Amongst some people, rats still have a bad reputation, and while it is true that wild rats can be a nuisance, domesticated rats can make excellent pets. They are clean, fun, and intelligent, and they can make great companions for the family. They do need a lot of attention from their owners and they also require daily time out of their cages to ensure they get enough healthy exercise. They are especially good pets for responsible children. While mice and hamsters might be too small for some children to safely handle, this isn’t true of rats.
When handling a pet rat, you will usually find that they enjoy having their heads petted. They can also enjoy being stroked at the top of their nose. Some might enjoy having their sides rubbed, but most will not tolerate having their bellies or bottoms petted.
Rats In the Wild
Wild rats are highly adaptable and have adapted to live just about anywhere people are found. Rats are omnivores and will eat a wide range of foods, but their preferred foods are nuts and seeds, because these are high in protein. However, they will eat fruit and will also eat meat, if it is available. Rats are prey animals, and as well as domestic, wild, and feral cats, they are also hunted by owls and other large birds, snakes, and weasels, among other animals.
People should not approach wild rats because they will bite if they feel threatened or cornered. Approximately 15,000 people report rat bites every year in the US and they can spread a host of diseases including typhus, salmonella, and pneumonic plague.
Rats As Pets
Domestic rats are different from wild rats. Most are very friendly and will not bite. They like the company of their human family, as well as any other rats that they might live with. They are intelligent and can be trained to find their way out of mazes or to press a bell or button that dispenses food. They are also very active, which means that they need to be let out of their cage for about an hour every day to get decent exercise.
Another reason for the popularity of rats as pets is that they will form a close bond with their humans. Their size means they are suitable pets for children, although children should always be supervised when handling rats.
Spots To Pet Rats
Most rats enjoy attention from their humans and this includes being petted or stroked. They will enjoy a gentle scratch of the head and also enjoy being stroked at the top of the nose. Some may also enjoy having the top of their back or their sides being petted. Most do not enjoy having their bellies or bottoms petted, however.
As with any pet, the more often you handle a rat, the more it will get used to the sensation so it will be more likely to accept handling. If you can start when the rat is young, this will further increase the likelihood that your rat will enjoy the experience. Follow these tips when handling a pet rat:
1. Start Young
If you have just introduced pet rats to a new cage, give them a few days to settle in, but once this period has passed, you should start handling them as soon as possible. Young rats are more open to being handled and they will get used to it before they become adults and less accepting of change.
2. Handle Often
If you only handle a rat when its cage needs cleaning, it will never get used to it. Ideally, you should spend some time every day with your rat. It will get used to your smell, being picked up and handled, and you, generally. You don’t have to keep hold of the rat in your hand this whole time. Many rats enjoy snuggling into an armpit or elbow ditch and may even enjoy getting in the pocket of your jacket while you sit and watch TV.
3. Hold It Carefully
You should never pick a rat up by its tail. If it will readily come to you and hop on your outstretched hand, this is ideal. Otherwise, try and scoop the rat up or hold them around the body firmly, but not tightly.
4. Don’t Make Them Jump
You are most likely to get bitten by a pet rat if you scare it. When approaching to pick a rat up show your hand, talk to them to let you know they’re there, and you should minimize the chance of making them jump. It will be less stressful for the rat and they will be more likely to enjoy the experience.
Rats make very good pets that are fun and interesting to hang out with. They are intelligent and can even be taught a few basic tricks, and most pet rats enjoy spending time with their humans. Many like to be petted on the top of the head and the back of the neck and may also enjoy being rubbed at the top of the nose and even on the sides. Generally, if the rat stays in place and lets you carry on, it is enjoying the experience. If it moves away or tries to get away, try something different.
Featured Image Credit: VeronArt16, Shutterstock