Choosing

Before actually searching for your new furry friends, you’ll want to decide on a few things such as

Rats like being together

Rats enjoy the company of one another

How Many?

Rats love being together. They groom each other, play together and even sleep on top of one other. This is why it’s important to have at least two rats. Some people worry they won’t be as close to their rats if they have more than one.  From my experience, having two rats doesn’t hinder the development of close relationships with both rats. Most of us can’t be with our rats 24/7, so having at least two is essential. The only exceptions to this occur when your rat can’t live with other rats due to an aggression, an illness or being very elderly.

sleeping on top of one another

Evan sleeping on top of Chet

What’s the limit? The most rats I’ve ever had at one time was five and, in that case, I felt like I could not get to know them as individuals. Personally I like adopting two at a time. However, as long as you have a large enough cage, and you have the time and money it takes to care for them, having more than two rats may be enjoyable for you. BACK TO TOP

Male or Female?

Male rats are frequently larger

Male rats are frequently larger

Male-Female Chart in Brown Beginning with my tenth rat, I started adopting males exclusively. I love the males because they’re (in general) cuddlier and more responsive to developing a relationship with humans. The females frequently possess independent personalities. Unlike most males, they’re not as likely to want to sit on your lap and be petted. Instead, they’re quite adventurous and even mischievous.   Females do generally live longer than males. They can live four or more years whereas the males live up to three years.

My longest lived male rats have lived to be three years and three months. Females develop tumors much more often than males. These can easily be removed surgically and most often are not life threatening.   Spaying, especially if done when young, dramatically decreases the occurrence of mammary tumors and can contribute to longevity. The important thing here, though, is to make sure to find a veterinarian who is experienced with rat spays. (Not all are.)

Males and females can live together as long as the females are spayed and/or the males are neutered. I now believe neutering is not as essential as I used to think. As long as male rats are not aggressive and you’re tolerant of any marking behavior, leaving males intact doesn’t have the major health benefits that spaying the females has. Males do have a musky scent if unneutered and their skin may develop orange oily patches as they age. I happen to really like the muskiness of the male rats. If their scent and the oilier skin is a problem from your perspective, however, neutering can alleviate these characteristics.

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Babies

Babies or Adults?

Babies are so cute it’s easy to forget they’re going to behave like babies! Often called “popcorn” since they jump around like kernels popping, they never stay still for very long. Although there are always exceptions, don’t expect to have newly adopted baby rats become cuddly, loving friends  right away. If you adopt an adult, they may bond with you fairly quickly.  However, if they come from a home without much human interaction, you may find that it’ll take awhile for them to get used to you. You can be fairly sure that any rat around nine months or older won’t be running around constantly like babies do. I enjoy adopting adult rats because they already have a personality developed. It’s fun to get to know them, discover what they like and find areas in which you can help their confidence and personality grow. For your first rats, however, it may be easier to adopt babies since adult rats sometimes need specialized attention. BACK TO TOP

What kind of rat?

Burmese Rats

Burmese Rats

Did you know there are Siamese, Burmese, Hairless, Rex, Dumbo and even Dalmation rats? The varieties of pet rats are fun to learn about and, in some cases, will affect their personality and health. Many believe Dumbo rats to be friendlier than other types of rats. (Dumbo rats’ ears are on the sides of their head rather than on top—similar to Walt Disney’s “Dumbo the Elephant”.) Burmese are also often considered to be very friendly. I once had Dumbo Burmese rats who were exceptionally warm and loving. Hairless rats are prone to having skin conditions and eye problems due to their lack of fur and eyelashes.

To learn more about the many different kinds of rats, here are a two websites:

RMCA Rat Standards

AFRMA Rat and Mouse Show Information Pages – Official Rat Standards

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Where should I look for pet rats?

Humane Society: One of my favorite places to find rats is a local humane society. Some of my most beloved rats were rescues brought to the shelter. One was taken to the humane society after being found as a baby underneath a bush in a parking lot. He had little bite marks all over his body. Because I worked at the shelter, I got to see him the day he came in. Hungry and exhausted, I held him in my hand watching him eat and fall asleep at the same time. Another shelter rat I adopted came from a hoarder with hundreds of rats, some of whom were cannibalizing one another. I was surprised to find this particular rat was the friendliest, most easy going guy even though he probably didn’t get much attention from humans.

