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