Judie Amyot: Who let the rats in?

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Mar 1, 2018 in Rat News | Subscribe

Rats — so misunderstood and often associated with filth and disease, it can come as quite a shock that for many people, these rodents make the perfect pets. Not everyone is squeamish about having these furry critters with long tails and piercing eyes taking up residence in their home.

The fancy rat is the most common breed of domesticated rat, its name having been derived from the idea of animal fancy (the promotion of domesticated animals) or the phrase “to fancy”, meaning to like or appreciate. Fancy rats have their origins as the targets for blood sport in 18th and 19th century Europe and were later bred as pets. They now come in a variety of colours and coat types and are commonly sold as pets in stores and by breeders. You can even adopt them from rat shelters.

One of the biggest draws to fancy rats is that they care for themselves and are very affordable, even when compared to other small pets. They are independent, loyal and easily trained, making them comparable to cats and dogs and are considered more intelligent than other domesticated rodents.

Keeping rats as pets can come with the stigma that they supposedly transmit dangerous diseases to their owners but when acquired from reputable breeders or shelters, pose no more of a health risk than other common pets. Generally speaking, rats are quite sociable and function best with at least one cage mate although a group of three is even better as rats live in packs and a pack starts with three animals. Oh, and same sex, please, unless you want babies galore.

When choosing a pet rat, try to avoid one that is panicky when handled or one that is overly quiet and calm as it may be ill. A good choice is one that is curious enough to approach you and is alert and active when observed. The body should be firm and well rounded, and the nose, eyes, ears and rear should be clean and free of discharge. The coat should be clean and well groomed. Healthy rats spend a lot of time grooming and the skin on the ears and tail should be clean and pink.

The proper sized cage with bedding will be needed to house your rats and a balanced diet must be provided. Specially formulated rat diets should make up the bulk of your pet rat’s meals, but you should also offer fresh foods such as fruits: apples, cherries, grapes, bananas, strawberries, melons and plums. Fresh veggies are also recommended such as: broccoli, potatoes, peas, carrots, cooked sweet potato, kale and parsley. Avoid large quantities as diarrhea may occur. Water must always be available as well.

Some pet rat facts:

1. The average life span of a pet rat is 2-3 years.

2. Rats are nocturnal, so they will be most active at night.

3. Male rats are called bucks, females are does and babies are pups.

4. Rats have a wide range of markings as well as breed varieties (standard/smooth, hairless, tailless).

5. Males are larger and lazier than females, which are more active and playful than males.

Pet rats are relatively easy to care for but that doesn’t mean they are low maintenance pets. They require a fair amount of attention and at least an hour a day of exercise time outside of their cage. An exercise ball can be purchased for this purpose, so your rat can be kept safe and in a controlled area.

Just the word “rat” has so often been associated with something despicable as in the quotes “I smell a rat” and “oh, you dirty rat” and we all went to school with kids who were “rat finks.” They have also been depicted as evil in many movies over the years. So, if you choose to make a rat your household pet, picking a name can pose a challenge. Perhaps not Willard or Ben? It certainly won’t be easy. Rats!

Judie Amyot is a volunteer with Animatch, a non-profit dog adoption service. For more information, visit www.animatch.ca


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