Rats as pets? Yes!

Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it’s also known, celebrates the beginning of the year on the traditional Chinese calendar with wishes of prosperity and happiness. This year, on January 25, begins the Year of the Rat. In the Chinese culture, rats symbolize wealth and the beginning of a new day. In honor of the Year of the Rat, let’s learn more about these little nuggets of cuteness.

Much like intermittent fasting or wondering if the person in the middle seat on a plane gets both arm rests, everyone has an opinion about rats—and it’s usually strong. But there is nothing contradictory about these critters and the love they have to give their pet owners. While these long-tailed rodents are known to be friendly, tame and easy to care for, before you sign the adoption papers, let’s get to know a thing or two about rats.

There are hundreds of different breeds of rats, but “domestic” or pet rats have been bred for many years and, therefore, have different characteristics than wild rats. Domestic rats are intelligent, social and affectionate. These quick thinkers are also calm, clean and happy to live a quiet life. Just because rats are on the small side doesn’t mean they don’t require as much time, energy and commitment as any other pet.

Make yourself at home

Rats need a cage that has plenty of room to roam, exercise and play–and the cage size should increase depending on the number of rats you have.

A wire cage with a raised mesh floor and removable tray provides the best air circulation and is the easiest to keep clean. Be sure to include a “house” for privacy, small wooden ladders for climbing and a thin board so your rat can get off the wire mesh.

Cages must be lined with a generous supply of bedding, such as recycled paper pellets or pine bedding. Stay away from cedar chips, which could cause serious health problems, and corncob bedding because it’s hard on your rat’s feet. Rats are very clean by nature and will appreciate a clean home!

Eat this not that

Rats have complex vitamin and mineral requirements. Commercial rat food is available at pet supply stores and will provide a nutritionally balanced diet for your rat. You can supplement your rat’s diet with small pieces of fruit, vegetables and salad greens. Occasional treats include nuts, seeds (but not of the apple variety), hard-boiled eggs, unsalted/unbuttered popcorn and unsweetened cereals.

Remember to introduce new foods slowly and in small amounts. Always keep fresh water available and use a water bottle that attaches to the cage and is suspended.

Handle with care

Rats require a gentle touch. Let your rat sniff your hand for a bit and use a calm, soft voice, so they don’t get startled. Rats must be picked up gently, yet firmly, enclosing your hand around its whole body, and supporting all four feet. You may also offer your hand and allow it to climb up your arm and on to your shoulders. Never pick your rat up by its tail, because it’s painful and could result in injury. The more you handle your rat, the friendlier and tamer it will be. And, just like with any other pet, children should always be supervised around a rat.

Behavior ins and outs

No two rats are alike, and the same goes for their breed. Just because two rats look similar doesn’t mean they behave the same. Before adopting a rat (or two), spend time interacting with them to check out their personality traits.

Rats are naturally social animals and don’t do very well alone. If you don’t have a lot of time to spend with your rat, consider getting it a companion.

Rats love to play, explore and nibble … on just about everything … so be sure to “rat-proof” an area in your home, so your pet can have free time with you on the floor. Did you know rats can learn tricks? Well, they can! You can teach your rat to hitch a ride on your shoulder, use an exercise wheel and understand basic commands.

It’s also worth noting that rats are nocturnal, so they are most active at night!

These small pets can make a big impact as they bond with their families! If you’re looking for an affectionate companion, maybe a rat will complement your lifestyle. Click here to learn more about the rats we have available for adoption at the Dumb Friends League! Be sure to check often!

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