So, you’ve decided to take on a rat of your own. Congratulations! They are one of the best pets you can have.
They’re intelligent, clean, affectionate, gentle and form strong bonds with their owners.
But rats must live in pairs or groups, never on their own.
See this page for more info on the importance of companionship.
But where is the best place to obtain your new rats? There are three main options open to you:
Probably the first place a new rat owner will think to go to buy their rat. But it isn’t the best option.
In fact, a pet shop is possibly the worst place you can get a rat from.
At best, pet shops will breed their own rats for sale either on the premises or at home.
At worst, they will obtain them from a wholesale rodent breeder; the rat equivilant of a puppy farm.
These places are commonly called rodent farms, or rodent mills.
Please see here for more information about these mills.
In either situation it is unlikely you will be able to see the parents or get any idea of how healthy the line is. Temperament and resistance to disease are partially inherited.
If you breed two sickly, bad tempered rats together, chances are the offspring will end up sickly and bad tempered too.
Since many pet shops view the animals they sell as nothing more than a money making commodity, they often care little about how healthy or friendly the animals they sell are, as long as they sell them.
Just as it used to be acceptable to buy puppies from a pet shop but is now hugely frowned upon, the same is true of rats. Many now believe that pet shops should not be allowed to sell animals at all, but only animal feed and accessories.
Rats are highly intelligent, sociable animals and they need at least an hour of human attention each day if they aren’t to become bored.
This is even more important for young rats who need to be handled from a very young age in order to be confident and happy in human company.
Many pet shops will not have the time, or more often cannot be bothered, to handle all their baby rats, so the result is often rats who are skittish and nervous of human contact since the first time they are taken home by their new owner is likely to be the first time they’ve ever been properly handled.
Though a skittish rat is not a lost cause and they can be tamed with relative ease, it’s not the ideal situation and is definately not something that a first time rat owner should have to deal with.
All in all, pet shops should be avoided at all costs.
If you care about rats, do not line the pockets of people who see them as nothing more than ‘stock’ to be sold off the shelf like objects.
If you would not buy a puppy from a petshop or a puppy farm, then do not buy a rat from a pet shop as you are supporting the exact same kind of industry.
PetCo, a popular USA based pet shop chain, is notorious for the awful way in which it keeps it’s animals, particularly the rats, who under USA law, are not afforded any rights.
PetCo has prompted many stories of dead rats in tanks with the living, rats being eaten alive by their cage mates due to over crowding and starvation, rats with no food and water and rats dying infront of the customers eyes due to lack of veterinary care.
These pet shops should be boycotted and you should not buy your rats or any other animal or even animal accessories from them.
Undoubtably, a good breeder is the best place to buy your rat from if you want a happy, healthy, well socialised pet.
Notice that I stress a good breeder, since not all are responsible.
Anyone can put a male and a female rat together and end up with a litter, but that doesn’t make them a good rat breeder.
Rat breeders breed purely for a love of the animal and a desire to improve the overall health and temperament of the species. They make little if any money and usually don’t even cover their costs.
However, a good rat breeder will breed only from rats who they know are of sound temperament and health.
They will have pedigrees going back many generations for their rats and will not breed from any that have had serious medical issues or temperament problems.
They will only breed from the healthiest and friendliest rats, ensuring the babies end up healthy and friendly too.
A good breeder will only breed a few litters a year and will handle the kittens from a very early age, often from day one if the doe will allow.
Other benefits from buying from a breeder are that he or she will be able to advise you about your new pet, something pet shops are often unable to do correctly.
Most breeders will make you sign a contract before buying one of their rats which will set down a few simple rules you will need to stick to.
These include simple, obvious things such as agreeing to take the rat to the vet when its ill and to always provide it with suitable living accommodation and food and water.
Usually, the contract will require that should you ever have to get rid of the rat, it is returned to the breeder rather than dumped in a rescue or given away.
Unless you have specifically requested a rat for breeding, they will usually make you agree that the animal is not to be bred from.
A good breeder will want to remain in contact with you throughout the rest of the rats life, and will want to be alerted if any health problems arise so that they can tailor their breeding lines.
A breeder is also the only way to go if you’re looking for a specific variety of rat.
Most rats that you will find in pet shops or rescues in the UK will be hooded or albino top eared, so if you’re looking for something a bit more unusual, like a dumbo, rex, or a fancy colour, you will need to contact a breeder.
