Like any other animal that can be petted, owning a rat presents itself with benefits and drawbacks. While rats can be one of the most excellent pets, some of their aspects may not impress you much.
On the one hand, rats have impeccable and admirable intelligence. Also, they make very playful and good companions since they will want to spend time and bond with you. They almost have no odor and are very clean. On the other hand, having a pet rat is choosing to deal with a constant chewer – it will nibble on everything it comes across. Also, they are nocturnal animals, meaning that they won’t let you sleep well at night. Since rats live up to 3 years, it may be a challenging emotional journey for a pet owner.
This article will explore and expand the discussion on the pros and cons of having a rat as a pet. At the end of the read, you will have balanced information that will help you make the choice of petting or not petting a rat.
The Rat And The Contrasts
If you’re in this read, you may be considering getting a rat as your pet. If that is it, you need the best and the most accurate information to make an informed decision. Let’s talk about the rat first.
A Kicker To The Discussion
The rats in question belong to the Rattus norvegicus species. Their other names are ship rat, Norway rat, and brown rat. Experts believe that the rat came from the temperate regions of Mongolia and Northern China. Their domestication is thought to have happened in the last two centuries. Around 1850, people who love rats – or rat fancier – were supplying them to labs.
As crepuscular animals, the activeness of rats runs in the night from dawn till dusk. Their physical adaptations allow them to thrive and survive in low light areas. They do not like exposure to bright light. As prey animals, they have fierce and impeccable startle reflexes. They use those to respond to surprise, noise, or a predator’s smell. Rats also have impressive smelling and hearing, coupled up with other sensory adaptations. This combination of traits ensures that they don’t get eaten.
In terms of feeding and looking for food, rats are opportunistic omnivores and foragers. The male rats love to be territorial and forage areas about 100 feet off their nests. For most of the entire night, rats are usually foraging.
Foraging enables them to develop impressive skills – they are physically adept explorers. They love running, balancing, digging, and climbing. Because of aggressive foraging, they usually meet all their nutritional needs.
The wild types of rats have a natural intelligence that makes it easy for them to solve problems. They have been successful in many parts of the globe thanks to their strong physical abilities and excellent senses.
Neophobia is a psychological experience that rats have, which helps them survive. They do not jump at new food and items in the environment. In wild cats, neophobia has increased because of the human efforts of trapping and poisoning them.
The Pros: Why You Should Have A Rat As A Pet
1. The Rat Is A Cheerful Animal
Like many other pets and animals, the rat can experience moments of depression, for example, when a cage-mate bullies them or when a friend dies. That does not stop them from living up to their default attitude, which is nothing but cheerfulness.
If you observe their behavior and mannerisms, you will see that they take pleasure in everything. They will love being part of a nest of rats, and they will love greeting their humans whenever they get the chance. As compared to a hamster, you can wake up a rat at any time, and they will warm up to the occasion as if you didn’t just interrupt their sleep.
As you snuggle with them, remember not to trigger the startle reflex. If you frighten the rat, it may think that you are a predator. They will then react by biting you.
2. The Rat Is Highly And Impressively Sociable
When you get a rat, you must provide it with some company. If you choose to leave it alone, it is likely to develop lots of stress. Also, aloneness increases its risk of illness.
Since the rats need to have company round the clock, ensure that they have rat friends. Humans will spend time doing human things and might not be there all the time. So, two rats will keep each other company.
When you bring several rats into a cage, they cannot maintain a territory as the space is limited. So, they will work with a hierarchical system that is run and headed by an alpha. If the rats are related, the group will be peaceful with the system.
You can introduce new rats to the cage, but you need to be cautious. Some rats may get violent and see the newbie as a threat. Others, well, won’t have a problem with the new plus in the cage. You just need to observe and discourage any violent behavior.
3. The Rat Has A Particular Level Of Intelligence
There is a thought that asserts the rat’s intelligence over that of dogs. Their minds are capable of quick learning, problem-solving, and decision rationalizing. Rats can separate what they know and don’t. Then, they proceed to make choices with that knowledge.
They can experience empathy and regret over certain actions. This implies that they are emotionally intelligent. For anyone needing an ESA (emotional support animal), a rat is one that you should consider. So, if you’re looking at developing an emotional bond, training the rat to show agility, or having interestingly smart companions, you would be better having a rat as your pet.
4. The Rat Is A Clean Animal
This one is a little too hard to believe, considering everything that has been said about rats. Rats are portrayed as pests that carry dirt and disease everywhere they go. However, the opposite is true. The rat is one of the cleanest animals, but its image is tainted, much like that of a pig.
