Care and feeding of a pet rat.

I’m thinking on getting a rat as a pet. I have two kids, 5 and 3, that stay with me on the weekends and thought it might be a good pet for them to learn how to take care of.

I was in the pet shop, an independent one that will not sell you an animal unless they think you can take care of it, and was asking about pets for younger kids. They told me that a rat might be a good option as they tend to be gentle and good for little kids.

While I would be the one to be taking care of it, I think it would be good to have the kids do at least some of the care while they are with me. The oldest has been asking for a cat but I don’t want one right now. I’ve had cats, dogs and fish in the past so I’m not new to taking care of animals.

So what are the pros and cons of rats as pets? How will they do with a 5 year old? What kinds of things should I know about them? I’m not going to buy one today so I have time to learn about them.

Make sure you use the cedar chips for bedding. Do some research on wood chips. Some are not OK for rodents. The right ones will go a long way to keeping the smell down. You’ll get used to it, but your guests might not. You end up cleaning the cage all the time. Place the cage where the surrounding area can catch the debris because stuff will be flung everywhere around the cage, unless the cage itself is designed to prevent this. They are fun and very smart. Keep putting new toys in the cage and rearranging things so it can investigate and reconfigure to it’s liking.

The good news of sorts is that they don’t live all that long so you will soon have the opportunity to opt out of this adventure.

I’ve had a lot of rats and they vary in temperment, Some are cuddly and affectionate, some not. They are cheap to feed, they will eat anything. I fed them dog food or cat food, figured out eventually that cat food made their shit/urine smell worse. They will also happily eat any food waste from the kitchen.

They are very smart and social, so unless your rat will be with you all day it’s best to get two so they can be buddies. Make sure they have plenty of toys to keep them occupied. Even if parts of their cage have wire floors, make sure they have something flat to stand on too, otherwise they can get foot problems. For litter I used Carefresh and it worked great. Make sure you take them out of their cage and handle them daily so they learn you are their buddy. Don’t feed them through the bars, or stick your fingers through the bars, and be very careful feeding them from your fingers–their eyesight is not great and they may mistake a fingertip for a nom. Boy rats are larger, calmer and more laid back than girl rats, so they would be a good choice for little kids.

OH! Do Not pick them up by their tails. Big no no.

They’re incredibly smart and can be incredibly sweet. I use Carefresh (I understand some chips are bad for their lungs) and keep the food mainly to rat blocks from the local rat-friendly pet store, but treat them with veggies/fruit/scraps every once in a while. If cared for well they can be taught not to bite and to ride on shoulders and such and play with you. They have their own personalities. I had one pair that got old and died, and have my second pair now. One of the first pair was sweet as honey and licked my fingers constantly (one of the second pair does too), and made these huge scary leaps, but none of the others leap. I had one that seemed more standoffish and snatchy but when she got old she got cuddlier.

I’d second the never feed through the bars thing - I did it only a couple times, ever, but then I could never break them of biting lightning fast whenever I put fingers to the bars (they never bite me otherwise). And of course try to teach the kids never to startle or hurt them, and they can be awesome friends.

They are wonderful pets. But IMO they are much too small and fragile for a 5-year-old and 3-year-old, no matter how gentle or well-behaved your kids are. Same goes for kittens and small-breed puppies.

Whatever you do, don’t take it out for a walk. :smiley:

We are about to get our third batch of pet rats. Get two, get siblings, get them young.

Two years ago, when my son was five, we got two sisters. Norman and Desiree(yes Norman was a girl…naming pets is not my son’s strong suit) They were about 5 weeks old when we got them and we have had a lot of fun with them. They play, nestle and burrow in hoodies and the like.

Norman had a stroke this summer and passed away. Desiree was lonely so I did a “rescue” of someone who was giving pets away on Kijiji* these were male rats, bigger, smellier, greasier (male rats secrete something called “buck grease”) and they had not been socialized well. One was a Pink eyed white, the other two were hooded Agoutis like N&D. These boys have been a challenge, they still aren’t very amenable to being held, they aren’t soft and cuddly, but they have become gentler with lots of time and two will allow petting. Males have very prominent testicles, and when they are young they are not covered in fur, so ummm, be prepared to explain.

I never had pets growing up, but the man of the house had all kinds of gerbils, hamsters, etc and he said rats are the most fun of any small pet he ever had.

The boys fight with each other, and are very territorial.
Desiree is getting frail, so in the next week or so we are getting another set of girl rats. This will be a challenge because I have to tell my son repeatedly that the new girls will not be allowed in the boy’s cage. (After a few weeks we realized Desiree was already past littering age so she lives with the boys.)

There are some rat message boards but be careful, they are full of people who
want you to buy specially formulated rat food, and have a very holier than thou attitude about pet store rats.

So in summary, get them young, get siblings, I like girls rather than boys, but I am sure either will do well. You can train them to poop in a small litter pan, and feed them rat pellets and some table scraps. Mine love banana, pizza crust, and chicken bone wings, which are great for keeping their teeth from overgrowing.

Feel free to ask more if you have questions, or email me.

*The people in the ad told me they had two girls. They dropped off three boys. The cage was dirty, the rats were dirty and smelly, and they wanted me to take the rats two days earlier than I was prepared for because "we are going camping and will maybe let them loose [!] if you can’t take them.

In theory, one wouldn’t need to feed pet rats; one could just leave them loose in the kitchen or pantry overnight.

I kid, but they ought to be perfectly adapted to eating human leftovers, since that’s precisely what they’ve been doing for untold thousands of generations.

Well I took the kids to see and touch a rat over the weekend. They seemed to do ok with it. They didn’t want to hold the rat, which is fine, but they thought it was funny and did pet it. I also talked to the person at the shop for awhile, who has rats himself, and bought a book. I think we might try it out and see what happens. I just need to find a good cage that I like and runs $50 or so.

