12 Reasons Why Pet Rats Are Awesome

Two cute rats sitting on the arm and shoulder of a young woman wearing a yellow sweater

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Pet rats are like tiny dogs with their intelligence and affection towards their owners. Wild rats have a bad reputation for carrying diseases and being pests, but domesticated pet rats are much different than wild rats. Rats are definitely one of the best pets I’ve ever had.

Here are 12 reasons why rats make great pets:

Rats are social and affectionate

Rats are nocturnal, but they never seem to mind if you wake them up in the middle of the day. They will stretch and yawn for a moment, but then perk up and be excited at the opportunity to spend time with you!

Rats will get to know their people and bond with them. Each rat has an individual personality. My rat, Luna, would always greet me by licking my hand, just like a dog! My other rat, Jade, would sit patiently for me to give her head a good petting, on the top of her head, behind her ears, and on her cheeks!

We like to let our rats run around outside their cage occasionally, but every few minutes they will run back to us to say “hi” and then off again to explore some more. They also like to sit on our shoulders kind of like a parrot and play in my long hair.

Rats are very social, so you always need at least 2 of them. They need the company of another rat to sleep with, play with, and they groom each other. You can always play with one rat at a time, but playing with two at a time is double the fun!

Guinea pig and pet rat
Our guinea pig, Dexter, and pet rat, Jade, having a snack

Rats are intelligent and you can teach them tricks

Rats are one of the smartest rodents. You have probably heard about scientists studying how rats learn to navigate mazes for various reasons. Rats can also be taught many other tricks. You can teach them to come when you call them, stand up on their back feet on command, spin around, jump through hoops, etc.

My boyfriend, Brandon, accidentally taught our rat, Luna, to spin on command. One day we noticed when he would greet the rats, she would always spin around for him (and not me). We occasionally would give them treats when we greeted them and we think she must have somehow learned she would get a treat from him if she spun around. Once we noticed this, he started telling her to spin around and would give her a treat, so she learned how to do it by voice command as well!

Here is a great video of rats doing tricks!

Rats are clean and easy to care for

Rats like to groom themselves multiple times a day, just like cats! When you get new rats, you will notice after a short while that they like to use a certain area of their cage for the bathroom. You can put a small litter box in this area and they will start to use it. In this way, they can be litter trained, which makes cage cleaning much easier. Make sure you get the biggest cage you can. It will actually be easier to keep clean with room for a litter box.

Rats are curious and like to play

Rats can be very active (usually especially females). For this reason, you should get them the largest cage you can, one big enough that you can have a large exercise wheel and many toys and areas for them to play. They also like to come out and play with you and explore.

We would occasionally let our rats and guinea pigs out in a safe area of the house together to run and play. The rats would even try to groom the guinea pigs! We kept their time together short though as guinea pigs can be such nervous creatures and rats so active.

Rats can be very curious, which also makes them escape artists!

My rats are kept in my home office. I started noticing random objects in the room knocked over a couple days in a row. I thought “What the heck, how did that happen?” but didn’t think too much about it. Then, a couple days later when I was cleaning the rat cage, I noticed they had chewed a hole through the plastic bottom of the back corner of their cage! It was kind of behind their wheel so I didn’t see it until I went to clean their cage.

That solved the mystery of the random objects being knocked over. They must have been escaping at night and knocking things over. Then, they would go back in their cage and would be innocently sleeping when I checked on them each morning as part of my routine. After that, I got them a better cage without the cheap plastic bottom!

Luna, our dumbo rat (type of Fancy Rat)
Luna, our dumbo rat (type of Fancy Rat)

Rats are easy to feed

Rats are omnivores, so you can feed them a great variety of food. You want to make sure you feed them a staple of good quality rat pellets and then you can supplement with various other fruits and veggies you have around the house.

This website has good information about what you can and cannot feed them:  Feeding Pet Rats

Rats are pretty quiet

They make excellent apartment pets as they won’t bark or squawk and annoy your neighbors. It is best to keep them in a quieter part of the house during the day as they are nocturnal and will sleep during the day. They are active at night, so you might not want to keep them in your bedroom. I keep mine in my home office as the noise from them running on their wheel will keep me up at night.

Rats make good pets for kids

They make better pets than hamsters, in my opinion. Pet rats do not bite unless they are being abused and need to protect themselves. They are generally very kind and loving animals. Rats can bond with all members of your family and like to play with everyone as they are very social. They are bigger and sturdier than hamsters and easier for children to hold onto. You definitely want to supervise them though and make sure children do not squeeze them too hard and hurt them.

Each rat has a different personality

One of the great things about having 2 or more pet rats is you can see how different their personalities can be! As you get to know them, you will learn their individual likes and dislikes. They might have different favorite foods, toys, or like to be petted differently. Some might be more cuddly and others more active. In general, females are more active and males more lazy and cuddly, but there are always exceptions! My rat, Luna, would get so excited to see me and she would lick my fingers like a dog or she would lick my cheek. My other rat, Jade, didn’t lick very often. She was a bit calmer though and would love to have her face and head petted.

Pet rats can be used as therapy animals

Rats are a great alternative therapy animal when you cannot have the typical dog or cat.

Here is a wonderful article by somebody who uses pet rats as therapy animals to help with her depression:  Rats as Therapy Pets

Rats like to be tickled and they laugh!

Tickling rats for science!

Rats can be spayed and neutered

If you spay and neuter your rats, you can keep males and females together and not worry about them having babies. Another benefit is it can also increase their lifespan and can decrease the risk of cancer. There are some risks associated with the surgery itself and it costs money, so definitely speak with your vet about whether this is something you want to do.

They can shred your junk mail for you

Every once in a while, I get those checks from my credit card company that they want you to use for a balance transfer or whatever. I just crunch it up and give it to the rats! They like to chew it up into small pieces and use for bedding. I find contradictory statements online about what kinds of paper are safe to give them, so I just stick to regular paper and not give them any glossy paper.

As you can see, rats can make delightful pets! They are intelligent, affectionate, playful, clean, and fun to interact with. Maybe a rat would make a good pet for you too?

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