Are Rats Good Pets? 10 Reasons Why Having Pet Rats Is Great

by Alison Blyth
Are rats good pets

When it comes to answering this question, I’m obviously a bit biased. After all I wouldn’t own over 20 of the small furry noses if I didn’t think that rats were good pets.

There are lots of proper reasons why rats are good pets, beyond the fact that I love them. Here are 10.

Why do rats make good pets?

1. Rats like people

In general, rats actively like the company of people. They usually want to come out the cage and spend time with us, have a cuddle, use the human as a climbing frame, see what we’ve got in our pockets and so on. Of course, some rats can be nervy or even aggressive around people, especially if they’ve been neglected or poorly handled, but if you adopt well-bred rats that have been handled from babyhood, it’s not usually a problem.

Top tip: Make sure you meet your rats before buying them. If buying from a breeder rather than rescuing, ask to meet the parents / other relatives as well.

2. Rats are usually easy to handle

Rats love to be handled by their owners

Assuming you have rats who have been responsibly bred and handled from babyhood, they should be happy to be handled. Happy confident rats don’t run away when their owner picks them up, and they don’t wriggle much when held. To a happy, well socialised rat, being held and given a good cheek rub is one of life’s pleasures.

Of course, it is important to handle rats in the right way so as not to hurt them. Although they are a robust size compared to animals like mice and gerbils, they are still little compared to humans, and they can get spinal injuries if handled badly. I pick mine up round their tummies and chest, putting my other hand under them to support their weight. I usually carry them cupped against my body for security. You should never pick rats up by the tail.

3. Rats are intelligent

There is a lot going on behind those furry noses. Rats are bright animals, which makes them extra fun to play with and train. It means they can learn tricks and games as well as important things like coming back to the cage at a particular command. It also means that rats can entertain themselves given a good stimulating environment, and other rats for company.

4. Rats have lots of personality

Each rat has its own distinct personality and forms a unique bond with its owner. In my horde right now I have, among others, Wilbur (big old man who adores humans and ear rubs), GB (an adorable idiot with a paper fixation) and Perdita (highly confident escapologist who will be getting her own way, thank you very much). They are the most engaging small animals.

5. Rats have emotions

Scientific studies have found rats respond to others’ distress and show something akin to empathy. They also “laugh” when tickled or pleasurably groomed, and form strong bonds with humans and other rats (which is why I strongly recommend keeping rats in pairs or groups). Pet rats interact with their owners not just out of cupboard love, for food, but because they genuinely like their human. Rats groom and snuggle with their owners because they want to – it is a proper emotional bond.

6. Rats are fairly low maintenance

Rats are an easy type of pet to keep. They need a healthy interesting diet, but there’s a lot of flexibility in the details. Rats are omnivores with guts quite similar to ours, and the net result is that there are very few human foods that are unsafe for them. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they should be fed on junk, but unlike dogs, they aren’t at risk of poisoning if they nibble a chocolate.

They also don’t need to go out for several walks a day, they won’t bring back dead birds, and they are less reminiscent of living with a hyperactive toddler than ferrets. They do need regular feeding, cleaning and playing with, but for a couple of rats that is all fairly easy to fit round other commitments.

There is one area where owning rats can get quite intense, and that’s health. Rats are prone to illness, especially if they aren’t bred for health. I recommend anyone considering getting pet rats makes a special savings account for vets’ bills!

7. Rats want to play when you do

Rats want to play when you do

In the wild, rats are mostly crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. In pets, that translates as being most awake and ready to play in the mornings and evenings. Pet rats will happily spend the day asleep while their owner is at work or school and will get in the habit of waking up for whatever time you give them regular attention.

8. Rats don’t take up too much space

Ok, this one depends on how many rats you have. Mine currently take up a whole room. However, if you have a pair of rats, a cage suitable to house them can fit in an 80 x 50 cm (30 x 20 in) footprint. In addition, they’ll need somewhere to play out the cage, but that can be a hallway, a bathroom, a bed or table.

9. Rats are clean(ish)

Rats largely take care of their own hygiene. They are very keen on grooming and will keep their fur, teeth and nails in trim. Crucially, they can be litter trained, and although that’s not always 100% successful, I’ve found most of my rats will at least go back in the cage to pee and poo during playtime.

10. Rats aren’t a long-term commitment

This can be a good or bad thing – we could also list it as “rats will break your heart” – but the average lifespan of a rat is 2-3 years. On the one hand that can be upsetting when the adorable personality you’ve fallen in love with dies after only a couple of short years. However, on the other hand, it means rats are a pet you can take on without making the kind of 15 or 20 year commitment that many larger animals need.

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1 comment

Patty April 7, 2019 - 2:19 pm

Nice post. I’ve never given much thought to having a rat as a pet,, but now I can see why people keep them. Sounds like a good starter pet for people who have kids.

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