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Rats as Pets – Looking Past Stereotypes and Misconceptions

Hooded RatOf all of the animals we carry in Critter Corner’s Small Animal Room, rats evoke the biggest reaction. Most people who see pet rats for sale cringe at the idea of having one in their home, let alone as a well loved companion. Who would want a pet rat? What could you possibly get out of having a pet rat? Well, despite the stereotype of rats being flea carrying bringers of disease, domesticated pet rats are clean, intelligent, personable animals that rarely bite, can be trained to do tricks, and make wonderful pets for gentle children and adults alike.

Having had several pet rats, I’ve found them to be one of the best small pets I’ve ever had. They don’t get frightened easily, and they are very friendly when handled regularly. They don’t have the “mousey” smell of a lot of rodents, and they have so much more personality. My two favorite rats were Piper and Caesar, who I would let free roam about my living room and bedroom. They were “potty trained” and would scamper back to their cage to do their business, instead of leaving it drop wherever they went. Piper was a prankster, and liked to play tag with me. Her favorite activity was hiding under the couch and beneath cushions. She would wait until I was no longer looking for her, and then sticking her cold nose against my leg to give me a jump. She’d bound away like a bunny, expecting me to chase her, and it would go on for hours if I’d let it. Caesar, who I still have, though he is very old, goes underneath the furniture and retrieves cat toys that my Bengal, Sookie absently bats out of human (and feline) reach. Wherever there is a lost toy, Caesar is sure to find it! All of my rats have been extremely affectionate and loved to groom and lick me. When happy, they will begin chattering their teeth lightly, a behavior known as “bruxing”. Bruxing is the equivalent of a cat purring contently and it is very pleasant to hear.

Hairless RatThe average adult rat grows to be about a foot long including the tail and may weigh up to a pound. Every animal is different, and depending on genetics and diet, some may end up smaller or larger. There are many breed variations of rats, including but not limited to dumbos, rexes, double rexes, hairless, mock hairless, satins, even tailess! Dumbos are a favorite among rat fanciers because of their endearing expressions. The ears of a dumbo rat are rounder and set lower on the head, earning them their name. Dumbo rats can come in any color and hair type as well. There are thousands of color patterns and markings that rats can come in that may resemble the markings of purebred cats and dogs. Just a few examples are Siamese, Himalayan, merle, agouti, blue, mink, and Dalmation. Professional rat keepers who show rats, that’s right, show rats, take pride in breeding for color, temperament, size, and genetic purity. Your average run of the mill pet store rat will not be as fancy as a show rat, but occasionally, stunning colors and patterns will show up at That Fish Place, so keep your eyes open!

Rats are very social creatures that benefit greatly from having a companion. My rats have always been kept in pairs. They always are grooming each other and sleeping snug up inside their hammock together!

Rats are very social creatures that benefit greatly from having a companion, so you may plan to keep at least two. Introduce the pair (preferably between 4-6 weeks of age) to ensure they bond and no fights break out. Introducing adult rats that are not accustomed to each other can result in severe injury to one or both of your pets. Consider keeping rats of the same sex as well. As fun as the idea of breeding rats and raising babies may seem, it is not healthy for a female rat to go through continuous pregnancies. As long as there is a male present, a female rat will get pregnant every 20-25 days, whether she is still caring for a litter or not. This is extremely taxing on her body. Producing milk for a litter as big as 15 hungry pups while another litter is developing inside her depletes her system of nutrients, weakens her bones, and shortens her life. A female rat with babies may also become aggressive and could bite out of protective maternal instinct, even if she is normally incredibly friendly.

American Blue RatOnce the babies are old enough to leave the nest, she will be back to her old self.  What about her pups?  Do you have a plan for finding them homes? If you cannot get rid of your pups soon enough, they will breed with each other resulting in more pups, many that may have health issues resulting from inbreeding. If you must keep a male and female rat together, opt to have one or both of them fixed. I had my male rat, Caesar neutered at 4 months of age, and it cost about $140, but was well worth it.There are many vets who deal with exotic animals that will be able to neuter or spay your rats. It is usually best for you and your pet if they are not allowed to breed.

