Before you reject the idea, find out why rats make great companions for kids and adults
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Rats. They have an unpleasant reputation, to say the least, but in reality, they are charming, cute, social, smart and clean -- all the traits of an excellent companion. If you’re looking for a pet who will ride on your shoulder, master tricks and enjoy interacting with you, a rat should be high on your list.
“They like a good snuggle, are easy to train and aren’t typically biters unless they are truly scared or in pain,” says Virginia Rud, CVT, who kept rats as pets for many years. “I think they make a very good first pet, and for the most part, they are pretty hardy creatures.”
Their looks are unusual, too. Domesticated rats come in a variety of colors and patterns, including solid, spotted, hooded and pointed, like Siamese cats. Just as with dogs and cats, rat clubs have standards that spell out what each type of rat should look and act like. Coat types include straight, rex (curly), silky and even hairless.
Rats may be small, but they need large cages, not only so they have plenty of room to play and explore, but also for companionship with other rats. If you can spend plenty of time with this social little creature, it’s possible to keep a single rat, but otherwise, they do best in multiples.
“I’ve had rats as singles (after losing their buddy), doubles and triples,” Rud says. “Singles require a lot of attention because as social animals, they need interaction. Triples are a handful! I think doubles are best. They have each other, and it’s easy for you to give enough individual attention.” Choose same-sex rats unless you’re prepared for litters every few weeks.
Choose a cage that’s easy to clean and resistant to rodent gnawing and digging. Avoid wire mesh flooring that could trap and injure a rat’s feet or legs. A solid, waterproof surface is best. Line it with long strips of soft paper, which should be replaced frequently to keep down odor and bacteria.
“Avoid wood shavings, such as aspen, because rats get dermal irritation and airway irritation,” says Diane Walker, DVM.
Stock your rat’s cage with suspended cloth hammocks, hiding boxes, exercise wheels, ladders, puzzle toys appropriate to their size, and chew toys to keep their constantly erupting teeth from becoming overgrown and causing mouth damage or eating issues. Rotate toys every few days to keep rats from getting bored.
Entertain your rat and yourself by teaching tricks. You’ll be amazed at what they can learn. Animal trainer Samantha Martin has trained rats for music videos, documentaries and films. Her rats learned to climb up ladders, jump through hoops, walk on a high wire, play basketball, push a bowling ball down a ramp and “rescue” a tiny doll from a simulated burning building with paper flames.
“They would ride up in a little firetruck, go up the ladder, grab the doll, go back down the ladder and put the doll into an ambulance,” she says.
Feed rats with a species-appropriate pelleted diet and some fresh veggies and hay for chewing. Don’t feed too much. Obesity is a common problem in rats, as well as upper respiratory infections and mammary tumors, says Walker, who occasionally sees rats at Blueberry Creek Veterinary Hospital in Perth, Ontario, Canada.
Rats are available from breeders and rat rescues. Rescue groups, such as Mainely Rat Rescue (mainelyratrescue.org), are usually excellent sources for adoption and knowledgeable about their adoptable rats and rats in general, Rud says. Ask breeders for references, ask lots of questions and ask if you can speak with the veterinarian they use. “Many reputable breeders are registered with the American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association (afrma.org),” Rud says, giving the example of Little Paws Rattery in Iowa (iowalittlepawsrattery.weebly.com).
The drawback to rats? Their short life spans. Most live only 18 to 36 months.
Can parrot be
Q: My parrot poops anywhere he wants when he’s playing outside his cage, and it’s hard to clean up. Is it possible to house train him?
A: The quick and easy answer to your question is to only let him play in areas with floors that can be lined with paper or are easy to clean, such as tile, laminate or luxury vinyl. Cover furniture with towels or other washable covers when your bird is out.
But yes, birds can be house trained. With patience and consistency, you can teach your bird to relieve himself on cue wherever you want him to “go.” Young birds seem to learn most quickly, but it’s possible to teach old birds new tricks.
Start by noting what times of day your bird typically relieves himself, and pay attention to his body language just beforehand. Maybe he waggles his tail feathers before dropping a load?
Choose a cue, such as, “Go potty,” “Hurry up” or whatever phrase you want to use. When you see your bird getting ready to go or it’s the normal time he relieves himself, ask him onto your hand and hold him over the area you want him to go: a lined wastebasket, a paper plate or other “poop zone” of your choice. Say your potty cue and praise when he goes. Eventually, he’ll start to associate the phrase with the action and respond appropriately on cue.
Bear in mind that larger birds can “hold it” longer than smaller ones. Budgies and cockatiels may need to go every 15 to 20 minutes, while macaws and cockatoos may go several hours between poops. And no bird is perfectly reliable. Sometimes, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
The bottom line? Parrots are messy, and cleaning up after them is part of living with them. -- Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
robot for pets
-- The way artificial intelligence, or AI, affects our lives has been in the news a lot in the past year. Not surprisingly, several new products at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas were aimed at pets and their people. An AI-powered autonomous robot, the ORo, can feed pets and dispense treats when you’re not home, as well as let you keep tabs on your pet via cameras and sensors. Invoxia’s smart dog collar tracks activity, heart and respiratory rate, sleep and more. A dog door from Pawport opens and closes in response to a tag on your dog’s collar. The tag also collects data on when your dog uses the door. An app allows you to lock or unlock the door remotely. Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTag2 tracks pet activity and stores identifying information.
-- If where you live is buried in snow and ice right now, your streets and sidewalks may be covered in rock salt or other deicing products. After dogs go for walks, wash their paws and other exposed areas thoroughly to remove any trace of salts or chemicals. Licking the paws or fur on the legs and belly and ingesting the substances can cause signs of toxicity, including vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. Salt can also irritate, burn or injure paws. Set up a cleaning kit at the door with towels or pet wipes. Find more winter care tips here: fearfreehappyhomes.com/winter-exercise-small-short-dogs.
-- You might be surprised to learn that cats can get mange, although fortunately it’s not as common as in dogs. The mites that cause mange in cats burrow beneath the skin or live on the surface. Either way, they trigger inflammatory responses that can lead to itching, hair loss and discomfort. Your veterinarian can diagnose mange and treat it with topical, oral or injectable medication. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Bluesky at kimthornton.bsky.social. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.