I worked in retail brick and mortar pet stores for quite a few years before coming to PetSolutions. During that time I had the opportunity to speak to many parents who were looking at hamsters and gerbils as pets for their children. While hamsters and gerbils are fine small pets, which are entertaining for kids, they aren’t the most interactive small pets and they will often lack common sense and leap out of a small hand and hit the floor hard resulting in being stunned, injured, or killed. They don’t handle training in a very interactive way either, but as I said they are very entertaining pets for kids. When you are out at your local pet store, as you walk down past the hamsters and gerbils on your quest for a pet…keep walking….down to the area where the rats and mice are. Usually these rats and mice are purchased as food for reptiles, but they also make fine pets, especially the rats! The are also specialty breeders which are breeding rats specifically meant as pets, and they come with a variety of interesting traits. I’ve owned more than one rat in the past, one of which was a Dumbo Eared, one was a Blue, and a third was a Hooded.
Rats are affectionate and very social animals, which will enjoy interacting with humans. I tend to think of a rat as a tiny dog or cat in some respects, since a rat can learn its name, come when called, and learn to do tricks with a treat as motivation. What I’ve heard from some parents is that they don’t like the rat’s tail but it really just takes very little time to get used to and that tail is a very important tool to help the animal keep its balance. A rat is a very clean animal, it will groom itself much like a cat does, but it is up to you as the rat’s human caretaker to keep its bedding changed and clean his or her toys, food bowl, and water bottle. A rat will need regular handling and socialization, it is very important to the animal’s mental and physical well being. One hour every day out of his or her cage is the absolute minimum daily interaction time, and more is better. I used to go for walks on nice days and my rat Ophelia would ride around on my shoulder as I traveled the neighborhood. She would look around and move from shoulder to shoulder sometimes, but never once did she ever try to run away or jump off to the ground. It was a great way for her to be socialized, get exercise, and get some sun and fresh air.
It is really best to keep two rats together if you want to have a pet rat, and you should choose two of the same gender if at all possible. Keeping two rats will allow them to have social interaction with one another when you aren’t available to interact with them, and they will enjoy playing with and grooming one another. Males (called bucks) are often recommended for younger rat keepers, due to their larger size and slower movement. Female rats are called does, like female deer are, and they tend to be a little smaller but they are also faster and usually a bit more inquisitive. I have owned both males and females, but I didn’t find one gender any more difficult than the other and I enjoyed both.
There are a variety of information websites online with information on how to select, care for, house, and train pet rats. One of the most helpful sites I’ve found strictly for information is actually located in the UK, and is run by a professional rat breeder. The name of the site is Ratz and it has a fantastic variety of helpful information links to research rats as pets before purchasing one. Petsolutions isn’t affiliated with that breeder at all, but I just personally really like her site for information on rats. You can of course call PetSolutions if you have any pet rat related questions regarding the products we sell, and what might be appropriate for your pet. A couple of pointers I can give you which are quick and simple, do not use a plastic food dish and do not use a plastic water bowl. Be sure to use a ceramic feeding dish and use a water bottle for your water supply. The rat won’t chew the ceramic food dish, and using a water bottle will keep his water supply clean and make it easy for you to refill the water without disturbing your pet as much. Keep things as simple as possible with your rat, and you can spend your time enjoying him more and cleaning up less. Just remember the next time you are considering a small mammal as a pet, and a dog or cat are not on the list of potential animals, make sure you check out the rats!
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