So you want to release your rat?
It may be surprising to anyone who knows rats, but there are people who genuinely think a pet rat can survive in the wild if it is released.Finding food
I've had many people contact me about getting rid of their rat who tell me they were thinking of releasing them, or knew someone who had released their rat, or even that they considered rats wild animals and perfectly capable of looking after themselves.
This is no empty threat, either, as several of my rats have come to me after being found wandering in gardens or woods or parks, so clearly some people still think this is a good idea.
Domesticated rats are as vulnerable as babies.
Be under no illusion: Pet rats should never, ever be released into the wild.
The domestic rat is exactly that; domestic.
They have been bred in captivity since the 18th century, and many of their wild traits have been bred out of them.
Assuming a pet rat could survive as a wild rat is like thinking a chihuahua could survive with a pack of wolves. Wild rats and pet rats may be the same species, but domestication fundamentally changes a species, this is why your pet dogs do not react to you as a wolf would!
Domestication dulls down, or sometimes even obliterates that species natural instincts. Below are the main reasons rats should never be released.
Pet rats are used to being fed by their human carers, they would have no idea how to find food in the wild or what would be safe to eat. The same goes for water.
Rats learn what to eat from what their parents eat. They know from the second they're born just by the taste of their mother's milk. A rat dumped out into the wild would have no experience of the foods out there, or how to find them.
Also, don't forget that many people still cruelly put poison out for rats, and a domestic rat could easily eat this.
There are many, many species which prey upon rats. A domesticated rat does not have the same knowlege of predators as a wild rat does. It has never seen a fox, an owl, a badger. It may have seen dogs or cats before, but many rats who live with these animals view them as safe due to being used to their presence.
A pet rat will sit there and wait to be eaten by whichever predator turns up. While even domesticated rats retain some fight or flight instinct, they are no match against a wild animal.
Pet rats live in warm cages, with plenty of bedding, and have never experienced rain, wind, snow, ice. They have all their heat provided for them, and all the materials with which to nest.
When dumped into the wild, a pet rat has no idea where to go to get warm, it has little idea where to find the materials to make a warm bed. Don't forget, this is an animal who is used to having everything provided for it for it's entire life, just like a baby. It cannot then be expected to magically develop survival skills.
Do you think that wild rats would accept and welcome a pet rat as a member of their group?
Groups of wild rats are notoriously aggressive to new-comers on their territory, even other wild rats. They would seriously injure, or even kill, a domesticated rat.
Many domesticated rats are bred in 'unnatural' colours, or even with physical differences that would hugely hinder their ability to survive in the wild. Just think how clearly a white rat would show up on a brown forest floor! There is a reason why wild rats are born brown, black or grey!
Any rat that isnt one of these colours has no camouflage and is like a beacon to all predators.
Its also worth noting that many white rats have pink or ruby eyes, meaning their eye sight is worse than those with black eyes.
Not everyone likes rats.
For a lot of people, seeing a rat close to them is an instant cue for them to injure or kill it, whether its white or not.
A domestic rat is obviously going to be more used to humans, will not be aggressive toward them, and will perhaps not fear approaching one. This can be extremely dangeous if it happens to approach the wrong person.
So while our pet rats retain some instincts, they have essentially been 'bred stupid' by us. They are not adapted to live anywhere other than a human home, being fed, watered, and cared for.
The average lifespan of a wild rat is one year. And this is an animal adapted to live in such an environment. You can guess, then, the predicted life span for a domestic rat would be far less.
While some rats manage to keep themselves hidden and safe for a little while, the vast majority will die soon after release.
All the rats I've had bought to me from being found in the wild have had medical issues due to their ordeal. They are always underweight, always have parasites, and most have injuries to some degree.
Its also worth bearing in mind that releasing any domesitcated animal into the wild is considered abandonment of an animal in the eyes of the law. The penalty for being convicted of abandoning an animal can be up to 6 months in jail.
There is never any excuse to release any domesticated animal into the wild. If you do not want your animal anymore, call a rescue or sanctuary, rehome it via adverts, or even leave it on the doorstep of a rescue center. While the last option is not ideal, the rat at least stands a chance of being rehomed. In the wild, it stands little to no chance.