Rats as Pets

Feeding of a domestic rat from a hand

Although cats and dogs may be the most common types of pets, for many other pet owners, animal companionship doesn’t stop there. In honor of World Rat Day on April 2nd, here are the ins and outs of caring for a rat as a pet.

“Rats are probably the most social and interactive of the small rodents,” said Dr. Sharman Hoppes, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “They are quite gentle and seldom bite.”

Though these rodents are fairly docile, they aren’t typically recommended for small children without adult supervision. If you’re taking home a pet rat for your child, be sure to keep in mind that you will end up being its primary caretaker.

“Small rodents should not be pets for very small children,” Hoppes said. “Children less than 10 years old should be supervised closely when handling them; therefore, the care and monitoring of a rat is ultimately the parent’s responsibility.”

While these rodents still require adequate care and supervision, they are somewhat easier than gerbils or hamsters, which have a tendency to nip and are much more active at night.

“Rats are active during the day, which make them fairly easy to take care of,” Hoppes said. “They also don’t have special dietary needs or sensitive stomachs.”

Therefore, compared to other rodents, rats are fairly easy pets, but this doesn’t exempt you from the typical pet-owner duties. Rodents are still animals, and therefore require your constant love and care.

“All pet rodents need a large enough cage, chew toys, ladders, plastic or PVC pipe, and daily interaction,” Hoppes said. “As with any rodent, the cage should be cleaned one to two times a week to keep ammonia levels down. Keeping the cage clean will also help decrease the incidence of respiratory disease.”

Even though you cannot take them on walks or let them run around in the backyard, ensuring that your pet rat gets enough exercise throughout the day should still be a priority.

“Rats may get obese in captivity, so you should have exercise wheels, exercise balls, or a safe rodent-proof room for them to play in and get enough exercise,” Hoppes said.

Rats are very social, intelligent animals and need companionship. Dr. Hoppes recommends getting two rats at a time so they have company while their owners work or go to school, and to select an active, social rodent with clean eyes, clean nose, and normal teeth. You should also take note that the skin should is well groomed, and that there are no visible lumps or bumps.

Keeping these factors in mind, a pet rat can be a great addition to your home.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pettalk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

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