Contrary to what many people believe, pet rats are not the dirty, disease-infested creatures of folklore. Domestic rats are affectionate, clean, sensitive and easy to train.
Fact #1: Rats have touchy tummies and whiskers.
Rubbing a rat’s belly like you would a dog’s isn’t recommended until the rat trusts you and is very comfortable with you. And if you stroke your rat’s face, make sure to rub in the direction the whiskers grow (stroke back toward the ears) – pulling them forward is very uncomfortable for the rat.
Fact #2: Rats love to be petted in certain spots.
Your rat probably likes having the top of his head stroked and gently scratched. He also appreciates it if you pet him along his back, from his neck to about the middle – the area closest to the tail can be sensitive. Rats usually enjoy having their ears rubbed.
Fact #3: Rats are extremely sensitive to electromagnetic fields.
Rats have highly tuned senses and can become overwhelmed by the electromagnetic fields generated by electronic devices. Until a new rat is well acclimated to your home and shows no signs of agitation or irritation when exposed to electronic devices, you should keep her habitat in an area of the house with a minimum of electronic activity.
Fact #4: Rats can sense moods.
It’s always best to interact with your rat when you’re in a good mood and feeling calm. Rats can sense tension, fear and other negative emotions in the people who handle them and may respond in kind. Try to give off only good energy when you’re hanging out with your rat.
Fact #5: Rats have a wild side.
Your pet rat will keep his wild, wary nature – including a tendency to bite — without frequent, gentle human handling. Like any pet, your rat should be considered a member of the family. Talk to him and interact with him regularly in a calm, gentle manner so he learns to trust and depend on you.
Fact #6: Rats grind their teeth.
… but not during sleep, like humans. Rats grind their teeth when they are feeling content. Interestingly, they also do it when they’re feeling stressed. The grinding keeps their tiny choppers at the proper length.
Fact #7: Some rats are hairless.
Hairless rats are bred from breeding two Rex rats (rats with soft, curly coats). They are often referred to as Double-Rex. These little guys should be housed with furred rats if possible. Their skin is a bit thicker than normal, but it’s safe to assume they get cold quickly due to lack of a coat.
Fact #8: The average rat litter is 12.
That’s the average, but a litter of just one or over 20 ‘pups’ and ‘kittens’ is possible. Female rats have 12 nipples, so mothers with large litters will separate the babies into two groups and take turns feeding each group.
Fact #9: Rats have poor eyesight.
Especially pink eyed rats. Rats will often sway while standing still – they do it to detect motion.
Fact #10: Male and female rats differ in both appearance and personality.
Female rats are smaller than their male counterparts, and their fur is usually softer. They are also quite a bit more active. Your male rat is more apt to sit contentedly in your lap while you pet him.
Fact #11: There are adoptable rats at animal shelters.
Most people interested in getting a rat don’t think to visit their local animal shelter to adopt one. The fact is pocket pets are dropped off at shelters regularly. Most never find new homes and are euthanized. If you decide to have a rat as a pet, I urge you to check for adoptable pets at your local humane society or animal shelter first.
Fact #12: Cedar and pine shavings are unsafe as bedding for rats.
Cedar and pine are soft woods, and the shavings contain phenols which are toxic to rats. The caustic compounds in phenols can cause respiratory problems and kidney and liver damage in pocket pets. Also avoid using clay-based or clumping kitty litter. Shavings from hard woods, like aspen, are preferable for your rat’s habitat. You can also use shavings made from paper.
Fact #13: Rats thrive in the company of other rats.
Rats are social and do much better with other rats around. I recommend you have at least two rats so they can keep each other company. Same sex pairs or groups are best. Male rats are generally not aggressive with one another if raised together from a young age.
Fact #14: Rats don’t throw up.
Rats have a very strong wall between the esophagus and stomach. It’s physically impossible for your rat to forcefully expel food from his tummy. Once in a great while a rat may passively regurgitate, meaning digested food in the stomach flows back into the esophagus. This is a very rare occurrence, however.
Fact #15: Baby rats play fight.
You may notice your young rats chasing and jumping on each other, and pinning one another to the ground. The babies are trying to get at the other’s nape – that’s the object of the game. If they can contact the nape, they gently nuzzle it. This is play fighting, and it starts at around 18 to 20 days of age. You’ll probably notice the youngsters really going at it when they get to be 30 to 35 days old, and then the behavior will start to wane.