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Norwich Bulletin - 9/18/2005

Rats!

I have to admit, that being a cat person, I never thought much about having a rat for a pet. My mother actually owned a very sweet, white rat at one time; that loved to ride on her shoulder, perched as if it were a pin. Mom's mischievous nature enjoyed seeing the look on visitors faces when they realized that Snowshoe was not stuffed!

But since I did not live at home, I had very little interaction with him. Anyway, whenever I came to visit it seemed to me that he knew I had cats and my pets would pretty much consider him lunch.

I decided to research rats as pets because a new work associate is crazy about hers. She is allergic to dogs and cats and she wanted something furry to cuddle and love. Since rats have become increasingly popular as pets, she looked into them and found she had no allergies to them. Within a short time she also found that they are intelligent, interesting, social companions that are relatively easy to keep.

The first thing you have to understand in order to be a good pet rat owner, is that they are not little animals you can just keep in a cage and ignore. You need to fit in quality time every day where they can play, explore and interact with you. The time of day you choose to do this is not important because your rat will be happy to be with you at any time of the day or night that fits into your schedule (remember rats are nocturnal by nature), as long as you have that playtime occur at the same time each day!

Rats are creatures of habit and it won't take long before your pet is there, just waiting for his hours with you. If you have a single rat, you must be willing to give him at least four hours of human companionship each day. The best thing is, of course, to have two rats so they can amuse each other most of the time, and then they will both be satisfied with about an hour of your attention each day.

Wherever you let your rats play outside the cage, needs to be rat proofed. You will have to remove any furniture or other objects you don't want to be damaged as rats tend to chew on wood, fabric, carpet, plastic, paper, and just about anything else, including plaster! Remove electrical wires from the room, poisonous plants, medications, candy, cigarettes, and remember that putting these things in a plastic container is useless because your rat will chew through the plastic container!

Rats are quite ingenious and can get into pretty much any space, anywhere. Make sure you don't have any hidden holes or rips in the fabrics of your furniture. Watch out for recliners - these little guys need constant supervision to remain safe.

The basic cost of caring for a rat is fairly low - food, bedding and toys (yes, rats like toys), costs anywhere from $15 to $20 a month. And it's easy to take them on vacation with you too! Yes, rats travel quite well by car and can live in a small travel cage for a few days.

If you are going to be gone a week or more, take a larger, collapsible design. Since rats like people, they would rather be with you than home alone with a pet sitter checking in on them once a day. And while you will see many places that advertise, No dogs or No cats, I don't think I have ever seen a sign prohibiting rats!

Rats have distinct personalities too. Look for youngsters that are curious about you, willing to approach your hand and gently nibble at your fingers. If they run up your arm and nibble at your ear, you know you've got a great rat personality and he's the one you should buy!

Baby rats should be treated with lots of TLC because mishandling your rat can have negative effects, such as shyness, aggression or biting. A gentle, caring home is what is needed in order to bring about an outgoing, affectionate pet rat.

Rats also have emotions. Rats can be happy. They make joyful sounds during play and it is the same sounds they make when they are tickled. They can also mourn the loss of a cage mate. Rats develop a strong bond with their friends and can stop eating and become lethargic at the loss of a lifetime companion. If this happens, you will need to talk to your vet about possible herbal treatments to get them out of their depression.

There are a lot of things to consider before getting a rat for a pet. For one thing, rats mark their territory, much like cats do, and unfortunately that means if they like you, you are going to get peed on! This behavior is perfectly normal and there is nothing you can do to stop it - even a rat who uses a litter box, will still mark. No pet is perfect though, and at least they're small. And of course, like all animals, rats require vet care, a clean living space and commitment.

Rats are truly amazing creatures and the more you watch their behaviors, the more you will learn about them and grow to love them. It is hard to believe but they are very affectionate and they enjoy a relationship with their human families. There are lots of different looks to rats too - colors, fur textures, etc. My personal favorite is the tailess rat.

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