Training rats to use a litter box or pan is easy. Also, they spend around 35% of their time awake grooming themselves. As long as the rat’s enclosure is clean, you may never need to bathe a rat. If you want to give them a little grooming, the only areas to handle are tail cleaning and nail trimming.
Another negative portrayal of rats is that they are incontinent – a scientifically inaccurate belief. Rats have full bladder control, and many times, they are engaged in lab tests that look at bladder emptying. However, your pet rat may leave some little urine droplets as they crawl over you. Like many other animals, they do this for the sake of territorial marking.
Both humans and rats can transmit diseases to each other. On the one hand, humans who have staph infections and ringworms may pass them to rats. If the human interacts with dogs, they are likely to give kennel cough to rats which may react lethally with the rodents. On the other hand, rats can give hantavirus and rat-bite fever to humans. This happens due to natural weaknesses in human immunity systems. The fever and the virus first manifest as flu-like symptoms and cold. However, you should not worry since the diseases rarely become severe to warrant hospital care and treatment.
5. The Rat Is A Very Affectionate Rodent
Like a dog or a cat, the rat displays its affection overtly in ways such as snuggling, licking, and grooming. They are likely to engage in those behaviors with their humans rather than strangers. The other outstanding behavior is one called bruxism – it involves teeth-gnashing or grinding. Rats engage in bruxism when they are very upset, content, or just trying to enjoy some relaxation.
With bruxism, the rat grinds the teeth together. This triggers a series of grinding and clicking noises. Then, the rat boggles its eye due to the effect of the movement by the jaw muscles. Remember, the jaws are moving back, forth, and sideways to get the teeth ground.
If the rat is younger, you will observe that it will be interactive, active, and affectionate. However, they cannot settle down for a cuddle. Older rats will respond better when you try to snuggle, but you shouldn’t force anything. If you do, they are likely to experience the startle effect.
6. The Rat Is An Interesting And Intriguing Creature
Even if they are stuck in their cages, rats will be fun and exciting. They love to interact with their environments, and you will see them display gymnast techniques. Since they are active creatures, it would be best if you got the rat foragers and toys. They will appreciate it when you give them the items. For the most part, they will try to figure out what the objects are and can do.
When you give more items to your rat, their minds will be actively engaged. In the end, they will be more adept at solving problems. They will become more aware of their environment and work their way around any challenge that presents themselves. To learn the intrigues and the exciting details of rats, you need to let them express themselves. Do not discourage any behavior that is not destructive.
Although arguable, rats have a great and charming sense of humor. You will see them inspecting your ear and taking a closer look at your piercings. Also, they will wait until you look away so that they steal your food. Science has it that rats have ultrasonic giggles. When you tickle your pet rat, it giggles, but the pitch is a little too high for the human ear to pick the laughs out.
7. The Rat Does Not Need A Lot Of Maintenance
Before you get a pet – any pet – it is essential to know how much attention and maintenance they will need. For rats, you may not need to put in a lot of work and energy as you would with another pet, say a ferret, for example.
In the long term, here are the things you are expected to do as a pet rat parent: regular cleaning, provision of foraging items and toys, giving an excellent diet of fresh food, getting them outside their cage every day, provision of attention, and finally, regular healthcare checking.
The Cons: Why You Should Not Have A Rat As A Pet
1. The Care Details Of A Rat Can Be Expensive
Even though the rat is a miniature animal, it is not cheap to maintain. If you want to give them an ideal life where they express themselves to the fullest, you may be forced to spend on them. You would need to have include foragers and toys, a first aid kit, a carrier, and a cage with all its furniture – an exercise wheel, a nesting box, hammocks, ropes, perches, an exercise wheel, and litter pans.
Some of the items captured – like hammocks and toys – may require you to replace them as the rat ages. If you want to save on cash, you can consider making some of them yourself.
New cages might be expensive, but you can always get cheaper ones. You can look up online auctions to get second-hand cages or appear in garage sales and see if one is going.
The other costs that may take much from your wallet are the vet bills. Frequent checkups are necessary to ensure that the pet has a clean bill of health. If the rat has any issues with its respiration, you may need to spend more in terms of repeated interventions.
2. Rats Live For Only A Short Time But Attach Massively
Since the rodents have big personalities and can develop pure and strong connections with their humans, becoming attached to the rat is easy. This is compared to the two-and-a-half-year average lifespan of the rat, which is incredibly short. This implies that if you decide to keep rats, you may deal with multiple and repeated losses, which may be emotionally overwhelming.
