February 26, 2014

I’m a Crazy Rat Lady (and You Could Be One Too!)

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Written by: Recultured Team
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When people think of pets, cats and dogs are the first animals mentioned. Birds and fish pop up now and again. Ferrets are name-dropped if people stretch their brains. Maybe someone lovingly mentions a hamster they had when they were five. Being an animal lover, I’ve owned a menagerie of critters, from hamsters to dogs. I know the charms of cats winding around your legs and waking you up at 6am for reasons unknown to humankind. My awesome goldfish died because my sister’s friend dumped a pound of fish flakes into its bowl, insisting it was hungry, causing Bully to gorge its way to an early death. My pets have provided me with joy and hair-ripping anguish, often at the same time. But none of the pets I’ve had have been as great as my rats.

Apparently, dogs are "real" pets

Apparently, dogs are “real” pets.


Whenever I mention I own rats, I get some serious side-eye. Ew! Did you get them from a sewer? Yes, I got my rats from a sewer. That’s why they’re sociable, cute, and in fancy colours like Russian Blue when all wild rats are agouti.  But it’s understandable why people flinch when I mention my unusual pets. Rats have been demonized since the first human made eye contact with the first rat. Blamed for the spread of the bubonic plague (that was fleas) and murder of infants (maybe your source shouldn’t be Lady and the Tramp), rats are the devil incarnate. Even meeting my rats isn’t enough to convert some people. One of my friends, who shall remain anonymous, refused to hold one of my rats because he “didn’t want to hurt it”. The jury is still out on that one, folks.

Drinking the blood of my enemies...or soup...

Drinking the blood of my enemies…or soup…

For those who are more open-minded, there’s a lot to learn about keeping rats as pets. First of all, rats should always be kept in same-sex groups of two or more. Imagine spending the rest of your life locked in your bedroom with only one friend who stopped by for an hour a day. Seems cool at first, but you’d get lonely soon enough (unless you’re a hamster). Rats are incredibly social; even if you spent 24/7 with your rat, that wouldn’t be the same as having another rat buddy to groom, sleep, and play-fight with. Two rats require the same amount of care as one, but are twice as much fun, and bond to you just as easily.

Rats do everything together!

Rats do everything together!

As for housing, rats shouldn’t be kept in a hamster cage, no matter how much the salespeople push them on you. Martin’s Cages and Critter Nations are the biggest and best options on the market. Bigger is always better when it comes to cages. Bedding can be anything absorbent, as long as it isn’t cedar or pine shavings, which have phenols that can irritate a rat’s delicate respiratory system. All rats are born with the mycoplasma pulmonis bacteria, which can lead to respiratory infections if they are kept in poor conditions or under stress. But don’t worry, you won’t catch an illness from your rat, or vice versa. When rats get sick, a course of antibiotics is often enough to clear them up. Make sure you find a good rat vet as rats are considered “exotic” pets!

Let me out of this luxurious prison!

Being omnivores, rats can eat whatever you eat, within reason. Moldy food is bad and the d-limonene in citrus fruits can cause cancer in male rats, so that’s off the table, but rats are hardy otherwise. Feeding a seed mix is something you shouldn’t do. Seed mixes are the equivalent of humans eating M&M trail mix; the M&Ms will disappear, but the healthy things will be left behind…forever. Give your rats a uniform kibble like Oxbow or Harlan Teklad so they won’t engage in picky eating.

You think I'm scary?!

You think I’m scary?!

Where does one adopt rats? They can be found in rescues, such as the Small Animal Rescue Society of BC, or even from breeders. If you’re not able to adopt a couple of adorable pedigreed babies, there are tons of photos to squeal over. Whatever you do, don’t get rats from pet stores, as they’re unsocialized and inbred, making them prone to illnesses and setting you up for heartbreak. Rats are wonderful pets; they wrestle with your hands, ride around on your shoulder, and even give kisses. Despite beings rodents, they need a lot of attention, so be sure you have an hour or two to spend letting them free-range outside their cage. If you live in an apartment and don’t have room for a dog, try the ultimate pocket-pet: rats!

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All images belong to Natalie Kennedy.

About the Author

Recultured Team
Recultured Team
This is where you'll find the blog posts that the team has contributed to collectively! What team? Wildcats! -Nope, wrong team. Recultured!

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