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Are rats the right companion animals for me?

Owning and caring for pet rats is great fun and very rewarding, but it’s also a big responsibility and commitment in terms of time, care, and finances. They are not low-maintenance pets, as some people may tell you.

Some considerations before you take the step into pet rat ownership include:

  • Check local laws and requirements (e.g., body corporate rules) to ensure it is OK for you to keep rats where you live.
  • They are intelligent, highly social animals and make incredibly rewarding animals to look after. They can form close bonds with their human carers, but have complex needs and aren’t easy to look after well.
  • As social animals, they need the company of at least one other rat and the right environment for them to thrive.
  • They are quick learners, highly trainable, very clever, curious and have excellent memories. They need mental stimulation to stop them getting bored. This can help you bond with your rat, as well as keeping them physically and mentally active.
  • They are generally housed indoors, usually in a large enclosure. You will need a reasonable amount of space – even a dedicated room – in your home for them.
  • They’re normally active at night and at dawn and dusk – so if you’re at home during the day, they might want to be sleeping!
  • They are generally quiet pets, at least to human ears. They usually vocalise in a range above normal human hearing. But even though we miss out on most of their “talk,” we do hear some of their vocalisations. Gentle chirps or clucks, grinding, squeaks, and hissing are a few of the vocalisations you may hear.
  • They seem to enjoy the occasional playful tussle with an enclosure mate: chasing, pinning, and some vocalisations are normal. Watch out for raised fur or hissing, as this could mean things are getting serious – temporary separation may be needed.
  • Although rats will usually tame well and bond to people, they may still give a sharp nip, especially if they are stressed, frightened, or in pain.
  • Having other types of pets in your home doesn’t automatically disqualify you from having rats, but it may mean extra work on your part. Dogs and cats will generally always want to chase and catch rats, and so you must ensure they are always kept separate. Keep in mind – it’s not just the immediate threat that stresses your rats, it’s the sight, smell and sounds of a potential predator in the vicinity.

So, if you are looking for these qualities in a pet, rats may be the right pet for you! The next step is to decide what sort of rat you would like.

A note of warning: rats, being small animals, have a shorter life expectancy than many other pets. Rats live for about 4-5 years. This is going to mean a lot of heartbreak for you when your pets start getting older – something you may have to consider when thinking about starting with these amazing animals.

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Updated on January 29, 2024
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