Our rats have a staple diet of lab blocks (extruded pet food) supplemented by lettuce leaves, other veggie scraps, pizza crusts, and when we go out for wings we save them the bones. That gives them extra calcium etc and also lets them chew and wear down They are cheap to feed. Litter, and we use the kind made from recycled paper is the most expensive on going cost and that is maybe 20.00/month. They say cedar chips and other bedding made from softwood is not recommended because it bothers their respiratory tracts.

They are a fun pet for small kids, and for a cage critter, remarkably intelligent and a good companion.

My 11 yr old son got two rats for Christmas this year, as his big present. A few things we have learned thus far:

  • Wood chips, in general, are bad. A lot are chemically treated or have oils that are detrimental for the rats’ long term health. It’s a lot safer to go with bedding that is made of recycled newspaper or the like. It’s not that expensive and works fine.

  • Cages will have to be cleaned at least once a week. Sometimes more, depending on your rats. Also, rats ALL tend to leave a urine trail when exploring, ESPECIALLY males.

  • Always buy them in multiples, at the very least a pair. Rats are very social critters, and need someone to play with when you aren’t around.

  • Rats are nocturnal. If you keep their cage in a room that people sleep in, expect that they will make noise all night long.

  • Feed them rat blocks that are specifically formulated for rats. Feed mixes, the kinds with looses seed and such, will be picked through for the “goodies” and the rats will end up not getting a balanced diet. Supplement with veggies, occasional table scraps, and what not. While rats can survive on just about anything, it doesn’t mean such things are necessarily good for them.

  • Rats need space, especially vertical space, as they love to climb. They also need more space than a lot of folks expect - a standard “hamster” cage is way too small. We have a fairly good sized ferret cage (this one, in fact, which I think is too small for a ferret in reality but it is about perfect for two rats) that works quite well.

  • Most toys marketed as parrot toys work well for rats. Rats love to play, but also get bored fairly easily, so make sure you have some toys you can swap out every other cleaning or so to keep them happy and entertained.

All in all, owning rats has been a far more positive experience than I expected it to be. The two we have are female, and are sooooo friendly. They were very easy to train to ride on shoulders, and are very affectionate and attentive. They even do well with our two four year olds, but said little ones are ONLY allowed to pet them and play with them with direct supervision. My 11 yr old has been doing great in keeping up with the rats and taking care of them, and its been a good lesson in responsibility for him. Overall, I really enjoy them as pets myself, and will definitely continue to keep rats around.

I had a pet rat as a kid, named Willard, just kidding, his name was Blackie, because he was black. He was OK in temperament and easy to take care of, but he died young of testicular cancer or something, which was fairly upsetting given the obvious inflammation and engrossment of his testes. I was maybe 8, 9, or 10, and made him a little maze which he wasn’t that good at. He was good for a laugh, but I’d discourage my nephew from rodent ownership because, what’s the point, really? “Mine” was very sociable, though, and relished being carried about and riding on shoulders and so forth. You can’t really look into their eyes soulfully like with a cat or dog, though.

Do not get your pet rats a Habitrail-they will just chew through it.

Males smell more than females, and in general are more cuddly, while the females (again, in general) are higher energy and more playful rather than cuddly. Smart as all hell - they’re like tiny little dogs. There are a few no-nos for feeding (ex. no citrus fruits, IIRC) but other than that, the general rule is, if it’s healthy for you it’s healthy for them. I actually ate better when I got rats because it was an incentive for me to have healthy leftovers/scraps for them instead of crap like fast food.

Google up tricks that people have trained their rats to do - some of them are quite amazing for such tiny creatures.

Never ever keep a rat by itself. We punish criminals with solitary confinement - it’s even worse for rats, which do not come with introverted variants like our species. All rats are extroverts. Pick a gender, and keep two or three at once. (It’s not commonly done, but it is possible to find a vet who will neuter a male rat, if necessary.)

My brother is taking care of my roommate’s rats (long story) and they are awesome little critters. Hypersocial- you walk by the cage and you’ll get one or btoh rats practically jumping up and down and begging to be let out to play. They seem to have house-broken themselves. They spend their time running and climbing and stealing their sister’s treats- ADD rats.

Males are my preference, and actually hairless rats, but that may be a bit creepy for your kids. They do have enormous … baggage… as we termed it, and tend to “mark” their special people with a bit of urine. I only had one, but he was the baby of the entire school classroom, and spent all day on my desk, playing with my erasers, etc. The females are more skittish, but smell less.

How much smell are we talking here? The one we held pooped on me but didn’t pee. I also don’t remember a bad smell. So far all the ones I have seen for sale are the male rats and that’s probably the way I’d go unless the smell was really bad. I’ve had cats in the past, and the rats would probably be kept in the living room so I wouldn’t let it smell if I could help it and I’d change their cages often. But if they smell all the time then it could be a deal breaker.

It’s really a matter of personal … sensitivity, I suppose. The males don’t really have BO themselves, if that’s what you mean by “they smell all the time.” Keeping up with changing out their litter goes a long way. Also, rats tend to use one particular corner of the cage as a bathroom (rather than just randomly distributing waste throughout their cage) and scooping out that area more often helps even more.

Rats won’t smell if you clean their cages regularly. You never have to give them baths because they spend almost all their time cleaning themselves: They do it more than cats. That being said, mine loved swimming in the tub (just make sure to never leave them unsupervised).

Unless you want your little kids shrieking “EEEEEWWWW!” I’d suggest getting two females (not one - the little fuckers get lonely) because males have massive nutsacks.

Rats are awesome and I think they’re a great idea for little kids. But remember to tell your kids to be extra gentle with them- they can’t take as rough of handling as dogs or cats.