Be sure to come back for part 2 of this blog! I’ll tell you all about what you need to keep pet rats happy in your home.

Hairless Rat image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Alma 1980

American Blue Rat image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Barbara b


  1. avatar
    Quinn from Mount Joy

    I got my “girls” Bixby and Banner, a pair of sisters, at TPP a year ago. They are my first rats, and surely not my last! They are perfect little critters- playful like ferrets, but without the smell. They have distinctive personalities. They have the capacity to show affection to each other and owners. Constant sources of joy for myself. They win over anyone who meets them. My girls were healthy coming from TPP, and I will be going back when I look to expand my family!

  2. avatar

    Thanks for the kind words, Quinn! Many of my co-workers and I have kept rats and they really are just great. Look forward to helping you expand!

  3. avatar
    Quinn from Mount Joy

    May I just take this opportunity to compliment a small pet room staff member? I don’t know her name. She is slim, very thick long brown hair, wears glasses. I LOVE HER!! I chat with her about my rattie girls and her experiences with hers. She knows her stuff, and has advised me on several occasions. (((HUGS))) to her!!

  4. avatar

    I LOVE rats and I reallt want one. But my mum is against ‘caged’ animals. I try to exlpain to her that I could train them to run around the room (Like Piper and Caesar) but she won’t listen 🙁

  5. avatar

    I am currently in the process of getting my first pet rats for my family with 4 boys and had also been considering adding a Bengal cat to our family but thought cats and rats in the same house would be a HUGE mistake (for the rats especially!). However, I saw in your article that you have a Bengal cat! And you let your rats roam in an area where your cat is but maybe not when the rats are roaming free? Could you please tell me more about how the cat and rats get along? Thank you for a wonderful article!

  6. avatar

    Hi Bobbie, thanks for asking!
    My cat is usually not allowed in the room when my rats are out. The few instances where I did let her in the room she was being carefully guarded while the rats were out. My particular cat is not keen on the rats and may curiously watch them from a distance but doesn’t get close so that is why sometimes I let her in with them, however I would not trust that your cat would do the same thing. Sometimes animals that are supposed to be enimies end up being friends, but you cannot count on that happening and you cannot ever leave cats and rats alone together even if they seem to love each other. Sometimes even a playful pounce could end in tragedy. I have kept many animals that would eat each other in the same household, but knowing that they may eat each other, I always am making sure cages are locked tight and there is no chance of prey escaping or predators breaking in! Keep this in mind and you should be okay. Happy pet ownership!

  7. avatar

    How can I show my parents pet rats are good and they make good pets???? Any ideas????

  8. avatar

    That’s a tough one…education is the best route. Maybe show them videos of pet rats interacting with their owners? I have kept rats through the years, they are terrific!! Much better than hamsters and other rodents. They are smart, interactive, and friendly. If you know anyone with a pet rat currently, maybe introduce your folks to that friend and their pet. The best way to let go of negative stigma is to expose them to a live representative 🙂

  9. avatar

    I love this entry! Rats need as much positive PR as they can get. I share your fondness for these lovely creatures.

  10. avatar
    the quinn location

    There’s certainly a great deal to find out about this subject. I love all of the points you have made.

  11. avatar

    I have three boys right now and they are so sweet. I’ve had 12 rats over the past 15 years think they make great pets. Thanks for writing such a positive post about these sweet animals.

  12. avatar

    I’ve never kept a pet rat, but everyone I know who has absolutely loves them 🙂

About jeppley

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Jess has been an employee at That Fish Place/That Pet Place since 2005, stationed in both the Reptile and Small Animal rooms. She specializes in small animal care, and focuses particularly on rats, giving her the nickname of “The Rat Girl” by her customers and fellow employees. She has an Associate degree in Liberal Arts from Penn State York and is currently attending English courses online at University of Maryland University College. Her passion has always been animals and she has owned just about every variety of them, including cats, birds, reptiles, rodents, and even millipedes! She also loves writing and is working on publishing a series of young adult fantasy novels.
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