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Magnificent Rat

Mention the word "rat", and many people blanche at the thought of this filthy, disease ridden rodent.

For centuries, man has feared and reviled the wild rat. Stories abound of wild rats attacking children in their beds, taking food from their mouths and leaving disease and death in their wake.

It's true, the roof rat, Rattus rattus, transported the plague-carrying fleas from country to country - The plague that killed millions of people all over the world. But the rat has also saved millions of human lives by forced alliance with medical science.

She has been into space - and back. She's been poisoned, tortured, bombed and exploited, and yet the rat is still one of the most successful creatures on the planet. All our attempts, and those of nature herself, to stamp out this rampaging rodent have come to nothing. The rat is here to stay.

Not everyone despises the rat, however. For centuries she has been revered and befriended by various cultures. As the first animal of the Chinese Zodiac, the rat is a symbol of cunning and prosperity. The ancient Mayan civilization worshiped her, as did the ancient Egyptians. Even today, a temple in India is dedicated to the rat, thousands upon thousands scurrying around inside its ancient walls.

Rats are scrupulously clean, spending hours each day grooming themselves, and each other. Their reputation as filthy vermin stems from the fact that the wild rat lives close to man, making use of his garbage in any way she can. It is really her environment that is dirty - not the rat.

Rats are intelligent and compassionate creatures, often taking care of the sick and injured in their groups. They are loyal friends, and
responsible parents.

The pet rat, or Fancy rat, is far removed from the plague-carrying black rat. She owes her lineage more to the larger Norway Rat, Rattus norvegicus.

As a pet, the rat is a sheer joy! She's intelligent, clean, affectionate, playful and loyal. She's cheap to feed and, barring the initial outlay for a good cage or aquarium, she's cheap and easy to keep.

Rats are sociable animals, and really do fare best in the company of their own kind. Two rats are no more problem than one. In fact, there are many advantages to keeping two or more rats. They groom each other, they play together, they wash and sleep together - my rats even go to their toilet tray together!

I've been using the word "she" throughout. This is not to say that girls make better pets than boys. They don't. It's simply because my ratties are females. Call it habit, if you like. Males and females do tend to have their own attributes - as a generalization. Of course, each rat has its own personality, which is one of the reasons I admire them so much. Females tend to be more playful, more inquisitive and active. While males, on the other hand, have a tendency to be more laid-back, lazy.

Probably the major outlay towards your rat will be for its cage. Really, the bigger the better - I don't think a rat's home can ever be too big. But the cage should certainly be no smaller than 60cm X 60cm X 45cm. Personally, I think that's too small. I have a ferret cage for My Girls, but they really are almost free-range. They rarely stray from their "Rat-Run", which is made up of wooden wine racks (a perfect rattie climbing frame), shelves and walk ways. This takes them all around the room - without touching the floor!

Rats love to gnaw! In fact, the word rodent actually means gnawing animal. So be warned! Whatever she can gnaw - she will gnaw, and this includes phone and electrical wires. You can't blame your rat for doing something which is natural to her. Keep any wires and cables out of harm's way.

Rats are omnivorous, and will eat most things that you eat. There are a few good, preparatory rat foods around - Burgess Super Rat being our favourite. Fresh fruit and veg should make up a part of your rat's diet, but beware of too many greens - this can cause runny poohs! Too much protein is not a good idea either, this can cause skin problems.

Your rat will need a warm, safe place to sleep. I've found that a large, plastic flowerpot or waste bin serves pretty well as a bedroom. A warm covering of shredded paper bedding makes it rattie heaven!

As to toilet arrangements, I've found that a small kitty litter tray, filled with paper pellets or rabbit pellets (check these out at your pet store) serves fine as a bathroom. In fact, MY Girls always us their litter tray, barring one or two wet accidents in their nest.

Why not invest in a book or two about rats? My favourites are "The Proper Care of Fancy Rats" by Nick Mays, and "Rats! A Fun and Care Book" by Debbie Ducommun. These two books are really the only ones you'll need. They're full of advice and information, ranging from choosing your rat to ailments and breeding. Debbie Ducommun's book also has some fantastic photographs!

So, there you have it - The Rat! A wonderful, intelligent and compassionate creature. What more could you ask from a best friend?

(Copyright 1999 Heather J. Tomlinson)

More Rat Information
Magnificent Rat
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Artificial Homes for Rats
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