The wonderful world of rats
I adore rats - and have had many pet rats over the years (Rikki Tikki Tikki, Betty Sue, Mary Hartman and Sister - each of them adorable). They were all what are known as 'fancy' rats. Domesticated or 'fancy' rats are physiologically and psychologically different from their wild relatives. Fancy rats make ideal pets, being affectionate, clean, docile, intelligent, responsive, and usually most unwilling to bite. Nor do they smell when kept in hygienic conditions.
I'll let Eithne take over now - here are her stories about her beloved Panda, Travis, Gonzo, Lilly and TingTing.
Three years ago my daughter moved away from home for a college course and soon after bought her first pet rat called Panda (pictured left). Later when she was going on holidays somewhere was needed to be found for Panda to stay until she returned, she did not have many offers. As a mother and a pet lover, of course 'I' was roped in for the task. I soon realised that Panda had a sweet and gentle little personality and was missing her owner so I began to take her out of her cage, which she loved.
I was very surprised at Panda's intelligence, she knew her name and would come if I called her. She knew if I was saying 'no' and loved to wrestle with me and have her tummy tickled. I found myself becoming very fond of her and likened the feeling of having her with me to having a pet dog, just a smaller version. The following link shows how it has been proven that rats laugh, but I didnt need a scientist to tell me that. Panda's reaction when I played with her made me laugh and I noticed that when I laughed she reacted too. We build a bond immediately. (video)
Panda also showed her happiness by 'bruxing' and 'boggling' when I petted her. I was amazed when she started bruxing first, it sounded rather like a cat purring and I could see she only did this when she was content, secure and very happy. Panda also boggled which is quite funny looking. When rats are esctatically happy they can give a wiggle and sometimes their eyes bulge a little, Panda was the only rat I have seen do in person but have looked at it on Youtube. (videos)
Rats are very social animals and do not thrive living alone, so soon Panda got a new friend, a rescued distressed female rat from a pet shop where she was breeding every six weeks and had no way of getting away from either her breeding partners or her demanding babies. Gonzo had a nervous breakdown while living in the petshop, and so she came to live in a cage near Panda. Eventually with gentle coaxing the two became best friends. They loved grooming one another. Grooming is both a sign of affection and a demonstration of dominance as the rat being groomed will often lie in a submissive posture.
There were initial issues over dominance and when my daughter chastised them for arguing they would stop and hang their heads a little, then when her back was turned they would hide where she couldnt see them and begin their bickering again, rats are very clever! But they became inseparable within a short space of time.
The following year due to my daughter going to live in the UK for a year Panda and Gonzo came to live with me. I again surprised myself at being delighted with their arrival. I had been 'petfree' for a few years due to work committments and walking the dog would not have been an option for me at that time, rats suited my circumstances just perfectly.
I loved their company around the house and often let them out to play, although they had a particular liking for power cables and I had to rat proof my living room before I opened their cage. Eventually they both passed away, rats only have a life span of two years or so, and I missed them dreadfully. They had greeted me when I got up in the morning, they showed me affection with little kisses and even groomed my hands when they sat on my knee. It felt the same as when I had lost pet dogs in the past, they both had such distinct personalities and were such little jokers.
Within the week of losing Gonzo and having a rat-free home again, I went in search of more rats to share my home with. I heard of some rat babies who needed a home and three of them came to live with me. This picture shows two of them, (Lily on left and Tingting on right) deciding to explore their new home, they are six weeks old.
This picture shows Lily subtly hinting that she would like me to let her out of the kitchen.
Soon after the girls arrived I was contacted by another person who needed a home for a pet rat. Travis had a miserable life until a girl who worked for the ISPCA rescued him and he moved in with her female rat. He had been housed alone in a tiny hamster cage and had no human contact. He was fed a totally unsuitable diet through the bars of his cage and must have been in utter misery. His life turned around and for a few months he was very happy. Then one day his mate died unexpectedly and Travis went into rapid decline. He stopped grooming. Rats are dedicated hygienists and keep both themselves and their surrounding immaculately clean, which normally includes either using a litter tray or a 'special' corner. Travis' lack of personal hygiene was a worrying sign and was also off his food. His owner knew that if something was not done for him soon he would pine away.
So Travis came to live in my house. As soon as he arrived he began to settle. As I introduced myself to him I mimicked the sound of bruxing and he bruxed back at me, Travis was home. He never did move into the girls cage. They were much too giddy for him and bullied him a bit, but their cages are side by side and they keep him company without disturbing his retirement solitude. He's getting on a bit now and likes his day to be rather mundane and quiet, whereas the girls are always on the move and looking for mischief. Females rats are always more active than male rats and both sexes become more laid back and sedate as they get older, much like humans of course.
Travis got a complimentary tea-towel hammock supplied on his first day in his new home and moved into his new deluxe apartment, which I built with two cages linked together. (This picture shows the contentment in his face.) He's living with me over six months now and his previous owner gets photographs and regular reports about his progress. She had given him a teddy when his mate died and he carried it everywhere with him as a comforter. Although I put it with him in his hammock he lost interest when he moved in with us and pushed it away.
It took me a little while to research about how to best look after my rats. Gonzo and Panda were vegetarians but I give my new rats a little meat occasionally. They prefer a green tea and honey drink to water, although they always have the option of both. I changed the staple food that I initially bought them after reading that dried corn is dangerous for rats and the meal I normally bought had about 25% corn. I also found out that orange juice causes bladder cancer in male rats so that had to be removed from their green tea recipe.
I understand that rats as pets would not appeal to everyone but hopefully my story can help to dispel some of the myths about these wonderful little pets.
Read more: The Rat & Mouse FAQ
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