Rats like most rodents are relatively short lived, life span averaging 2 to 3 years. Body length is 21-27 cms(9-11 inches) with their tail a further 14-21cm (7-9 inches). They are nocturnal so will be greatly more busy during the night. Curiously, the male is referred to as a buck, the female a doe(just like deer), babies are referred to as either pups, or kittens(as in dogs, and cats). They are very social, and do much better if a group is kept. Best to have a group of females, unless you wish to start a plague. A group of males is also fine, but best if the are littermates, or bought at the same time, very young.
In times of plenty(and life in a cage for a rat mimics this) rats will breed every 2 months or so. Rats reach puberty 6-8 weeks from birth so make sure if your rats do have a litter, that the pups/kitts are sexed and separated before this age. Females are not constantly fertile, but go on heat for around 24 hours every 4-5 days and may appear restless, or agitated during this period. rats come in a wide range of colours and varieties, including standard, smooth - even rex/hairless and sans tail!
Rats make wonderful pets, are intelligent and easily tamed. They are simple to care for, but are not really low maintenance pets. They do best with at least an hour outside their cage daily. Unlike with Hamsters, almost all rats are easy to handle whether they are kept in groups or not. They are very curious, and some owners compare them to a companion animal such as a dog... taking them everywhere with them.
Generally speaking, male rats are like male lions. Larger then the female, more aggressive but lazier and less active. Females are smaller, but busier and more playful.
Sourcing a Pet Rat
Pets Stores - Buying a rat from a pet store is the most common way to acquire a rat, but if you choose this method talk with the sales staff and make sure they understand about rats. Ask if the rats have been handled and ask for a demonstration. If no-one in the pet shop is prepared to pick up a rat for you - this is a sign to about face. Check that the rats are clean and bedding is not urine and poo stained.
Breeders - ratteries: - IN most cases, you can expect a breeder to have taken care of all the issues above. The rats will not be the result of accidental or random couplings, they will have bred for type, health and temperament. they will have been well cared for, and this is also perhaps the only way to get a rat with a pedigree.
Rat Shelters: consider rescuing a rat in need of a home but be careful. Some rats end up in shelters due to aggression. Carefully check a rat rescue rat for both over timidity or aggression. The latter should be avoided, as much as it would be wonderful to take on such an animal, I would recommend only an expert rat handler do this.
In all cases, look for a healthy, alert, curious but not aggressive, well socialized rat. If purchasing an adult rat, try and determine how much it has been handled. Visit the rattery / pet shop in the late afternoon, when rats are more active. Look for a well rounded bodied rat, with clear eyes, nose and rear end. Make sure your potential rat buddy has no skin diseases such as red and flaky skin, an is not panting(rat respiratory disease is fairly common). Look for a wet mouth, or drool, which would indicate their incisors are not properly aligned which will lead to problems later one(rat teeth as with all rodents, continually grow)
Ideally, your new rat will effectively choose YOU by coming up to your hand and showing a desire to be with you.
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