it costs very little. Rats are omnivorous, but it is recommended that pet rats are fed mainly a vegetarian diet; again pet shops sell special rodent mix with grains and other foods which is ideal for rats. On top of this, it is good for rats to have a daily portion of fresh fruit and vegetables. They are not fussy animals and will usually tuck into any little leftovers you give them. Too much fat, sugar, salt or protein are the main things to look out for. As with all animals, they always need a supply of clean fresh water.

Because they are intelligent, it is good to include play things in the cage, from special toys bought in pet shops to empty toilet rolls, short lengths of pipe, or little ropes or chains hanging inside the cage. Rats are also fine to let out of the cage for a daily play session and most will happily run around and sit in your hand. They can even recognise your voice. One myth that needs to be dispelled is picking up rats by their tail; this should never be done and can hurt them. To lift them, you simply grasp them around the chest and support them with your other hand.

Rats only live for around three years so it is not a long term commitment to have rats as pets. The best source for pet rats is a specialised breeder because, as with any animal, this will give you an idea of the temperament of the rat. They come is a variety of colours – from all white to beige to grey brown, chocolate and pure black.

Once you have established your pets and they have got used to you, they will provide endless pleasure and entertainment - a million miles away from those evil creatures so often portrayed in our youth.

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