People often imagine that rats are inexpensive pets. Who can blame them when there are articles all over the net that make such bogus claims as “All you’ll need to buy is a 20-gallon aquarium or a similarly sized wire cage ($30+), some bedding and toys, and food, which will cost you about $40 per year” ?Not only are these figures inaccurate, but a 20-gallon tank won’t be big enough for a pair of rats, let alone a trio. In fact, you shouldn’t keep them in tanks at all.
The truth is, rats are quite expensive. They are cheap to buy as babies and their food doesn’t even begin to compare to the cost of, say, feeding a dog. The cage or cages you will need are large and expensive, of course, but you may get lucky and find a good second hand cage on Ebay or a terrific Facebook page for cages called Cage Spotters which lists cages all over Britain the are being sold second-hand.
So how come I say they are expensive? Veterinary bills. I cannot tell you how many owners are shocked by the number of veterinary visits required by their pet rats, let alone the surgery costs when required. Most rats will sail through their first year of life without needing veterinary attention, although there are no guarantees. However, at some point between 12-24 months your rat may very well develop a respiratory infection and require antibiotics. None of the antibiotics needed are legally available without a veterinary prescription. Some of them treat one kind of infection and some another. All of them have to be given as quickly as possible after symptoms develop if they are to be effective. A veterinary visit plus the cost of the medicine will range but I’d imagine £50.00 would do the trick at today’s prices.
Okay, £50 may not seem expensive. It isn’t, considering that any animal you have may require a veterinary visit. But rats also tend to develop tumours. Many of these tumours are benign (mammary tumours are almost always so) and can be operated on and resolved. However, you must ask your vet early on how much they charge for such procedures as the prices vary enormously! I’d expect to pay between £60-£110 for mammary tumour removal unless the tumour were particularly tricky and then it might be more.
Does are more prone to mammary tumours but bucks can get them because even though they don’t have nipples they do have mammary tissue. Bucks also tend to get abscesses, which may or may not require veterinary attention. They sometimes need neutering (I’ve not had that problem as my bucks are big softies, but not everyone is so lucky!), and the does sometimes need spaying due to pyometra or other complications of the reproductive system (this will cost between £80-£110 at my vet).
None of these number seem high until you consider that the animal lives an average of 2-2.5 years. In fact, the average age of death of a male rat in the UK is Once your rats have reached the end of their lives you will say goodbye to them, which means you may need another appointment with the vet for a “pts” (put to sleep). You then buy a couple of more rats and the cycle continues!
I estimate that every rat you have will cost you about between £100-£150 in vet bills. If you have two rats you are looking at quite a sum over the course of their short lives. How short you might ask? Well, a pet survey in the UK found that most rats live on average for 1.8 years. Most of my rats live between 21 and 27 months. That’s it. I know people say they have rats that live four or five years but I’ve not found that to be the case. So, having spent all this money on spaying or tumours or whatever, you aren’t going to have years of a healthy pet. They will die and then, if you are like me and you are hooked on rats, you’ll only go and buy another trio!
So, while it is true that rats are far less expensive than dogs, they aren’t cheap! Well-meaning owners are conned into believing pet rats will be an inexpensive option only to be shocked when they can’t afford vital veterinary care that their rat requires.
What about insurance? A great idea exceptional that not all insurers will cover rats. the one I know of is Exotic Direct. They would be delighted to insure your rats but they charge £15 per rat per month. You’d do better putting the money aside, I imagine. If you do find cheaper pet insurance for your rats, can you let me know? I’d love to tell others!
There are rats that will cost you very little and die peacefully in their sleep without having ever shown a sign of illness, but they are rare. Arm yourself with the cash necessary to look after your rats without worry and enjoy them without the stress of worrying how to pay the bill if they need the vet. And if you do run into financial difficulty, look up the PDSA before you have a veterinary emergency. The PDSA recognises that people keep rats in pairs at minimum and will cover some of the costs of veterinary treatment if you qualify.
I really feel for you if you can’t afford a pet. The longing to connect with animals is very great. Rat owners like me are always looking for those who love rats to help them out when they are away on holiday or work. You might be able to help out a breeder. Join the NFRS and go to rat shows, meet breeders and soon you’ll be in demand to help out and you’ll get LOTS of time with rats and baby rats as well as a little money to store away for your own.