Rats As Pets: Pros and Cons (Is A Rat Right For You?)

Dec 27, 2023 | Pet Ownership

Saw an adorable video of a rat doing fun tricks or cuddling with its owner? Or maybe one of your friends decided to start keeping rats and you’re wondering what’s so great about them? Fancy rats are becoming increasingly popular as pets, but why? We’re here to explain!

Below, we’ll have a look at 5 pros and 5 cons of keeping rats as pets, so you can make an informed decision about whether a rat is right for you. 

Rats as pets: 5 pros

1. Rats have great personalities

Hands down the #1 reason to choose rats are their personalities. Of course, every individual is different. There can always be rats that just never really get along with humans, or ones that have been treated badly in the past and have become distrustful or even aggressive as a result. However, generally speaking, rats are known for their absolutely delightful personalities.

First off, rats are very social beings. Not just with their own kind—they have a lot of love to give to their human family as well. Although most rats are active, curious, and even stubborn, they also tend to just love to cuddle. They learn to recognize their owners and will be happy to see you. They appreciate attention, especially if it’s in the form of a good head scratch or a few minutes of playtime.

If you have kids, rats can make good pets for them. They’re not prone to biting and are fun to be around. Children love their playful nature and how easy it is to teach them tricks, and they’re not as sensitive to the stigma surrounding these creatures.



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2. Rats are the perfect size

There’s a big size difference between male and female rats, but generally speaking, we’d say they’re the perfect size. At up to 400 grams (14 oz) for the girls and up to 650 grams (23 oz) for the boys, they’re significantly bigger than and don’t feel quite as fragile as something like a hamster or a fancy mouse.

On the other hand, rats are smaller than guinea pigs, rabbits, or other pets like cats or dogs. This means they need less space and are quite suitable for folks who live in smaller apartments. They’re perfect for picking up and holding comfortably, but big enough that you don’t worry about crushing or hurting them.

3. Rats are relatively low-maintenance

They don’t need to be walked. They don’t need to be brushed. They don’t need fancy food. They’re content playing with toilet paper rolls and  other household items. They don’t complain if you stay a bit later at work (rats are nocturnal and can rely on their own kind for company). They don’t need baths and aren’t prone to smelling bad. Because of all of this, although of course they do have needs, we’d classify rats as low-maintenance pets.

Here’s roughly what you can count on having to do to keep your rats happy and healthy:

  • Offer a spacious, suitable cage with plenty of fun toys and keep it clean
  • Feed a high-quality rat pellet food and supplement with all sorts of fresh veggies and fruits
  • Regularly make time to train and hang out with your pets
  • Ensure regular vet check-ups and monitor their health

4. Rats are intelligent

We know they’re often seen as mindless trash rummagers, but did you know that rats are actually pretty darn smart? Like dogs, pet rats can be taught all sorts of handy behaviors. For example, they can be potty trained and taught to come when you call their name. They absolutely learn to recognize you and will memorize your and their routines.

In addition to this, rats can be taught all sorts of tricks—and they enjoy it. Trick training is a great way to hang out with these affectionate creatures and give them the attention they deserve while also teaching them something fun!

All you need to train your rat to give a paw, stand up, sit on your shoulder, or jump through a hoop are some treats and a bit of patience.

5. Rat snuggles are good for you

Snuggling up to an affectionate pet is good for us humans. And a well-raised rat will be a particularly loving being! As with a dog, you’ll get the feeling that your rat is genuinely happy to see you, and that can be hugely uplifting.

According to research, petting or cuddling a pet lowers cortisol (stress hormone) levels and stimulates the release of endorphins, which make us happy. The routine of taking care of pet such as a rat can be helpful for folks who struggle with their mental health.

Although it’s important to realize that a child can’t care for a rat on its own, having pets like rats in the house can have great educational value. Younger kids can be taught about the importance of being nice to other creatures, while older children can benefit from learning responsibility and how to care for another living being.

Baby rat sucking a person's finger

In addition to all the above, rats are also just adorable, especially as babies.

Rats as pets: 5 cons

1. The stigma

Yep, it’s alive and well. Although more and more people have become aware of rats’ great potential as pets in recent years, an equal number still seems to believe that they’re disgusting creatures and that folks who keep them in their homes must be mildly loony.

Rat owners know better: these rodents are actually very clean. Domestic ones aren’t known for spreading diseases at all, and they’re definitely not creepy, bitey sewer dwellers. Alas: it appears it’ll be a while before the general public really catches on, but don’t let that stop you.

As long as you can find a pet sitter for your rats if you’re ever away (and we here at Kate’s K9 Pet Care happen to love rats!) and a veterinarian who will see them, what does it matter, really?

2. Rats are destructive

Most pets are destructive to a degree, and unfortunately their smaller size doesn’t mean that rats are an exception. Dogs, cats, parrots, rodents… scratching and chewing are just natural behaviors for the majority of animals. A rat left to its own devices will chew anything it can get its little teeth on, including cords, clothes, their cage, the sofa, baseboards, picture frames, and more.

There are plenty of things you can do in order to mitigate damage from your rat’s chewing habits, like offering plenty of fun chew toys, only supervised playtime, and removing or covering certain items. However, it’s almost impossible to prevent any and all damage.

3. You can’t keep just one rat

We’ve discussed pretty extensively how social these rodents are. Because us humans are unfortunately cursed with having to work, maintain a social life with fellow humans, and other responsibilities, we’re just not available to hang out with our furry friends all day. A solo rat will become stressed and lonely if you leave it to its own devices, so it’s not recommended to keep them on their own.

More rats means a larger cage, more food, and more pets that require your attention. Additionally, if you want to stop keeping rats as pets, the remaining individual will need to be rehomed to another home with rats to prevent it from living out its days feeling scared and abandoned.

4. Rats are fragile

All pets need regular vet check-ups, and all pets can have unexpected accidents or develop unfortunate health issues. Unfortunately, rats are particularly prone to this, so it’s important to consider whether you have the financial stability to maintain an emergency vet fund before you add these rodents to your family.

Additionally, remember that rats are considered “exotic pets”. Not all veterinarians will see them or know how to deal with them. Be sure to find a reputable vet before getting rats, because they do get ill quite easily and need check-ups on a regular basis.

5. Rats have short lifespans

Speaking of how fragile they are, the one ultimate downside of having rats as pets (and many other rodents, such as hamsters) is that they just aren’t designed to live very long. A healthy rat will usually make it about 2-3 years, and it’s unfortunately not uncommon for them to experience health issues like tumors as they reach the end of their lifespans.

We’ve mentioned that rats are highly affectionate and can form deep bonds with their owners; the fact that they are ripped away seemingly much too soon is one of the factors that rat enthusiasts most dislike about their pets.

Pet rat sitting on the edge of a sofa.

Conclusion

Folks who still shudder at the idea of having a rat in their home may be surprised to learn that these rodents can actually make fantastic pets. Their short lifespans are a huge bummer, but the fact that they’re the type of pet you can really connect with makes it more than worth it for rat owners.

What about you? Would you own a rat? Do you think they make the right type of pet for you?

Tip: Did you know “normal” fancy rats aren’t your only option? If you want something a little more exotic, you could also consider keeping the interesting African soft fur rat. Most of the pros and cons of rats as pets discussed here apply to this species as well.

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