They will also ask you whether you want the rat as a pet or show animal.
There is no difference in price, but the rats deemed good enough to show will simply conform to the NFRS standards for that variety, whereas the rats sold as pets might not.
However, just because your rat is sold to you as a pet rather than a show animal, it doesn’t mean that he cannot be shown.
Several of my rats who were sold to me as a pets and not show animals have won classes at NFRS rat shows!
There is a common misconception that breeders will charge huge amounts of money for their animals.
This isn’t true, of rats at least.
Most breeders will charge £10 for a rat kitten. If you’re asked to pay much more than that, I’d be wary.
Do not be sucked into paying much over £10 for a rat, particularly if you are being told it is an extremely rare colour.
If you’re told this, do some research on the colour type itself to find out exactly how ‘rare’ it is.
Some disreputable breeders will end up with a kitten that doesn’t conform to any known rat variety, (most likely it is a known variety but a very poor example of it), and try to sell it at an inflated price to unknowing new rat owners, telling them it’s extremely rare!
It is probably not a good idea to buy rat kittens sight unseen.
Most breeders will email you photos of the litter, or put them up on their website as they grow. This way, you can see not only your new kitten, but the others in the litter and see that they’re all healthy.
But with the rat community in the UK being what it is, it isn’t unusual to buy a kitten and pay for it but never see it in the flesh untill the day you go and pick it up.
Rats from breeders tend to live longer and have less health problems, though this is obviously never a guarantee.
However, as good breeders make health and temperament their top priority, your chances of getting a healthy, well socialised animal will be higher than buying animals from a pet shop. And most importantly, you’ll not be supporting the horrendous cruelty involved with pet shops.
Do not rule out rescuing a rat.
Rats being small and relatively inexpensive pets means that they are often bought for children who end up getting bored with them. The rat then ends up in an animal shelter, or worse, dumped or abandoned.
People don’t think to look at animal shelters for rats, but you’d be surprised how many end up there, and often spend a long time there.
It is perhaps not a good idea to rescue a rat as your first ever rat, since animals of any species from unknown backgrounds can have behavioural or health problems that you may not be prepared for if you’ve got no rat experience.
However, once you have a little ratty knowledge under your belt and feel you could cope with a rat that may become ill, may be poorly socialised or who might even be nippy (rats don’t bite, as a general rule, but a rat who has spent it’s entire life being roughly handled by children may have learned to give the odd nip) then rescuing can be a very fulfilling act.
And of course, not all rescue rats are going to have issues, many of them will be perfectly friendly little rats who just need a second chance.
If you tell the rescuer or shelter that there will be your first rats, they’ll be able to match you to some who will fit in with your requirements.
Try phoning your local RSPCA and asking if they have rats in at the moment, you’d be surprised! With rats becoming increasingly popular pets, more and more of them are ending up in the hands of owners who cannot cope with them, or didn’t realise how much attention they need.
The rescue situation with rats really is as bad as it is with dogs and cats, but while people are now aware of the huge dog and cat over-population problem, they still aren’t aware that it applies to rats too.
Rescuing really is a wonderful thing to do, and most long term rat owners will rescue at some point. Many loving, friendly rats end up euthanised simply because there wasn’t a home for them.
There is no greater feeling than saving a life!
Regardless as to were you purchase your rats, be it pet shop, breeder or animal shelter, you’ll need to make sure they are healthy.
A healthy rat should look bright and alert and be interested in whats going on around him. He should not be sneezing lots or have any red discharge around his nose (though this is sometimes due to stress or innappropriate litter/bedding, so don’t discount an animal simply due to this alone.)
When you pick the rat up, he should feel firm and be free from scabs or lumps and bumps (particularly does, who are prone to mammary tumours).
Listen to his chest, he should not be wheezing or making any obvious noises when he breathes.
He should be interested in you and not panic when you pick him up.
A rat who is so nervous that he messes himself on you has obviously not been used to being handled or taken out of his cage so is best avoided as a first rat.
This does not apply to pee, however, since many rats will pee on new objects to claim them as theirs!
A rat who sits at the back of the cage and shows absolutely no interest in whats going on may be unwell or poorly socialised.
Again, this is where good breeders and rescuers are superior to pet shops.
A pet shop doesn’t care what condition the animal is in, as long as you give them your money.
But a good breeder and rescuer would never sell an unhealthy animal, and will be much better qualified to advise you on which rats are best for your situation.