General rat F.A.Q






I've been asked a lot of questions about all kinds of rat subjects over the years. Here is a selection of the ones that seem to crop up most often.

Are dumbo rats different to normal rats? I heard they cannot live with regular rats.

This is 100% untrue.
Its generally believed that Pets At Home started this rumour and, like most of their rat information, it is completely wrong.
When Pets At Home began selling dumbo rats, they wanted to charge more for them than the 'regular' rats as they were a novelty at the time. As such, dumbos sold for several pounds more than top eared rats in Pets At Home shops.
Pets At Home have a policy about selling rats in pairs, so if someone wanted to buy just one dumbo rat, Pets At Home would urge them to buy a companion for it.
And since dumbos sold for several pounds more than top eared rats, Pets At Home began telling people that the two varieties could not live together, thusly ensuring people had to buy 2 dumbos, rather than a dumbo and a cheaper top eared rat. This was all nothing but a way to make Pets At Home more money.

The fact is, dumbo rats are absolutely identical to 'regular' rats, their ears are just a bit bigger and set lower on their head. Thats it. In all other ways, they are exactly the same as any other rat. As such, they are perfectly able to live with 'regular' rats.....because they are regular rats, just with different shaped ears.
A lot of crap began floating about after dumbos popped up in Pets At Home, including rumours that dumbos were more friendly than other rats, that they were bigger, and even that they lived longer (Pets At Home actually used to have a card on the rat tanks here which stated that while top eared rats lived on average 2-3, dumbos lived 3-4!).
Do not believe any of this. A dumbo is a normal rat, just with different looking ears.

Do rats smell?

Slightly. But no more than most other animals. It is certainly not an over-powering smell, and if kept clean, its really not even that noticable. Obviously the more rats you have, the more smell there is likely to be, but I have over 20 at any one time, and still the smell isn't really noticable. Rats that are not cleaned often enough can begin to smell strongly, as would you if you lived in a cage and went to the toilet in the corner! A lot of the smell that accompanies rats is comprised of the things that come along with them, such as the litter, and food, and bedding.

There is an old wives tail that male rats smell much worse than females. This isn't true.
This is true of mice; male mice have a much stronger smell than females.
But with rats, there is really little difference between the sexes. If you pick up a rat and sniff it, girls perhap smell just a tad fresher, but the smell of a buck isn't actually unpleasant. Unlike ferrets who give off a strong, musky smell, male rats just tend to smell of corn chips and grape soda!

Is it true that rats have to gnaw continuously or else their teeth grow through their brain and kill them?

Yet another myth that has been hugely taken out of proportion.
A rat's teeth do continue growing throughout its life, and they grow very quickly. When my boy, Barney broke off one of his front incisors at the base, it had completely grown back to its full length within a week, showing just how quickly they grow. So this much is true.
However, rats do not need to gnaw on hard things to keep their teeth down; a rat can keep his teeth neatly filed by grinding them against one another. As long as the rat has teeth that meet normally, he can do this and does not need to gnaw on hard objects.
However, if the rat's teeth don't meet properly in the middle, then the rat may have trouble wearing them down evenly, and they could grow too long. This is called Malocclusion, and can be either something they're born with, or something they develop after an accident. Rats with malocclusion may need their teeth trimmed, or burred, at the vet regularly to keep them short. If the problem is severe enough, the incisors can even be removed completely and the rat will manage without them.
So, rats do not necessarily need to chew on things to keep their teeth down, but they still really enjoy gnawing, and should still be provided with hard things to chew.

Do rats prefer the heat or the cold?

Like us, they're not fans of extremes of either temperature.
However, heat is arguably more dangerous to a rat than cold. Rats are a naturally nocturnal animal and they're designed to be out and about at night or very early morning. As such, they naturally wouldn't experience much of the heat of the day as they'd be hidden up. They've evolved to be active when it is cooler, and as a result, do not have good tolerance to the heat.

Rats can, and do, drop dead from too much heat. They cope far better with the cold. I have had rats in a shed with the temperature outside below zero, and they remain active and bright and don't seem bothered by it.
But in the heat of the summer, they clearly suffer and find it uncomfortable. Always remember to never leave a rat in direct sunlight; they can die in 10 minutes.

Remember at all times that your rat is a creature of the night, and it does not actually like sunlight. While we might enjoy it, and animals like rabbits undoubtedly do, rats get nothing out of being outside in the sun. Keep your rat safe and out of direct sunlight and excessive heat. If a temperature is comfortable for you, its probably fine for your rat. Not too hot, not too cold.

Do rats like water?

It depends on the rat.
Some rats seem to enjoy water, others give it a wide berth. Its rare to have a rat leap in and begin swimming of its own accord, but you might see rats paddle or dip their paws into water. Give your rats a shallow tray of water and see what they think. On a hot day, get some frozen peas or other vegetables and float them on the water; rats enjoy fishing them out!
Do not just dump your rat into deep water and expect him to enjoy it; he won't. He'll panic, thrash about a bit then look for the quickest exit. Rats can be trained to accept water and even to enjoy swimming in it, but it takes a fair bit of work to get them used to it to this level. So basically, rats tend to enjoy a paddle and a fish about in a bowl or tray of water, but don't expect them to leap in and begin swimming for fun.

I heard that white rats with pink eyes are more aggressive/siamese rats don't get on with other rats/blue rats always die young/agouti rats are more 'wild'. Is this true?

For the most part, no.
People still tend to believe that a rat's colouring predisposes him toward a certain character or trait, but there just isn't any evidence to support this.
However, these stereotypes didn't crop up for no reason; there is a slight truth in some of them, but probably not for the reasons people think.

For example, you may be more likely to get a nip off a white rat with pink eyes because pink-eyed rats tend to have extremely poor eye-sight. Some are pretty much blind. As you can probably imagine, a blind rat is going to be a little more jumpy if suddenly grabbed mid-nap than a rat with full vision. Its not unusual that they would be more likely to give nips if not handled correctly.
Though I have personally never been bitten by a pink-eyed rat.

When siamese rats first appeared on the scene, they were something of a novelty, and everyone wanted to start breeding them. As such, they ended up in pet shops pretty quickly, with people hoping to make a quick buck off them. As a result, they were bred carelessly, without proper knowlege, and churned out as quickly as possible to make money. This resulted in a lot of rats with unknown, or very poor, lineage, and, as a result, a number of rats with aggression issues due to being carelessly bred for money. However, this has nothing to do with the colour of the rat; the rat's coat colour cannot physically change its personality.
It is to do with poor breeding and poor genes being reproduced all over the shop to make money. Today's siamese has, thankfully, been taken over by good breeders and the variety is no more aggressive than any other.

As for blue rats, again, an inkling of truth. But again, it is due to the genetic line the animals came from and not down to their coat colour.
Blue rats tended to have a lot of bleeding/clotting issues when they first appeared, as did some other varieties. But again, good breeders have succeeded in lessening and in most cases, obliterating these problems.

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