Netflix and chill, plus 6 more reasons why you should have a pet rat

February 4 2016 | Guest post by Krystal Craiker
Armpit massage
This adorable guy was one of Ariel's pet rats!

Have you wanted a pet, but weren't sure you had the time to care for a dog? Or maybe you don't know if you want the 15 year commitment of a cat. Fish are great, and easy, but they don't do much. Ferrets are cool, but they may not be legal where you live. Frogs are cute, but they can't cuddle while you watch Netflix.

The solution is rats. And before you say, "Ew!" keep reading.

Rats are amazing pets. I currently have ten pet rats of my own, and I volunteer with a local pet rat rescue. I am on a mission to fix the reputation of pet rats. Here are a few things to consider…

1. Pet rats do not equal pest rats

The domestic rat, or fancy rat, is different from the wild rats that give exterminators business. They have different physical features and have been bred for hundreds of years to have mild, sociable demeanors. You can hold my pet rats. They'll even give you kisses. Don't pick up a wild rat. You will get bit and need stitches.

Pet rats also don't carry the diseases that wild rats carry. You run no risk of the plague or salmonella with a sweet little fancy rat.

2. Rats are trainable

Their ability to be trained corresponds directly with the amount of work you want to put in. With minimal effort, rats can be litter-box trained. That's right, they will only poop in one area of the cage if you train them to do so. Rats learn their names and will come when called.

I have met rats that can dance pirouettes. Rats love to play fetch. A friend of mine once had a rat who would fetch his pack of cigarettes. The rat would also lecture his owner about the dangers of lung cancer (just kidding.) And then there is Cirque du Sewer, the world's only rat circus. Her rats jump through hoops and walk on tightropes.

3. Rats are really into Netflix

Rats are as cuddly as dogs. One of my rats who recently passed was my "boob rat." Susie would just sit inside my shirt for hours. She would groom herself or take a nap. Sometimes she would poke her head out and see what was on Netflix.

Liz and Alice are a bit more exploratory. But they never venture far before they come back to check on me. They will both crawl up my shoulder while I'm watching TV and give me a quick kiss on the nose. My boys are my biggest cuddlers now. Boy rats are lazy, and they love to be scratched and tickled. Weasley will just hang out on my shoulder.

4. Rats can be spayed and neutered

Owning rats does not mean you will end up with a million baby rats. The rescue I work with sterilizes all of our rats before adoption. It cuts down on overpopulation, helps with behavior issues, and prolongs their lives. Because of spaying and neutering, I have a mixed colony. My girls keep my boys from being too fat and lazy, and my boys help chill out my girls.

5. Rats are cleaner than most small animals

I grew up around birds, and they make a huge mess. I have owned a hamster and a hedgehog. That hedgehog was disgusting. My rats? They are cleaner than my dogs and my fiancé.

Rats spend as much time grooming every day as cats do, if not more. They groom themselves and each other. As previously discussed, they can be litter trained.

6. Rats eat your leftovers

There are very few things rats can't eat. Rats have evolved to have amazing livers. As long as they have a healthy base to their diet, like lab blocks and fruits and vegetables, don't be afraid to give them that pizza that's about to go bad.

7. Rats love you even if you don't have a lot of time

Ideally, rats need about thirty minutes to an hour of human interaction every day. If you have more time to give, they will enjoy it and so will you. Did you stay out all night and not get home till noon? Take a nap, then spend time with your rats. They'll forgive you, and they won't judge you for the poor choices you might have made last night.

Rats have been villainized in pop culture for hundreds of years. I have found that they are some of the sweetest, most loving, and most intelligent creatures on the planet. And rats are like potato chips — you can't stop at just one!

Always check out rescues and reputable breeders before bringing home a rat. And always do your research before you own any type of pet!

What are your top reasons for having pet rats?

  1. Weasley is an awesome name for a rat. It would only be better if your ten pet rats were all named after Weasleys, but then I guess you wouldn't be able to use all the other fun names you like.

    • All of our rats started out with geeky pop culture names. Then I switched to suffragettes! Susie was Susan B. Anthony, Liz is Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and there's Alice Paul, Ida B. Wells, and Jane Addams.

        • love the names… We have had several ratties – Cow or cow products names
          Mu Kau, Kau Pi, Beau Vine, AnGus, Bleu Cheese and Dexter kau
          Pi was our alien boy (Pi Pi with the laser eye)- mismatched eyed – dark red and bright red. beige with a white blaze and a lover of boobs.. Gus the Wonder rat was brave, loved our pug and trimmed her nails, favorite place was cuddling in my lap or shoulder. and stealing food. I miss my babies.

