2013 marks the 11th year of recognizing April 4 as World Rat Day. That’s the day set aside to recognize rats as the wonderful pets and companions that they are. It really is true. There are many reasons to consider a rat as a pet, and a few things you need to know about providing them with a safe and happy home. [photo via flickr]
About Domestic Rats
The average rat ranges in size from 14 to 18 inches. That’s including the tail, which is usually around 7 inches long. They have a variety of coats and colors. Well cared-for rats have lifespans of two years or better. They are very curious and intelligent and make great pets for every member of the family. Younger children should be supervised when caring for or handling them, of course, but that’s also to protect the rat. As some reassurance: we’ve had six rats over the years, and have only been bitten once–because we were holding the strawberry that Mr. Rat was eating, and he just got carried away.
Creating a Healthy Living Space
The cost to care for and feed a rat runs from $200-300 per year–with an initial investment of about $100 for the rat, a cage and all food and living materials.
Rats are happiest in wire cages since they enjoy climbing. Wire also provides ample ventilation but beware of drafts. Rats catch cold easily and drafty rooms are a huge reason for them. A two-foot cubed cage will usually be adequate for up to two rats, but this is the minimum. Bigger is always better. If you are keeping more than two rats, they will definitely need a larger living space.
The flooring should be a solid material and a generous clean bedding of recycled plain paper pellets will usually allow the rats to conform their living environment to their liking. Never use pine or cedar chips as these can be harmful to rats.
Keeping Your Rat Entertained
Small boxes or even flower pots will provide the retreat your rat needs. Small pieces of PVC pipe will allow your rat to tunnel and sturdy tree branches will help them climb. Some rats like to run on an exercise wheel so this is a good accessory for you to place in their cage. Make sure the wheel you choose has a solid surface, not wire rungs.
It is important to remember that a bored rat is an unhappy rat, and unhappy rats can become reclusive and even aggressive. They look to you to provide them with attention and fun. Fortunatly, that’s easy to manage. Anything that they can grab, climb on or swing will make them very happy.
Never leave your rat without water. A water bottle with fresh, clean water is a must. Limit your rat’s diet to rodent-approved blocks and pellets with soy meal as the main component. Offer small amounts of fresh fruits or vegetables every day. Carrots, peas and apples are good choices. An occasional treat of “people food” is fine–they like it–but avoid foods like chocolate, corn, onions, peanut butter, or junk food. These may lead to obesity, and rejection of healthier choices. Try some granola. Rats love granola.