Rats and kids
I am often asked whether rats make good pets for children. There is no clear answer to this, it depends on many things.
Firstly, its important to realise that young children can never be expected to be the sole carer of an animal.
If you want a pet for your child, you must accept that, ultimately, you will be the one taking responsibility for it. A child cannot pay its vet bills, or drive it to the vet, or go to the shop on their own to get it's food and bedding, or be 100% relied upon to give it the top notch care that rats deserve, and the younger the child, the more this applies.
A child can play a role in the care of the animal, but never get a pet for a child expecting that you can then wash your hands of it and leave it totally up to them. I see far too many rats given up to rescue with the tag-line 'my son/daughter got bored'. It makes me angry, and makes me wonder what the parents thought process was in getting the animal in the first place.
As a parent, if you are not prepared to take on the responsibility of the animal when/if your child 'gets bored' of it, then I urge you not to get it in the first place.
However, if you are prepared to take on the responsibility of helping your child care for a pet, and take on ownership of it if they lose interest, rats can be a great choice.
Unlike hamsters, rats rarely, if ever, bite. They are tolerant and patient, and far more resiliant and mellow than some of the other smaller animals.
Traditional childrens pets, like hamster or rabbits, can be nervous, flightly animals and take a long time to warm up to a person, if they ever truely do. Rats, on the other hand, are so intelligent that they learn very quickly that someone is their friend, and, being social animals, will come to look forward to seeing them. Having a rat is more like having a miniature dog, and their intelligence levels are estimated to be the same.
Rats are crepuscular, meaning they're most active at dawn and dusk. However, they're also highly adaptable, and will adapt themselves to fit around their owner. My rats all seem to wake up and be active whenever I walk into the room, so they fit themselves around me.
Another thing that puts rats way above most other small furry pets is the fact that they are robust. Hamsters are delicate, not to mention clumsy, and are easily dropped or injured due to their small size and delicate bones.
Rabbits can be extremely difficult to handle, and handling a rabbit incorrectly can actually damage its spine, or even kill it; I always consider rabbits to be an atrocious pet for a small child.
Rats, on the other hand, are a good size for a child to get a decent hold of, they tend to be much more agile and less likely to leap out of their arms or fall
And if the worst happens and they are dropped, they are quite resiliant and don't tend to hurt themselves as a smaller animal might.
Male rats in particular are laid back animals, so are often happy to sit on a lap and just be stroked, which is ideal for a child.
Rats are happy, mellow, patient, gentle animals who like to please their owner so this makes them the superior choice out of the small furry animals.
Please remember, though, that a child must be shown the correct way to handle a rat, and taught to treat the animal with respect and love. Providing you are prepared to take this on, a rat would be an ideal pet for a child.
If you are taking on rats as a child's pet, please choose the rat carefully. Rats all have different personalities, and some are more suited to being children's pets than others.
You will need a confident, outgoing, friendly rat, never a nervous or skittish one. Nervous rats are not good pets for children because they need careful, gradual handling in order to overcome their fears. And they can overcome these fears very quickly with the right care.
But when we're talking about children, who can tend to be that little bit more clumsy, that little bit less patient, and that little bit less careful, a nervous rat can end up being further traumatised. And this can result in a rat that is very hard to handle, or even a rat that nips.
A nippy, scared rat and a child are not a good combination.
Some children only have to be nipped once to become scared of that rat forever more, and the result is a rat that gets further and further ignored as no-one wants to handle it. Sadly, I've had a number of rats in the sanctuary who were just poor choices as a kid's pet from the start, nipped once through fear or mis-handling, and were from then on shut in their cage and ignored. Ophelia is a classic example of this. She was booked into the vet to be put to sleep for 'biting' a child before I rescued her. She has ever once bitten me, or even attempted to. But she is a timid rat, and not a good choice for a child's pet.
If you're choosing a rat specifically as a child's pet, it is more important than ever that you choose rats that are bomb-proof, well socialised and outgoing.
I was 16 before I got my first rat, but I wanted one from the age of 11. I would say that 8 and up is a good age for a child to have their first rats, but this depends entirely on the child. Some children would be able to care for a rat even before this age, whereas others would need to be older. Make the decision based on your child's personality and remember, at the end of the day, the rat comes first.
Do not get rats for a child because they pester you into getting an animal. It must be something that both child and parent(s) want equally. Too many rats, including some of the residents at this sanctuary, ended up in unwanted because they were bought as a child's pet and the child later got bored.
If you do decide to get rats for your child, please accept that children sometimes lose interest in animals once the novelty has worn off. You must then be prepared to take over caring for the animal. It is not fair to simply dump it in a rescue center. Think hard about whether you're prepared to take on this responsibility, for potentially the next 3 years, in the event that your child loses interest. If the answer is no, do not get the animal.
Hopefully, however, this will not occur. Rats are sensitive, loving animals who form strong bonds to their owner, and most people find themselves hopelessly attached after only a short while!