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A Rat As A Pet!? Ewwww!?
Rats in a Nutshell
Many people own pet rats, even more so don't and would never. Why? Well, people's visual images of rats are usually what they see in the movies. They think rats are these big, hairy rodents, with red eyes, and teeth that could kill. And what gets most people is that long tail of theirs. Well that image is usually called a sewer rat...and Hollywood exaggerates. Rats can get big in the wild, but they also can stay maybe just a few times bigger than an average mouse. The eyes are usually red if you have an albino rat (as is the case with most albino animals), however do occur in other breeds, but the tail is very real, and honestly does turn many people off from owning a pet rat.
Now let’s say you've run across the average rat and not some movie star Godzilla rat. Initially you would scream, step away, shiver, and say "ewww". But why ewww? Did you know that rat's spend one third of their lives cleaning themselves? Also, of the rodents that you could own as pets, they are one of the cleanest? Though the males use urine to mark territory, keep in mind so do your dog and cat, female and male rats usually keep the feces to a particular corner. Better yet...you can litter train a rat! Another interesting little tidbit is that rats are sometimes considered the smartest in the rodent family. (Some say it's the squirrel but as much as they seem suicidal I just can't agree!)
If you are thinking of owning a rat then don't be misconstrued by how evil or gross a rat may come off as. When you go to a pet store you are most likely going to find rats ranging from small enough for your hand to maybe twice that size, three times max. There are usually a variety of different kinds.
One option may be the hooded rat, who gets its name from the its two color form; one its main color and one the color of its face, back of neck, and a continuing stripe down it's back. Another option, the albino rat, is all white, with pink ears, nose, hands and feet, and a light pink tail. Oh, and of course it's piercing pink/red eyes. Another common rat is the Dumbo rat whose ears are on the side of the head...like Dumbo's. Rex rat is a very fuzzy rat, opposite of that would be the hairless rat..is who.. you guessed it, is hairless. There are many other breeds and strains of breeds. So go ahead and pick one out! Now what?
Caring for the Smartest
To start off with your little bundles of joy that has a tails and whiskers (it's better to buy two rather than one...they get lonely) you will need a home, adequate food, water, chews, toys, and love and time. Rats need an adequate sized home but also a safe home. All the flat walking surfaces need to be solid, rats who continually walk on wire flooring or shelving can develop bumble foot...it's more disgusting looking than that tail you’re so afraid of. Use appropriate bedding/litter. They love to climb so have plenty of shelving. They love to hide and explore so have plenty of hiding places and obstacles in their habitat.
Food should consist of properly labeled rat food, usually in the form of blocks. However, fruits and vegetables are just as important, as long as you read into what’s safe and what’s not. For example, onions are a big no no, bananas are great...in limited amounts unless you want it running out of their back end as fast as they scarf it down. Also, keep in mind that some things are better for females rather than male so definitely research anything you give your rat that isn't specifically for rats. Treats are also important, however, shouldn't probably take up more than 10% of their diet. Always have fresh water handy!
Chews and toys are your choice, and your rat will let you know what they like and don't really care for right off the bat. My rats love chewing on cardboard paper towel rolls and shredding paper bags for nesting, however, it's like a toy, bedding, and chew all in one. Chewing is important because rats teeth continually grow and chewing helps grind them down. Chews can also consist of wood block chews they sell specifically for small animals. Toys are what’s fun for both of you and your rats. An enclosed plastic wheel inside the cage is an excellent way to let out some energy when you can't be with them and a ball outside the cage is an excellent way for exercise and some laughs. I don't mean play ball with them, I mean a ball like a hamster would run around in. If purchasing a ball however make sure it's big enough, though rats can still run in smaller balls, over time from arching their back problems may arise.
And finally, but most importantly, is your love and time. Rat's need attentions, crave attention in fact, and believe it or not can be as social as the next curious puppy. They are people pets and unless you can devote a couple hours a day to them outside of the cage they may not be right for you. However, the good news is that rats are flexible. Even though they are nocturnal, they will over a short period of time adjust to your usual schedule. For example, when you get out of bed, when you come home from work, and when you go to bed....etc.
Now you've got the basics but there are some important things to remember. Rats can get sick like you and me including colds to just having moody off-set days however, the most common form of sickness in rats is an upper respiratory disease. To help prevent this DO NOT use PINE or CEDAR bedding in their cages. Completely clean cage once a weak and pick out wet spots and feces every day. As soon as you notice any odd breathing noise coming from your rats (they are usually pretty silent) or notice any red discharges coming from their nose or eyes contact your vet.
Never place male and female rats in the same cage, not even for a moment, unless you want a bunch of baby rats. They multiple like bunnies.
Albino rats have slowed motor skills, they don't hear, see, or smell as well as other rats.
And last but not least have fun. Rats are trainable to do tricks, learn their name, and litter train. They want your attention and can be very amusing. Domestic rats are not the evil rabies filled demons in your sewer. They are social, loving, funny rodents...just with a long creepy tail.