For many, this reduced longevity of a rat is a great reason they don’t keep rats. Those who keep rats prefer to introduce newborns when the eldest rat is almost getting to two years of age. This is an excellent way to focus on the many losses and pay attention to the natural life cycle. Do not underestimate the emotional impact that can come when your rat passes on, and you need to say goodbye. Therefore, you need to understand the emotionality that comes with pet loss to decide if you will keep a pet that won’t last three years with you.
3. The Neophobic Nature Is More Of A Downside Than An Upside
The nature of a domesticated rat is determined and dictated by the parents’ genes. This also includes the stress the mother had when she was pregnant. If the mother is anxious, the young one will also have the same inclinations to apprehension.
Rats are, by nature, prey animals. If a rat, which is automatically looking over its shoulders, becomes anxious, its overall character will be of a nervously watchful individual. The one thing that has saved rats from these negative traits is domestication. This means that wild rats are more apprehensive than petted ones.
If you get a pet rat from a reputable breeder, you are likely to have one that is more robust and has more positive traits. The ones you get from pet shops come from huge rodent farms, and they are likely to be more anxious. It will be challenging to tame them.
When a rat bites, it is usually because it feels under threat or is startled. If you get a pet with anxious and avoidant inclinations, you may not love the parenting experience.
However, many rats, unmindful of their origin, become affectionate and tame as time goes by. Some of them may require more attention, but it is all part of the process. You don’t need to worry about a rat’s neophobic nature, but you should be mindful of it.
4. The Enclosures Of The Rats Can Get Smelly
The smells generated by rats are mostly from urine and droppings. Here are some of the conditions that encourage the generation of smells: high protein and vegetable diets, fleece-covered and uncovered shelves and floors, paper-lined trays, and small cages.
To make a massive and impressive difference to the rat’s smell, you can add absorbent substrate to the litter pan. Also, it would help if you made changes to the cloth hammocks and paper bedding.
5. Rats Experience Social Stress Because Of Their High Sociability
Attachment, disputes, and loss are some of the things that come with the rat’s sociability. If the rats are in a social group, loss and conflicts are likely to cause unrest. If the rats engage in odd squabbles and develop social stress, some problems are likely to come. They include anorexia, insomnia, PTSD, and projection of their aggression towards their humans.
Although new baby rats will be accepted well, they may become problematic as they grow into adulthood because of hormonal changes. This means that a group of rats should get much attention when they live together. No rat should be made to feel alone, and they should all coexist peacefully.
6. Rats Are Susceptible To Getting Some Diseases
If a well-bred rat is fed well throughout its life, there will be no problems. However, some rats tend to develop illnesses like respiratory problems, womb infection, hind leg weakness, kidney disease, womb infection, and non-cancerous tumors.
The diseases come up when the rat’s lifetime diet does not include seeds, fruits, and fresh plants. This implies that those rats living and coming from rodent farms are likely to be more susceptible.
7. As Prey Animals, Rats Need To Feel Protected
Even though a pet rat is as domesticated as it can be, it may still suffer from stress-induced by predators. If you keep a rat’s cage close to a ferret, cat, or snake, the rat is likely to be distressed. If you own a cat and you want to bring in rats, ensure that the rats live in a separate room that the cat cannot go into. Rats can smell the scent of a cat, and if it is too strong, the poor rat may remain apprehensive for way too long.
Breaking A Lance: Why A Pet Rat Is An Amazing Being
Here is the A to H of why rats are the most wonderful pets:
1. The rat’s whiskers are unique as they can move from one direction to the other and in different directions simultaneously. Like our fingertips, the rat’s whiskers are sensitive to pressure.
2. The food selection of rats is fantastic as they choose food based on nutritional content. For the most part, they are guided by taste.
3. Rats have an impeccable olfactory sense that goes beyond that of the dog. Their smelling is powerful and helps them to find food and stay alive.
4. Among the few, rats show the powerful cognitive abilities of regret and remorse, and they also learn from both negative and positive reinforcement. Although arguable, rats can engage in moments of reason and come up with a deduction.
5. Research has it that rats are powerful empathizers. They show empathy to both strangers and friends, or that is what they appear to do.
6. While the vision of a rat may be different from ours, it is very efficient and functional. Even in the semi-darkness of the night, rats can see urine trails. Also, they can move their eyes independently to look in two different directions.
7. Unlikely other animals, rats have a humanlike response to music, especially the classical kind that has high tones. Music is therapeutic to rats as it can help improve their immunity, stress and pain management, blood pressure stability, capacity to learn, and wound healing.
8. Because of their muscle reflexes and excellent balancing and climbing, rats know how to remain fit. As you may already know, they are good jumpers.