Male Versus Female

Both sexes make wonderful pets. Females tend to be smaller and in most cases are more active than unneutered males. Although experience has taught that males can be just as playful and hyperactive as their female counterparts (at least, most I have met are!).

Females tend to be less smelly! Unneutered males seem to like to leave their scent everywhere, so be warned. Neutered males, from experience, are less smelly than unneutered ones.

Both sexes seem to be just as messy, so no help there!

Whatever one you decide on, always try to make sure they have a partner (see One or More?). Both sexes will make for excellent pets, and it is more through personal choice and experience as to what one you decide on.

One or More?

Rats are extremely sociable creatures and crave attention almost all the time. Since it is not possible for us to be with them 24/7, it is strongly recommended that you get at least two rats, so that they have company when we are not there.

I had my first rat, Dax, on her own for about three months before Rollie came along. At the time, I never thought about her needing other rat company as I wasn't working and therefore could afford to spend all of my time with her. However, now having six rats, I realise that that this is the best solution, as I couldn't be with Dax when I was asleep, could I? Having one rat made Dax more human friendly, and even when the other rats came along she still preferred human company. But I now would never go back to having jut one rat. It isn't fair on the poor things.

So, when considering buying a rat, please take the time to look out another companion for it, preferably one of the same sex (unless you want to neuter the male, or breed constantly from the female!). A litter brother or sister is probably the best course of action as this means you can (more or less) be safely assured they will get on. However, this is not a hard and steadfast rule and other rats, when introduced at a young age should get on fairly quickly after a few squabbles.

What to look for

A small guideline for choosing a rat as a pet:

  • Avoid purchasing any rat that appears ill, quiet or depressed. They should be bright and alert, and move quickly when startled. They shouldn't appear hunched up.
  • Beware of pets with closed eyes or discharges from the eyes or nose as thin usually indicates some kind of illness.
  • Check the mouth for drooling saliva or wetness to the fur, this may indicate badly positioned premolar (cheek) teeth.
  • If you can (and the rat will let you!), examine the incisor (front) teeth and make sure they are not overgrown or digging into the lips or gums.
  • You should be able to feel the ribs with just a small amount of fat over them.
  • Check the anal area for diarrhoea, soiling or moistness, which might indicate a gastrointestinal infection.
  • The skin should have an even coat of fur and no signs of scratching or wounds.
  • Lastly, a good pet shop will offer a health guarantee that requires a check-up by a veterinary surgeon within 48 hours of purchase. Most good Veterinary Groups will be happy to provide this check up for you.

Where to get a rat

Some people say that breeders are the best possibly place to acquire your new rats, although I personally do not always think this is the case. So many breeders tend to inbreed from their rats and I believe this introduces a whole load of new factors, like higher chances of recessive illnesses/diseases/general bad traits coming through. Breeders claim that inbreeding can help pick up these factors early on, but in my opinion it is just a different form of experimenting on rats to see what colours they can produce, without much regard for health issues. That will probably cause quite a few arguments (been there, done that) and it IS just my personal opinion. There are still a lot of good breeders out there who take everything into account when breeding, especially health (these are normally breeders who say their rats are for pets only and not just for show). It would be up to the individual to gauge whether or not a breeder is looking after the rat's health as well as breeding for colours, traits, etc.

Having gotten to know a rat rescuer really well recently, I would say that this would be one of my first choices for getting a rat. Of course, if you are just starting out and are looking for fairly young rats, rescuers may not always be the best place to find them. But having gotten to know this rescuer and seeing how many rats she takes in that have been abandoned/mal-treated and need good, loving homes, I think you should at least check out your local rat rescuer, if you have one.

Another place to get rats is from Pet Shops. Please remember though that not all Pet Shops are in it specifically for the care and homing of rats, but more for the profit. This would mean that they might not be as careful at caring for any rats (indeed any animal) they have in store and may not notice any signs of illness or disabilities. Always check out the Pet Store first to see how well they look after the animals before buying from them. You may say to yourself, "but if I buy them from this infernal Pet Shop, I am rescuing them", but you are not. You are just encouraging the shop to bring in even more animals to sell, putting all these animals into an unsafe environment. In America, where they keep what is called "feeder bins" many of the animals will not have been socialised properly to begin with, and may never come around to being friendly creatures no matter how much you try. When checking out your Pet Store, make sure and check how clean it is, how clean the cages and water bottles are, how active the animals are, how friendly the staff is, etc. Even ask around friends and family to see if they got any animals from there and how well they are doing. And don't be afraid to ask the shop assistants about the animals. The more they know and seem to care, the better the chances are that the animals are being looked after properly.