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Are Rats Good as Pets for Kids?

Rats are probably one of the most misunderstood animals in the world. They’re commonly associated with with garbage and disease, but the fact is that rats are actually fastidious self-groomers. With intelligence on par with that of cats and dogs, coupled with an incredibly sociable nature, rats are simply one of the best pets you can get for your children. That is, of course, as long as you can get past their naked tails…

Safety (5/5)

A common misconception is that rats carry disease. While this may be true of feral rats that live in unsanitary conditions such as sewers or garbage dumps, domesticated rats keep themselves exceptionally clean. Also, because of their high levels of intelligence and their very social nature, rats are very unlikely to bite unless extremely frightened. They do, however, sometimes nibble very lightly as a part of their natural communication process.

Ease of Care (4/5)

Like most rodents, taking care of the needs of rats is well within the ability of most responsible children. The most difficult part of care is making sure to play with your rat for a little while each day.

Sociability (5/5)

Like dogs, rats enjoy lots of attention. They are incredibly social, and they form very strong bonds with their owners. While naturally nocturnal, rats are intelligent enough and social enough to adapt their schedule to that of their owners. Children should try to focus their attention on the rat before school in the morning, or after dinner in the evening to help accommodate the rat’s natural tendencies, though.

Because they are such social animals, it is highly recommended that anyone keeping a pet rat should have at least two of them at a time. Keeping two rats of the same sex prevents breeding, although a mixed pair can be kept if the female is spayed or the male is neutered.

Care

Housing

Rats can get into trouble quickly if allowed to roam freely, so they should be kept in a pen or cage. As with any pet, you should make sure that your rat is not kept in an enclosure that is too small. At a minimum, the enclosure should have 3-4 square feet of floor space. Enclosures with an open grid for a floor can cause injury to the rat’s legs, so avoid them in favor of flat floors. Glass enclosures such as aquariums are poor choices as well, as they retain too much moisture and create a damp environment for the animal.

Rats like to sleep in a nest inside enclosed spaces, so providing your rat with a commercial nesting box or a small clay flowerpot in which to build its nest is a good idea. Alternately, you can hang a container from the side of the enclosure in which your rat can build its nest. Occasionally provide a paper towel or a napkin to your rat to shred for nesting material.

Because rats love to climb, suspending a rat hammock from the top of the enclosure is also a really good idea. Make sure that you include lots of toys for your rat, like a solid plastic or mesh-covered metal exercise wheel (do not use a ladder-rung style wheel, as these can catch the rat’s tail and damage it).

Bedding

Avoid both pine and cedar bedding for your rat’s health. Good, safe bedding materials include aspen shavings, corncob bedding, bedding products made from shredded paper or reclaimed wood pulp, or even hand-shredded newspaper. Whichever option you choose, don’t use any bedding that smells musty or moldy. Make sure that you rat’s bedding is changed about once a week (never let it go for more than two), and don’t allow it to get too damp.

Food

Water can be given to rats in a bowl, but the water will quickly get fouled with bedding material. A much better option is to mount a purpose-built water bottle for the rats to drink from. These bottles are easy to fill, don’t wet the animal’s bedding as fast, and keep the water cleaner.