If you have pet rats, you may be wondering whether you can take them outside (as you might with a pet rabbit) or if they could live outside on a permanent basis? Well, they can’t. It’s almost impossible for a domesticated rat to thrive in the outside world. Here’s why.
This is why pet rats shouldn’t live outside: they’re not designed for it, they don’t understand predators, they might get lost, they might get poisoned and they won’t get on with wild rats at all. There are substantial differences between domestic rats and wild rats that make it difficult or impossible for them to survive outside.
Can A Pet Rat Live Outside?
No, it’s not a good idea for pet rats to live outside of a home. They aren’t bred for the purposes of living in the wild and their lack of experience with the real world is going to cause them some serious problems.
Firstly, there’s the risk of escape. Your rat may love you but being taken outside and exposed to the elements for the first time is going to freak it out. Even if your rats are incredibly well-trained and are happy to come to you when you call – they may well run away.
We’ve never met a human being who could run faster than a scared rat can. If your rat flees, you’re going to find that you never get it back again.
Then, there’s the problem of predators. Your rats live in a world where there are no predators (at least, we hope they do – we’re not keen on the idea of keeping pet rats in order to feed them to snakes) and if you introduce them to the outside world, they will expect the same kind of rules.
That means the first time that a passing cat or bird comes along, not only will they have the size advantage and lethality advantage that they would normally have, they also have the complete advantage of surprise because your rat doesn’t know it’s supposed to run away.
You also have the risk of your rats poisoning themselves. When they’re in your home, you control their diets and that means they can eat whatever they fancy if it’s put in front of them. They don’t know what they can and can’t eat in the wider world.
That means they are as likely to tuck into a slug pellet or a poisonous toadstool as they are into a tasty bit of insect.
So, it’s a bad idea to take your rats outside at any time. We know that there are rat owners out there that still do this but it’s still a bad idea. Your rats’ health is at risk and that’s not acceptable to us as pet owners.
Can Pet Rats Survive Outside?
Theoretically, your rats can survive outside. After all, they are capable of withstanding most temperatures (same as people) and they certainly don’t mind sun, wind, rain, etc.
However, in reality, if you left your rats to fend for themselves outside – they’d not survive for very long at all.
They don’t have the instruction manual for the real world. We’ve already noted that they’d encounter predators without knowing how to handle it and they might eat something that kills them, but they’d also be in real trouble if they encountered wild rats.
They would be prone to catching diseases from these rats and it’s likely that they’d be attacked by these rats (and wild rats are likely to have back up from their own nest) and when rats fight, it can get very brutal, indeed.
We’d be amazed if the average domesticated rat could survive for more than a few hours outside and no rat would be likely to live out their full life if they were released into the wild.
The Differences Between Wild Rats & Domesticated Rats
There are four substantive differences between wild rats and domestic rats and these differences help to explain why domesticated rats aren’t suited to outdoor living and thus, also, why they make such superb pets (they’ve been tailored to the role over years of breeding).
Rats were domesticated during the 20th century and haven’t got the long history of being pets that say, dogs have. However, rats also have short lifespans and breed very quickly – there are a lot more generations of rat born in a century than there are of dog.
So, now there is a marked variation between wild and domestic rats and the main differences are in:
So, let’s take a look at each of those, in turn.
Socialization: Wild Rats Don’t Like People
One thing that we are absolutely certain of is that you have never been walking down the street when a wild rat has run up to you and decided to investigate who you are. That’s because wild rats are very much not social creatures. They are neophobic (frightened of new things).
If a wild rat comes across a human being, its first instinct is to flee. If they can escape, they will run for the hills without looking back over their shoulder at you.
The only time wild rats tend to come into contact with humans is if they are trying to access the same food supply.
Wild rats don’t even like other rats that much. They will avoid each other, for the main part, unless they are breeding together.
If you corner a wild rat – it will fight. Wild rats are not afraid of attacking when they feel threatened and are actually capable of being quite vicious.
Pet rats are the complete opposite. They enjoy the company of other rats and, in fact, can find themselves becoming distressed without company.
They also like people and while it is possible for a pet rat to bite a person if they feel attacked – this is a rare event in most rat owners’ lives.
Size: Wild Rats Are Smaller And Lighter
Wild rats don’t tend to live for a long enough period of time to get to their full size. Their lives tend to be quite brutal and not only do they have to worry about predators, they often can’t find access to an adequate food supply and if they can – they may need to fight other rats for it.
So, they tend to only make it to a length of around 9-10”. This is in stark contrast, to the well-fed and loved domesticated rat which has no such worries – they will reach 11-12” in most cases.
A wild rat can make itself seem larger by pushing out its fur when threatened but it almost never is.
Your domestic rat is almost always fatter than a wild rat too. This is partly due to the easy availability of food and partly because there’s much less physical activity in a domestic rat’s life compared to a wild rat’s.
Coloring: Wild Rats Tend To All Look The Same
Wild rats tend to be either brown or black. Though a brown rat may have lighter fur on the underbelly.
Domestic rats come in a wider-variety of colors of fur. The white rat with pink eyes is a classic domesticated rat and they were bred to this color during the 19th century and then for their sociability in the 20th century.
Adaptation: Domestic Rats Like To Live In Captivity
The biggest and possibly, saddest, difference between domesticated and wild rats is their reaction to being kept in captivity.
Wild rats go berserk as soon as they are caged. They are terrified by the lack of any hiding places and cannot stand the exposure to bright light. This experience is so stressful to the wild rat that it’s not uncommon for them to die of heart failure.
The first litters from wild rats that survive and can mate in captivity (many cannot) tend to be smaller and less rugged than normal.
It takes about 20 generations of breeding to transform wild rats into happy domesticated rats.
Once rats are domesticated, they tend to enjoy being in captivity and do not find the experience at all stressful.
So, as you can see – wild rats don’t do well indoors because they’re not built for it and domesticated rats have similar problems when outdoors because they are no longer built for it.
This is why pet rats shouldn’t live outside: pet rats aren’t wild rats. They don’t understand the outside world and going outside is risky and trying to live outside would be fatal for them. They don’t know what to eat, where to go, how to handle predators or even how to handle wild rats.