Do Rats Make Good Pets?

Mychelle Blake
Girl with rat on shoulder

What's a small pet that's easy to care for, highly intelligent and affectionate, comes in many colors and patterns and is completely adorable? If the rat doesn't come to mind, then you don't know what you're missing out on!

Are Rats Good Pets?

Rats get a bad rap as an "unclean" animal that frequents sewers and dark spaces. While wild rats no doubt get into some unappealing situations, rats that are bred specifically as pets are a "different animal" altogether. Rats have many appealing qualities that can make them excellent companions for children, adults and seniors.

Rats Are Friendly and Affectionate

Rats are engaging pets who love interacting with humans and develop strong bonds with their owners. They love to cuddle and climb all over their owners and as long as you socialize them properly, they enjoy handling and being petted. It's not uncommon for rats to sit happily on their owners' shoulders or on their heads or to find them napping in their laps given the opportunity. Rats have also been found to feel emotions just as people do, like loneliness and empathy, which helps drive their social behavior around people, as well as other rats.

Rats Are Very Intelligent

Rats can be trained to do all sorts of behaviors and tricks. If you love the idea of learning about animal behavior and training but don't have the room for a dog, a rat is a great "starter" pet. They adapt quickly to clicker training and can be house trained, learn their names, and be trained to do just about anything that's physically possible for them, including rat agility!

Rats Are Low Maintenance

Rats are relatively easy to care for compared to some other small pets. They keep themselves very clean, much like a cat, although they will rely on you to keep their cage from getting dirty. You won't need to bathe or brush them, other than for special medical circumstances. You won't have to deal with shedding and some rats are even hairless.

Rats Don't Tend to Bite

While a pet rat can bite, they have a reputation for being much less likely to compared to other similar pets. If you're looking for a child-friendly small pet, a rat can be a better choice than other pocket pets that have a tendency to bite and are less amenable to handling.

Rats Have Small Space Needs

Rats don't need large areas to run around in, so you can easily keep rats happy living in a small space like an apartment or condo. They do need to have time outside of their cages, but they won't need a yard to roam in so they're a much easier pet to keep than a dog, for example.

The Downside of Owning Rats

There are a few negatives to owning a rat. These are factors you should consider before getting a rat or rats.

Rats Have Short Lifespans

Rats tend to live about one to three years. If you are worried about getting a pet you'll get attached to and grieve over, you may want to think twice about a rat. On the other hand, some owners find this preferable compared to making the much longer time commitment of pet ownership for a dog or cat.

Rats and Medical Problems

Since rats have a short lifespan, it's not unusual for them to start showing medical issues around their first year of age. Rats can get many of the same types of medical problems that other pets have, like cancer, respiratory infections and parasites. Finding a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about rats may take some work, so it's a good idea to find one first before bringing a rat home.

Rats and Disease Transmission to People

Rats can transfer some zoonotic diseases to their owners, although all pets carry this risk to some degree. Common diseases that can be caught from rats are salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis and leptospirosis. If you have an immune disorder, you may want to consult with your medical professional before considering bringing home a rat as a pet.

Rat on hand

How to Take Care of a Rat

If you're set on getting a rat, there's some basic information you should know in order to care for them properly.

How Long Do Rats Live?

You can expect a healthy rat to live about two to three years. Rats that develop medical problems may have shorter lifespans.

What Do Rats Eat?

Rats can eat a pellet diet purchased at a pet supply store, such as Oxbow Adult Rat Food. In addition, you should supplement their diet with fresh foods. Rats definitely love cheese as well as small amounts of plain, cooked chicken and beef and fruits and vegetables. They can also get small dog treats, dry cereal and oats, pasta, nuts, baby food, and eggs. Rats also enjoy edible insects like mealworms. Always check with your veterinarian before giving your rats supplements to make sure the food is safe.

Are Male or Female Rats Better Pets?

There are definite differences between the sexes when choosing a rat as a pet. Female rats tend to me more energetic than males. Like dogs and cats, females tend to be smaller than males. Which is "better" depends on your personal preferences. If you're looking for an outgoing rat than is going to love crawling all over you and learning tricks, a female might be a slightly better choice. Males are definitely the best choice if you're looking for a snuggler that wants to simply hang out with you.

Are Rats Better in Pairs?

Rats are very social rodents and having one rat alone can lead to loneliness for that rat. It's usually best to get at least a pair so they can keep each other company while you're busy. You don't have to limit yourself to just two however and can have more than that living well together provided you have a cage with enough space.

Choosing Rats As Pets

Rats have many wonderful qualities as pets. They're smart, loving and enjoy being with people. They're also easy to care for compared to other small pets. Don't let the negative image of wild rats deter you from considering these affectionate rodents from finding a place in your heart!

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Do Rats Make Good Pets?