Unlike their wild cousins, pet rats aren't considered pests at all--they're intelligent, personable, and even capable of learning tricks or cuddling with you when trained correctly. Curious if rats are right for you? These interesting facts will help you to understand the pros and cons of owning domesticated rats.
Rats are Extremely Intelligent
Most rat species, including the domestic fancy rat and the Gambian pouched rat, are extremely intelligent. Their natural curiosity and love of learning results in quick and easy training for most rat owners. You can litter train them, leash train them, and even train them to jump through hoops or retrieve a ball. One international charity even uses Gambian pouched rats to sniff out landmines and detect tuberculosis when tests fail!
But what makes the rat truly special is its ability to demonstrate emotional intelligence, too. Research has identified several compassionate and empathetic traits in the fancy rat. One study outlined how rats would choose to save their cagemates from drowning before taking a small piece of chocolate, a favorite rat treat. Another study pointed out that rats may also be one of the few animals to truly laugh.
Fancy Rats Come in One True Species, But Many Different Colors
A true fancy rat is just a domesticated rattus norvegicus. There's a common misconception that color identifies breed or species in the fancy rat, but nothing could be further from the truth. If you have one black rat and one white rat, the difference is more akin to humans having red or blonde hair. Indeed, some colors are rare--but all are the result of selective breeding.
Careful breeders have even managed to create Siamese and blazed husky-like face patterns. A rat that contains a single color throughout his fur has what is referred to as "self" markings, while a rat who looks very much like his wild brown rat cousins usually has what's referred to as rex markings. Patchwork rats often look spotted and may be missing fur, as they have a recessive gene that's used to create hairless rats. Dalmatian markings look very much like canine dalmatian markings, too.
Overall, color should be one of the last factors you consider when choosing a new fancy rat friend. Health, personality, and temperament are more crucial aspects to look for in the species, which is sadly prone to certain health problems due to overbreeding in the feeder rat industry
Rats Live an Average of 3 to 5 Years
Rats don't have a lengthy lifespan. This can be good or bad depending on the circumstances. Their short lifespan makes them a low-commitment choice for people in transition, students, young teens, and anyone who isn't certain of their ability to care for an animal long into the future.
Unfortunately, their short life span also means that most owners need to grow to learn to manage the heartache that comes from losing a rat to a natural death. You should weigh this fact carefully before deciding to get a rat for yourself.
If you are planning on adopting rats for their short-term commitment, don't make the mistake of believing they are low-maintenance animals; this simply isn't true. Even if your pet does live to be five years of age or older, senior rats are prone to health problems and will need at least regular vet care. Tumors, mycoplasmosis, and hind leg degeneration are all very common in middle to old-aged rats.
Rats Require a Varied, Healthy Diet
You can help your rat to live to the oldest age possible by feeding him or her a healthy, varied diet. Rats aren't that much different than humans in what they can eat; as a general rule, they can eat anything you can. However, that doesn't mean they necessarily should.
Always avoid diets that contain dried corn or excess protein and fat. Commercial seed mixes are a poor choice, as most rats will just pick out the junk and reject the rest of the food. Ideally, you should feed a solid rat lab block, supplementing with fresh vegetables, fruit, and dried pasta each day.
That being said, if you're having dinner, there's no reason your rat can't have a bite, too, as long as it doesn't contain any of the absolute no-no's, such as raw peanuts and blue cheese.
One of the most important steps you can take before adopting a rat is to research and learn all you can about the species. This is much easier with the help of a knowledgeable veterinarian, like those at 1st Pet Veterinary Centers. He or she can assess your rat, treat it for any health problems that may arise, and guide you on proper individualized care tips for your precious little bundle. For questions about rats and other pocket pets, contact your veterinarian today.