          • You had a rat that was able to trim your pug's nails? If you know anything about pugs and their nail trims (which you probably do), that's reason enough to keep a rat around!

      • My past rats have been named Zaphod Beeblebrox, Grania O'Malley, Duct Tape, Plum, Science, and Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Rat names are the best.

      • My three new boys are names are all traceable to Greek myths in some form or another. Apollo is named for obvious reasons. Ouros is a shortened version of Ouroboros which was too much of a mouthful. Lastly Altair after a star in the constellation Aquila which carried Zeus's thunderbolts and had nothing to do with Assassins Creed despite my nerd friends' insisting. If I ever got a brown agouti though he'd be Scabbers without a doubt but that's all the Harry Potter names for me. The breeder I bought from on the other hand has Bellatrix, Granger, and Draco among others.

  2. I am soooo reluctant to have caged and/or litterbox-using pets again after having to rehome my ferrets a few years back… I loved them dearly, but I was unable to keep their living space clean while suffering from my worst bouts of depression.

    THAT SAID – this makes rats sound really lovely and kind of makes me want a couple. Maybe someday…!

      • I have depression too and my rats are wonderful for helping me deal. I have three (I would love to have more). They are easy to maintain and if I have a bout of depression they cheer me up and I can take care of me so that I can take care of them. I clean their cage on Saturday mornings, but if I'm not up to it right then, I can wait until the afternoon or even Sunday. Rats don't have good eyesight, but I have one that is actually blind. She is an amazing inspiration for me. Nothing fazes her and she is so cheerful and happy.

    • I can relate to this, unfortunately. Luckily I have a fiancé who lives with me and helps galvanize me to clean the cages when needed (and helps me to actually clean them as well). That is the one thing that I feel some pretty constant shame about, which in some ways probably contributes to the depression. That said, my rats provide me with so much joy and bring true light and happiness to my life. They make me feel as if they truly do care about me (or at least enjoy my company), they are just so entertaining to watch, and being a "rat person" has given me a little bit of community to be a part of, even if it is over the internet for the most part!

  3. I loved having rats while growing up! We had lots of different pets, but you really can't beat rats. So so so much friendlier and calmer than gerbils or mice (had those for many years too). My rats would perch on my shoulder or wander around in little block fortresses my friends and I would build. I remember one night, some of them managed to squeeze out of their cage (very smart BTW), and I found them just sitting calmly on top of it when I got up the next morning. For contrast- undersimilar conditions the gerbils would have necessitated a multi-hour search of every household cranny (at best) or been gone forever (at worst). Definitely rats-as-pets FTW! You do have to clean their cage, but in my experience that part wasn't any worse than cat litter boxes or bird cages, and is just a fact of life with an inside pet.

    • Rats can be litter-trained and free-range trained. My rats look forward to getting out to run around the living room and hallway for an hour or so every evening after I get home from work. They have several litter pans around and they use them as well as using the dog's paper pads in the bathroom. They climb in and out of my recliner with me, follow me around when I am fixing dinner or straightening up and are totally convinced that they are helping me with the chores (they are – they keep me going because they are so cute and cheerful). They come when I call them and are constantly on the look-out for treats.

  4. Rats are great pets! The hubs and I had two when we were first married and I couldn't have a dog yet. They were the best! We didn't have a whole lot of spare time back then, but I never felt judged by them (like I do by our dog we now have every time I have to leave for even a second!) and they were always happy to see me! They're also such good pets for young children. They're so gentle, but they're large enough and hardy enough that the sometimes not-so-gentle hands of littles won't crush them or scare them to death (with supervision, of course). I hope in a few years when my son gets a little older, he'll be interested in a rat as a first pet!

  5. i had rats for a VERY short while…turns out i am allergic! and it's a shame, too, because i think they're neat little buggers.

      • sadly, i am allergic to their waste. i have other airborne allergies, so this isn't too much of a surprise. it took a long time to find a cat litter i could tolerate, and i have to scoop my cat's waste within seconds or i have to wear a mask to clean his box.

        better to avoid completely and enjoy photos from afar. 🙂

        • I have 2 furred and 6 hairless rats-I adore my nekkies SOOOO much! They DO require a bit more attention than furries, as they are more prone to skin issues, eye issues and abscesses, need to stay warmer and have slightly different dietary needs, but they're adorable and have personality plus!

