Considering getting a small animal as a pet, but want all the facts first?
Rats are, in my opinion, the very best pets for people looking for a small animal companion.
They are smart, adorable, easily trainable, social, and if given the proper exercise and nutrition they can live around two to three years.
Rats are super cute, adorable little creatures that come in a wide variety of coat colors, textures, and breeds.
The six breeds of domestic rats available today are the standard, rex, hairless, dumbo, dwarf, and tailless.
Each has their own set of personality traits and care requirements.
When you picture a pet rat the picture that comes to mind is most likely that of a standard rat. These cuties come in a huge variety of colors and are absolutely adorable.
If socialized from a young age, these rats are very docile and sweet and will likely be hanging out on your shoulder or in your pocket in no time.
While these rats are super easy to find and are available in just about every pet store I recommend finding a local breeder to get yours. Many rats in pet stores are kept in terrible conditions and commingled populations.
Overcrowding can lead to lots of medical conditions like upper respiratory infection, and if they have their population commingled, you could adopt one or two female rats and one day come home to an entire litter.
If you are anything like me you will still be tempted to go to the pet store and save one of these unfortunate critters. While I commend you on the effort, keep in mind that your rat may not live as long if he comes from poor breeding, and you may be in for an expensive vet visit if he ends up having an upper respiratory infection.
These rats are pretty darn adorable, with a coat full of curls it’s hard to resist giving them a snuggle. Rexes come in a variety of colors and coat patterns, but all have curly whiskers.
This variety of rat is rather common and shares most of the same personality traits as the standard. You may be forced to go to a breeder if you want this variety though as most pet stores don’t carry them.
The most unique and sensitive of the varieties is the hairless rat. While these little cuties want everyone to believe they are just as tough as everyone else, that isn’t the case.
They tend to get chilled easily and their skin can develop sensitivities to certain beddings and materials.
Be sure to keep lots of snuggly items in their cage, or get them a hairy friend they can snuggle with.
While putting their cage by a window in the sunlight may seem like a good way to keep them warm, it’s actually the opposite. Their skin burns easily and once burned they will get a fever and be even colder.
It’s ok to have them in the sunlight with you for short amounts of time, but be sure not to let them get burned!
The term dumbo just refers to the rat’s ears, if the ears are on the side of the rat’s head instead of the top, they are a dumbo.
I don’t know for sure, but I have my suspicions that these little cuties are named after the baby elephant that we all know and love in the movie with the same name.
The dumbo trait can actually be combined with any of the other varieties, a regular dumbo is a standard with dumbo ears, but you can also get hairless or rexes with the dumbo trait.
If you really want a rat, but think they are too big, look into getting a dwarf. These little dudes are about ⅓ of the size as their standard cousins with the same personality.
While this variety is quite rare there are quite a few breeders working to make them more readily available. If you love the idea of owning a rat, but are completely grossed out by their tails this may be the perfect pet for you!
Start looking for Tailless breeders now, as you may need to get on a waiting list to adopt one.
Basically the same as a standard with a nubbin for a tail these guys are like giant loving hamsters.
Should I Get One or More?
When deciding what rat you want it’s important to also consider how much time you will have to spend with it.
Rats are very social creatures, so if you work from home and can spend 4-6 hours a day playing with your new friend— you are the ideal rat owner.
Your rats will still bond with you no matter how many friends you get them, so don’t let that worry you.
Some other benefits of having more than one rat are that they will groom each other, play with each other, help build large nests together, and just be plain cute together. When I had rats, one of my favorite things to do was simply watch them interact with each other.
Here’s a great video showcasing rat snuggles:
The Perfect Cage:
Whether you are getting one rat or sixteen, it’s important you get a cage that is large enough to accommodate them.
A good rule of thumb is to have 2 cubic feet of space per rat. Males tend to like more floor space, while females tend to love climbing.
Looking for the right cage can be overwhelming, but there are lots of great resources out there for finding the right one.
Many rat enthusiasts like to use converted ferret cages for their rats, while others like to build their own out of converted book shelves or other fun items. The most important things to keep in mind are that they will have enough room and that they can’t escape.
You also want to make sure they have an ample amount of ventilation as too much humidity or ammonia could cause respiratory issues.
When choosing bedding for your rat avoid any kind of wood chips, they aren’t very comfortable and the chemicals released by the wood can cause your rattie to have breathing issues.
My favorite bedding to use is Carefresh Natural Pet Bedding, it is made from paper pulp and is very absorbent, soft, and completely safe for your new little buddies.
Some of their favorites were empty tissue boxes, tissues, paper towels, pieces of fabric, and occasionally I would give them tiny fleece blankets.
There are tons of fun toys on the market for rats and they will love just about all of them!
Some of my rat’s favorites were wooden ladders I got in the bird section of the pet store, ferret hammocks, wooden toys, and PVC pipes.
That’s right, there is a world of fun for rats in the plumbing section of your nearest hardware store.
PVC pipe is super easy to clean and there is a never ending amount of ways that you can hook the pipes together or use them to hide your pet’s food and treats.
This is one of the most important aspects of rat care! Rats are scavengers in the wild and benefit from a varied diet.
When I owned my rats I fed them a super nutritious pelleted rat food, and then I gave them a variety of fresh foods daily.
When choosing a block or pelleted food be sure to avoid those that have seeds mixed in or that have been dyed bright colors.
Seeds are very fattening and while they are a great treat they should never be a staple in your rats diet.
When giving your rat fresh foods there is truly a ton of options.
For more information on diet and what fresh foods you can and can not feed your rat, Rat Fan Club, has tons of homemade rat diet recipes if you would like to skip the pellet formula and feed your rats something all natural.
If you want to make your rat treats these doggie treat recipes would work great for rats, too.
Now that you know the basics you are ready to go out and find your new rodent friend, or friends if you decided to get more than one.
Be sure to follow all the tips and tricks in this article and your rat will live to a ripe old age, while two or three is the average some people have reported their rats living to five or six.
Good luck on your new adventure and have fun with your adorable new friends.
Bonus: For more unusual pets, check out our reptile guide.