Rats, in general, have a pretty bad reputation, they aren’t normally portrayed as being friendly animals, more often than not they are associated as being vicious disease-ridden pests found in dark dingy sewers and subways.
However, this couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to pet rats but how friendly are rats and do they make for good family pets, be sure to keep reading, and you can find out what it’s like to own a pet rat.
Are pet rats friendly? Yes, Pet rats are extremely friendly, they are naturally intelligent social animals that have been domesticated (just like your average cat or dog) and tamed through selective breeding in captivity for hundreds of generations. Pet rats are clean personable animals and will create a strong bond with their owners if handled and cared for correctly.
There are so many common misconceptions when it comes to rats being kept as family pets but they actually make for unbelievably great pets not just for adults but children as well. Please keep reading so you are able to understand just how pet rats could change your life as I breakdown these common misconceptions.
Are Pet Rats Friendly?
The pet rat (fancy rat) has been domesticated since the 1800s from the wild Brown Rat, originally caught by rat-catchers and bred for blood sports in the 18th and 19th century. It was one of these men (Royal Rat Catcher Jack Black) who came across these uniquely colored rats during the course of his work, he decided to keep and breed these rats to sell as pets. The domesticated pet rat now comes in a wide variety of coat colors, patterns and types.
Fancy rats have been selectively bred for hundreds of generations to be calm and docile animals making them friendly and affectionate pets ideal for adults and children, comparing the domesticated pet rat to its wild cousin is like comparing a dog with a wolf or house cat to a wild cat.
Pet rats are extremely social animals, they need to live in pairs or groups so you should never look to buy a single rat to live on their own. Rats are very intelligent, their social nature extends to their human owners as they will welcome your attention and interaction with them. A rat owner will tell you how easy it is to create a friendly playful bond with your rat.
Rats enjoy being petted and rubbed behind their ears and shoulders, these are areas they can’t reach themselves. Some rats will even roll over on to their backs so you can rub their bellies. Your rat may enjoy grooming you on occasion, my rats enjoying grooming my hand and arms, they are affectionate animals and their behavior is similar to dogs.
Rats are very intelligent, complex, sociable animals capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions. Rats are the most intelligent of all rodents, they can learn tricks, solve puzzles and they will also respond to their name.
They will also require at least one hour of playtime outside of their cage to free roam, this will provide necessary exercise, mental stimulation and bonding time with you to make for a happy and healthy rat. Be sure to rat-proof your room to prevent your rattie from escaping through small gaps in furniture or floorboards.
Rats are playful and inquisitive animals, they enjoy playing with other rats, toys and their owners, once you have crafted a strong bonded relationship with your pet rats they will feel comfortable playing games like peek-a-boo, play fighting and tug-of-war making them truly wonderful friendly pets.
Pet rats are great for smaller children as they are larger than other rodents making them easier to hold. They actually enjoy being handled and played with by their human companions but be sure to always supervise younger children for their safety and the safety of your rat, they are only small delicate animals after all.
Training Your Pet Rat and Teaching them Tricks
I have already said rats are intelligent, playful and inquisitive animals but did you know you can train your rats to use a litter tray, learn their name and also teach them cool tricks? Well, they can do all these things and more…
Some of the most common tricks that you will see which are pretty easy to teach are:
- Playing fetch
- Rolling over like a dog
- Offering a paw to shake
- Standing on their back legs
This is not an exhaustive list, it might seem a bit far-fetched but your rat can learn these tricks pretty quickly as they are eager to learn and extremely motivated to work for food. The easiest way to teach you rat new tricks is through positive reinforcement offering them rewards (their favorite foods).
How to Play and Bond with Your Pet Rat
Playtime is an important time for you and your rat to bond. Its a lot of fun getting to know your rats personality traits and learning just how intelligent they actually are.
Your rat will be begging to get out their cage to have a run-around and have fun outside of their cage, this also provides much needed mental stimulation and interaction with you.
Rats will enjoy simple games with their owners, here are a few ideas for you to try:
- Hide some treats around the room or in your pockets for them to find.
- Play hide-seek.
- Wrestle with them (be sure to be gentle and watch for their cue as they might not be enjoying it anymore).
- Build a simple makeshift maze.
- Make an obstacle course.
- Pea fishing.