Dwayne & Dean on my shoulder

Dwayne & Dean on my shoulder

Breeder: I had thought that getting rats from a breeder would be the best way to get the healthiest, longest living pets. I read that oftentimes breeders are able to eliminate the likelihood of mycoplasma, a very common and contagious upper respiratory infection. Over the years, I’ve had several “purebred” fancy rats from breeders. Some lived as long as rats I’d rescued in the past, some did not and ended up having significant health problems. One veterinarian I know who specializes in exotic pets said she has found Rex rats to have weakened immune systems.

Pet Stores: Pet stores may or may not be the best place from which to obtain pet rats. It all depends on their health and how much they’ve been socialized.  Medical and behavioral problems most often occur when the pet store doesn’t keep their habitats clean, uses pine or cedar litter, feeds them non-nutritional food and doesn’t handle the rats daily. In some cases, pet stores sell rats as either snake food or as pets. I once adopted some rats meant to be sold as snake food. They weren’t the friendliest rats but it did feel good to rescue them. There are some good pet stores where their rats are obtained from reputable, responsible breeders and the store staff takes good care of them until they go to their new homes.

Private Home: Evan Similar to pet stores, it all depends on how the rats have been raised and how well they’ve been cared for. I once adopted a pair of baby rats from an individual advertising on craigslist. Her husband bred rats for snake food and she decided she wanted to breed some of them to be pets. Not exactly an ideal situation, but the rats I adopted were very sweet although they each ended up having health problems later on.

No matter where you adopt your new rats from, make sure that the males and females were housed separately—unless they were spayed or neutered. Female rats can get pregnant beginning when they’re around five weeks old. Finding out you’ve adopted a pregnant female isn’t always the nicest surprise! BACK TO TOP

Choosing for Health and Temperament:

In terms of personality, it’s better to adopt a rat that comes right up to your hand and curiously sniffs it than one that cowers in the corner. Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for when determining whether or not the rats you’re considering are healthy:

  • Porphyrin, a red secretion that looks like blood  and is generally seen around a rat’s eyes and nostrils. It’s a sign that the rat could have mycoplasma or another sort of upper respiratory infection.  Rats who are stressed will also often have porphyrin around their eyes and nose.
  • Another sign to look for is the health of the rat’s fur. Is it shiny and well-groomed or is the coat disheveled, dirty or dull? If a rat isn’t grooming itself, this could be because it’s not feeling well.
  • Is the rat sneezing? If so, this is another symptom of a possible upper respiratory infection.
  • How about the rat’s physique? Does it look excessively skinny or extra plump?

It’s better to start out with a healthy rat unless you’re prepared to take on the added challenge. BACK TO TOP

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11 Responses so far.

  1. kyelee says:

    Hello! Im here because my rat just had babies!!! (So apparently im not so good at determaning the sex of a rat!) And im determaning witch rat babies I should keep i have 1 dumbo baby (PLS be a girl) and the rest are albino raties witch little raties should i keep? The mom is albino and unfoutanaly the daddy must go bye bye😨… At least he gets to leave with 2 of his children (he WILL forget he even had them he dosnt get to see them HE WILL TRY TO GET THE MOM PREGO AGEIN AND THATS A NONO!!!) And he will get to live with old owner!!!!😀😍the only reason he moved in with me his because his friend passed away…😞😞😞

    • Hi Kyelee,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear your rat had an unplanned pregnancy. I hope you’re able to find great homes for the ones you’re not able to keep.

      Keep in mind that male rats as young as 5-weeks-old can impregnate female rats. To tell the sexes apart, observe the distance between their genitals and anus. Males have about twice the distance compared to females. Males’ testicles can develop as young as at 3 weeks of age. Once they’re fully grown, a rat’s testicles are quite large—you can’t miss them! 🙂

      In case it’s helpful to know, an albino rat is called a “PEW” which stands for “Pink-Eyed White”.

      Hope everyone is doing well!

      Jasmine | About Pet Rats

  2. Antonio says:

    Hello, I’m considering a rat (rats) as a pet. You mentioned Dumbo rats being the most effectionate. Are Dumbos more or less effectionet than African Pouch Rats?

    • Antonio says:

      I did further research and learned that the African Pouch Rats, although have successfully been trained for illness and bomb detection and could make nice pets, they are not officially domesticated animals. Dumbo rats are an officially domesticated breed.
      If you have any further insight, please pass it along. Thank you.

    • Hi There, Antonio!

      I’m glad to hear you’re looking into getting pet rats! That’s great you’re doing your research as there’s so much to consider and plan for before bringing home your family members.

      I don’t have any personal experience with Gambian pouched rats. From what I’ve read, they do seem like they’d be more difficult to socialize with humans. And yes, it’s pretty amazing about the organization Apopo and how they’ve trained Gambian pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis!

