Rats can make great children’s pets. Pete the Vet podcast from Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

This week’s podcast started by discussing pet rats. To listen, click on the play button at the foot of this page. Credit for above photo is due to Jared Belsen, and you can see more of his work here.

Rats have an undeserved reputation as villains

Rats would never win a nation-wide popularity contest, with many people have serious phobias about them. The truth is that rats are friendly, intelligent and affectionate animals. Imagine a hedgehog without any spines. Do they seem more appealing now?

Are pet rats the same as wild rats?

The only species of rat that’s commonly kept as a pet is the domesticated version of the wild Brown Rat. The wild Brown Rat is the creature which many people are terrified of – the rat which creeps around sewers, warehouses and cellars. However, the domesticated Brown Rat, whilst still the same species, has become much more docile and friendly after generations of breeding in captivity. Also, although it is still called the ‘Brown Rat’, there are many varieties available, with many different colours. While domesticated rats are closely related to wild rats (they are the same species- Rattus Norvegicus) and could breed with each other.

There are three main differences between domesticated and wild rats

  1. Colour. Most wild rats are dark brown, while pet rats vary from white to cinnamon to blue-grey
  2. Behaviour. Pet rats are easy to tame, they can easily become comfortable around humans, and they enjoy the companionship of their human owners. They are generally less reactive, and more relaxed, not responding as dramatically to different noises and bright lights, being more relaxed in close proximity to other animals (other rats, and other pets)
  3. Appearance. Pet rats are smaller, with larger ears and a longer tail than wild rats

Do rats make good pets?

Rats make excellent pets. A tame rat is no more likely to bite than the average friendly pet dog. Rats that are frightened of humans – like any animal – may to bite when picked up, out of fear. If you obtain a rat when it is young, soon after weaning, and handle it frequently from this early age, it will grow up being very comfortable with humans. . Tame rats are happy to be held and petted. Indeed, they are generally more affectionate than other popular pets like hamsters or gerbils.
Rats are easy to keep. The basic needs are a cage, bedding, a food bowl, a water bottle, some toys and some pieces of wood to gnaw on.

What should rats be fed on?

You can buy special dried pellets designed as rat food, but they also enjoy snacks of a wide range of human food. One rat owner who I know always gives her pets a small portion of her own dinner every night.
When training rats to be friendly, it can be useful to give a treat now and again. Rats especially enjoy small pieces of chocolate.
People worry that rats might be carrying disease. It is true that a serious disease of humans called Leptospirosis (or Weils Disease) can be spread by rat urine. Healthy pet rats are very unlikely to be carrying this disease, but as with all pets, it makes sense to wash your hands after handling animals, and again before meals.

Questions from listeners about pets

Listeners asked the following questions:

  1. My cat has a sore throat. What should I do?
  2. Is our small dog in any danger playing in our garden when there is a fox around?
  3. My Koi has white patches on her side. What might be causing this?
  4. What would the cost be for a head and neck MRI scan for a 14kg dog?
  5. Are rats expensive to keep?
  6. My dog preens a lot and barks when I go out. Could she be suffering from anxiety and what should I do?

To find out the answers, listen to the podcast below.

Listen to the podcast:

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