If you have done your homework and decided that a pet rat is right for you, you will need to have living quarters all set up before bringing home your adopted rat. Initial basic supplies are likely to include:
- A large cage or modular enclosure (these can run $50 or more) – the larger the better
- Bedding material
- A food dish
- A water bottle
- A box for hiding
- High-quality commercial food
- Toys – rats are 3rd in intelligence after dogs and pigs and need toys to prevent boredom
A rat's cage should be thoroughly cleaned on a weekly basis and spot-cleaned every couple days. Your rat spends almost all of her time right on top of that bedding, and she is not going to appreciate living in stinky, urine-soaked bedding. Rats also require their food and water changed daily.
Rats are not inexpensive pets. Should your rat become ill or injured, you will need to seek the advice of a veterinarian who is experienced in the care of rats; such exotics veterinarians are not plentiful and they charge accordingly. A ‘regular’ dog or cat veterinarian will not do, and you will need to locate a qualified rat veterinarian BEFORE your rat requires care.
You will need to make arrangements with a pet sitter experienced with rats if you go on vacation. Many pet sitters won’t have anything to do with pet rats and/or they do not know how to care for or handle them.
Are you willing to spay or neuter your rats? Spaying your female rats will provide them with a longer, healthier and happier life. Spaying girl rats when they are young has been found to decrease or eliminate fatty mammary tumors and certain cancers. Not all males need to be neutered, but if your male rat is having issues with aggression or territorial marking, neutering can help resolve these issues. Note: your rattie must have some pain medications after surgery. Make sure your veterinarian does not neglect this!
Check over your rats daily – this is something you can do while spending your daily time with your rat. Make sure they have no wheezing or rattling when they breathe (their respiratory system is their weak point). If you hear the first sign of a wheeze or rattle, your rat needs immediate veterinary care. Also be sure to check the rat’s teeth to be sure they are growing properly and not too long, look over your rat’s fur for bites, lumps, scabs and mites, and feel their skin under their fur to make sure it is intact with no bumps, cuts, etc (your rat will think you are petting and massaging him – he’ll love it!).
Just as with any other pet, some people are allergic to rats (in particular the adult rats – baby rats do not seem to trigger allergic reactions as much). If you have never been around rats before, it would be best for everyone if you spend time around a friend’s pet rat or handling adoptable rats at your local humane society (you might meet your new best friend in the process).
Rats live an average of 2 ½ to 3 years. If you do not wish to make a long commitment to a pet, this relatively short lifespan may be appealing. On the other hand, if you (or your children) cannot deal with the heartbreak of losing a beloved pet every few years, a longer-lived pet may be a better choice. Are you able to handle becoming so attached to these little bundles of personality, only to say goodbye after a few short years? This author cannot – however, I can go play with the rats at local shelters, keeping them socialized and getting my fix of rat cuteness at the same time.
Be prepared for comments from rude people (or people trying to be funny) when they find out you have fancy rats for pets. They often don’t understand how you could love a rat or how you could grieve the loss of a rattie who has passed on. Joining local rat clubs and online forums such as Friends of Small Animals provide fun and fellowship with other rat fanciers, and participants can share their knowledge of rats with you.
It is not fair to adopt a rat and then change your mind because you didn't do your homework ahead of time. A rat will quickly bond with you, and if you lose interest or change your mind, they cannot understand this. They still love you. While rats are NOT suitable pets for young children, if you adopt one for an older child and he loses interest or goes off to college etc., it is now your responsibility to care for the rat. Rats really only live 3 years at most. Surely you can handle the responsibility for that amount of time. Any good rescue will take their rat (or other adoptable pet) back if you change your mind but they shouldn't have to if you've done your research and are serious about your commitment to your new pet.
Next: housing your pet rat
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