In the early hours of Sunday morning we received an email. Sometimes we take in small rodents (mice, hamsters and the occasional guinea pig when we have a cage free) to foster, rehabilitate and rehome.
Please note: we are not in this for the money, we often spend a significant amount on each intake, what with food, vet bills and even cages. When we rehome a little one (after several visits from the new owner) we ask for a donation of £5, to discourage crappy owners or people who want to live feed the rodent/s to their snake; that is all we ask. We are not a rescue, far from it, it just makes me sad how many rodents I see being given away online, with no thought to where they will end up.
Anyway, the email I got last Sunday asked if I could take someone’s rat in. I said no; we don’t have spare cages, rats are often harder to rehome, and their bites are more painful…after having two rats as a mid-teen who were extremely aggressive (probably through fear) I was bitten many times, sometimes to the bone. It wasn’t pleasant, and I did not appreciate having to be their sole carer! 🙂
I didn’t hear from the rat owner until late Sunday evening, when they said thanks for my advice (I gave them a few places that would take their rat in to rehome), but that they had found the rat a new home with someone who owned a snake…but as a “pet only”.
Where we currently live, live feeding is unfortunately pretty common, and I know a few pet shops have stopped selling rats / mice because they had suspicions many of them were being fed, alive, to snakes – yikes! **warning – snake eating pre-killed meat photo**
Monday we went and picked the mystery rat up. We didn’t know his age, name, or if he’d been handled at all. All we were told is he’s “all white”.
As it turns out, they even got this wrong! He’s actually a Himalayan rat (slightly different to Siamese rats in that Himalayans are white, whereas Siamese rats are a creamy colour), so he has wonderful splodges of colour on his nose and rear end!
I should add here, I have wanted a Siamese / Himalayan pet for around eight years. I ideally wanted a rat or mouse, but would have accepted a guinea pig or rabbit. I have a huge weakness for this variety, for the past five years I have hunted for nearby rat or mice breeders that concentrate on these colours, but have never found one…and now one has practically fallen into my lap!!
We had four names picked for the little dude:
- Urban / Urbie – this idea came to me from a book, the main character is a 12 year old kid called Urban. He had a rough start, but despite some behavioural issues he’s a sweetie. I thought it fitting. Plus, rats are supposed to be everywhere in cities, right?!
- Monty (Python) – dedicated to the fact that he would have most likely ended up as snake food.
- Archie – my partner came up with this name, for no reason, but we both thought it was adorable!
- Pi – short for Python, another snake reference.
I really loved 1, 2 and 4…unfortunately my partner did not. He only really liked Archie and, as I thought it was a good name too, we called him Archie 🙂
He’s only young and fairly shy, but he has just been uprooted…plus he’s living alone. He’s ventured everywhere in his cage; I have been leaving treats (mealworms and even small bits of pancake from our tea!) dotted about to encourage exploring 🙂
At the moment he’s in a Furet Plus (70x48x78cm) as it was the only cage we had spare. It’s not as stocked with toys as I wanted (again, he was kind of thrust upon us) but I think it looks okay.
So yes, welcome Archie! He’s adorable, huh?
The next bit is for people who are considering rats as pets – stop reading here if you have no interest!
– Rats are extremely social and they must be kept in pairs at least. Archie came to us alone, which means we are probably going to have to intro him to another buck. Bucks happen to be the hardest to intro; luckily we have a pet shop that does fostering and match-up services, so they might help.
– Early, positive and consistent interactions with humans are crucial. By early I mean when the rat is between a few days and 6 weeks old. A rat that has not had much handling with humans will be much harder to tame, and is more likely to bite through fear.
– Rats are big. Pet shops often get rats in as young as possible, so they can fob you off with ‘rat’ cages that aren’t big enough for a hamster. Rats need as big a cage as possible, a Jenny Rat or Furet Plus should be the minimum for a pair, unless they are elderly or sick.
– As a general rule male rats tend to be bigger and lazier than females, whereas females are usually energetic and always on the go. My first male rats were content to sit on my lap or shoulders for hours, whereas my females were go-go-go! Of course it doesn’t always work out this way, our last two males (although very loving and licky!) never sat still.
– Rats are super intelligent, and can be trained just like dogs! Have a look on YouTube, there are rats who can do incredible tricks!
– Because rats are intelligent they need handling (daily is preferred, for at least 30 minutes) and a cage full of toys.
– Toys should be switched around often to keep ratties busy, and rotating toys every week or so is a good idea. Toys can include tunnels that hang from the roof, hammocks, extra levels, baskets full of socks and bird toys. Toys don’t have to be expensive though; hammocks can be made from tea towels or fleece bought for pittance, toilet roll tubes and boxes are just as good as tunnels and sputniks, and boxes of tissues or rolls of toilet paper are interactive and fun!
– Rats have sensitive lungs, just like mice. This means they can’t be kept on sawdust or wood shavings; instead use shredded cardboard, paper or fleece. Some people say Carefresh is okay, others don’t like it…personally I’m not a fan.
– Rats can get ill just like any other pet. When they’re poorly they need to see a vet, and it can get expensive. Just because they are “small” doesn’t mean you can let them suffer without vet care. They’re also not tiny-tiny like mice, so operations (such as to remove tumours) usually have a higher success rate – one of my first boys way back in 1999 went through this and he recovered perfectly fine.
– Rats have unfortunately short lifespans, with 2 – 2.5 years being the average.
Breeder rats are way, way better than pet shop rats. A good breeder will breed for temperament and health. Her rats will live in big roomy cages and females will only be bred from once or twice. You should have to fill out a detailed application form, possibly be put on a waiting list, and you should be welcomed to see the adult rats and any current litters.
A good breeder’s rats will be happy and healthy; they will have had a perfect life right up until they are handed over to you, so they should be easy to handle and bond with you. Breeders should not be in it for the money, rather their passion should be to breed healthy rats with sound temperaments (although breeder rats are usually more expensive than pet shop rats, this seems fair for what you are getting).
Pet shop rats on the other hand are usually mass-produced by unscrupulous breeders, kept in subpar conditions and rarely handled. It can take months to get them to trust you, some never will.
Rats make fantastic pets. They are clever, playful and extremely loving. They not only bond with their cagemates, but they thrive with love and attention from their human family too. They don’t require too much effort, compared to a dog for example, but they are surprisingly similar. They make excellent pets for children (providing they are taught the correct way to treat a rat and are always supervised) and adults…yay, rats 🙂