      If you’re looking for affectionate temperaments, I’d definitely choose male rats over females. As far as Dumbo vs. standard-eared rats, I really do believe it’s more likely to depend on how the rats are raised and socialized than on their appearance.

      A good way to choose rats for temperament is to see how they behave when you first meet them. If they’re outgoing and eager to greet you then they’re more likely to be friendly and able to bond with you. On the contrary, rats who hide inside a box or behind all the other rats will take more time and work before they’re able to relax and become close with you.

      Let me know if you have any other questions. Best wishes on finding your new friends!

      Jasmine | About Pet Rats

  3. Maggie says:

    I have 2 female rats that I have had for over a year now, but they are now starting to get violent and hurt and bite each other. What should I do?

    • Hi Maggie,

      The first thing to determine is whether or not your girls are actually fighting (rather than playing and/or establishing dominance). Descriptions of how to tell each of these behaviors apart can be found in Play, Tiff or Clash? | Understanding Pet Rat Relationships.

      If there is any blood being shed then you’ll probably want to separate them—at least for the short term.

      Here are things to observe so you can help figure out why they’ve begun behaving violently toward one another:

      • Are one or both of your girls in heat when the aggression occurs? (You can tell they’re in heat when they arch their rear ends and/or wiggle their ears. The ear wiggling is very rapid so that it almost looks like their ears are vibrating.)
      • Is one rat behaving more aggressively than the other?
      • When are they becoming aggressive? Are they inside their cage? Outside the cage during free roam time? Is it when they are being given treats?

      I always think it’s a good idea to have pet rats examined regularly by a veterinarian who’s knowledgeable about and experienced with pet rats. This helps initially by establishing a baseline of what’s “normal” for your rats making it easier to recognize changes when they occur later on. Your veterinarian can also often find problems you may not have noticed. It could be you didn’t notice because it’s a problem with which you’re unfamiliar. Another reason you may not have realized your rat is ill is because it’s in the very early stages. Veterinarians are well trained and experienced in recognizing conditions before they’re in advanced stages. This generally makes it both easier to treat and less expensive. Good rat veterinarians are also quite knowledgeable about pet rat behavior. They can give behavioral recommendations after thoroughly examining your rats to rule out any possible medical conditions.

      If they are fighting when they’re in heat AND if they are actually shedding blood, then spaying may be a good option for changing their behavior. You can read important details about spaying in Spaying & Neutering Your Pet Rats.

      I hope at least some of these ideas are helpful. If you need any clarification or want to share additional details, don’t hesitate to let me know.

      Good luck resolving this difficult issue. I wish there was an easy solution. However, resolving this type of behavioral issue is dependent on so many specific, individualized factors. I do hope you’re able to take them to a vet to help figure out what your girls’ particular issues are. I’d love to hear an update if you feel like writing again.

      Best Wishes to You & Your Rats,

      Jasmine | About Pet Rats

  4. Valerie says:

    It’s, so funny, when you describe them, they are so simular to dogs, I also feel like male dogs are cuddlier!
    A lot of new information here for me!

    Love x

    • Hi Valerie!

      That’s interesting that in your experience male dogs are cuddlier just like with rats. Pet rats are the perfect combination of dogs and cats: They groom themselves, play and can be litter box trained just like cats. They come when called, learn tricks and want to please you just like dogs. Who could ask for anything more?!

      Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. 🙂

      Jasmine | About Pet Rats

  5. Kelley says:

    I love rats! My husband does not, so I don’t have any right now. I always get females because the giant male genitalia grosses me out. I know that’s not very nice, but that’s how I feel. I didn’t realize there were so many different varieties. I always got the black and white hooded rats. I also discovered that if I get them young and hand raise them it turned out to be really good companions. I think they’re much better than hamsters! unfortunately some people can’t get past the tail. I think it’s cute, but some people are just weird.

    • Hi Kelley,

      Has your husband ever been around rats? He might be more accepting if he had the chance to see how adorable rats are. Seeing them groom their faces, hold food in their hands while they’re eating—little behaviors such as these are quite endearing to the uninitiated. 🙂

      Males and females are so different from one another. I love them both but have to say it’s wonderful to have males since they usually love cuddling and being petted.

      Yes, those testicles are BIG! My first rat was male and I was afraid to get him neutered because I thought it would cause him to lose his balance. (This was way back in 1990!)

      Speaking of rat tails, I’m not sure if you saw my post Tail Tales yet.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing some rat love!

      Best Wishes to You & Your Furry Friends,

      Jasmine | About Pet Rats