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