When I lost my two cats, one after another, I was certain I did not want another one. Losing a pet you’ve had for almost 20 years hurts.
I knew they were getting older, and the time was coming. I tried to prepare myself, but it was still horrible. I grieved for them for a long time, but after awhile, my life felt incomplete. I decided to get a new pet. I hoped it would fill the void, at least a little bit, but I didn’t think I could bear another loss like the loss of my cats.
I spent some time debating my options. As horrible as it sounds, I decided I wanted something I wouldn’t get too attached to. I really like birds, but I’m highly allergic to them, so that wasn’t an option. I couldn’t cuddle a lizard, or a turtle. I’ve recently found out I’m also allergic to rabbits, so that wasn’t an option either. I’m very sensitive to smell, and while I love the smell of a ferret in a pet store, I didn’t think I could handle my whole life reeking of ferret. Eventually, I started to consider a rodent. Chinchillas? Every chinchilla I’ve ever met has taken a chunk out of me. Hamsters or gerbils? Too dumb. Guinea pigs? Noisy. Mice? Too fragile. Groundhog? They actually kind of scare me.
My local pet store carries several kinds of rats, and I would watch them in their cages sometimes, out of the corner of my eye. I refused to admit I was drawn to them. I mean, sure they’re kind of cute, but I was hesitant. I mean, rats get a bad rap. Mom voice: “They carry disease, they’re dirty, they’re aggressive, they’re sneaky.. why would anyone want a rat for a pet?” I talked with an employee at the pet store, and it turned out, she had pet rats herself. She told me a little about her pets, how smart they were, and how affectionate. She regaled me with tales of stolen pizza, and the hilarious antics of a rat at play.
It turns out everything I thought I knew about rats was a lie.
I went home and read everything I could find on the subject of rats. It turns out, they’re brilliant animals. They can learn their names, and will come with they’re called. They’re extremely food motivated, so training is very easy. Given a large enough habitat, and enough food and water, you can safely leave your rats alone in their cage for days at a time, which is appealing to someone like me, who likes to go on camping trips a couple of times a year. Rats are curious, playful animals, and learning their body language is easy. A patient owner can bond with, and train a pet rat in a matter of weeks. They’re clean, and can even be trained to use a litter box… theoretically.
The most important fact is that they do not bite. A properly bred rat has no interest in biting your fingers. Accidents can happen, especially to new owners, but the rats teach you almost as much as you teach them, and there’s a big difference between an aggressive bite and an exploratory nip.
I was convinced, and started weighing my options. A group of male rats would be more cuddly, but females tended to be softer to the touch, and higher energy. I spent hours meeting potential candidates at the pet store. I met a female rat that completely stole my heart, and that decided the matter – I would get a group of girls. Three of them.
Their names are Blue, Pumpkin, and Arrow. Blue is a silver dumbo eared rat (Google images results). She’s very small compared to her sisters, and extremely friendly. Pumpkin is a white dumbo with red eyes (more Google images), and looks kind of like a siamese cat. She is bigger than Blue, and has not yet decided if she likes me – she kind of just tolerates me. Arrow is a sleek black dumbo eared rat – what I refer to as rat-coloured – and she’s the largest of the three (visual aid). She is still not convinced I’m safe, and remains a little skittish, but I think she’ll warm up to me.*
I’ve learned so much about rats. They prefer to be approached from underneath, so chin scratches are almost always welcome. They have terrible eyesight, so they will sway back and forth trying to focus on things. They love to play, and will bound at you like a puppy when they’re excited. They make noise constantly, but it’s so high-pitched, people rarely hear them. They’re very clean animals – people are always surprised by this fact, but it’s true.
My rats live in a 5′ tall cage. They have hammocks, tubes, a small cardboard box, a litter box, and a hide they never use. Every day, they get a piece of fruit or a vegetable, and they have extruded food (pellets), and water. I also give them a few sunflower seeds, or some nuts, as a treat. They love dried coconut. Blue will come out and crawl into my shirt, which tickles like crazy, but is super cute. Pumpkin and Arrow want desperately to run free around my house, but it takes hours to get them back in the cage sometimes, so it doesn’t happen often. Most of the time, I sit in front of their cage, pet them, talk to them, and let them explore the outside of their cage, the floor immediately in front of their cage, and my lap. Once in awhile, I’ll take them into the bathroom, pick everything up off the floor, and let them explore on their own while I watch to make sure they don’t sneak out through a crack somewhere. Rats are great at finding cracks you didn’t know you had.
They are low maintenance, quiet, clean pets, and I’m a big fan.
*Note: Since beginning this blog post, Arrow unfortunately passed away. We found her randomly one morning, dead in her cage. Rats instinctively show no signs of sickness, so we had no idea there was anything wrong with her. We miss her, but we’re glad we got to give her a good home for the time we had with her.