Rats? As PETS? Yes, absolutely! The Fancy Rat, a domesticated form of the ‘brown rat’ is a popular pet. They are adorable, mischievous, funny, lovable, affectionate, quirky, clean, highly intelligent and very trainable. Not to be mistaken for their wild counterparts, Pet rats purchased from ethical, responsible, experienced breeders or pet stores are healthy, safe and friendly.
Pet rats are notorious for their funny quirks.
Some rats ‘brux’ and ‘boggle’ which is a super cute, weird habit of grinding their teeth in a way that makes their eyes bulge. You can see them in action in this video.
Female rats vibrate and wiggle their ears when they are in heat.
When playing or being tickled by their humans, rats laugh at a frequency too high for humans to hear.
A group of rats is called ‘a mischief of rats’.
They love to chill out in hammocks!
Rats are extremely sociable. They should never be kept alone and must have the company of other rats. But owners frequently compare them to potato chips reporting that it’s impossible to have only one. The cuteness is addictive.
Fancy Rats from reputable, responsible breeders are extremely friendly to humans. They generally love human interaction. They like to snuggle up and fall asleep in pockets and laps. They enjoy grooming their humans. They adore games like ‘chase the hand’, tug, tummy tickles, fetch with tiny cat toys, and clicker training.
They are very easy to train and respond especially well to clicker training and shaping. They can be trained to do tricks as well as to pee and poop in a litter tray or to walk on a leash. They are extremely active, especially when they are young, and their natural intelligence and ability to solve problems can make them somewhat challenging for inexperienced owners. Owners must therefore take time to keep them mentally and physically stimulated with games and exercises. If owners do not give them a job, they may assign themselves the job title of ‘curtain shredder’, ‘escape artist’ and ‘food thief’.
Fancy Rats come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are two ‘ear types’: Standard and Dumbo. Named for their similarity in appearance to Disney’s famous elephant, Dumbo, Dumbo Eared rat’s ears are larger, rounder and set slightly lower on their heads. Standard eared rat’s ears are smaller, slightly more pointy and are set on the top of their heads.
Over time, Fancy Rats have been selectively bred for a variety of beautiful coat colours and markings.
Colours include Blue (grey), Black, Husky (like Siberian Husky Dogs), White and Fawn (soft beige).
Patterns include Siamese, Burmese, Berkshire, Hooded, Capped, Blazed and Variegated.
Coat types include Standard, Rex (curly haired), Velveteen (a softer variety of the Rex), Harley (long straight hairs) and Hairless.
As a result of the selective breeding, each variety of Fancy Rat may have specialised husbandry needs. For example, Dumbo Eared Rats have tendency to be larger and chubbier, so owners may find it challenging to maintain their healthy weight with a strict diet. Hairless rats could have more sensitive skin requiring frequent application of moisturisers and care to avoid direct sunlight.
The size of Fancy Rats varies greatly from approximately 15-25cm in length from nose to the tip of the tail, and approximately 250-500 grams, with females and standard eared rats generally being generally smaller than males and dumbo eared rats.
Their lifespan is tragically short: approximately 2-4 years, though some lucky owners are blessed with their presence for a year or two longer. This makes them ideal pets for children and young adults who love pets but are not able to be tied down by a very long-term commitment.
They are relatively affordable pets. Due to their size their housing, bedding, food and medication is fairly inexpensive. However, their veterinary bills can become quite high due to their short lifespans and specialised health needs. Owners should take care to find a veterinarian who specialises in exotic pets and is familiar with their unique requirements which are nothing like dogs or cats.
Medicating sick ratties orally is not easy due to their natural ability to sniff out poisons, so mixing meds into their food may not work and syringing meds into their mouths and/or injections might be necessary.
Rats teeth never stop growing, so they love to chew to keep them filed down. To prevent them from chewing your furniture give them toys and crunchy foods to munch on. Their teeth should be checked regularly and if it appears that they are out of alignment or growing too long, a vet may need to clip or file them.
They have very specific dietary needs, and the risk of health problems increases dramatically if their diet isn’t correct. Hamster and Bird food is not suitable for rats. They thrive on variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, liver and lots more, but there is also a long list of foods which are harmful to rats. The internet provides contradictory and incorrect information so chat to your exotics veterinarian and breeder for dietary advice. Here are two good articles to get you started:
Always do lots of research before investing in a pet. Purchasing from an ethical breeder and practicing correct husbandry throughout your pet’s life will prevent heartache and ensure the preservation of these gorgeous animals.
A quick Google search revealed these two South African Ratteries:
Pretoria Rattery: https://ronelrat.wixsite.com/ptarattery
Hart Rattery: https://hartrattery.weebly.com/
Article and Photos by Leanne Williams - Rat Enthusiast