          • Hairless rats are so grotesque in the cutest and most awesome ways! I love them so much. The one I had for a about a year was one of the most personable, goofy rats I've ever had. I called her my little alien princess. Any time I tell my mother about having had to give her weekly oilings for her skin, it freaks out my mother soooo much 🙂

      • like i said – i'm allergic to their waste. i've tried every suggested bedding option possible, it all makes me have near asthma attacks.

        so i'll appreciate from afar. i know my limits, no reason to push them. 🙂

  6. I've had 3 pet rats and reading this just makes me want to get them again! (but now I have a cat, so wouldn't for both rat and cat sanity)

    I agree with all your points here, they are the absolute best. Mine used to sit up on the nape of my neck, snuggled under my hair, and I didn't have a car then so when I had to take them to the vets, they would just snuggle on top of my boob under my jacket and I'd take them on the bus 😀

    I would say the only down side to rats is they don't live particularly long, and you have to say goodbye too soon 🙁

      • They are when your cat is highly anxious already haha. We fostered my friend's cat for 10 months while she was overseas, and my cat REFUSED to be friends with her the entire time. So no other pets while we have her.

          • I have a cat, a dog and rats – the number varies depending whether or not I am rat-sitting. One of the rats I rat-sit loves chasing my dog around the house and the little rat actually remembers the dog from visit to visit. The dog remembers the rat too. :-(. But… it is funny watching the rat race with the dog. The cat likes to watch the rats, but she get bored after awhile and wants to go back outside.

      • All of our cats are pretty serious mousers. I can't imagine them accepting rats. Or if they did, I worry it would mean they would stop hunting the burrowing pests in the garden I *want* them to keep away.

        • My serious hunter cat used to sleep on top of the rat cage, terrifying those poor little sweeties. She was very helpful in finding them when they escaped from their cages, but was constantly disappointed that she didn't get to keep her "prizes." I miss having pet rats…might be time to get one or two!!

    • On of my rats chases the cat around the lounge room biting and grabbing at her tail and in return the rat usually gets a little clawless whack across the head. The cat knows that life wouldn't be worth living if she ever hurt any on my rats so she just stops at the harmless swatting and runs away. But then in saying that the cat cuddled up to my old boy Scabbers when he was sick and dying and kept him warm for me while I was at school.

  7. Rats are just the best. I had them for years, and only stopped adopting new ones because my fiance insisted he couldn't have a personal connection with anything with such a short life span. Now, based on (very) nostalgic memories from his childhood, we have a trio of ferrets. Don't get me wrong, ferrets are delightful… but they're not rats. And they have a whole host of issues that I find more personally annoying than any of the minor issues rats had. *sigh*

    Maybe someday I'll manage to talk the fiance around. But for now I'm probably locked in for another 6 years or so (ferrets usually live at least 7).

  8. I'm so grateful for this post! Now perhaps my boyfriend won't think I'm crazy for wanting a rat for a pet. Any tips for responsibly sourcing one? Do I just google 'rat rescue' or 'rat breeder'?

    Also, how long do they live?

    And how would they respond to having a pet sitter if I needed to leave town?

    • Look for a local rescue or breeder. Social media sites like FB are great ways to find rescues and breeders in your local area. As for lifespan, sadly, it's rather short. Most rats live 2-3 years. I've occasionally heard of rats living to 4, but it's rare.
      As far as pet-sitting, it depends on the individual rat. In general, a well-socialized rat should have no problem with someone coming in to clean and feed. Rats also make great travel buddies; travel cages are easy to make, they take to road travel well and adjust to new situations easily.
      And some airlines will allow you to fly with them-you just have to check with the individual airline.

  9. Speaking as a rat lover, I really wish that rat lovers would stop propagating point #1. It's really not true – wild rats and domestic rats exhibit very, very close behaviours, which is to be expected for a species that's only been domesticated for ~150 years. Scientific studies have been performed to prove this, like the one found at http://www.ratlife.org/

    Rats are wonderful, whether wild or domestic, and pretending otherwise does them a disservice.

    • Yes! I completely agree! There is so little difference between wild and fancy rats, except wild rats don't have the positive socialisation with humans that fancy rats have. That's no excuse to treat wild rats badly.

  10. Ah, rats are the best! Over the years I've had six, all females. They are seriously awesome pets. I do really miss them, sometimes, but it's already a big enough pain getting someone to watch the dog when we're out of town. Perhaps when my partner and I have kids and are traveling a bit less… I do love the little ratties.

