Rats make excellent pets. Domestic rats are very different from wild rats, even though they are the same species. As long as they are handled regularly from birth they will be well adjusted to human company and will be very unlikely to bite you. Many varieties of domestic rat exist, although they are the same species. Breeding exaggerates some features of the rat, leading to differences between the strains.
Rats get lonely if they are on their own. It is only fair to keep them in a pair or group . If you don't want them to have babies it is best to match rats of the same sex. They can have kittens frequently from the age of only five weeks. There may be eight, nine or even more kittens in each litter.
Amazingly a doe can be made pregnant within only a day of giving birth to their previous litter. Make sure you buy your rat from a recommended breeder and that the kitten is at least a month and 1/2 old. Also make sure they have been kept separate from the opposite sex before the males are five weeks of age.
If the rats are from a pet shop the staff ought to have the ability to hold the rats to show you that they are tame and to let you know the sex of the animals. Check that the other animals in the shop are well cared for with fresh food and water.
Rats are very intelligent and inquisitive. They need a large space to explore and a big wire cage makes an ideal home. They love to climb and hamster cages will not be large enough for them. The walls and roof of the cage should be wire with a solid plastic base. Aquarium glass houses aren't suitable as they are not well ventilated.
Make sure you get yourself a good odour absorbing bedding as the droppings and urine give off ammonia which can smell strong. Rats can be trained to use the toilet in the corner of their cage. This reduces smells and makes it quicker and easier to clean the droppings away. Cat litter can be used for a toilet tray but is not suitable as bedding.
The rat is omnivorous and so will eat pretty much anything that we do. It is a good idea to get a high-quality rat and rodent food from the pet shop as this will provide all of the nutrients they need. It is a good idea to give them occasional fruit or vegetables to eat. You must make sure that they always have fresh water to drink
Check every day that your rat is not showing any signs of illness or disease. Make sure they are eating enough as loss of appetite can be a sign of illness. Chest infections are a common cause of illness in rats. Discharge around the eyes and nose can be a sign of illness and stress. Tumours are fairly common in rats with increasing age, does are more commonly affected than bucks.
Rats are naturally clean and will spend time cleaning each other's coat. They are not so good at cleaning their tails which may need a wash with a small amount of special animal soap.
A rat needs an hour or more's playtime outside their cage each day. Make sure that they can't escape. Block holes around pipes and check they can't get under the doors. Keep them away from plants as they may be poisonous to the rat. Definitely make sure there are no electric cables for them to chew.
It is a good idea to walk around with your rat up your jumper so it gets used to you. Don't pick them up by their tail as this can injure them, instead put your hand underneath it. Always supervise children with rodents so that the rat is not in danger of injury.
Enjoy your new pets!
Dr Toby Bateson for Hammer Technologies Ltd