For many people rats will always be vermin. Small dirty animals with scaly tails whose only redeeming feature is to provide exercise for scared beholders as they leap on and off chairs shrieking RAT!
It’s time this stereotype was corrected and we realise that these animals are one of the most appropriate pets for young children. Pet rats are a different species to the wild plague-bearing type. Many fancy varieties are available, the most common being the Hooded rat and the Self-coloured rat. Domestic rats are bred to be docile and sociable and can be kept in groups. Males and females can be kept together, but bear in mind that they reach sexual maturity by 6-8 weeks.
Rats are nocturnal. But unlike many small rodents they are not cranky if interrupted from their slumbers for a play. They enjoy being handled, seldom bite and, once used to owners, will not run away. Cages must be well ventilated and cleaned every other day otherwise odours can be a problem. For this reason bird cages or wire barred rodent cages are preferential to aquariums.
Obesity can shorten a rat’s life span and can be prevented by feeding your rat small amounts of fresh food plus a pelleted rodent ration. Pellets prevent selective feeding, which occurs with seed mixes where rats will preferentially choose the high fat, low calcium sunflower seeds.
Mammary tumours are common in rats occurring anywhere from under the chin to the base of the tail. The good news is that 80% of these tumours are benign. Rats live for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years.
In summary rats are the perfect children’s pet – cheap, sociable, safe, interesting yet short lived enough to ensure that you will not be left “holding the baby” once the kids have left home!