Rats: More to the tail
Some of the qualities we look for in a pet are personality, loyalty, ease of care, and the way they interact with us. Cats are easy to care for, but have an aloof personality which may not endear them to everyone. Dogs are loyal and love human company, but those early morning/late night walks can be a cause for dread. And many apartments do not allow larger pets like cats or dogs.
So where can we look for a pet that has everything?
I propose the rat. I personally have two, and now that I have them, I doubt that I will ever be without rats again.
Rats are jam-packed with personality. They will wrestle and play together, and beg pitifully for treats. They love nothing better than when their humans come to take them out of their cage and play with them. They are easily amused and affectionate, and can be handled by young children with ease.
For an animal whose reputation precedes them, they are surprisingly easy to care for. They require little beyond clean bedding, fresh water, and healthful food. Toys can be anything you’re done using, like paper tubes, boxes full of tissues, empty spools of thread – anything they can chew, dig through, push, roll, carry, or bury is a toy. Food can be whatever you’re having for dinner. You could buy rat lab diet, but your rats will thrive on table scraps, as long as they’re not too spicy or fatty. Mine also enjoy a small can of fancy cat food from time to time.
Housing for rats is simple, but care must be taken that there is nothing in the structure of the cage that will permit your rats to escape. If there is, they will find it. They can chew through cheap plastic pet-store cages, so a tank is usually the best option. I house mine in a twenty-gallon standard (not long) tank, with a tank topper on it made of powder-coated heavy-gauge steel. This setup is so easy to maintain, it almost needs no attention outside of changing the bedding. The tank topper can be purchased from Quality Cage Co., as well as other types of rat and small animal cages and accessories.
A note about that tail: For years, I refused to have a rat because of the tail. Oh, it’s naked, I said, it’s so creepy. But I now will sit with a little rat on my shoulder, stroking the tail through my fingers while I work or watch television. Turns out, the tail isn’t naked. It’s got little soft, fine hairs on it that feel so nice to the touch. And the rats love to have a tail-rub! So don’t let that stop you.
I hope that this information will be useful to you if you are thinking about getting a little companion for yourself or your children. There are many useful resources for further information, both in books and on websites, which will help you to make your decision. Good luck with your new friend!