Pet column: Domestic rats make good, affectionate pets

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on May 11, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe

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“More than most other small pets you can have, rats are much like small dogs in the sense that they want to be with their family all the time and they love human contact.”

That’s the wisdom of veterinarian and rat rescue founder Kimberly Somjen.

European associations with the rat are generally negative. They are historically cast in vicious and aggressive roles in literature and the media. However, domestic rats make great pets.

“Pet rats are by far the most intelligent, affectionate and responsive of all the small rodents and are ideal pets for children,” according to the National Fancy Rat Society.

Domesticated for more than 100 years, domestic rats differ from wild rats as dogs differ from wolves. They breed earlier and produce larger litters, they tolerate greater crowding, they are calmer, they are awake more during the day, they bite less frequently, and their brains, livers, kidneys, adrenal glands and hearts are smaller.

Laboratory rats are often chosen for tests related to intelligence and learning. A 2007 study found that rats possess metacognition, a mental ability involving planning and evaluating.

This ability was previously only documented in humans and some primates.

Rats can communicate through high-pitched sound frequencies outside the range of human hearing. Laboratory rats were recorded making chirping noises, most at these high-pitched frequencies, while playing with other rats and when they were tickled by researchers.

Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp likened the sounds to human laughter.

Rats preferred the companionship of those rats, recorded by researchers, that chirped the most. Perhaps like humans, a sense of humor is an integral component of a relationship.

As social animals subject to loneliness and anxiety, rats usually do best when housed in same sex pairs or in opposite sex pairs, when spayed or neutered.

Males are docile and calm. Females are more playful and active. Rats have a life span of two to three years.

Rat fanciers have selectively bred several types of rats, including big-eared Dumbo, tailless born Manx, curly-coated Rex, Seal Point Siamese and Dalmatian.

This column is the opinion of Suzanne Davies. Email Davies questions or suggestions to Suzanne Davies at

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