A Mischief of Rats: Domestic Rats Make Unusual Pets

The domestic rat is essentially the same as the wild rat except less likely to bite and they tolerate social crowding better than their wild cousins. This also makes them better suited for pets.

Rats have been exposed to domestication for over two centuries. A group of rats is called either a pack, or a mischief.

I had a pet rat some years ago, named “Salada” just like the tea brand. It was a large male rat, very large in fact. My friends would come over and see that rat and exclaim “Wow! –That’s a lotta-rat!” and I’d reply, ‘Yes, that Salada Rat!

Our son is almost five years old and we’re considering introducing him to the responsibilities of having another pet (he has a betta fish currently.) He says that he wants either a mouse or a rat, which surprises me. He has seen almost no mice or rats pets before, but wants one. He’s seen dogs and cat and these pets are not even in the conversation.

The Disney/Pixar Movie Ratatouille Changed Views About Rats

image via Wikipedia

His wanting a rodent for a pet is probably because of that movie “Ratatouille” although I already know how amazing a pet rat can be. While my rat obviously never cooked anything, I did carry him inside my coat pocket a few times when I traveled and nobody even know about it!

Baby Rats Are Cute

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Starting out in life as ‘pups’ or ‘pinks,’ they are small and defenseless little wiggling masses of cuteness. Totally dependent upon their mother for warmth and the milk she provides, they will grow fast. Baby Rats will sprout fur within days and begin to explore their world on wobbly legs.

Often kept as pets, the domestic rat is the same specie as the wild rat except for selective breeding for desired traits of size and color. The domestic rat will be more docile which make them useful for scientific research. Other less desirable traits are sought in the lab rat. The fancy rats (such as the Zucker breed) are bred to be genetically prone to diabetes, for research. That their internal organs are comparable to human counterpart, therefore research on diseases of these organs and potential cures makes them ideal lab animals.

Rats Grow Fast

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Domestic rats are somewhat prone to other diseases but pose no greater risk than a dog or cat. It is probably that inbreeding and line-breeding for the desired qualities have weakened their resistance. Wild rats can be a carrier of Weil’s disease making them unsuitable and risky to consume even in emergency situations. Many cultures use the wild rat as a food source however. Either in times of famine or as a staple item in their diet, the rat meat might mean life or death for the individual. There are cultures that are against the eating of rats for religious or moral reasons. In some parts of the world, the rat is revered and protected. Keeping rats as pets is more of a ‘western’ platitude though, for in other cultures where they are honored, they are permitted to live free while being essentially ‘wild.’

For the housing of the domestic rat pet, avoid the use of wood chips, especially cedar products. Offered for many years in the pet trade as the substrate of choice, it is now known that wood chips (including white pine, but cedar is the worst) gives off phenol, a toxic aromatic vapor that is known to affect small mammals. A respiratory toxicity exists with cedar wood chips and small mammals and must be avoided. Kiln-dried wood chips may be an alternative but research has not yet shown that this removes all of the phenol. Avoidance is still the safest policy. Rats have a particular susceptibility to respiratory ailments anyway, and the phenol has also been shown to irritate the skins and membranes of these mammals. Avoid the use of any kind of wood chips or shavings for the bedding material.

Feeding Your Rat

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They will eat almost anything – image source

Most fond of grains and seeds, vegetative and whatever protein it can procure, rats will generally eat just about anything that they can find or catch. Depicted incorrectly in film and media as aggressive, rats are actually shy creatures. Media often depicts rats with accompaniment of squeaks and other noises (grinding of teeth, etc.) meant to further intimidate the viewing audience, which is another inaccuracy. Rats seldom produce vocalized noise unless annoyed, hurt or under duress. Most of the noise that they do make is beyond the threshold of human hearing and used to primarily to communicate with each other.

Rats Have A Bad Reputation

Some provinces in Canada make no delineation between the wild rat and the domestic variety and have banned their importation or possession.

The Province of Alberta (See: Interior) bans the keeping of rats, stating;

“The Agricultural Pests Act forbids, the importation, sale or captive breeding of Norway rats or any subspecies or derivation of the genus Rattus. Pet shop owners, herpetologists and other persons interested in keeping rats as pets are not allowed to do so in Alberta. Only hospitals, universities and other related institutes of education, authorized by the government are allowed to possess live rattus species of any kind.”

