Rats are highly social, intelligent rodents who make good pets for kids. Colors include albino, chocolate, buff, white and multicolored. Both males (bucks) and females (does) can be purchased from reputable breeders at 5 weeks of age. They do best living in same-sex pairs, preferably with littermates. Rats live about 2 years.
Rats are typically gentle, playful creatures who enjoy being handled by their human families. Make sure you hold and interact with a rat before deciding to bring him home, as rats have different temperaments and personalities. Males are more likely to fight with male cage mates, particularly if they are introduced late in life. But most young rats can share a living environment without a problem.
Once baby rats (kittens) are weaned, they should be fed a diet high in fat and protein -- puppy food is a good choice. Adult rats thrive on a commercial blend of rat or rabbit food supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Rats like sweets, but they should be given treats only in moderation, as they risk obesity if overfed. Make sure your rat always has access to clean drinking water.
Rats need room to move around, so a comfortable cage for a pair should be at least 2 feet long and 1 foot tall. Use shredded newspaper or hay for bedding. Avoid treated pine bedding, which can cause respiratory problems in pet rats.
Rats are very hygienic and spend a good deal of time cleaning themselves. You can help by keeping their cages clean and fresh.
Consult a vet or breeder before attempting to breed your pet rats so that you have an idea of what you’d be getting into. The gestation period for rats averages 20-25 days, and the typical rat litter typically is nine.
Always remove the male rat from the female rat’s cage before she gives birth, as mating would occur again right after she delivered her litter.
Rat kittens are weaned and ready to mate at 5 weeks of age. At that age they should be sexed and put into gender-specific groups.
Rats are susceptible to respiratory illnesses, which require immediate professional treatment by a vet. The primary symptom of respiratory illness is labored breathing and wheezing. Rats can also have problems with poorly formed teeth. And rats can develop abscesses if cut or bitten by other animals.
Rats enjoy getting out of their cages to exercise and play. But always keep them away from other household pets -- even other rodents -- to prevent fighting and injury.
Be aware that a pet rat could carry salmonella. These bacteria could affect very young children, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.
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Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.