RATS: Why They Are Awesome and Why Stereotypes About Them Are Wrong

by Joshua Johns about a month ago in exotic pets

By Joshua Johns

RATS: Why They Are Awesome and Why Stereotypes About Them Are Wrong

For those of you who are eagle eyed you may have noticed that my avatar image is a picture of rattus rattus; AKA the common rat. It is, in fact, a photo of some of my own rats altered through a pop art filter. I chose the picture because I. Love. Rats. There, I said it. Now I’m sure most of you will cringe as your mind conjures imagery of disgusting giant sewer rats terrorising family homes and dragging babies from their cribs. Whilst that really is a thing (yes, really!), I am not talking about feral street rats, I am talking about domesticated pet rats or ‘fancy’ rats.

For around 20 years I have owned rats. That is a fairly hard thing to say in a public space as it is usually met with chagrin due to the horrible stigma attached to rats but I am here, right now, to come to the defence of my favourite furry friends and dispel numerous rumours about them in a hope that I may change your mind, even just a little bit....

Weren’t rats responsible for the black plague?....

This is probably the first thing that pops into people’s heads when rats are mentioned and the answer is No! For hundreds of years rats have been blamed for spreading the Black Plague. It was originally believed that it wasn’t actually the rats that actually carried the disease but the fleas they carried which they most likely got from feral cats. Now even more recent research points the finger at something else entirely as the hosts of the deadly plague spreading fleas. By studying the weather and seasons around the spread of the plague, scientists have come to the conclusion that conditions were not ideal for rats to thrive but were perfect for the common gerbil. Think about that the next time you look at a rat with disgust and get all gooey over a gerbil!

Aren’t rats dirty and smelly?....

Again - no. They can be if there enclosures aren’t cleaned out regularly but that is much the same as with any animal. Leave a cat’s litter box for too long and it will stink. That’s just common sense. Rats are extremely clean and spend a large part of their time grooming themselves and each other. Males tend to have a more potent, musty smell compared to females if their habitats aren’t cleaned regularly. Much like most animals they can be bathed. They definitely don’t enjoy it but after a few bath sessions they get used to and stop struggling as much. I have 3 boy rats that I give baths to every fortnight. I also clean out their house every 2 – 3 days. Some research shows that rats can actually be cleaner than cats and dogs.

Aren’t rats dumb and hard to train?....

Quite the opposite. Rats are one of the easiest animals to train. Speaking from my own experience, I had a female rat Cleo (R.I.P) that I spent an hour a day training from the time she was about 8 weeks old and within a week she was like a little puppy – she would come to me when called and only go to the toilet in her cage. Rats can be trained to do a variety of tricks and learn useful skills. In some countries certain breeds of rats are trained to find land mines as they are more adept at it than dogs. Science uses rats as test subjects as they have very similar brain chemistry to humans. Rats experience/display sympathy and empathy. They look after older and sick rats in the mischief (The official terminology for a group of rats. No really – look it up) and they suffer depression when one of their peers die. They also need companions – a rat left on their lonesome will also get depressed. They are also extremely affectionate and will often sit down for a pat much like a dog. Even though females are easier to train, males are mellower and are more likely to sit still for long periods of time for a pat.

Why rats?.....

To me rats are one of the most misunderstood critters in the world and cop a lot flack because of archaic stereotypes. They are adorable, affectionate and relatively cheap to own and look after. Just because they are small animals doesn’t mean I love them any less than I would a cat or dog. They are great little companions and they all have different personalities. I also admire how resilient they are; rats are great survivalists. Most species can swim up to a mile without resting and can tread water for up to 3 days. They can go longer than a camel without water. Some breeds can chew through steel and shrink themselves down small enough to fit through a wedding ring!

I hope my article has informed some of you, squashed some stereotypes and maybe even changed how you view these amazing rodents.

exotic pets
Joshua Johns
Joshua Johns
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Joshua Johns

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