Pet rat lovers may not be as familiar with the hairless rat as they are with their furry counterparts. These rats share many of the same wonderful characteristics as other fancy rats, though they do need some additional care and maintenance.
Types of the Hairless Rat
While they may appear the same at first glance, there are actually three different types of hairless rat pets with different genetic backgrounds. Aside from their unusual coat, these rats tend to be a bit smaller than other common fancy rats. Some owners consider them to be hypoallergenic because of their lack of hair, which is not the case, but people with allergies may find them more tolerable than furry rats.
Double Rex Hairless Rats
Double rex rats have two rex genes which results in a hairless rat rather than one with a kinky rex coat. These rats do have eyebrows and short, kinky or curly whiskers. You may see small patches of peach fuzz-like hair on their head or feet. These rats can also come in different colors, though the coloring will show up on their skin, much like a hairless cat's coat color. Double rex rats can come in just about every color and ear type and may have black or red eyes.
Patchwork Hairless Rats
The patchwork hairless rat also is the result of having two rex genes. These rats get their name from the curly or fuzzy hair that appears either all over their body or in a small patch or patches. These rats tend to shed hair often as they grow older, but it does grow back, sometimes in the same spots and other times in new ones. Patchwork hairless rats also can be found in every color, ear type and eye color.
Sphynx or Truly Hairless Rats
Much less commonly found in the pet fancy is the Sphynx rat, which gets its name from the hairless cat breed. These rats are bred to have no hair at all, which includes having no whiskers or eyebrows. Usually these rats are bred specifically to be used in labs for research and not as pets. These rats tend to live about half the lifespan of a normal rat. They suffer from respiratory, bacterial, kidney and liver diseases due to their genetic makeup, which involves congenital deficiencies in their immune system.
Hairless Rat Personality
Temperament-wise, hairless rats tend to have the same personality traits as regular rats. They are highly intelligent creatures who can be very affectionate with people. They also do best with another rat companion, and hairless rats often appreciate being paired with a regular furry rat that they can cuddle with for warmth.
Hairless Rat Care
Hairless rats require a bit more care than a fancy rat with fur does. This means not only more maintenance as far as grooming, but you will also need to make sure they get an appropriate diet.
Best Cage for a Hairless Rat
When considering a cage for a hairless rat, the only real difference that's important compared to a rat with fur is the need to keep your rat warm. Because they lack a coat, hairless rats are more susceptible to drafts as well as to injuries to their skin. Therefore, you should:
- Make sure any cage you buy does not have any possible sharp edges that your rat can brush against and hurt themselves.
- Place the cage somewhere where they will not be at risk of being exposed to cold air.
- Maintain an ambient temperature between 64 to 79 degrees at all times.
Because of their fragile skin and temperature issues, some hairless rat owners choose to use glass aquariums instead of open wire cages, though this can be a much more expensive solution.
Hairless Rat Bedding
Hairless rats also require bedding that is soft and will keep them warm. Bedding made up of wood shavings and chips will be uncomfortable for them and can damage their skin. They can do well with paper bedding like Carefresh if you change it daily as it can irritate their skin once soiled with urine. A good option for hairless rat bedding are shredded pieces of fleece or ripped up t-shirts and cotton products like towels. You will need to be diligent about cleaning their bedding daily as their skin can get quickly irritated from urine and feces in the cage.
Feeding a Hairless Rat
Hairless rats eat basically the same diet as regular rats, they just require more of it. This is because they burn more calories and have a higher metabolism to keep their bodies warm compared to a rat with fur. They should be fed rat pellets and their diet should be supplemented with fruits and vegetables at a ratio of about 80% pellets to 20% fresh foods. Some common fresh foods that rats enjoy are bananas, broccoli, carrots, grapes, kale, kiwi, pears, plums, spinach, sweet potatoes and watermelon. Keep in mind:
- Any fruits or vegetables that you give them should be cut up into tiny pieces, and uneaten fresh food should be removed if not eaten within a day.
- Another supplement that can be added to their food is a few drops of olive oil which can help keep their skin from getting dry.
- Fresh clean water should also be provided at all times, and hairless rats tend to drink a bit more than other rats.
Hairless Rat Enrichment and Exercise
Like all rats, hairless rats need daily enrichment to keep them happy and healthy. You can provide them with a variety of toys. Just make sure that you clean them regularly and avoid any toys that might have sharp edges. They also will need time out of the cage to spend time with you, and this should always be supervised time.
Hairless Rat Health
The hairless rat lifespan is a bit shorter than that of other rats because they are more susceptible to health problems. Hairless rats can live one to three years like other rats, but about a year is a common lifespan for them. Their skin can become irritated and infected easily, and this can be a serious problem and even fatal. If you notice any skin irritations on your hairless rat, take them to a veterinarian immediately. It's important when handling your hairless rat to always wash your hands first and even use hand disinfectant in order to keep their skin free of any allergens and bacteria.
Hairless Rat Grooming
In order to keep your pet healthy, you will need to provide extra care for their skin. This means giving them a bath weekly or biweekly using special shampoos designed for sensitive skin. Baby shampoos that are nontoxic and tear-free can be used as well as pet shampoos designed to be mild such as Kaytee Squeaky Clean Critter Shampoo. Care tips include:
- Make sure your rat is dried completely after a bath and placed by a heater as it's very easy for them to catch a cold while damp.
- If your rat's skin appears to be dry, you can use olive oil to soothe their skin but avoid using any type of commercial lotion or moisturizing cream as the rat will most likely lick them off and ingest them.
- You can also use a warm, not cool, mist humidifier in your rat's room if you find their skin getting too dry.
Getting a Hairless Rat
Hairless rats generally sell for about $25 to $50. They can be found through pet stores that sell small animals, as well as through specialty rat fancy breeders. The American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association website lists local rat clubs and shows where you can find breeders of specialty rats. You can also check the Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet websites to see if shelters near you have hairless rats available for adoption.
Hairless Rats Can Make Great Pets
Hairless rats are definitely adorable, smart pets that make amazing cuddlers. If you decide to take one home, make sure you take into consideration their special care needs compared to a "regular" rat with fur. You also will need to understand that it's best to keep at least two as a hairless rat will need a companion to snuggle with even more than a regular rat will. Otherwise, once you're ready to handle their skin and health concerns, hairless rats can be loving, engaging companions with a unique look.