Rats get a hard time. But, despite this negative stereotype, pet rats, or fancy rat as they are often known, are sociable, clean, intelligent and make the most wonderful pets.
Rats as Pets – A Brief History
The Fancy rats kept as domesticated pets (Rattus norvegicus domestica) are a descendant of the common wild Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus) species. Although known as the Norway Rat, these animals originated from Asia.
Its believed that the first domesticated rats were breed in the 1800’s, by a rat catcher known as the Royal Rat Catcher Jack Black. From the UK, Jack would keep any colored rats that he caught and breed them, which he then sold. This gave rise to the colored pet rats we keep as today.
These animals soon became popular, and in 1901 the National Mouse Club of England agreed to open its doors to rats and changed its name to National Mouse and Rat Club. Sadly this didn’t take off and eventually the Rat part was dropped, but the club is still going strong today
Rat fancying took a little longer to take off in the United States, and it wasn’t until 1983 that the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association was created.
The difference between pet rats and wild rats
The biggest difference between pet rat varieties and their wild cousins is color.
Norway rats are usually brown, but color mutations do occur in the wild. However, as this wild animal relies on its drab color to remain hidden, colored rats don’t tend to fair too well in the wild. Fancy rats come is many different colors and marking, which we go into a little later.
Another difference is their temperament. Through years of selective breeding and being handled at a young age, the species of animal now kept as pets are much tamer than those in the wild. Pet rat owners say that their pets are visibly excited to see them.
They are much more confident around humans and have better tolerance to light and sound.
Physically, The body of a pet rat usually is smaller, with larger ears and a longer tail. The coat of a pet rat can also differ from the wild animal with smooth, curly, and even hairless varieties commonly found in pet stores.
Are Fancy Rats Good Pets?
Rats are one of the best small pets. They are relatively easy to care for. As long as you provide a good supply of fresh food, a clean home and make water readily available, you can expect your pet to be happy and stay in good health.
Rats have their own personalities, but they are all affectionate and playful and just love to be handled and played with. Make sure you keep them entertained and have a few toys in their cages.
Rats are social animals and do get along with other rats, and its recommended you get at least two to keep each other company. Solitary rats can get lonely and depressed.
Unless you want to breed your rats, the best option is a pair or group of the same sex.
Although you do see stories of pet rats getting on with other animals such as rabbits or dogs, its not really something we would recommend.
Despite being domesticated, these animals are still a prey species and will always be wary of larger pets.
With a bit of care and patients, rats can be tamed and can even be trained to use a litter box.
Always clean your hands after handling your rat.
How long do Pet rats live?
A healthy fancy rat can live up to 3 years, although 2 years is more common. Care and attention plays a big part in that, as do genetics and breeding.
How Big do Fancy rats get?
The body of a fancy rat is typically 9-11 inches long. Their tail is normally between 7-9 inches long (unless a tailless variety)
Fancy Rat Colors and Patterns
Fancy rats come in a variety of colors and patterns.
- Self (Completely solid)
- Berkshire (Solid-colored but with white feet and belly)
- Blazed (White ‘Blaze’ on the face)
- Capped (Color on its head with the rest of the body white)
- Hooded (Color over its head, neck, shoulders, and down the back in a stripe)
- Irish (Solid-Colored with white paws and a spot on either the chest or belly)
- Masked (White with a patch of color over the eyes)
- Roan (Born solid but color fades over time)
Are Rats Smart?
Yes, Rats are super smart. They are capable of thinking and learning.
Rats are curious and have excellent memories. Have you every startled a wild rat? Notice how they know exactly how to escape? Rats don’t have particularly good eyesight but are able to memorize routes.
This is why its important to keep rats not only physically, but mentally active. Toys that involve figuring things out, maybe to get a small treat or food at the end, are perfect for keeping rats entertained and provide good mental stimulation.
Rats are easy to train and with a little practise and patients, you can get them performing many tricks like standing up, fetching or jumping through hoops. Again, plenty of healthy treats help.
How smart are rats? Check out this video!!
Did you Know?
Rats are exceptionally clean. They will groom their coat for several hours a day.
Male rats are called bucks, female rats are called does, and babies rats are called pups.
Rats are fussy eaters. They are unable to vomit and can be very wary of new or avoid strange food.
Hope you enjoyed our little insight into the wonderful world of Fancy Rats. Often misunderstood, but neither the less, once you see past the myths, you can be sure that rats make excellent pets.