If you have a pet rat, please help me out!

So Viridiano and I are thinking about getting a rat. Originally we had planned to get a kitten upon moving into our own place, but as it turns out the place doesn’t allow cats. Small or caged animals are all right – our landlord told us “as long as it doesn’t stink.”
My mother and a few friends have had hamsters, and I think they’re awesome (we’re also considering those in the event that the rat thing doesn’t work out) but I was hoping for something more…I’ve never been in a position to have a really sociable pet for myself before as I am now. Just fish and untamed/semi-tame birds. I like the idea of befriending my pet and having it sit idly in my lap or on my shoulder and what not. I hear rats are very smart and can become quite close to humans. I was hoping some dopers who had them could shed a little more light on the reality-based pros and cons.
I’m assuming rats are generally hardy, but are there normal apartment features that are dangerous/poisonous to them? Our only ventilation is one large window and one sliding porch door, and they’re not always open; does that matter at all? Would it be impossible to socialize one well with both of us working full time? If we’re both working, do we need to get two? If we get two is socialization harder?
Once in a while I need to spray toxic art finishes, the kind that requires a respirator. I do it out on the porch and quickly close the door, but sometimes we can smell it a little afterwards. Does this spell “no pet rats?” Does it matter if I bring the rat to another room during the spraying period where no smell penetrates and/or get an air filter?
Also, do rats ‘stink?’ do they bathe often? Can they be litter trained? Are vet visits costly? Is it good to really vary their diet? Are human scraps a bad habit? Do they eat bugs (Viridiano’s family’s cat loves them; he’s their free extermination service)?
I had a bunch of other questions in mind too; I hope I recall them soon. I know I can get some of this information from books, but I’d really like to hear from the rat’s mouth if I can; I am pretty anxious about new endeavors involving other lives and would appreciate tips or even call-downs, if it comes to that. :o
Ah, and if anyone can think of a pet I may not have thought of, that has similar sociable qualities (we can’t get a ferret) but might be allowed in our place, suggestions are welcome too.

I was thinking about getting rats at one point, but decided on getting two dwarf hamsters instead (nothing against rats, it’s just that the hamsters would be cheaper to house and feed and whatnot).

Here’s what I learned when I did some research on them:
They’re apparently one of the cleanest small animals. I doubt you’d have much problem with them stinking as long as you clean the cage at least weekly. You are planning on having them in a cage, right? A free-roaming rat probably isn’t such a good idea. I know hamsters can be litter trained, so I shouldn’t think it would be much harder with rats. They’re pretty intelligent. Their diet should consist of rodent food you get at the pet store (you can ask for reccomendations when you get it), and also supplement them with fresh veggies. I’m pretty sure they’re mostly herbivores, so I wouldn’t count on them being an extermination service.

And if you do decide to get two, you’d probably do best with two females. I hear the males can get pretty aggresive and territorial. Plus, the huge testicles aren’t all that fun to watch bouncing around.

Rats have very effective livers, so toxins (even your arts finishes) won’t be a problem for them, if they aren’t a problem for you. I never litter trained my rats, but I’ve heard of it being done. As far as toilet habits/smell, they sleep, store food, and pee in the same place, so you have to clean out the cage, and their bedding to keep the smell acceptable. I used to use a shop-vac to clean out the cage, which made the whole process take about 2-30 seconds. It was overkill, but it was fast, and the ratties didn’t mind. Sometimes one would get too close to the nozzle, and get picked up, but really, they didn’t seem to care too much about that either. Rats generally are pretty clean, but if they get dirty, you can put them in some warm water in the sink, and they’ll swim around, and when you take them out, you’ll fully understand what a “drowned rat” might look like. After they’re out of the water, they’ll clean themselves until they are dry (the same way a cat will).

They tend to do better with a fellow rat in the cage with them, they’re social animals and will get lonely pretty easy. That being said, there tends to be a “pecking order” and when it gets challenged (usually over food) there will be a bit of a ruckus, and some rat wrasslin’ . It’s usually over in less than 5-15 seconds, and I never saw anything that freaked me out*.

As far as food, I gave them “Rodent Blocks”, which are an extruded block of food for rats and mice. It was fun putting them in the cage, because I’d open the door, and they’d come over to get food, run away to “hide” it, and then come back for more. The hiding of the food was rather poor when you gave them popcorn or cheez-puffs, because of the color contrast, but that was just part of the fun. You can give them fruit and veggies for a treat if you want, but fatty foods like sausage will reduce their life expectancy if you give too much of it to them.

Whether you get a cage or tank is up to you, but if you get a cage, I strongly suggest you don’t feed them through the bars. If you do, they’ll think anything poking through the bars is food (terrible eyesight), and bite it. Rats have very sharp front teeth, and they hurt bad when you get bit. I got bit a few times until I figured out the whole issue of "food through the bars = Bad).

Also, giving them toys is fun as well. I gave mine bits of PVC pipes to crawl around in (Home Depot is cheap) as well as rope (climbing) and parrot toys (very durable) for them to climb and gnaw on. They are very curious and are motivated by food, so teaching them tricks should not be a problem if you have the patience.

