Pet rats are popular pets that are kept frequently and are relatively easy to care for. However, before making a purchase, think carefully about whether the animals really suit you.
While rats still had the reputation of being “disgusting” a few years ago, they are now very popular pets. This is not surprising, because the rodents are extremely intelligent and have complex social behavior. They are also very open and trusting towards people if you deal with them regularly. Since rats are very adaptable, keeping them is relatively unproblematic. Nevertheless, pet rats have species-specific needs and peculiarities that you have to take into account. This includes in particular that the rodents are highly social pack animals that must always be kept in groups of at least 3 – 4 animals.
Being solitary means high stress and causes severe behavioral disorders and aggression. Keeping them in pairs is also not recommended, as such a constellation creates a strong imprint of the two animals on each other. If one of the rats dies, the other animal is left behind and can sometimes be difficult to integrate into another group. Incidentally, pet rats need to be socialized more frequently, since the rodents only live for about 2-3 years and the pack, therefore, has to be regularly expanded with younger animals.
Posture and care requirements
In addition to a harmonious social group, pet rats need an animal-friendly enclosure with a large walking area and lots of climbing opportunities. The ideal cage size for 3-4 rats is at least 1.2 x 0.7 x 0.5 m (height x width x depth). The enclosure should have several floors and be furnished with tubes, caves, hammocks, ladders, climbing ropes, etc. In addition, agile rodents need regular exercise in the apartment. Please keep in mind that you must provide the animals with a room (or a delimited area) that they can safely explore.
Rats like to nibble on all sorts of things (furniture, wallpaper, carpets, etc.) on their trips around the home. The animals are also not 100% housebroken. Please consider in advance whether you can live with such soiling and damage to your home. Rats are only the right pets for you if you accept all of the typical behaviors and needs. One way to test whether rats really suit you is to take some animals with you temporarily (e.g. as holiday care). In everyday life, it becomes apparent relatively quickly whether the chemistry between you and the rats is right.
Questions before buying
You should ask yourself the following questions before you buy and be able to answer “yes”:
- Are all family members/roommates okay with the new pets?
- Is any of the family members allergic to rat hair?
- Do you have enough time to deal with your rats every day?
- Are you willing to pay all costs (for an enclosure, equipment, food, and vet visits)?
- Do you have enough space to provide the animals with a large enclosure?
- Do all family members respect the animals’ needs? Please keep in mind that rats are not “cuddly toys”.
- Do you like the smell typical of rats?
- Can you live with rats nibbling on parts of your home when you go outside?
- Doesn’t it bother you that the animals make a mess and aren’t absolutely house trained?
- Do other pets already live in the household and do they “get along” with rats?
- Is holiday care provided?