Other provinces in Canada are considering similar legislation. I hope that it doesn’t come to be that way. I’m not entirely sure about the legality of owning domestic rats in Ontario province, but I have seen them for sale in pet shops so for now, it seems to be still permitted.


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Curious and investigative, the domestic rat will amuse you with it antics. Enjoy them for what they are, great inquisitive pets that can entertain you for hours.

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Rats need socialization. A rat raised solely will not be a very happy one. S/he will likely be nervous and timid and not very willing to socialize with you. Behavior issues can arise in the rat that is housed alone making them more likely to nip or bite when handled. Keeping pets rats in small groups with at least one ’same gender buddy’ will make the rat friendlier, confident and more willing to explore his world and accepting of your loving stewardship.

Languishing In the Lap of Luxury

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These images remind me fondly of the nearly four years that I shared my place with Salada rat. It was mildly heartbreaking for me when he passed away, but their lifespan is generally 3 or 4 years at most. It hurt enough that I didn’t want another rat; I wanted something that would live a bit longer so I bought a ferret. Their lifespan is closer to 10 years. The ferret I named “Trouble” was my best friend for over a decade but it hurt just as much when her health declined and she passed. It was difficult to dispose of her homemade cage as well, it reminded me of her so much.

But enough of that, we are considering getting a rat and should only be thinking about the joy and happiness that this can bring.

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User Comments
  1. CaSundara

    On September 28, 2009 at 5:46 am

    Ha! You beat me to it. I was going to write an article about keeping a pet rat, because my partner used to have one. You’ve done a great job of it, though, and the pics are gorgeous. When i was younger, I had a friend who trained her pet rat and it would go upstairs to collect her pencil or rubber or whatever small item she needed. She took it out to play with her, in her pocket, too – it was a very clever rat.

  2. theSVK

    On September 28, 2009 at 7:27 am

    liked it. digged it. such cute pictures. i feel sorry for the rats i have killed :-(

  3. lillyrose

    On September 28, 2009 at 7:38 am

    adorable pictures! they do say rats make great pets and I am glad you didn’t pick mice they are incontinent. I have a rainbow crab, can’t cuddle him but he is so interesting!

  4. martie

    On September 28, 2009 at 8:30 am

    My neice owned three pet rats, they were very cute and playful but I could not stand it when their tail touched me. It gave me the creeps for some reason.

    The rest of them were great!

    Good article and cute pictures.

  5. Marie Antoinette

    On September 28, 2009 at 9:18 am

    They are too cute, love them!

  6. Louie Jerome

    On September 28, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Oh yuk! No rat would get close to me, cuddly or not. They make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Those tails are just horrible.

    Great article though!

  7. Uma Shankari

    On September 28, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Superb narration, made for an entertaining reading. BEAUTIFUL pictures, especially the ones showing newborns.

  8. Sourav

    On September 28, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Nice article… wonderful pics… Well done!

  9. Lauren Axelrod

    On September 28, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    I’ve always owned rodents, however now with the cats it’s not such a good idea anymore. Great piece.

  10. Mr Ghaz

    On September 29, 2009 at 1:44 am

    Loved the pictures..too cute. I liked it!! However, my family don’t like it..they will screaming like hell when they saw any rats in the house..Great post as always.

  11. jennifer eiffel01

    On September 29, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Great article! The pictures were adorable! Keep writing so great as I am now a fan! I just don’t know how to become one’s fan. But I do read all of them of people I am a fan of!

  12. valli

    On September 29, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    I don’t like rats. Nice read anyways.

  13. Lady Syxess

    On September 29, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Great article, beautiful pictures but would I have a rat as a pet ? No way. Keep up the good work

  14. Cute Pets

    On October 6, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Oh my goodness, rats look SO weird when they are 3 days old! But just one week later they are cute… love the playful pictures, too! :)

  15. DA Cournean

    On October 17, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Nice article Joel.

  16. jessicuslevi

    On October 28, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    hahaha really nice picture choices. Very cute. I want a rat now.


    On January 16, 2012 at 1:28 pm


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