    I taught my first pair to come when I made kissy sounds. They loved Multi-Grain Cheerios for treats.

  11. I have a small issue with the title: you shouldn't get a rat, you should get a couple or a few rats. Rats are very social and can get quite lonely and depressed if alone for 23 hours a day. Any cage big enough for 1 rat is big enough for 2, and they are very cheap to feed.

    Rats are wonderful pets. I had 3 a few years ago. The biggest problem with them is that they don't live very long. They are so smart and full of personality, and then far too soon they are old and dying. I miss my boys. Human was confident and ambitious, he stole an entire package of Oreos once. Charlie was sweet and cuddly, and liked to show affection by peeing on my hands. Shady was strong and adventurous, and loved to climb. All three were wonderful.

  12. The thing I love most about rats besides all the cuddles and affection, is that you can make them toys out of just about anything!

    – ratty pass the parcel: nuke some peas and corn or beans, wrap one in newspaper or toilet paper, then add another and another layer etc
    – cook something else that smells good, maybe oats and warm milk or boil an egg, and then put it inside an old toilet roll tube. Crunch up the ends real tight. They'll go crazy trying to get the smelly goodness out!
    – thread some tube pasta on string and tie it up at the top of their cages or along the walls.
    – use old pant legs or sleeves from old clothes to string up as tunnels to hide and sleep in. Cut holes across the top for air if you think they need it.
    – if its hot where you are, get a plastic container and fill it maybe a cm deep with room temp water. Throw in frozen beans, or whatever they like. You can put a brick in the centre as an island. Also a paint roller tray works well as a "beach" so they can get into the water at its most shallow end first. I've seen videos of rats diving under water to get treats!
    – digging box – plant some bird seed or wheat grass or sprouts, whatever grows fast in some soil, once they pop up, let the ratties dig and eat.
    – find a lost shopping trolley and put large sticks in it like a jungle gym. Tie them together for stability if needed. Watch that monkey tail do its thing!
    – if you trust them and feel safe, take them out in your yard or to a park. Always have somewhere they can bolt back into and hide in easily. I've had ratties climb small trees with me and then just run back up my arm into the backpack when they're done. But be very careful if you have predators like birds of prey, or maybe some carnivorous mammals.

    Thedapperrat . Com or .com.au is a resource I used a lot.

    Also sterilising will help prevent a big life shortener for female rats which is mammary tumours. And a big gross thing for male rats which is gross balls dragging around everywhere!!!

    Ive had alex mack, ferris bueller, erwin schrodinger, gigi, helena, and bandito. Definitely go the rat rescue road. And litter training will make life heavenly. I would just wash the towels lining the cage levels once a week, change the trays every 2 days, and change out the shredded paper or hay in their nesting box.

    Oh also fun: finding all their hidden hoards of food. They are total doomsday preppers!

    • "find a lost shopping trolley and put large sticks in it like a jungle gym. Tie them together for stability if needed. Watch that monkey tail do its thing!"

      Sorry for the tangent, but I needed to comment on the above suggestion. Unless you're talking about one so old it is unusable, one without a way of identifying where it came from*, or one from a store that no longer exists, those are the property of the store and should be returned. Theft of shopping carts (our word in the US for what you call shopping trolleys) is really not okay. I've often considered wheeling lost shopping carts back to stores myself, but then I was afraid they would think I was the thief. So I've contented myself with calling them to let them know where their cart has gotten to if it seems to be further away than they would be likely to look.

      *Here is in the US the name of the store is usually printed on them in at least one location, often multiple. I don't know what the usual practice is where you are from.

      • Where I lived in Western Australia when I did this, there were so many busted up shopping trolleys in the alleys, and they were never going to be collected because they were wrecked beyond repair. Any name on them was usually gone.

        I personally very rarely use trolleys, but I have pushed found ones back if I'm walking that way anyway. I've never called anyone to report them, I've never seen any information on how to do so on a trolley. I have zero respect for any mainstream commercial large scale supermarket company here, so I doubt I'd feel inspired to do so even if there was.

        Perhaps we are less caring of trolleys/carts here in Australia. I've seen some photos of lovely bogan (redneck) christmas trees made out of a pile of trolleys, and some hacksawed up ones made into bbq grills, over a fire inside a 44 gallon drum.

        Either way, not interested in theft, just recycling.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.