I've had no internet for the past few days and have also been struck down with a variety of types of what my Dad always likes to call 'the dreaded lurgy'. I've been sleeping approximately three quarters of the past few days and lounging about feeling thoroughly yucky. However I did manage to go out on Saturday with Steven and I had a lot of fun, I bought a really comfortable forest green cardigan, some beautiful hand dyed wool from a shop Steven scouted for me and some DIY materials for good measure.
Shoes, glitter, gloss and a brush for DIY project, new wool for crochet.
Due to feeling quite poorly I've been mostly lounging in my house, occasionally venturing out in search of sustinance, which in this case is Raspberry Jelly, Chocolate and lots of cups of White Tea. I've also been knitting a lot and spending some quality time with my rats, so that's what this post is about.
I've been wanting to make a post about rats for quite some time and the thought for this post has been rolling around in my noggin for at least a few months. I am proud to call myself a Rat Advocate, I firmly believe that they make gorgeous and wonderful pets. This post is by no means exhaustive, I just want to share my experience of owning rats, what they are like as pets and dispel some of the myths about them.
I have had pet rats for around four years now, my first two were my pets when I moved to Uni and got two babies in October 2010, a few months after my first rats passed away.
In my time of being a ratmother (a term my friend uses that I always think is cute!) I have had the chance to see how amazing these animals can be as pets and it makes me really sad when I hear people in passing talking about how horrible, disgusting, dirty or mean these animals are.
General InformationIt's important to establish that pet rats, also called Fancy Rats, are completely different from Wild Rats. They are different breeds completely with completely different temperments, behaviour and are even weak against different things.
Fancy Rats are smaller than Wild Rats which can reach pretty enormous proportions and as they are bred in captivity they have friendly and inquisitive temperments and dispositions. They do share the common rat trait of being nibblers though!
Rats live for around 2 years so their lifespan is relatively short, they mature very quickly. They love company and are very social creatures, both with other rats and with their owners. It is important where possible to keep rats together in groups of two or more, though there are a few exceptions where rats will not get along with others. Rats are very playful, they love to play fight and wrestle, chase and jump and they can get lonely without a playmate.
I have only ever had male rats however my parents had female rats at one point. Generally speaking my understanding is that male rats tend to be a little more docile and lazy whereas female rats are very fast and can be a little more difficult to tame. However both genders make excellent pets and with love and attention even the most skittish of rats can be tamed.
Rats will generally never bite although they do love to nibble and as babies you may need to teach them the appropriate force with which they nibble and explore. If a rat is happy they will not attack you and there is no need to be afraid of them, more often they will want to lick you. In my years of owning rats I have only ever been bitten once and this was not a deep or serious wound, simply a bit of a hard nip when Dumbledore was still very young. A gentle tap on the nose and a firm 'no' was all that was needed as discipline.
Rat PersonalityRats love to explore and are naturally curious and very inquisitive. They are also incredibly smart, they can be taught to do tricks and will recognise and respond to their name. They love to run about and look at new things, they definitely keep you on your toes! Rats also love to spend time with their owners, sitting on shoulders and laps, grooming you and gently nibbling fingernails, mustaches, eyebrows... they are very affectionate, gentle and loving and show their affection by bruxing, a sort of chattering sound made by grinding their teeth, as well as running around and playing with you. They love to play games, one of my old rats Tolten loved jumping around inside tubes and my current rats Gandalf and Dumbledore love hand wrestling as well as playing with hats, paper bags, cardboard boxes, balls, pieces of fabric... Dumbledore especially loves tug of war.
Rat NutritionRats love food and they will be all over you if you offer them a treat. Pet shops often sell specially formulated Rat Nuggets which combine all the foods your rat needs for health and stops them from being selective about food (many rodents tend to have this habit). They also love a variety of fruits and vegetables and will happily take these from your hand making them great ways to train them. Ganny and Dumbles love carrots, avacado, grapes, apple, peas, sweetcorn, broccoli and also really like to drink water from your hands... they may have been known to steal orange juice, sandwhich crusts and big chunks of tuna also. The great thing about feeding them fruit and veg is that this is a good source of vitamins which may be lacking in a purely dry diet. The added vitamins and nutrients will help to keep their joints in good working order and also gives them good general health.
Chocolate drops for rodents never go amiss either and there are many dried fruit and seed snacks available for a variety of rodents. My rats also like general hamster/guinea pig food which we mix into their diet.
However be careful not to give them too many treats or fruit and veg as this can give them digestive upsets. It is important to never give your rat human chocolate, it is highly poisonous to them and could cause huge problems and even death. Please only use rodent chocolate.
Misconceptions about RatsA very common misconception about rats is that they are dirty animals. This is far from the truth, rats are very clean and well groomed animals and spend many hours a day grooming themselves and keeping their fur and body in good repair. Many rats also love to have baths, swim and play in water (if you do this with your rat be careful to keep to their limits), if necessary you can use a wet flannel to gently wash their back or tail.
A rat in good health has shiny soft fur, bright eyes and is alert, when happy their ears will stick up and are often rotated around to listen to sounds.
Rats do not smell or carry any more diseases than any other rodent you would keep as a pet. Like a hamster they are kept in a cage and as long as you clean them out they will not be smelly. They do not have fleas or carry the plague and as long as you keep to general hygeine such as washing your hands after handling them extensively you will not have any problems.
Rats are also not nasty or vicious and are completely fine to keep as pets around children, as long as you make sure they are not hurt or mistreated by youngsters. People often mistake Wild Rats behaviour for that of a tame pet rat but they are completely different, just as a Tiger and a domestic Cat are very different!
Rat HealthIt is important to take note of your rats health as Fancy Rats can be prone to a few things.
Respitory problems can be common in rats, you should keep them in a warm environment and should use wood based cat litter or shredded paper in their cage. Try to avoid anything that makes a lot of dust such as sawdust, this often makes rats sneeze a lot as they have sensitive noses and respitory systems.
Another thing to keep your eye on is tumors. Female rats in particular are unfortunately prone to developing cysts and tumors, especially in the mammary area. These may be operable or completely harmless, however they can sometimes be cancerous. If you spot one of these on your rat, male or female, don't hesitate to take them for a check up.
It is also very important to make sure the cage you use for your rats is big enough. Pet shops sell specific rat cages which will have different platforms for them to play and sit on. Rats are bigger than hamsters and gerbils and a cage for a hamster will not be adequate for a rat, please make sure you get them a big enough cage as it is cruel to keep them in a space that is too small for them.
Ganny looking for food in my pile of wool and keeping me company whilst I do my crochet.
Dumbles playing with my hat.
If you have any questions about rats please feel free to ask me. I don't claim to be an expert on them however I am happy to try my best to answer any questions you might have.