Despite all the bad press, rats are increasingly being chosen as pets. Never mind the popular images of domestic damsels in distress climbing on kitchen chairs while shrieking "Eek! A rat!" Forget all the rumors you heard about filthy vermin scurrying about, populating sewers and spreading diseases. If you ever experience the privilege of taming, keeping, and behaving domesticated or fancy rats, you will quickly forget all the urban rat legends you ever hear.
Interestingly enough, not all cultures fostered such distaste for these rodents of a species called Rattus norvegicus . Historically, rats were loved and even revered in regions throughout Asia where folklore paints a favorable picture of intelligent, playful, and mischievous creatures.
The earliest documented case of rats bred in captivity comes from 19th Century England. Over 100 years of selective breeding has replied in today's domestic rat, no more similar to its wild predecessor as dogs or cats would be to their. Today, fancy rats continue to be bred and many are even trained to compete in shows.
As tame as they are, these furry little animals have retained their natural tendencies to dig, climb, swim, and search … and of course, to chew. Therefore, the more "rat-proofed" your home is, the more play space your pet will have.
Contrary to what many may believe, rats are clean, evidenced by the fact that they will readily (and possibly obsessively) groom themselves and each other. In fact, grooming is an integral part of their social behavior.
When kept properly, today's rats are typically docile, tame, and adaptable to new people and environments. They will not bite. However when extremely threatened, as in cases of pregnancy or abuse, they may resort to such defensive behavior. Young rats may occasionally nip on fingertips, particularly if they smell food on them. The bottom line, however, is that compared with other small animals such as hamsters and gerbils, rats bite far less.
Owners have found rats to be highly intelligent creatures that are easily trained. Your rat will learn to approach you when its name is called, and for the right treat, it can learn basic commands such as "sit" and "stay." The patient and persistent rat owner of an agile and eager-to-please pet may be pleased to see his furry friend successfully complete an obstacle course of bridges, tunnels and hoops.
Although this may take weeks, even months, of consistent training the sense of accomplishment can be very rewarding for both owner and rattie alike. They have proven themselves to be intelligent enough to learn a variety of things … right down to litter-training!
In time, rats can become quite fond of their owners and will welcome a ride inside a cozy pocket or perched on a shoulder. Some rats will even lick or "groom" their beloved human friends.
It has often been said that rats combine the good aspects of other pets. They offer the friendship and unconditional love that a dog gives you. They share the cuteness and inexpensive cost of mice and hamsters. They're as clean as cats. And they're among the most intelligent of any animal, meaning they'll surprise you with all sorts of entertaining antics.
One of the few drawbacks is that rats have a typically short lifespan of two to three years on average, during which time they may be prone to tumors or respiratory infections. However, if the right precautions are taken, rats can live full healthy lives.
Keep in mind that a short life does not change the connection between you and your rat. It's still satisfying to have them as pets even if it's for a shorter period than you would hope. As Alfred Lord Tennyson put it,
'Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all.
By taking the time to learn all about pet rats, you can be assured of a positive rat-raising experience!