10 Things You Didn’t Know About Keeping Rats as Pets

Keeping rats as pets

Fancy rats can make an incredible pet, but they’re still wildly misunderstood. When you tell somebody you have a pet rat, their reaction is typically a lot more muted than when you bring up your puppy or kitten.

For how misunderstood they are, they make amazing companions for a lot of different types of people and living situations. Here are some interesting facts about rats that you may not be aware of!

 

1. Rats can’t vomit

Rats and vomiting

Unlike humans, rats lack the ability to vomit. There are several reasons for this.

The first reason is a strong barrier between the esophagus and stomach. In humans and most animals, the esophagus muscle can overcome this barrier by using force when necessary (like when we have a stomach virus) but rats lack the necessary strength for this to occur.

The second reason is vomiting requires two muscles of the diaphragm to contract independently of each other but there hasn’t been evidence of this occurring in rats.

Finally, rats don’t have the necessary neural connections within the brain stem and between the brain stem and viscera required to coordinate the many muscles involved in vomiting. Sometimes rats will regurgitate partially digested food, but this is different from vomiting as it passive and doesn’t require forceful abdominal contractions.

 

2. Rats control their body temperature through their tail

Body temperature of rats
image via flickr

Your rat’s long tail might turn some people off, but it has an important function: controlling their body temperature!

A rat’s tail is a great tool for controlling body temperature because of the large surface to volume ratio and abundance of blood vessels. Body temperature is controlled when rats constrict or dilate blood vessels in the tail.

When their body temperature rises a few degrees, blood vessels swell, causing warm blood to flow through their tail, creating heat loss to lower their body temperature. When their body temperature drops, the blood vessels in the tail shrink and blood flow is restricted resulting in body heat conservation.

 

3. Rats are social and are happier in groups

Rats are social animals
image via flickr

Rats are very social animals and should never be left living alone except for very special circumstances. Even in the wild, rats tend to travel in large or small groups and follow a social hierarchy.

Rats kept in groups (either a pair or multiples) are often seen playing, grooming one another, or sleeping nestled together. Although a rat might seem happy on their own, singular rats usually live shorter lives, are sick more often, appear depressed, or might begin chewing its own fur or skin due to boredom and loneliness.

 

4. Rats grind their teeth

Rat grinding teeth
image via flickr

Rats incisors continually grow. This is beneficial because it means they can gnaw on things without wearing their teeth to the gum line, but it also means they will have to occasionally grind their teeth to keep them from growing too long.

Rats will also grind their teeth when feeling stress. You might notice your rat grinding its teeth while at the vet’s office, after fighting with another rat, or during times when it could be feeling pain.

 

5. Rats as pets can learn their names (and other cool tricks!)

Rat tricks
image via flickr

Like dogs, rats can learn to respond to their name and perform tricks. For rats, this can mean jumping through a hoop, riding on your shoulder, and learning to stand/sit up.

If these tricks are too amateur for you, how about dunking a rat-sized basketball or opening a rat-sized present? Yup, they can learn that too!

Some rats learn tricks faster than others but with some determination, patience, and a pile of treats, you should be able to teach your rats some of these cool tricks. Just remember to have fun, and repetition is key.

 

6. Rats have poor vision

Even if this little rat could see that she was playing with a cat, she wouldn't mind
image via flickr

Research has discovered that rats perceive the world the way humans with red-green colorblindness do but their color saturation might be considerably fainter. However, this isn’t very important to a rat as they rely more on brightness. Rat vision is blurry – around 20/600 for normally pigmented rats. Their albino counterparts are blind or severely visually impaired at 20/1200 vision.

Rats do have one advantage over humans though, their eyes allow them to see in two directions at once. This helps them look at what’s in front of them while still being able to look up for predators with their other eye.

 

7. Rats can swim

Rats aren't terrified of water, in fact they can swim!
image via flickr

In the wild, some species of rat are known to find significant sources of food in water and can swim surprising distances (one mile or longer!) While this doesn’t mean you should take your little furry pals swimming anytime soon, some domesticated rats have been known to appreciate diving for peas in shallow bowls of water.

If you want to introduce your rats to a large amount of water, start slowly and don’t force it. Forceful swimming (placing your rat in water where they can’t feel the bottom or leave on their own) can be very stressful to rats and can even result in drowning.

 

8. Yellow teeth = Maturity

Why are my rats teeth yellow?
image via flickr

You might look at a rat’s teeth and be immediately repulsed by the yellow or orange hue. But did you know that the color of their teeth is an indication of their age and health? A young rat’s incisors start out white but by 21 days of age, their teeth begin to have a slight yellow tinge.

By 25 days, the upper set of teeth are a distinct shade of yellow and by 38 days of age, their teeth start to appear more orange. Unlike the upper set of teeth, the lower section will stay a pale shade of yellow throughout the remainder of their life.

 

9. Rats as pets keep themselves very clean

How to clean rats
image via flickr

Domesticated rats have a bad reputation for being dirty animals resulting from years of misinformation about their wild counterparts. They are considerably clean animals, grooming themselves more often than most house cats.

Because they groom themselves so often, they don’t carry much of an odor and we don’t have to worry about bathing them. Rats are also known to slightly scrape their skin to remove dead skin, dirt, and parasites. They will even use their teeth as a comb to put their fur back in place. Bad odors come from the cage itself and poor maintenance.

 

10. Rats are acrobatic

This little fellow looks like he's having a blast in his spaceship
image via flickr

Fancy rats are curious and playful animals which leads them to do some interesting things. Rats are known to be able to climb wire cages, ramps and ladders, explore tunnels, balance on ropes, and even jump impressive distances in relation to their small size – around 3 feet! Don’t be surprised if your pet rats have a blast scaling furniture and racing up your arm in order to perch on your shoulder either.