Exotic Pets: Rats

By: Tatiana Garrett

Here is something I never imagined writing: Bret Michaels (from the hair-band Poison, and Celebrity Apprentice) inspired me to write about pet rats. In a recent interview, Michaels mentioned having pet rats and said that they are, “smart, clean, and friendly.” I couldn’t agree more, and I love when celebrities use their status to help less fortunate animals.

If you’ve been considering a pet rat, I say, “Go for it!” A rat doesn’t need nearly as much room to live and play as a dog or a cat, so they can be ideal pets for anyone with minimal space. They can be easily accommodated for in most apartments, and because rats are quiet you won’t have to worry about neighbors complaining about noise. Housing will only require a large tank or other enclosure (as long as it doesn’t have bars that the rat can squeeze or chew through). Inside of their enclosure rats need bedding, an exercise wheel, a food bowl and water bottle, and a house to sleep in.

People started domesticating rats about a century ago, and domesticated rats are not the same animal as the alley rats often seen in cities. Although wild rats are nocturnal, pet rat parents report that their fuzzy rodents actually adjust to their schedule. Rats are highly intelligent—they can learn their names, be trained to do all sorts of tricks, and can learn elaborate mazes. The rat diet consists of commercial pellets supplemented with greens, fruits, and veggies. Keep in mind though that a rat’s lifespan is not very long—a healthy rat will only live for 2 to 3 years.

Pet rat parents need not anticipate high veterinary bills, as rats do not require the same vaccines as cats and dogs. Being a responsible pet parent of any animal means having a veterinarian on hand should any issues arise, but rats are likely to cost considerably less than other types of pets.

Some may be afraid of being bitten—rats are rodents and those long teeth can understandably make anyone nervous. But domesticated rats aren’t more likely to bite you than any other pet. As someone who has handled more species of animals than I can count, I always remind people that anything with a mouth can bite (including cats, dogs, and people). Domesticated rats are friendly and it’s important to go slow, build trust, and to respect them. A pet rat may bite in fear, but what animal wouldn’t?

All rodents have teeth that never stop growing, so pet rats will need lots of safe things to chew on, and should never be given access to cords or cables as the result could be frayed wires, or worse—an electrocuted pet.

Rats are smart and curiously cute little rodents that have been blamed for diseases and exploited in laboratories. They are erroneously labeled as dirty, and I’m glad that Bret Michaels was vocal about his love for pet rats; hopefully this opens up the door for more rat-enthusiasts to share what makes these creatures so great.

Whether you tell one thousand people, one hundred people, or just the one person sitting in front of you, you have the power to advocate for animals without a voice. Tell someone about the health benefits of having a pet. Shatter someone’s misconceptions about a breed or a species. The welfare of animals and people is inherently linked, and a bright future will come through a more compassionate world.

Do you have a pet rat? Tell us about it in the comments!


Tatiana Garrett grew up with Borzoi, a rescued Standard Poodle, cats, hamsters, parrots, rabbits, guinea pigs, and an iguana… just to name a few pets. She began her professional career with animals in 1995 at Brookfield Zoo. She has studied wild dolphins in Australia and rescued wildlife in Florida, but people are truly at the heart of her work. If it walks, hops, or slithers, Tatiana cares about it. She currently oversees the Humane Education programs at The Anti-Cruelty Society and hosts “Chicago Tails” on Watch312.com.

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