How To Choose a Pet Rat: Where Should I Get Pet Rats From?

Where should I buy my rats from and how do I choose one? This is a common question I get asked. There are some people who decide they want a pet rat, drive to the nearest pet shelter or pet store, and point to the one they think is cutest. While this works for some, others want more information before they adopt a new pet for the family home.

Pet rats of all colors, coats, and markings can be picked up from many different places, some good and others bad. The important part is understanding where your rat is coming from, how they have been raised and the conditions they are being bred in. These factors will more than likely determine your rats health and temperament.

Read on for an accurate guide to finding the perfect pet rat for you.

How to Find Your Pet Rats

When considering which pet rat you want to take home, there are several things you should take into consideration. Consider the gender, the temperament, the age, the coloring, the ear type, the coat type, and, of course, the overall health.

Brand new rat owners, in particular, should pay special attention to the temperament as most are not ready to care for an unsocialized or aggressive rat. Additionally, both health and age are especially important if you find yourself distraught when you lose an animal.

On the other hand, you may want an unsocialized rat because working on trust and training is fun for you. Or, you may want to take in rescues in their old age, or when they are sick, so they can have a good home for the last period of their lives.

As you can see, picking out the perfect pet rat is an entirely individualized process. Research before looking for a pet rat, so you know what you are looking for and then be sure to ask lots of questions before you bring a pet rat home.

You can start your research, and possibly even complete it, by continuing on through this article. We will go through everything you should take into consideration when bringing home a pet rat.

First, You Will Probably Get Two Rats

You will most likely be taking two rats home, not just one, as most pet stores, breeders, etc. will not sell you just one rat, and even if they are willing to, it is definitely better for your rat if you bring home two.

There are a few reasons for this. First of all, rat needs to live in groups, so if you are a first-time owner or do not currently have any rats, buying two will give them what they need. Rats are highly social creatures, so they need cagemates to play with and form bonds.

You may be asking if it would be easier to take home one rat at a time so they can get adjusted, but the answer to this is no. Buying them together makes it easier for you and the adjustment a lot easier for them. You can find out why rats need to live in pairs or groups in another article I wrote here.

Now, if you already own rats, you may be wondering if you still have to get two rats. The answer to this is usually yes. While you can go through the process of introducing a single, new rat to the rats you already own, it will be less stressful for them if you bring home two at a time.

Especially during the weeks, your rat(s) have to stay in quarantine after you bring them home as this time can be stressful if they are all alone. When you buy two rats to introduce to your group at once, your pets will be significantly less stressed out.

Choose a Gender

After you come to terms with (or finish celebrating) the fact that you will probably be taking home two rats, choosing a gender is a great place to start your decision-making process as it is straightforward. Additionally, this is a fairly important decision as the gender can tell you a lot about what your rat will be like, while not all rats will conform to the male versus female patterns, most will.

Male Rats

The biggest difference between male and female rats are their temperaments. Male rats tend to be calmer, lazier, and are much more prone to cuddling. This means if you want a pet rat that will lay on your shoulder or sleep in your lap while you are watching tv, working, or doing homework, you probably want a male rat.

Male rats can be a good choice if you have young children as they are bigger and tend to sit which makes them easier to handle, especially for small hands. However, I would make sure you supervise younger children to avoid one of the rats getting hurt accidentally.

Additionally, you should stock male rats’ cages with lots of places to sit and sleep. My 3 rats love their pocket style hammock (available on Amazon), definitely one of my best purchases.

There are also a few physical things about male rats that you should take into consideration.

First, male rats are generally larger than female rats. They also tend to pee a lot more as they want to mark their territory, so you will probably have to clean their cage furniture a little bit more. That being said, my 3 boys actually mark less than my previous two females. If you are interested in finding out more about why rats mark, click this link.

Additionally, they secrete something known as buck grease. Buck grease is just excess skin oil that can make their coats look greasy when it builds up (lazier male rats will let it build up.) The good news is, buck grease is not harmful at all, and it does not emit that much of an odor. Another sign of excessive build-up oil could mean your rats protein intake is too high.

Finally, male rats are more likely to have a stroke or seizure than females are.

Female Rats

Female rats, on the other hand, tend to be much more active and playful. If you want to spend lots of time playing with your rat and interacting with it, you should probably get a female rat. Not only will they want to spend lots of time outside of their cage playing with you, but they will need lots of things to play with and climb on inside of their cage. In this article from our website, we listed 22 creative ideas to entertain your pet rats.

Of course, there are a few physical things for you to consider. Female rats tend to have cleaner, shinier looking coats and tails. Additionally, female rats are more likely to get tumors, but they still generally live a few months longer than male rats.

Please be sure to keep in mind, no matter which gender or rat you get, that it is usually better to keep your males and females in sperate cages, especially if they are not fixed.

If you put an un-neutered male and an unspayed female together, they will start to breed quickly. Before long, you will end up with a litter of rat puppies that you are most likely not prepared for. Additionally, do not just breed your rats because you want to try it. Breeding rats can be a challenging and complex process.

Physical Features

Unlike other species, rats do not really have breeds, so the main thing you can use to differentiate between rats are physical features. These features are purely for appearance’s sake as they have no effect on your rat’s personality. Here are some of the features you can consider:


  • There are many different colors of rats you can get. You can brown, black, white, blue, mink, champagne, multicolored, etc. A good way to figure out which kind you want is by searching for pictures of rats and then deciding which color you like best.


  • Every rat has its own unique marking, but there are a few guidelines you can look for. There are many kinds of interesting markings on rats, some examples are: hooded, siamese, berkshire, blazed, caped and dalmatian.


