When you think of a rat does your mind run to plagues, sewers, and disease?
Well, I like to think of them from my childhood role model, Master Splinter.
When I tell people I have pet rats the typical response is “ew that’s gross.” “Rats are so nasty” “Their tails creep me out” “You know they carry diseases right?” If people gave these lovable little guys a chance they would see just how wrong that idea is!
My buddies are known as Dumbo or Fancy Rats. While many people may wrinkle their noses at the idea of keeping a rat as a pet, dumbo rats are much cleaner than their wild cousins and are no more likely to carry diseases than cats, dogs or other small rodents. I’m sure after learning about them you will see these long-tailed wonders are cute, cuddly, and worth rescuing; no butts about it!
Let’s talk about where it all started! My first rescue was 7 years ago. I wanted a pet to love and care for but because of my job and rental property, I couldn’t have a traditional pet. My dad was at a humane society, and the lady working was trying extremely hard to get 3 dumbo rats a home before they would be put down or sold as feeders. After a phone call from my dad, I knew without question they were exactly who I needed! I did all the research I could for owning a rat and I was surprised by all the positive feedback on how loving and easy to care for these animals are! Shortly after I had rescued them, I discovered I had 2 males and a pregnant female. A few weeks later... SURPRISE! I had 10 new members.
YES! Rats nurse from their moms just like cats and dogs. It was such an unexpected but beautiful surprise to see this process. To watch these nuggets grow up and see each personality come to light. Padme cared for all of her babies and was a very tentative mother. I was so proud of her! Once they reach 5 weeks old they become sexually mature and need to be separated. Around 3 weeks is when you can tell the females from the males, who have larger scrotums. After 6 weeks the babies were ready for new homes! I was able to give away 3 pairs to close friends. Leaving me with my original 3 Perry, Padme, and Pegasus plus Pringles, Potter, Penelope and Pickles.
I get asked all the time “do they bite?”I can say that my first bundle never bit me. They would nibble at my nails or hair but NEVER bit me, friends, family, or children. Considering I had a mix of boys and girls I got all of my rats fixed so I could home them together. It was an easy process finding an exotic pet vet and getting them fixed is also beneficial for their health. Lowering their risk of tumors and can expand their life! Unfortunately, these little lovers' life span is 1-3 years with 4 being a blessing! My longest living was 3.5 years with all of them dying of natural causes or tumors/having to be put down between 2-3 years. So yes, lots of tears come when you lose a pet. But the life they get to live is worth every second of it.
Let's fast forward a little. All of my original babies had passed away, and I took some time to grieve not having them. I wasn't sure if I was ready to have anymore when I saw an ad posted by a neighbor who rescued around 50 Dumbo rats from an elderly lady's home and she was desperately looking for homes. I called her, and I welcomed an albino rex Cosmo, black coat rex Turkleton and an older gentleman Seymour. Unfortunately, Turkleton had to be put down 7 months later due to a tumor growing on his jaw. I loved him dearly and miss his outgoing personality and curiosity. He had big buggy eyes and always busy or late for something. He reminded me of the rabbit from Alice in wonderland. I’d get him out to play and he was off. He had to run every inch of the couch and floor, then would come report back for a treat or drink, then off again. Shortly after Turkleton had to be put down, Seymour passed away of natural causes. He was older when we got him, so he kept to himself but he was very smart. The phrase you can’t teach an old dog new tricks was not the case with him. He was potty trained fast and was able to play to fetch. He was not affectionate at all and very smart at hiding. It was pretty comical how much he didn’t like attention. He wasn’t mean or aggressive, just like being left alone. After he had passed, I panicked because we were left with Cosmo. Cosmo was the personality of my rats. Since Cosmo is an albino, he doesn’t see or hear very great which makes him jumpy and clumsy. I find his sporadic behavior funny. At first, he was a little closed off to cuddles and kisses, he may have bit my nose a time or two. Now he loves taking naps with his mom and tolerates my flow of kisses. He loves drinking out of my cups when I have tea. When he gets sleepy or happy her chirps loud, most often when he is cuddled up with me. I was worried about him being alone so instantly was on the hunt for some companions for him.
Rats are very social creatures and need companionship or they can end up depressed which can lead to illness. I was on a mission to find my boy Cosmo some friends. It took a few calls, but I finally found a rescue that had a mom who just had a litter and I would be able to get two boys in a week. I was so excited for Cosmo. Soon enough we had a white rex albino Stewie and a black coat rex Winston. Winston is gentle, sweet, loves giving kisses, a bit of an outcast with his brothers but always tries fitting in and cuddling. He loves when he gets a pet on his head or neck. He likes to crawl very low to the ground so I often call him worm! Stewie is mostly blind and deaf but he is sweet, gentle, a little skittish because of his sight and hearing. He loves his brothers and always comes to snuggle for pets on his belly or behind his ears. He even wags his tail when he’s excited. They will be 1 in August of 2021, and Cosmo was rescued in December 2019. I have mentioned the term rex a couple of times throughout and to explain, a rex rat is a term for their fur which will have a “bed head” look and crinkled whiskers. Typically as they age, they will have less and less fur and it will become messier looking.
Here are their Christmas photos from 2020. Yes, that little hat is real and meant for alcohol bottle tops. Too cute, am I right?
Rat rescuing is truly a wonderful gift to give them. You’re rescuing them from being a lab rat, snake bait, or tossed to die. People need to see them through different eyes and an open heart. You will love watching their personalities blossom. They make my heart so full and I will forever be a rat owner. They take up very little space in your home but a lot of space in your heart. They will give you just as much love and excitement as any other pet.
Interested in rat rescuing? Here are some helpful tips I wish I knew when I first rescued.
1. It’s ok to have a starter cage when they are young but if you have more than two rats you will want to upgrade in the future. Opt for plastic floor levels, wiring is bad for their paws/nails.
2. Do not just get one rat! Always get at least two. They’re super social and love snuggling.
3. Use recycled or paper bedding, not cedar or wood chips. It can cause them to be sneezy and is bad for their breathing.
4. Give them filtered water! They are tiny so don’t let chemical water be the cause of their health problems.
5. Only feed them pellet food specifically for rats. It’s super cheap on chewy.com. Treats can include hard pasta; it’s great for their teeth which never stop growing. They love fruit and veggies but be sure to google if it’s safe for them before feeding.
6. They love hideouts and hanging beds so be sure to include these in your cage!
7. Put in a large flat rock from outside and see if the rats start using it as a potty. It has worked best for potty training, especially with males. Females are pretty good about using designated areas. It’s important to keep the cage clean during their adjustment period. Try to wipe down the shelves and put dried poo in the potty you want them to start using. This will show them where to go.
8. Expect your rat to have diarrhea and sneezes in its first two weeks adjusting to its new living quarters. Especially babies. That being said when you have your rats out playing be ready with paper towels to pick up their poop. Don’t worry, this DOES stop in a week or two and their poops/pee will occur in their cage. Males will still dribble here and there, but you’ll see it doesn’t smell or won’t bother you.
9. Their eyes are sensitive so try to avoid bright lights while you have them out. This means no flash!
10. As they age, they will be more sleepy and snuggly. They have lots of energy and are very curious when they’re out and about. Your new rescue may be shy or flinch a lot, so make sure you take the time to handle them, so they get used to you faster.
11. Be sure to find an exotic vet for your rat. If something we're to come up you won't be spending time on the phone while your pet is injured or in pain.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed my rat crew. Mostly I hope you can see these creatures through loving eyes and maybe some of you will be interested in rescuing in the future!
Jordan, Cosmo, Stewie, and Winston