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Yikes It’s A Rat : How Pet Fancy Rats Came To Be

Updated on July 2, 2011
Sickle My Pet Rat R.I.P.
Sickle My Pet Rat R.I.P.

Eek watch out it’s a rat, it carries the plague. That’s the main reaction people have when thinking of rats. The general belief is that all rats, including those bred in captivity and kept as pets, carry diseases. However pet rats, often referred to as fancy rats, carry no more risk of disease than other domesticate animals such as dogs and cats. In fact rats that are bred and kept indoors for their lifespan have less ricks of developing illness and disease than other pets that frequently go outside, such as dogs and cats. Pet rats are actually quite clean little creatures that are friendly, gentle, playful, and intelligent. They make wonderfully family pets and are inexpensive and low maintenance.

There are many small rodents kept as pets but some can be quite nippy. Pet rats make great pets for both children and adults. Rats tend to be friendlier than mice, hamsters and gerbils. They have the intelligence of an average dog and can be taught to do tricks. Some have learned to come when called, sit/stand and even to go through hoops. They can ever be litter trained like a cat. Their friendly, social temperament makes them great companions.

Rat Baiting
Rat Baiting


Sadly the domestication of rats had its start in blood sports. Rats were the targets for the 18th and 19th century blood sport of rat baiting. Throughout Europe rat catchers would trap wild rats; most would be sold to become victims in rat baiting. This blood sport was popular until the 20th century and evolved a pit being filled with rats. Bets were placed upon how long a terrier could kill them all. The general consensus is that both rat catchers and sportsmen began keeping odd colored rats at the height of the sport. Eventually they would begin breeding them and selling them as pets. 2 men are given credit for beginning many of the color variations still found today. These 2 men were Jack Black a rat catcher for Queen Victorian and Jimmy Shaw manager of one of the largest sporting houses in London.

Black & White Hooded Rat
Black & White Hooded Rat

The fancy or hobby of rat keeping began when a lady named Mary Douglas sought permission to bring her pet rats to National Mouse Club exhibition on October 24, 1901. This was held at a town show in Aylesbury England. Interest in pet rats was sparked when her black and white hooded rat won best in show. Upon her death in 1921 the popularity of rats as pet declined as the fad wore off. This hobby lasted roughly from 1912-1929 or 1931. At this time The National Mouse Club changed its title to The National Mouse and Rat Club. Once the hobby ended the word rat was removed and they reverted back to their original title. In 1976 the hobby was revived with the formation of the English National Fancy Rat Society or NFRS. Today pet rats remain a popular pet and many groups and organizations can be found worldwide.

Wild Rat
Wild Rat
Fancy Rat
Fancy Rat

Wild Verses Domestic:

While pet rats and wild rats are still considered the same species there are some distinctive differences. The most obvious difference is color. Pet rats come in a range of color and coat varieties while most wild rats are dark brown in color. However, color mutations can occur with wild rats but it is rare. Pet rats are also tamer than their wild counterparts. They tend to have a higher comfort level around humans. Are less sensitive to light and sound, are less cautious of new foods, and better tolerate overcrowding. Pet rats also tend to mate earlier, more eagerly, and for a longer period of time over their lifespan. Also since domestic rats are protected from predators, harsh elements, and have easy access to food and water they life longer healthier lives. Interestingly though wild rats typically have larger brains, hearts, livers, kidneys, and adrenal glands than domestic laboratory rats. Wild and domestic rats also face different health concerns and risks. Pet rats can catch pneumococcal infections from human contact while wild rats may harbor parasites.

Fast Facts:

  • Size: body 6-11 inches; tail 7-9 inches.
  • Weight: 6-18 ounces with some males weighing up to 2 pounds.
  • Average lifespan: 1.5-3 years.
  • Lifestyle: Nocturnal
  • Males are known as bucks, females as does and babies as pups or kittens
  • Puberty: At 6-8 weeks rats are sexually mature but it is not advised to breed them this early.
  • Gestation: females can come into heat every 4-5 days.


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    • GalaxyRat profile image

      GalaxyRat 9 months ago from The Crazy Rat Lady's House

      Did you know that Queen Victoria had a pet rat? Just another reason to love her.