Fancy Ratsare like purebred dogs and are about as closely related to wild rats as poodles are to wolves. They have been specially bred for friendly temperament, intelligence, health, color, and conformation for over 100 years. They are active and clean, cute and curious, and unlike other pet rodents they are highly social by nature. They love to be played with, handled, and to be around people. They can be trained to come when called, ride on your shoulder, and to do tricks. They each have individual personalities, and some people get really attached to them. They are easy and inexpensive to care for, require little space, don't bark or have to be taken for walks, make great pets for the responsible child, and are as close to the perfect pocket pet as you will find.
You will need a cage. This could be a 15-gallon or larger aquarium with wire cover. You can buy a rat cage for about $50. With proper instructions, you could make a cage. We can tell you how, or even make a cage for you.
You need bedding. Aspen shavings, CareFRESH, Sani-Chips, rabbit pellets, shredded paper, etc, but not cedar or pine shavings which are toxic.
You need a water bottle. These have metal tubes with a ball at the end. If using an aquarium, a holder for use in the tank is needed. You'll also need a small bowl to catch drips.
You'll need food. Lab blocks/Rodent Chow is best, but a low fat, low protein dog kibble intended for old dogs mixed with birdseed will do. Rats eat everything you do, and some things you wouldn't (like chicken bones). They love junk food—but don't give it to them! About 15% of their diet should be table scraps, veggies, and fruit—all the good food you know you should be eating too. You'll need two bowls, one for dry and one for fresh foods.
You'll need toys. Rats are intelligent and need stimulation. Some toys are made to last, like running wheels (12-15 inch), PVC tubes, ladders, shelves, and bird/ferret toys. Others are disposable—cereal, cracker, and other boxes; milk cartons and other "trash" you normally throw out. Let them clean out cans (with no sharp edges), yogurt, and other containers. Small paper bags are fun to destroy.
You should have a book. Buy one at a pet shop, or search the Internet for needed information.
You may need a vet. Rats do not need checkups or shots, but if emergency care is needed, you'll want to know beforehand if any vets in your area know anything about rats.
You need a play area. This could be a tray with boxes, tubes, and toys that you put on a coffee table with a ramp going to the cage. Let your ratty friends out while you watch TV, share a snack, and give them some attention. A large container with slightly mosit potting soil is also great—mix in some birdseed and let them dig. Some of the seeds will germenate and the rats can eat the sprouts. All rats should have a play area and be let out of their cage for an hour or so each day. But don't over do it and give them the run of your house—rats love to chew on electrical wires, will burrow into your sofa, and get into untold mischief.
You should get at least two rats. Rats are social animals, like people, and suffer in solitary confinement. You probably won't have enough time to give one rat the attention it needs. Females especially need a rat friend. Mature males are less needy, and can be kept alone with daily human attention. Also, unlike most pets, two or more rats with at least two large water bottles and plenty of food, can be left unattended while you're away from home for several days.
You'll need rats from a responsible breeder. That's us. If you find rats in a pet shop for under $10, they have been raised commercially in mass quantities for use as reptile food, weaned as early as possible, and never handled. They are of unknown disposition and may bite. As a responsible pet owner you will have to spend some money to get the things listed above, so saving a few dollars by going for the $7.95 rats may not be a good idea. Also do you want to support the quantity snake-food breeders or the quality pet breeders? We are members of AFRMA, the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association, and follow all ethical guidelines for responsible breeding. We raise only one litter at a time to provide top quality care. All babies are handled daily from birth to socialize them to people. We take responsibility for every rat we breed from birth to death. If at any point you no longer want one of our rats, even if it's because it's sick or has just gotten old, we will take it back. We are a hobby breeder. We sell rats to partially pay for our hobby. If we ever show a profit, we'll spend it on more advertising. Our breeding stock was purchased from top quality breeders and is pedigreed. Like other quality breeders we feel it is unethical to sell trusting, socialized pet rats for less than $15 to discourage their being purchased as reptile food, and because someone who is going to take good care of their rats is going to spend $20-$30 or so per year on each and should be willing to spend more than $7.95 for a cherished friend and companion. We usually ask $15-$25 for one rat, and $30 for a pair (2 females or 2 males). We will answer any and all questions you may have initially and provide ongoing support and assistance indefinitely.
You should join a rat club
The Straight Dope: Nobody is perfect, not even rats, but many rat fanciers find this hard to admit—see the dozens of web pages raving about ratty virtues. Almost perfect, yes, but we want to tell it like it is, so here's the low-down. The worst we can say is that rats have less than perfect toilet habits. They can drop fecal pellets where you don't want them. These are normally odorless and nearly dry to the touch. Rats prefer to drop pellets in their cage. If you let them out (via a ramp going from their cage) and allow them to return to their cage whenever they want, you will almost never have to pick up stray droppings.
Rats occasionally produce soft, smelly stools. This is natural and you will probably never see or smell them unless you suddenly drag a sleeping rat from its cage and keep it out too long. They normally eat these stools to recover vitamins and reinnoculate their foregut with bacteria. They keep this habit a secret if they can, and you will probably never see them doing this.
Rats also need to urinate relatively often, and may pee on you, especially if they can't get back to their cage. If you gotta go, you gotta go. Their urine, however, is odorless, non-staining, and harmless. The urine will develop an odor over time. If a cage smells, wipe surfaces of old urine, or change the bedding and clean the whole cage. With two rats, a once-a-week cage cleaning should be enough.
Unnuetered males and many females will also urine-mark new territory as they explore it. They may dribble small amounts of urine, which again is odorless to people, on things they walk over. If allowed to run on your couch, for example, they are likely to dribble on the remote control or the back of your hand. This can be annoying. You can either deal with it (wipe it up, cover your couch), or not let them run around outside their play area. (Human babies do worse, yet we deal with them!) They don't urine-mark when just being handled. Otherwise, rats are practically perfect "little angels."
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