I’d get females as well. Those huge gonads look like freakish tumors on the males.

Oh, and if you get a cage, get one with a litter pan with high sides (6" or so), because they like to kick the litter around sometimes. I used Care Fresh litter because it had little to no smell. The cedar and pine litters are supposed to be somewhat toxic to the rat’s lungs, but there’s multiple options for litter as far as that goes. I suspect that any non-pine cat litter would work, as well as alfalfa pellets (used as rabbit food). I didn’t like the alfalfa pellets because of the alfalfa-ey smell but that’s a personal preference. The cost of the alfalfa pellets was cheaper than any other litter, as long as you buy it at a livestock feed store/agway/farm supply store.

I have meal worms for my lizard. My rats go crazy for them. I don’t know if a rat would chase a bug down eat it though.

I don’t have any answers, but I know someone who does. I will refer this thread to my friend, the professional rat wrangler.

Definitely get at least two! It is very cruel for a rat to not have companionship- they crave it- they are not loners like hamsters. No matter how much time you spend with them, they will be happier with a companion- I think it is better to buy them together when they are young, you “may” have a problem putting two adults together who don’t know each other. Same sex of course, unless you want to breed them. I also prefer females, as stated earlier they seem a bit calmer, and you don’t have the large scrotums to look at. Rats are very clean- they spend a majority of their time grooming- and do not stink at all. Buy an absorptive cage liner made of that grey paper chunk looking stuff, whatever you call it, and you can literally go at least a week without any noticeable smell, it is really worth the extra money.

All this talk about rat scrotums. My rats’ scrotums don’t bother me a bit. Infact, they are way less ugly than hu… um, far more attra… aw crap, never mind.

Really, they aren’t all that bad (the scrotums). The real question is would female or male rats be better for you.

Heh, I never heard anything about giant rat testicles before. :smiley: Tempting! But I guess we’d probably get females.

Thanks so much for the info so far, you guys are awesome! (And Faruiza, that would be very much appreciated, unless your friend is Wee Bairn, in which case thanks :P) I’m getting excited about the idea. So are we better off getting really young baby rats, in order to imprint them or get them used to playing with us or climbing on us? We’d have to leave them by themselves for most of the day because of work; I don’t know if they need a lot of constant attention to be really human friendly, like cockatiels.
Any extra thoughts on housing? I guess a tank would look nicer, but it seems like a cage would be nicer to them since they’d be able to climb on it?..though maybe that would result in escapes…
Thanks for letting me know about the bug thing too; we don’t have a big bug problem or anything, but it was a fun thought.

Some of the finest, sweetest, funniest pets I’ve ever had were my rats. They are such amazing little critters. We tried cages with bars and also aquarium-style cages with mesh lids; the latter were, in our experience, much better. Easier to clean, safer for the rats.

One of my ratties, a female hooded rat named Honey, used to like to sit on my shoulder while I moved around the house doing things. She also liked to go for a walk outdoors. I had a tiny harness that could be hooked to a leash, and I could walk Honey just like walking a dog. I’m sure the neighbors muttered to themselves “There goes that crazy woman walking her rat,” but I’ve never been one to care very much about the opinion the neighbors hold of me.

and here I am… rats need three things to thrive… Play, space, and they do well with partners, but can do well with a lot of TLC from a human.

I’ve been training and raising them for 12 years. (WOW) Right now we have 32 of em. I prefer males, (hey, what’s wrong with having balls the size of your brain?), because they are laid back, and will be happy little couch potatoes when they get full sized, (about four months).

You can get donated cages from SPCA offices, or cheap sources like Salvation Army, Goodwill, or any other thrift shops. They love climbing, hammocks, (an old t-shirt hung from the cage ceiling by twisty ties is a hellava lot cheaper than the ones sold at pmarts).

The best place to get a squishy little fur ball is through a rescue. Depending upon where you live, there can be one or fifty. I run one in Las Vegas. RMCA.org lists some, as does PetFinder.com.

You can also visit sites like RatFanClub.org, RMCA.org, or Ratzenmauzers.com to find out health/care tips. (I like RMCA the best… although I run the Ratzen site!)

If you have questions email me at catheb at catsrats.com or visit catsrats.com and sign onto our board.

The best age is 5-8 weeks to help train them. Great foods… carrots, leftovers, fruits, but DO NOT NOT NOTNOTNOT feed too much proteins, chocolates or sweets, They get diabetes, cushings disease, and skin infections from any of these. Always have clean water, and the boys love being brushed with baby brushes!


<WAVES WILDLY> Thanks baybee! :cool:


If I’d seen someone walking a rat, and the rat looked happy about it, I’d have been curiously delighted, and probably still will be even if it’s me doing it :slight_smile:
Thanks so much, again, guys! Especially for making me aware that I could go for a rescue; I hadn’t known there was enough interest in rats/rats needing to be saved for that. Happy and sad at the same time, I guess. goes off to browse those rat sites