Don't Overlook Rats as Pets

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Written by:
Published: July 7, 2014
Don't Overlook Rats as Pets

I’ve been advocating for rats for most of my life. My appreciation of the little guys began back when I was 17 and working for the summer in a pet store. I spent a lot of time cleaning out the cages, handling, and trying to sell hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, and rabbits to customers.

The hamsters and gerbils were always up for biting, the guinea pigs sat there looking cute but didn’t do much else, and the rabbits seemed hell bent on finding new and improved ways of committing suicide. I tried to be fairly honest about the strengths and weakness of all these “small fuzzies” as pets, which probably accounts for the fact that I was one of the worst salespeople on the staff.

We had some albino rats in the store too, but they were sold as feeder rats to reptile owners. I’m sad to say I didn’t give them much thought… until our supplier sent us some “fancy” rats by accident. Fancy rats and albino “lab” rats are the same species, Rattus norvegicus, but the fancy varieties have been bred for looks. The group we got into the store were lovely — soft brown eyes with fawn and cream coloring. I couldn’t help but spend a little time getting to know them. What charmers! They were very social with each other and people. They never nipped once and always seemed happy when I stopped by for a visit. Surreptitiously, I sold them all as pets by sidling up to customers who were looking at the other small fuzzies, whispering, “Psst, have you considered a rat?”

Well, what goes around comes around. My daughter and her best friend recently waged a concerted campaign to become guinea pig owners. After her friend’s mom caved under the pressure, it became increasingly hard to come up with good reasons why my daughter couldn’t have one also. And then came salvation — a coworker needed to find a home for her pet rats (her husband had developed allergies). After a brief discussion during which I waxed poetic over the virtues of rats and brought up the movie Ratatouille multiple times, I had her convinced that adopting these rats was the only sensible thing to do… so now we’ve added two female rats to our zoo.

Oreo is black and white and a real go-getter. She’s always on the move and loves to explore. Cinnamon is tan and cream colored and more of a snuggler. Together they have already provided us with hours of entertainment. We even went so far as setting up their very own swimming pool to see if they like the water (Cinnamon does, Oreo doesn’t). The only “person” they’ve bitten so far is our dog Apollo, who insists on sticking his enormously long tongue into their cage, so who can really blame them.

Once again I’m in a position to promote rats as pets. In addition to their friendly nature, they are a great size — small enough to be housed comfortably in cages but large enough that they aren’t overly fragile. They also tend to live longer than hamsters and gerbils but not so long as guinea pigs or rabbits, which is a good compromise if you aren’t ready for a decade long commitment to a new pet but want a decent amount of time with your neat new fuzzy friend.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Anna Hoychuk / Shutterstock

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