Your rats will spend most of their time in their cage so be sure to make sure you buy a large enough cage, bigger the better with plenty of height so you can create multiple levels. It is generally recommended to base your cage size calculation on 2 cubic feet per rat. Rats love to climb and be up high, hence why they love to shoulder ride their owners.
Their cage should have plenty of interesting objects, toys, and levels for them to explore and stimulate them while they are in their cage to keep them entertained. Here is a list of some good ideas for your fat rat:
- Large wheel (at least 11 inches) for them to run on, this should be a solid wheel as metal wire wheels could injure your rats feet or legs.
- Foraging toys for them to work for their treats.
- Plenty of levels for them to climb, you can regularly rearrange their cage to stimulate their minds and watch them curiously explore their new surroundings.
- Dig box (if your cage is large enough you could provide a dig box, rats love to dig as this brings out their natural instinct.
- Create a maze or tunnels.
Differences Between Male and Female temperaments, is One Friendlier than the Other?
Male and female rats have different personalities, bear in mind each rat is an individual so personalities will vary from rat to rat so not every rat is going to behave according to our gender stereotype, so lets breakdown what these differences are.
Male rats are slightly larger and usually pretty docile, lazy and more cuddly when they are adults (1 year old) as they generally enjoy sleeping and lying around, this tends to make for an excellent lap rat and ideal for smaller kids.
Their female counterparts, however, are smaller more energetic and playful, when they are adults they will enjoy exploring, running around and playing games when they are out of their cage rather than lounge around. However, that being said both males and females make for excellent friendly pets, I have had the pleasure of owning both over the years.
Do Pet Rats Bite?
Another common misconception of rats is that they are fierce vicious animals that will bite your hand off with their large yellow teeth. However, this isn’t true at all for the average pet rat, they are actually tame, gentle and affectionate little animals who love human companionship.
A pet rat properly socialized won’t actually bite you (and by bite I mean really bite you hard enough to break the skin) unless they are feeling really threatened, they will, however, give your finger a little nibble on occasion.
Rats have poor eyesight, especially pink or ruby eyed rats, they use their excellent sense of smell, sound, whiskers, and mouths to explore the outside world just like a baby or a puppy. So they will use their teeth to feel for the likes of food, move items around and even playing much like cats and dogs but they are usually gentle.
Pet rats also enjoy play fighting with their owners, this wrestling match can lead to gentle biting but they can get a bit overexcited so be mindful to let them know if they are being a bit rough.
Nibbling is also a sign of affection, your rat will often try to bring your hand into the cage by nibbling your finger so you can pet, stroke or play with them.
Always be careful when you first bring home your new pet rat whether it is from a breeder, pet shop or rescue. In the wild rats are prey animals, so their natural instinct is to be cautious of predators, if they feel threaten especially in a strange new environment they will try to defend themselves which could lead to a good nip.
Always let them settle into their new home, once they are calm let them smell and explore your hand in a non-threatening position and let them come to you.
Socializing your rat is a whole topic of its own and the rewards are well worth it, a strong everlasting bond will be made with your rat.
Rats are Clean?
Despite their bad reputation rats are actually very clean animals, like cats they will groom themselves and each other many times throughout the day. If a rat gets something on its fur it will immediately begin to clean its coat, they also regularly clean themselves down after you handled them.
They like to keep their home organized and clean, your rat will more than likely pick a corner of their cage to use as the toilet and this actually makes it really easy to litter train them.
Pet rats also like to groom their owners its a sign of affection, you will find them nibbling your nails and grooming through the hairs on your hand and arms.
Rats Need to Live with Their Own Kind
Pet rats should always be kept in pairs or groups (same-sex usually to prevent breeding), they are social animals that live in large groups in the wild, they form complex hierarchies within these groups through acts of dominance.
Keeping your pet rats in pairs or groups will provide a more natural environment for them to play and interact with each other ensuring they have the necessary company and interaction they require. This will enable them to live a happier and therefore healthier life rather than living alone.
Rats will chase each other around their cage, play fight, play tug-of-war with food and sleep together, you will often see all of them even if its a large group squeeze into a small home just to sleep together.
How Long Do Rats Live?
Be sure to spend as much time as possible with your pet rats as they make for truly wonderful little pets, the only downside to owning a pet rat is they only live relatively short lives, they can live approximately 2 to 4 years when kept healthy as family pets.