Choosing which rats to care for

Choosing the right rats can make all the difference to your experience of caring for rats. Like humans, some rats are better people persons than others. The tips below should get you off to a good start

First decision: boys or girls?

  • Unless you want lots of babies, pick one or the other, but don't put both together. Neutered rats are the exception and can be safely mixed with the opposite gender.
  • Bear in mind that female rats can get pregnant at five weeks old. So if you are buying girl rats who have not been segregated before then, be prepared to take home a pregnancy
  • Male rats (bucks) are usually larger than females. They become calmer (or lazier!) as they mature and although some remain active they are more likely to sit on your lap as adults.

  • Some males may leave tiny drops of urine to mark territory or show other hormonal activities.
  • Young males obtained together will generally get along well (unless one of them is driven by excess hormones). Males introduced as adults can also be persuaded to live together, but this will need more effort and it may not work.
  • Because they are bigger, male rats may be easier for children to handle. Some experienced rat keepers also think they tolerate children better.
  • Females (does) are smaller and as adults are considerably more active than adult males. They are less likely to be happy sitting around on your lap and will want to be running around exploring their surroundings.
  • Females are more inclined to climb things than male rats, especially as adults.

Second decision: how many rats should you care for?

  • Rats are very social creatures. You should never keep one on his or her own.
  • If you are getting rats for the first time, buy at least two and consider buying three or four (if space permits).
  • A rat living alone will have a poor quality of life and may develop psychological problems. However much care you give a single rat, you cannot replace what he or she would get from having fellow rats to interact with.

Third decision: where from? Pt 1: a breeder

  • You will probably have the best experience by buying rats from a breeder. A breeder is more likely to have handled their baby rats often (ask!) and therefore socialized them to enjoy human company
  • When you visit the breeder you will be able to assess the conditions your future pets have been raised in and perhaps meet the parents. The breeder should be happy to answer your questions and a good breeder will also make sure you understand how to give the rats what they need for a good life

  • Avoid getting rats from a breeder who won't let you see their rattery.
  • Some breeders may be able to offer a rat with a pedigree from a known breeding line. Breeders are likely to offer rats types and colors not available in pet stores, although less common breeds may cost substantially more.++*

Third decision: where from? Pt 2: a pet store

Pet shop

  • Rats in pet stores often don't get enough human attention at a young enough age. This can make them wary of humans and difficult to care for.
  • So be extra careful which rats you take home when you buy from a pet shop. If the pet shop staff deal with a wide range of animals and have a high turnover, they may not have the time, experience or inclination to look after their rats properly.

Final decision: picking your rats

  • One of the best ways to assess potential new rats is to put your hand in their cage. Present an open hand, avoid sudden movements and see who comes to investigate. Any rats that do are a good choice.
  • If you take home rats who chose you, you'll be off to a great start.
  • You should not take any rats that are skittish or squeak when touched. Also avoid any rat that shows aggression towards you, such as hissing or puffing up.

  • You may be able to turn around frightened or aggressive rats with the right handling, but it will require a lot of extra time and effort.
  • Ask to have your choice of rat crawl on you. If it bites you, do not take it. Once the rat has had a bit of time to feel comfortable being on you, see if it starts crawling around and and sniffing you out. If it does, then it's probably worth taking.
  • At this first encounter it may poop on you. That's a normal fear reaction and not a sign of things to come. Once settled in to a new home, rats will stick to one toilet area in their cage.
  • While you have the rat up close make sure it has bright clear eyes, good thick fur, and no breathing problems.Rats in pet stores often don't get enough individual human care at a young enough age. This can make them wary of humans.

Getting home with your new rat

  • To ease the stress of changing environment, make sure your rats' new living quarters are set up before you get them home.
  • Put them in their new cage straight away and leave them to settle in and explore for a couple of hours. Once they've had a chance to explore their new cage, then it's time to spend some quality time with them.
  • Get them to cuddle with you so that they learn to associate you with safe. Some rats are shyer than others, but with time and patience all your rats will come to know and trust you.