Sunday, March 13, 2011
Species of the Day: Rats
Scientific Name: Rattus rattus or Rattus norvegicus
Size: 14-18 inches in length including the tail
Average Life-Span: 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years
Temperament: Very intelligent, social and easily tamed
Varieties: Rex, standard, tailless, hairless, satin and dumbo
The domestic rat is a descendant of the wild brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) and has been bred as a pet for approximately a hundred years. Pet rats are much less fearful than their wild cousins, and when handled gently they quickly learn to enjoy riding on shoulders and napping in laps. The average pet rat is 14-18 inches long including the tail, which is about half the length of the rat's body. These companion rodents come in a variety of coat types and colors, and if well cared for, will live an average of 2 1/2 years. Curious, intelligent and playful, rats can make great pets!
Rats are very social, but should be kept in pairs at the minimum. A pair of females is recommended for first time rat owners. Males can do well together if they are brought up together from a young age. Do not keep males and females together, as they will breed and breed and breed. The average litter of rats is 12, but there have been litters of as high as 20; it won't take long before you're overrun.
Rats do best in wire cages because they offer good ventilation. A large cage with a good amount of height and floor space is best. The floor should be solid and plenty of bedding should be provided for making nests. Aspen shavings or pelleted recycled paper should be used. Do not use pine or cedar shavings as he oils can harm your rats. Keep in mind that rats are active and playful, so don't forget the furniture and toys. Rats love to climb and hide in things and are prolific chewers, which makes many of the same toys for parrots perfect for your rats, such as braided rope, swings, vegetable tanned leather and non-toxic non-destructible plastic toys. Rats can be prone to respiratory infections, and are also very susceptible to heatstroke, so be sure to keep the cage out of drafts and direct sunlight. Once your rats are acclimated to your routines, they will enjoy having their cages situated in active areas of the household.
A rat's main diet should consist of high quality pellets formulated for rodents. Look for a brand where soy meal is the main ingredient. Pellets should be kept available at all times. You can also give small amounts of fruits and vegetables to your rats, but keep the treats to a minimum as rats can easily become overweight . Fresh water should be available at all times, and attachable water bottles the best option.
Remove droppings, soiled bedding and uneaten food from your rat's cage everyday, cleaning out the whole cage once a week. Like that of all rodents, a rat's teeth grow continuously. Provide untreated pieces of wood, dog biscuits, or raw-hide for your rats to gnaw on. This is crucial to keeping their teeth in tip-top condition and preventing dental problems. Rats are friendly and curious by nature and respond well to people when treated gently. Some rats will even come to you for petting and will snuggle up with you. Out of cage play time is mandatory with rats, and will keep your smart, active pets mentally stimulated and physically fit, but be sure to supervise at all times.