Yes, I Keep Pet Rats

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Brandy Kehl

Two of my rats! Mushroom (left), Pebble (right)

“You took your rat to the vet?” Sigh. Yeah, owning pet rats gets its fair share of raised eyebrows, disgusted faces, and condescending laughs. Many people don’t understand that rats are actually wonderful little creatures!

Rats are unfairly stigmatized pets. Not only are rats incredibly smart and clean, contrary to popular belief, but they are also extremely lovable and form bonds with their owners similar to how cats and dogs do.

Dogs like to fetch, cats like to scratch, rats like to solve puzzles! One of the most important parts of caring for rats is to provide enrichment for them. This can come in the form of hiding treats for them to practice foraging, complex puzzles for them to figure out, or teaching them tricks! Regardless, rats need cognitive stimulation. I often hide seeds amongst the bedding in my rats’ cage and watch them dig around to try to find the treats. I also play games of tag and wrestling with them gently with my hands. They are very active and lots of fun to play with!

Many pets are fun to play with, but require regular baths to avoid getting too dirty. That isn’t a concern with rats! Many people who care for rats say that they clean themselves more often than cats do, which is particularly impressive since most sources state that cats spend around five hours a day grooming. It is never recommended that rat owners bathe their rats unless they have gotten into something particularly nasty, and even then it is discouraged that they use any soap, since rats have natural oils that keep them clean and soap can strip these oils away.

Rats are also very lovable and form bonds with their owner. I own three rats, and they are all very comfortable with me. Sometimes, one of them will perch on my shoulder as I walk around my room. Other times, one will wriggle into my hoodie and snuggle up to me.
All three of them run up to the side of their cage to greet me when I get home from school. It’s nice to have three little balls of fur that are excited to see me after I’ve had a rough day. Sometimes I think I rely on them as much as they rely on me.

All this to say, rats are incredible pets who deserve more respect than they get. No one bats an eye when a child gets a pet hamster, what makes rats different? The answer: Social stigma. So, next time you turn up your nose when you pass by the rats in the pet store, maybe take a moment to watch how they cuddle and play together. You’ll find they’re a lot cuter than you’d think!