Join the rat pack

While they might have a unique appeal that not everyone can appreciate, rats are one of the cleanest pets you can own – and they even laugh when you tickle them...

Posted: 17 August 2017

Join the rat pack

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The thought of rats as pets may not be everyone’s cup of cocoa, yet these clean, clever creatures possess lots of loveable qualities and make superstar animal companions…

SQUEAKY CLEAN

Contrary to popular belief, rats are fastidiously clean. Like cats, their tongues are rough, which helps them keep their coat spic and span. In fact, cleanliness is extremely important to a rat’s health – so it’s essential you keep their accommodation just as spotless by regularly cleaning out their cage using pet-safe disinfectant and replacing bedding material – but always add a little of the old bedding to the new so that your rats recognise their own special scent and don’t get stressed. Rats can also be trained to use a litter tray, which helps to keep their home even cleaner.

SMART AND SPRIGHTLY

Pet rats are super smart and inquisitive, which means they like to spend lots of time playing and exploring. Your rats’ accommodation should be large and multi-level, with plenty of space for them to run, stretch up on their hind legs, hop, hide and forage. These busy rodents also need opportunities to climb and play. Create a rat activity world with hammocks, tubes, ropes, toys and a large, sturdy rat wheel, which should be solid so they don’t catch their paws or tail in it. Gnawing is also an important activity and keeps their continually-growing teeth in optimum condition – so include a selection of gnaw toys and treats.

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DID YOU KNOW?

Rats laugh when you tickle them. In the late 1990s, neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp and colleagues discovered that rats emitted a unique ultrasonic vocalisation while playing or anticipating the opportunity to play with other rats, indicating a positive emotional state. Further study revealed that the rats laughed the most when being tickled by the human experimenters – more so than during any other activity.

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EXPERT EXPLORERS

These inquisitive creatures will enjoy time exploring out their cage – but make sure they are well supervised so they can’t escape or chew anything dangerous such as electric cables. All rats are individuals, but as a rule, these resourceful rodents tend to be naturally cautious, preferring to explore new things at their own pace. If a rat has a toilet accident outside their cage, it generally means they are feeling stressed or frightened and would prefer to be returned to their familiar home accommodation.

FUSSY FOODIES

Rats are omnivores, which means they’ll eat pretty much anything if they get the chance – selectively picking out sweet, fatty food, which is no good for them. That’s why it’s essential they have the right nutrition or they can easily end up overweight, which is very bad for their health. All-in-one pet rat food nuggets are designed to provide them with all the essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals they need.

Like all pets, they enjoy the occasional treat such as broccoli, small chunks of apple and cucumber, half a cooked egg and a nutritious Rope Treat. Boost the feel-good factor by hiding treats around their cage so foraging and finding them becomes a stimulating game.

Some foods are harmful to rats, including onion, citrus fruits, walnuts, rhubarb, grapes, raisins and chocolate. Feed twice a day in the morning and evening (removing any uneaten food) in a ceramic bowl – metal bowls can cause ultrasound noise that we can’t hear but can be extremely unsettling to rats who can hear at a much higher pitch than humans.

WATER RATS

Rats need to drink lots of water or they can become seriously ill. Provide a water bottle for each rat, so they can drink at the same time, avoiding competition. Clean bottles regularly to avoid bacteria build-up and top them up a couple of times a day. Some rats like water so much that they even enjoy a supervised swim in a shallow container – but never force this activity on them.

CREATURES OF THE NIGHT

As nocturnal animals who are most active at night and during dawn and dusk, rats like to spend much of the day sleeping without being disturbed. Don’t house them near to places that have lots of activity during the day as rats find sudden, unpredictable loud noises very stressful. Also avoid areas where sunlight shines through. Bright light can harm your rats’ eyes – particularly if you have albino varieties. Ensure they have a dark, safe shelter inside their cage to sleep and suitable bedding material, such as paper-based rat bedding. Don’t use sawdust or wood shavings as these can cause rats serious respiratory problems. Rats like to make their own nests and can spend lots of time playing and creating burrows with nesting materials.

BRAIN TRAINING

Rats like learning things and can pick up new tasks and remember them over time. This makes them quite easy to train using food treats and positive reinforcement. Teaching your rats some simple tasks and tricks can help keep these bright little rodents mentally stimulated.

FRIENDS FOR LIFE

Rats like to be life-long friends – although their lives are quite short (around two to three years), they quickly learn to recognise the sight and sound of their owners and love to hang out with their human family. Talk softly to your rats every day and they will learn to trust you. When making friends, let them sniff your hand and try some gentle stroking. When handling a rat, scoop them up in your cupped hands – and never, ever lift a rat by the tail. Once confident in your company, rats will happily sit in your lap or on your shoulder, grinding their teeth to show they are quite content – this is called ‘bruxing’ and is similar behaviour to a cat purring. As well as human pals, rats also need the company of each other and should never be kept on their own – same sex bonded pairs or small groups or a female and a neutered male will create an ideal rat pack.

FIND MORE tips and advice on caring for your rats HERE >>

Sources: rspca.org.uk, pdsa.org.uk, goodpetparent.com, wired.com

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