Learn what kind of food, diet, cages, bedding, and toys are good for your little pet rats!
Pet Rats - Information to Train and Care for your lovely rats!
Where To Get Pet Rats?
So now that you've decided that you want to have your own pet rats - where do you go to get them?
A Rat Breeder
It is best to buy your rats direct from a responsible breeder, for many reasons. A breeder who has only a few litters of baby rats (called 'kittens') at a time should have handled them from an early age, so that they are well socialized.
The rats will have been spared the traumatic upheaval of moving to a busy shop at a young age, and so will have suffered less stress. They have had fewer opportunities to catch diseases from other animals. You will be able to meet the parents and relatives of the baby rats, and to check that they are healthy and friendly. A good breeder will be able to give advice after you have taken the rats home, and will usually take her rats back if you have any problems with them.
The best way to find a responsible rat breeder is to contact your local/national rat club and, ideally, ask around before you buy. For example, the UK's National Fancy Rat Society keeps a 'Kitten Register' of baby rats which are well socialized and suitable as pets.
A Pet Shop
Buying rats from a pet shop is more of a gamble than buying direct from a breeder. Some pet shops have knowledgeable staff, who handle their rats daily and treat them well.
Other pet shops may see small livestock as just another commodity to be piled high and sold cheap. Advice from pet shop staff can be unreliable; no qualifications, or even experience, are needed to sell pets or to advise people on their care.
Incidentally, the size of a store is no guide to the quality of its advice; some of the large chain 'pet superstores' are notorious for their poor animal care. If you buy rats from a pet shop, look around before choosing a store. Find out where they get their rats from. The best options are stores which take in small numbers of rats at a time from local breeders, or which breed small numbers of their own rats, and give them lots of attention.
I got my two pet rats - Coffee and Jump - from a reputable pet shop. They were the cutest things when I saw them, and were sniffing my hand curiously when I tried to pet them in their tank in the pet shop. Who could resist such adorable little creatures? So I bought them promptly from the pet shop. Coffee and Jump are now really happy in their Ferplast aviary-converted-multi-level-rat-home (see pictures of my custom built homemade rat cage here)!
However, many pet shops purchase their small livestock from pet wholesalers, and this is the worst possible start for an animal. These rats are bred in huge numbers, then transferred to the wholesaler, who sells them on to pet shops. They can suffer great stress, and have lots of opportunities to pick up diseases. In order for the rats to reach the pet shops while they are still small and 'cute', they are often taken from their mothers far too young.
Breeder or Pet Shop?
Before you buy from either a breeder or a pet shop, consider whether they meet up to the following standards. Good rat breeders and good pet shops put a lot of time and effort into breeding and socialising pet rats; they will only breed from good quality, healthy, friendly animals and will allow the mother to rest between litters.
The babies will have been regularly handled from a young age - before their eyes have opened - and should be confident in human company by the time they are ready to leave home, not hiding away or urinating in fear when they are picked up. They will usually be over six weeks old, and certainly no younger than five weeks; the breeder or pet shop should be able to tell you their date of birth. They will have no problem telling the sexes apart - rats can be easily sexed from a few days' old, with a little practise.
They will have kept male and female rats separate from the age of five weeks, because females can become pregnant even at this age. Good breeders and good pet shops will certainly care about the welfare of their animals, and will want to make sure that you have suitable housing and know how to keep rats, before they will let you buy any from them. If they were not concerned that you would look after the rats properly, it might indicate that they did not care about the animals themselves.
Rescue organisations sometimes have rats which need good homes, and your national rat club will be able to put you in touch with members who deal with rescued rats.
In the UK, the National Fancy Rat Society is not a rescue organization, but many members take in homeless rats. One of the nice aspects of the rat world is that it does not polarize into those who breed and show, and those who keep rescues - most rat breeders find room for a few homeless rats amongst their prize winners.
'Rescued' rats may have been dumped by owners who did not look after them properly - often by people who bought a breeding pair and then could not cope with the babies. Sometimes they have been seized by animal welfare organizations, either from individuals or from pet shops.
If you adopt an adult rat, you will be able to get a rough idea of its health and temperament straight away. Initial shyness may subside as the rat gets used to you. Baby rescued rats are more of a gamble, as it may be hard to find out about the health and temperament of both parents.
It can be very rewarding to give a home to an animal which truly needs one, and many rescued rats make great pets. However, we recommend that you do not take on rescued rats until you have kept a couple of friendly, well-socialized rats, after which the rescued rats can benefit from your experience.
'Rescuing' From Pet Shops
Imagine this scenario: in a dingy pet shop, staffed by people who apparently could not care less, you find a tank full of rats. Overcrowded, dirty, perhaps with no food or water, some of the rats are obviously sick and many of them are unhappy. No-one cares about these rats because they are 'just snake food'.
You buy one of these unfortunate rats, knowing that you have saved it from certain death. Is this 'rescuing'? Many of us have done it, including myself. However, it may not do any good, and it's certainly not 'rescuing' in the same way that giving a home to an abandoned rat is truly 'rescuing' it.
Once you leave the nasty pet shop, another rat will be sold for snake food in place of the one you bought. The total number of rats sold for snake food will not change, just because the shop sold one as a pet. However, the pet shop staff will note that rats are selling well. They may be encouraged to breed more rats. They will not be encouraged to look after the ones they have better.
If you find that a shop is not looking after its livestock properly, and want to improve the welfare of the animals, then write to complain to your local council, for the attention of the environmental health officer. Contact the local animal welfare organisations. Contact the local newspapers. Visit the shop and try explaining politely how they could improve things. If that doesn't work, kick up a fuss. But please, don't buy from them - it will only encourage them. If you want to rescue a rat, see 'rat rescue' above. You can give a home to needy rats, without encouraging irresponsible breeders.
Before Buying Rats
Please consider whether you can commit yourself to caring for them properly for three years or more. Pets' needs do not change just because their owner gets a new job, or new interests, or will not find time to play with them any more. You cannot assume that you will be able to re-home rats in a year or so, if your interest fades. It is very stressful for an adult rat to have to adjust to a new home and new humans.
Rescue organisations have many animals to rehome, from cases of genuine need - for example, where the owner is seriously ill or has become homeless. They really do not need people to dump animals on them when the owner could easily, with a little effort, look after the rats themselves.
Here are a selection of very poor excuses : 'my daughter won't clean them out' (so teach her about responsibility!), 'I forgot that I was going to work abroad when I bought them' (i.e. 'I'm bored with them..'), 'I have a new baby and I don't want animals in the house now' (the rats are no danger to the baby, and the baby will love watching them). There are all too many sad cases like these, where owners abandon pets for no good reason.
If you have a genuine reason for not being able to keep your rats, first contact their breeder, then any rat club which you are a member of. If your breeder cannot help, and you are not a member of a rat club, then try an animal rescue organization like the RSPCA.
Please do not dump pets outdoors under the illusion that you are 'setting them free'; domesticated rats brought up in captivity would be terrified in the wild, unable to fend for themselves. Most would either be killed by cats, or starve to death, within days of release.
FancyPetRats.com last updated 8 Feb, 2017