Rats as Pets

Looking for a smart and affectionate pet? Consider a rat.

shutterstock_425507344Shutterstock/ Anton WatmanRats have centuries of bad PR, going back to the plague. But rat lovers and vets alike swear they make great pets.

Just ask Mark Vardy of Kingston, who convinced his daughter, Jade Varelle, to get a rat instead of a dog or cat.

“I’m a single dad and I wanted a pet that would require less looking after. Rats are sociable, intelligent, they like people and they’re active,” Vardy says.

Varelle, 15, trained their first rat to come when she rang a bell. Two others were easily litter-trained and had very distinctive personalities: One was active and outgoing, while the other just wanted to cuddle.

Nineteen-year-old Jennifer Kelley of Ajax, Ont., adopted her first two rats last September-and she loved them so much she’s adopted two more.

“I’ve had friends freak out and tell me I’m weird. But when they come over and meet the rats, they actually like them,” says Kelley, who now runs a small business sewing and selling hammocks for rats.

A standard guinea-pig cage (with paper or fabric for bedding) offers plenty of room for a rat. The little rodents, who live two to 3 ½ years, also appreciate being taken out of their cages to explore-but make sure you supervise them so they don’t chew electrical cords.

As for disease, Montreal vet Danielle Beaulieu says there is nothing to worry about: “Domestic rats usually do not carry diseases that are dangerous or contagious to humans.”

In terms of food, Beaulieu recommends avoiding seed mixes, because they don’t provide complete nutrition.

Instead, buy rodent blocks, which help keep rats’ ever-growing teeth in check, and supplement their diet with fruit and vegetables.

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