10 QUESTIONS ABOUT FANCY RATS
By FILIP SEBEK
1. What's the difference between "fancy" rats and wild rats?
In nature there are two species: The black rat (Rattus Rattus) and the brown
rat (Rattus Norwegicus). All other "rats" are not from the Rattus-family.
The black rat is smaller than the brownm, and is also known as the attic or roof rat,
but in northern Europe it is almost extinct.
2. Well they look nice ... the body and head ... but what's with that TAIL?
The fancy rat (and the "laboratory rat") are derived from the brown rat, and in
England they have been bred since the middle of the 19th Century. Wild
rats can be very aggressive and even attack, though this is rare. They are very
shy and try to avoid direct contact with humans -- but they will always
follow us, having long ago discovered human culture to be quite a bonanza.
Wild rats are almost all brown or black, but the fancy tame rats are now bred in almost 20 colours and 10 varieties of markings; blue, fawn,
cinnamon, siamese, dalmatino or just a non-marked agouti. Agouti is the name
of the original wild brown colour.
The main difference between wild and tame rats is their temperament. You can do
almost anything to your pet rat, carry it around on your shoulder when
you're shopping - it won't jump off (!). The rat will come when you call for
it and be just like a small dog (though it won't bark like a loony).
The rat is a much more intelligent and personal pet than a hamster, mouse or
The rat's long, hairless tail may not be so appealing to the non-rat-lover, but it is really a remarkable structure, and quite necessary for the rat. The tail helps the rat keep its balance, and serves to regulate the body temperature... especially as a "ventilator" during hot spells. The tail is also a
communication link to other rats. The way and manner that a rat positions and moves its tail tells other rats how it is feeling. Without its tail, a rat would be a near invalid. One should
never carry the rat by its tail because it could seriously injure the animal. A
female rat weighs 250-400 grams and a male 500-800. Lifting a rat by its tail would be like lifting
an adult human by just the fingers of one hand. Due to their much smaller size, mice can be lifted by their tails without much risk of damage.
3. What do rats eat?
Human food like rice, potatoes, vegetables can serve as a main diet. A small amount
of meat once a week will not hurt, but too much protein will give the rat
allergic reactions like eczema. Lab block can also work, but as with humans
a diet with vitamins and significant fiber will be much better than pizza,
hamburgers and chips (though the rat will love it - like we do).
Popcorn without oil and salt can't hurt once while when the rat wants to
4. What kind of cage is best, and how many can live together?
A bird cage with suitably small bar spacing, or an aquarium work just fine. It's best if the cage is high because rats love to climb. Place inside a bird bath, wooden sticks, ropes and a hammock that will be very
popular for the rat to sleep in. Your pet rat should come out of the cage every day - but
always supervised. A designated "play area" is a good idea. Use your creativity to set up such an arrangement, making sure that it is secure. Don't let your rat have access to any electrical cords.
5. What if we have a cat (or dog)?
Males and females should not live together if the owner does not intend to have
15 new rats every month. The rats will be sexually mature after only 6
weeks. So boys to the left and girls right. Don't let them run together for
the slightest moment. They just see each other and after 3-4 seconds they
have completed hello-do-u-wanna-goodbye.
Rats live in groups and should live like that even if the herd is only two
individuals. Even males get along with each other (unlike hamsters).
The cat will not live in the cage with the rat, will it? And when the rat runs
in the room for half an hour, the cat can be locked into another room. Many
cats that live an indoor life can even be afraid of rats(!).
6. Do they bite?
NO! But even a rat can have a bad day. If you just startle the rat when
it's asleep, it can be afraid and perhaps nip, but pet rats don't bite because of evilness.
A tame rat will never bite, even if you put your finger in its mouth.
7. How long will a rat live?
Unfortunately only 1.5-3 years. Of course, that may not be so bad. If you get a dog
or chinchilla you're bound to it for 15 years.
8. Do females or males make the best pets?
Females are usually more jumpy, while males prefer a life of leisure - on
average. There are always exceptions. There is really no difference in tameness.
9. Where and how do I buy rats?
Fancy rats can be obtained from pet stores or from private breeders. When selecting, always choose the healthiest and the alertiest rat. It is best to get your pet rat around 4-8 weeks old. If older than 6 weeks old, make certain that the different sexes were not living together. Never buy an animal because you feel sorry for it! Rat and Mouse clubs can give you a list of serious breeders.
10. Where can find out about such clubs?
IDt,Malardalen University,Vasteras,Sweden Tel: +46-(0)21-103113
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