From the tiny chihuahua to the gigantic Great Dane, dog breeds come in all shapes and sizes. Have you ever wondered if there are different rat breeds, too? What types of pet rats exist?
Rats do not come in breeds, per se. But there are varieties of the fancy rat1, which differ in coat type and ear type, as well the absence or presence of a tail.
Let’s have a look at the seven varieties of pet rats!
7 Types of Pet Rats
1. The Standard Fancy Rat
Of all the varieties of pet rats, the standard fancy rat is the one which most closely resembles its wild ancestor, the Norway rat (also called brown rat).
Biologically speaking, all pet rats still belong to the species of Rattus norvegicus, but natural mutations have occurred and were then selected for, resulting in the different varieties we know today.
The standard fancy rat has a long tail and ears to the sides of the top of its head. The coat is smooth, glossy, and short1.
The standard rat comes in many different colors, the most famous one being the wildtype color “agouti” (brown grey). Albino rats are not a specific variety, but a color mutation – so the standard fancy rat can have the characteristic white fur and red eyes of an albino rat.
2. The Dumbo Rat
Dumbo rats are named after the elephant in they Disney story, because their characteristic feature is the large, round ears that are set on the side of their head2. Some dumbo rats may also have a smaller lower jaw and a different position of their eyes. Dumbo rats are bred in any colour1.
The dumbo mutation is a so-called “pharyngeal arch disorder”, which means that some genes that are responsible for the proper development of the face and neck are altered2.
Interestingly, there are several human developmental disorders that are similar to the dumbo mutation, amongst them Treacher Collins Syndrome.
It is often speculated that dumbo rats are more prone to disease due to these genetic mutations, but this hasn’t been proven. Anecdotally, dumbo rats’ have been reported to be some of the friendliest pet rats and their lifespan does not appear to be shorter than that of standard rats.
3. The Rex Rat
Both the coat and the whiskers of rex rats are curly, giving them their famous cuddly appearance. The coat is shorter than normal and feels harsh to the touch3. Rex rats can come in any colour4.
Fortunately, Rex rats are not known to be especially susceptible to health problems.
4. The Hairless Rat
Hairless rats are, as the name says, virtually without fur. They are sometimes called naked rats or sphynx rats. They also tend to have large ears, and their whiskers may be absent or very short and curly5. Their eyes can be of any colour1.
Hairless rats might need to consume more food than their furry rat friends, presumably because they burn more calories to keep warm6. This can result in a below-average body weight. They also have high incidence of skin tumours6 and skin infections7.
Due to these health concerns, the National Fancy Rat Society in the UK has banned hairless rats from shows7.
5. The Manx Rat
The Manx rat is also called tailless rat. It was named for the Manx cat, which is also tailless, but not due to the same genetic mutation. Manx rats can be of any color or marking. Sometimes, they will have a more plump, rounded body shape than standard rats1.
The tailless rat is also banned from shows in the UK, due to some health issues that this variety can exhibit7.
Some Manx rats are known to have bone malformations or nerve problems7. Most importantly, though, the rat’s tail fulfills many different physiological functions and is therefore an important part of their body.
Tails are required for thermoregulation, making tailless rats more prone to overheating8. Rats also need their tails to balance when they are climbing9.
6. The Satin-Coated Rat
Satin rats have a distinct shine to their coat. Their coat is longer and thinner than that of the standard rat, and very fine to the touch1.
Satin-coated rats can be bred in any color or marking.10 Their whiskers are usually curly or wavy.
7. The Bristle-Coated Rat
Bristle-coated rats have a coarse-feeling, stiff coat that feels similar to that of wire-haired terrier dogs1. This coat mutation gives them their characteristic unkempt and messy look.
Their whiskers are straighter than those of Rex rats. They come in any color or marking. When they are still very young pups, bristle-coated rats can look a lot like Rex rats, but their coat later straightens out1.
If you see a picture of a bristle-coated rat, you might think that they aren’t too different from standard rats. The feel of their coat is completely distinct, though, and hard to convey in images!
Which Domestic Rat Variety Should You Get?
We’ve seen the seven accepted varieties of the fancy rat, these can be further grouped into 6 Sections by color and body markings, with 40 accepted colors that make up these Sections!
But which one should you get?
This is a very personal question, and it comes down to your preferences.
However, I would suggest staying clear of rat varieties that are known to have health issues, such as the tailless and the hairless rat.
Look for a responsible breeder (or consider getting rescue ratties!).
Whenever you can, choose your rats based on their personalities and not their looks – because, let’s face it, they are all just stinking cute!
1. American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association. Rat Standards 2018. https://www.afrma.org/fancyrm.htm.
2. Katerji S, Vanmuylder N, Svoboda M, et al. Expression of Msx1 and Dlx1 during Dumbo rat head development: Correlation with morphological features. Genet Mol Biol 2009;32:399-404. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21637698/.
3. Robinson R. Rex mutant in the Norway rat. J Hered 1981;72:131-132. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7276514/.
4. American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association. Rex Rats 1999. https://www.afrma.org/rexrat.htm.
5. Ahearn K, Akkouris G, Berry PR, et al. The Charles River “hairless” rat mutation maps to chromosome 1: allelic with fuzzy and a likely orthologue of mouse frizzy. J Hered 2002;93:210-213. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12195039/.
6. Inazu M, Kasai K, Sakaguchi T. Characteristics of a new hairless mutation (bald) in rats. Lab Anim Sci 1984;34:577-583. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6521426/.
7. National Fancy Rat Society. Banned Varieties. https://www.nfrs.org/articles_banned_varieties.html.
8. Rand RP, Burton AC, Ing T. THE TAIL OF THE RAT, IN TEMPERATURE REGULATION AND ACCLIMATIZATION. Can J Physiol Pharmacol 1965;43:257-267. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14329334/.
9. Hori H, Fukutani T, Nakane H, et al. Participation of ventral and dorsal tail muscles in bending movements of rat tail. Anatomical science international 2011;86:194-203. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12565-011-0110-1.
10. American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association. Satin Rats 1994. https://www.afrma.org/satinrats.htm.
Nina has a degree from the Veterinary School in Zurich, with a special focus on microbiological research. Nina has a passion for sports, nutrition and the outdoors and she loves all pets, but rats have a special place in her heart. When she’s not working or reading and writing about all things related to pet health, she loves to travel and surf.
As a small animal veterinarian, Nina is your go-to expert on pet health and nutrition.