February 5, 2010
Is a Rat the Right Pet for You?
Rats make wonderful pets, but they’re not for everyone
Do you have time for a rat?
Rats need time out of their cage every day (ideally an hour or more). Whether this time is spent stretching their legs and exploring new environments or cuddling in your lap, daily interaction and attention are essential for a rat’s well-being.
A rat's cage should be thoroughly cleaned on a weekly basis and spot-cleaned every few days. If you don't appreciate the smell of a dirty cage, consider how your rat—who spends nearly all of her waking hours just centimeters above her bedding—feels about stinky living quarters.
Rats are nocturnal. This means their natural tendency is to sleep during the day and become active at night. Will your schedule allow you to spend time with your rat in the late afternoon or evening? Is there a relatively quiet room in your house where your rat can be housed during daytime hours?
Is a rat right for your family?
If you're getting a rat for your child, think carefully about how this animal's care will fit into your family's schedule over the long haul. Can your son or daughter incorporate pet ownership into a busy after-school schedule and other commitments?
Are you willing to shoulder responsibility for your rat's care if your children drop the ball?
If you have other pets, are you sure your rat will get enough attention?
Do you have young children?
Young children often lack fine motor control and self-restraint, which means they may inadvertently drop a rat, squeeze him, or scare him into biting.
Young children are at greater risk for zoonotic diseases because of their undeveloped immune systems and tendency for close contact with pets without proper hand-washing. Children under five are particularly vulnerable to the effects of Salmonella, a type of intestinal bacteria that rats can carry.
Are you pregnant or have a weakened immune system?
Rats can transmit Salmonella, intestinal bacteria that cause short but intense bouts of sickness in healthy adults. This illness may produce more severe problems if a pregnant woman passes it to her unborn child.
Salmonella can also seriously sicken a person who’s already in a weakened state from other health conditions.
What's your budget?
The adoption fee or purchase price for a rat is typically minimal, but there are significant startup costs (the cage in particular) and ongoing needs to anticipate. The initial purchase of equipment and supplies is likely to include:
- Large cage or modular enclosure
- Bedding material
- Hidey box
- Food dish
- Water bottle
- High-quality commercial food
Are you prepared to spend as much as several hundred dollars a year on your new friend, particularly if you incur veterinary costs because your rat needs to be treated for a common condition like mites or requires emergency veterinary care?
Are you willing to arrange care for your rat when you go on vacation?
Two are better than one
Rats are social animals who need the companionship of other rats. Preventing a solitary rat from becoming lonely and bored is a tall order, even for someone committed to spending a significant amount of time with his animal every day.
Do you know if you're allergic?
Some people are allergic to rats. Symptoms can include respiratory problems, or more commonly, skin reactions such as rashes. These allergies can be a reaction to dander (dead skin cells), saliva, and/or urine. Certain types of bedding such as hay and wood shavings can also cause allergies.
If you've never lived with a rat, test the waters by visiting a household that includes one or spend time handling adoptable rats at your local humane society (you might meet your new best friend in the process).
How long of a commitment can you make?
Rats live an average of two-and-a-half to three years. If you can't make a long commitment to a pet, their relatively short lifespan may be appealing.
On the other hand, if you have young children and aren't prepared for them to experience the death of a pet, you may prefer a longer-lived animal.