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October 10, 2014

Find Out If a Rat Is the Right Pet for You

Answer these eight questions before you decide to get a pet rat

For many people, rats are the ideal companion: small, social, friendly, and intelligent. Since they're readily available and inexpensive, it can be tempting to acquire a rat on impulse. But before you dive headlong into a relationship, here are eight important questions to consider.

1. Do you have time for a pet 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?

2. Is your family ready to care for a rat?

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?

3. 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.

4. Are you pregnant or suffering from 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.

5. Can you afford to care for a pet rat?

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. The initial purchase of equipment and supplies is likely to include:

You may need to spend as much as several hundred dollars a year on your new friend, including veterinary fees if your rat needs to be treated for a common condition such as mites or requires emergency veterinary care.

Are you willing to arrange for a pet sitter to care for your rat when you go on vacation?

6. Would you be willing to adopt two rats? 

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.

7. Are you allergic to rats?

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. If you aren't allergic to your rat, you may be allergic to certain types of bedding, such as hay or wood shaving.

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).

8. Are you prepared to adopt a pet with a short lifespan?

Rats live an average of two-and-a-half to three years. If you can't make a long-term commitment to a pet, a rat's 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.

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