My first thought is that the only good rats are dead ones, having found a very dead one under my woodpile, and a second in the poolroom. Their long skinny tails have a purpose - temperature regulation, balance and thwarting predators. The rat's bald tail is a perfect heat loss organ, and temperature control is especially important for rats because they lack the ability to sweat - but personally, those slightly scaly, baldy-looking tails makes my skin crawl.
Are rats cuddly pets? They actually do make good pets, and for a small apartment, a rat as a caged pet will offer amusement and company for someone who hasn’t got space for anything bigger. These aren’t the common-or-garden ones you find in the wild, they are bred specifically as pets, and there are seven different varieties to choose from: Standard, Rex, Tailless, Hairless, Satin, Dumbo, and Bristle Coat, meaning that pet rats come in an amazing array of different ‘looks’.
They love the warmth and contact of their caretakers, and being social creatures, they love to hang out with their human family members, on their shoulders or in their laps. They will even try to groom their human companions as if these people were in their own ‘rat pack’, and will enjoy a scratch behind the ears, a simple tickle or even a gentle massage.
Rats Are Trainable - While rodents may scare some people and have a bad reputation, rats are extremely intelligent animals and make great pets if you care for them properly. They understand complex concepts, and with a strong memory, once they learn how to do something, it is unlikely that they will forget it. They are naturally curious and excellent learners, and like a pet dog, a rat can learn many tricks and can even recognise to its own name, responding well to food-based rewards. By understanding just how intelligent a rat is, you'll be able to appreciate these little animals for what they are: smart. Rats are much more than just a naked tail and beady eyes.
Rat Are Social Animals - More than one rat is good - or even a group provided they are compatible - and will often use high-frequency sounds that humans can’t hear to communicate with each other. They become attached their own family members but will easily bond with their human owners and make affectionate pets. Providing companionship is an important aspect in their care. However, you will need to be cautious to avoid mixing ‘entire´ male with ‘entire’ females or you will soon be over-run by babies!
Rats Are Very Clean - Domesticated rats do not like getting dirty and are constantly grooming themselves, being fastidiously clean, like cats. They also enjoy grooming each other and will gather together for group grooming sessions – and rarely need to be bathed since they are such good self-cleaners.
Housing Rats - Your rat (or rats) will need a cage to live in that will not only keep them safe but provide them with things to keep them busy. Wire cages are good options for them, and most will prefer one with horizontal bars so that they can climb up the sides, with shelves or multiple levels for them to climb onto. Be sure to avoid wire flooring on the bottom of the cage though, as this can injure their feet. Soft bedding and nesting materials – shredded paper, pine shavings, hay, soft tissues or custom-bought bedding - will also be needed for your rats to line their nest box. The nest box is where your rats will most likely sleep together A cardboard box is sufficient or pre-made nest boxes can be bought. But be warned, the bedding will smell if it isn’t changed frequently, so be prepared for a little housekeeping!
Finally, rats enjoy toys and accessories. Ropes, ladders, hammocks, tubes, exercise wheels and chew toys will all be appreciated and well-used by your pet. Provide a variety of options on a rotating basis so your rat doesn't get bored. These items will help keep your rat's brain busy as well as their body healthy.
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.
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