  • The two main ear-types are dumbo and top-ear. Dumbo rats generally have larger, round ears more towards the sides of their heads while top-ear rats are more standard and have smaller ears sitting towards the tops of their heads. You can find both types at most pet stores.


  • There are four main kinds of coat-types. Standard coats are shorter and fairly close to the body. Rex coats are curly and kinky. Harley rats have more whispy, long hair, which can be straight or curly. Finally, you can get a hairless rat.

Methods to Actually Get Your Rat

Once you have figured out what temperament/gender you want and what you want your rat to look like generally, you can move on to actually find it and bringing it home.

One of the most popular methods of acquiring a rat is through a rescue. You can find rescues through google, pet finder, and even Facebook. Rescues can have all types of rats as well as all ages, and they usually are constantly bringing new ones in, so with a little bit of patience, you will be able to find the perfect one for you.

Rescuing a rat allows you to give a rat a better home and life, free up more space at the rescue to save more, and you often form a special bond with rescued rats. It is important to keep in mind that some rescue rats may still be skittish and shy when you bring them home, so you will have to work with them some, but others are completely rehabilitated before you take them home. Ask the rescue before adopting one if you have concerns.

You can also choose to save/rescue a rat yourself. You could go to a reptile expo or store and save a pair of live feeder rat or look on craigslist for rats people are trying to get rid of in a hurry, with zero care to where they are going.

Rescuing a rat this way prevents the rats from falling into neglectful care once again, but rats from a feeder bin or neglectful situation can have a higher risk of illness than those acquired from other methods. In fact, most of them come with some sort of illness or respiratory infection already. If you are not prepared to get your rat’s treatment for these illnesses, this may not be the best method for you.

The next option you can buy a rat from is a breeder. This takes lots of research into various breeders as a good breeder can be difficult to find. Good breeders will breed their rats for quality, not quantity. They will have a range of different types of rats and may even offer some rarer kinds such as siamese.

You can start your search for a good breeder by searching for breeders in your area (you will probably have to look outside your specific city.) Spend lots of time looking through pictures (not just of the rats but the cages they are being kept in) and reading reviews to try and figure out if they are a reputable breeder.

Some good questions to ask a breeder you contact is for pictures of the litter, mom and dad, and the cages the rats are kept in. A good breeder will also tend to vet you as a potential owner to make sure their rats are going to a good home.

If the breeder looks good, it is best to drive to them and pick out your rats in person so you can get the ones with the best personality for you.

There are some benefits to buying from a breeder. For starters, good breeders breed for health, temperament, and physical appearance so you can feel reassured that your rats will be friendly and live long, healthy lives. Additionally, your rats will probably already be socialized, so they will not be skittish or fearful.

Finally, the last resort, you can get your pet rat from a retail pet store. While a pet store is convenient and fast, they are not usually very ethical. Just like poor breeders, pet stores usually breed for quantity and can even be shipped in from rodent mills.

Due to this, rats from pet stores often come with lots of health problems and have significantly shorter life spans. If you have no other option in your area, you may have to resort to a pet store, but do your research to try and find the best one in your area.

Supplies First

Before buying your rat, make sure you have all the necessary supplies set up.

  • First, you should get a cage. This cage should be large (big enough for at least two adults) and wire. Quality cages will probably cost at least one hundred dollars, there are cheaper cages out there, but they are usually not as good.
  • Next, you need bedding for the bottom of the cage. Aspen or paper-based beddings are the best options as they are safe for your rats and will hide odor well. Bedding is usually around ten dollars a bag.
  • You will also need to get an 18 oz or larger water bottle for your rat that fastens to the side of the cage (personally I would get two, just in case one fails). You can usually get a good one for only ten dollars.
  • Be sure to purchase a food dish that is not easily knocked over by playing rats and can hold 1/2 cup or more of fresh food. This will usually cost around five dollars.
  • You need to buy a healthy, well-known, and quality brand of food that is meant for rats. Often, the rescue or breeder you purchase from (or vet) will have a good recommendation. A small bag of good rat food is about eight dollars. You can also opt to make your own, which will probably cost around twenty dollars.
  • Treats. Rats, and any pets, love treats, so getting treats for your rats is a great buy. You can buy treats specifically made for your rats or try other things such as puffs. You may have to try a few things to figure out your rats’ favorites. Be sure not to overdo the treats though.
  • Buy some cage supplies such as hammocks that your rats can lay in (rats love to be up high), hideaways which are places your rats can hide to feel safe (for two rats you need at least three hideaways), and lots and lots of toys for the rats to play with. You can use things from regular stores or Amazon, such as baskets, rope nets, to add extra levels, beds, and hideaways.
  • Bird ropes and ladders are also a great accessory for your cage, you can find the latest price on Amazon.
  • You also need to buy some cleaning products to clean your cage. Make sure what you decide to use is safe for your rats. A great natural option is a white vinegar.

You can find everything you need to know about setting up your rat cage in another article we wrote for our website here.

Now you know everything you need to know about how to find and acquire the perfect rat for you. It does take quite a bit of time, so make sure you have enough patience during the process to complete all the necessary research and find the perfect rat for you as they can live up for three years and are a very serious commitment.

No matter what kind you end up getting, rats are great pets and companions that are full of personality and very intelligent. Once you finally get to bring your pet rats home, you will be so happy that you spent the time to find the perfect one for you. Enjoy playing, snuggling, and loving your new pets!

Darren Black

I'm Darren Black, the owner, and author of I am from Scotland, United Kingdom and passionate about sharing useful information and tips about properly caring for an animal's wellbeing.

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