Like any good breeder, I want to make sure my rats go to people who love rats, are willing to learn everything they can to keep them healthy and happy, and can provide their housing, food, and veterinary needs for the whole of their relatively short lives.
There are so many rats that end up purchased by well-meaning people only to be passed on when the landlord discovers with horror that there are pet rats in the place (heaven forfend!) or a child loses interest, or the owner gets bored. I’ve had many “rescue rats” due to such circumstances and I am determined that the rats I breed do not end up being rehomed.
Normally I say (in fact, I insist) that if you adopt rats from me you agree that, should you be unable to look after them in the future, you will return them to me. Since Covid19, however, I’m more careful about taking back rats I’ve homed out. I’ll still have them, of course!
Generally, don’t get rats unless you are 100% sure you can keep them. This means your landlord or housemates aren’t against the idea or allergic, that you can afford them, that you agree to look after them for their entire lives. If for some reason you cannot, ring and we’ll see what can be arranged, however. I usually have a lot of people who want rats and might be able to find a suitable home.
If you don’t have enough money for veterinary bills, I suggest you put a minimum of £100 away for every rat you plan to keep and, only then, adopt rats. Anyone’s rats — not just mine. My experience with rats is that they will get at least one upper respiratory infection, costing close to 50 pounds for the vet visit and medication, and one “put to sleep” visit, costing about the same later in their lives.
There can be many other costs associated with rats. You may find you need to spay or have a tumour removed from your rat. Costs vary but my vet will charge about £85 for a spay. Not every rat will need tumour removal or spaying, but it’s good to know you have the funds available if this should turn out to be the case.
Your rats’ quality of life is very important. They are such smart, active, curious creatures that they really need to come out daily for about an hour to “free-range” either in a secure room or a large enclosure (I can help you with ideas on this). I have a play pen as well as time out on my sofa while I watch movies. They climb on me, go through tunnels, investigate the book shelf, and generally have a nice time. Because I have both males and females, I have to make sure that each group comes out. It’s a commitment!
Of course, the rats won’t die if they don’t come out of their cage daily…so if you do miss a day here or there, don’t worry. I’m just trying to give you an idea of what you’re getting yourself into by getting rats!
So…what happens when you go away for holiday? You can’t just leave them with nobody to attend to them. You’ll need to find a family member or pet service that will check on them daily. Of course, if it is only overnight, you can add an extra water bottle and a big bowl of food and you’ll probably be fine, but don’t turn off the heat! Rats can adjust to colder temperatures but not all at once! I keep mine somewhere between 16-21…the summers can be hard as they don’t like it too hot. It’s difficult to keep temperatures moderate during a very hot summer or cold winter and this is why I insist that any baby rats of mine be kept in your house and not in a shed or garage. I can help you with ideas for keeping your rats warm enough, for cooling them down, for making sure they thrive, but only if they are in a house or flat, not outdoors.
Rats need company. I’ve found very few exceptions to the rule that all rats must be kept in a minimum of pairs. This is why I prefer to home rats in trios, not in pairs. It is so easy to lose a rat at, say, 20 months old and have their sister or brother go on to live six additional months or more. If you have a very elderly rat that really is on its last legs you may choose to keep him or her alone for a couple of weeks prior to saying goodbye to that rat. In fact, that may be the kindest thing if the rat is very infirm. However, for the most part, you really need to keep rats with other rats. One great reason to join the the National Fancy Rat Society is so that you can post on their forum “WANTED” section if you find yourself in this position (the forum is also a great place to get health and breeding information).
People will be more than willing to help you either by supplying you with a couple of baby rats or even finding a rat of approximately the same age with which you can pair your singleton rat. That is, if they can.
Do you have the room for a rat cage? It seems a silly question but these cages are BIG. In fact, if you want to make your life a lot easier, get a couple of cages. One would be smallish, the sort of thing you can keep three baby rats in for a week or so and then use as a “hospital” or travel cage in the future. I have a Savic Ruffy 2 cage that I’d never keep rats in permanently because it is way too small even for 2 rats. However, I find it fits nicely into my car when I take my rats away with me overnight (which, yes, I do!) or when I take a few to shows. It has been an old rats’ cage for my extremely elderly rats who can no longer climb and a honeymoon suite for a pair of rats I hope to mate. I love the cage, though it is not perfect (the door is on the top so you have to swoop in eagle-style to pick up a rat!). At home, my rats are in a Savic Suite Royale, a giant cage with two levels. However, a trio of rats all be quite happy in something like a Furplast Freddy 2 or a Freddy 2 Max. You can use a Mamble 100 if you can find it, half the price and much bigger than it looks in the photos. Also, very good is the Coco Large found at Little Pet Warehouse. There are a lot of other cages but be careful the bars aren’t too far apart and that the access is good so it’s easy for you to clean!
It isn’t just the size of the cage that matters (though it does) but how it is furnished. You cage should be stuffed with tubes, hammocks, perches, ledges, digging boxes, ropes, cargo nets, and the like.
My point is this: the cage is BIG. You have to have room. And you may need more than one. The furnishings are extensive, you’ll need a ton of them, and yes you need a 14″ or larger wheel (at least, if you want rats from me). I don’t home rats to people unless they provide a 14″ or larger wheel.
Now, for the health-related stuff. First, are you allergic to rats? If you think you might be, please go along to a rat show run by the NFRS or another organisation, walk around and play with the rats (people will be happy to share their rats with you if you explain why you want to hold them) BEFORE collecting a pair of babies and then breaking out in a skin rash! You may be allergic to their bedding, not the rat, which is easily managed by switching bedding.
Next, are you pregnant or are you immunocompromised? Why do I ask? Because many pet rats (or at least some pet rats) may carry hantavirus, which is a virus that is normally not serious but CAN be serious for some people, including those who are immunocompromised. Now, if you have pet rats and later become pregnant, you can ask your doctor about the situation. Your doctor may know little about it, however. Hopefully, it won’t matter too much as you have already been exposed to your rats and so if they carry the virus you already have antibodies. But I wouldn’t go around playing with tons of additional other rats during this time. Also, keep your rats indoors so they don’t come into contact with wild rats that may carry leptospirosis.
If you have children, are they able to cope with a rat bite, should one occur? My rats don’t bite me but if I were try to break up a fight (don’t do that!) I’d have a chance of being bitten and these bites can be serious. This is why I don’t break up rat fights with my hands — ever! Anyway, most rat arguments result in no injury to either rat despite the squeaking. Instead, on those rare occasions when I’ve had to break up rats, I try to distract them, then swoop in with a towel.
All rat bites carry a chance of rat bite fever. And anyway, they hurt. For a small child a rat bite to the finger could be very deep and do lots of damage. The same is true for hamster bites, of course, but I’m just making the point. I like small does for small children for this reason. Smaller jaws, less testosterone. Having said that, I’m always amazed at how cuddly and gentle male rats are. It’s just that if they do bite, they will make a bigger impression.
Have I scared you off? I hope not! Like many breeders, I am doing everything I can to breed really sweet, easy rats. But they aren’t the cheapest pet (apparently the hamster is our cheapest pet!) and they do need daily attention, a big cage, funds for veterinary care, and a little respect by children and adults alike.
You can find loads of information through the National Fancy Rat Society. I suggest you join it and read their forum. A great source of the latest knowledge.