Being a dedicated rat owner can be very rewarding. All it takes is a little research and a lot of preparation.
If you’re getting ready to adopt a rat as a cherished pet, there are some pitfalls that you should be aware of beforehand. Here are 10 of the most common mistakes that first-time rat owners make:
1. Getting only one rat. A person might think that getting two rats is too much extra work…or that a pet rat will bond with a human owner more readily if there is no other rat around to become friends with. The truth is that rats are highly social creatures. They need to have other rat-friends to play with and to “talk” to. Furthermore, taking care of two rats is not much more work than caring for one.
2. Getting the wrong kind of bedding. Sometimes a rat owner will want to cut corners and use newspaper or cheap bedding. Rats are very sensitive to the chemicals in the ink and cheap bedding can often have dusty particles that will irritate their lungs. If you see a red discharge coming from their noses, chances are, there is an irritant present in the air. Pine wood chips are not safe!
3. Feeding the rats an imbalanced diet. No, it’s not cute how your furry friends can eat almost as much pizza as you. Look, there’s no excuse. Fruits and veggies are not expensive items to buy; also, be sure they get their share of lab blocks, seeds, and a daily dab of a vitamin supplement.
4. Not cleaning the cage often or thoroughly enough. Their urine will decompose and produce ammonia. This, along with the decomposing bedding can irritate their lungs. Yes, it’s a pain to do. But putting up with the unpleasant aspects will only help you to appreciate them more. Clean and disinfect with bleach-water once a week, or up to two weeks, maximum.
5. Not taking them out to play often enough. Rats will eventually get depressed if they remain cooped up inside their limited cage environment. If you make play time fun and challenging, you will be looking forward to the bonding time as well!
6. Deciding to breed for the wrong reasons. Breeding responsibly is not a lucrative or easy hobby to get into, especially at the beginning. Don’t get stuck with a litter of rats that wind up becoming snake-food at a pet store. Instead, try investing some time volunteering for or starting an apprenticeship with a breeder.
7. Not giving them enough toys. If you bore your rats, they will become boring. Rats not only love to play, explore and solve problems, but they actually need to be constantly stimulated by a challenging learning environment. Provide them with a variety of toys and games and switch things around constantly. They’ll love you for it!
8. Entering them into a fancy rat show before researching it. You may love your rats and think they are just the most perfect rats you have ever seen, but the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association (AFRMA) has very strict standards and those judges have seen hundreds–if not thousands–of rats in their day. Before deciding to enter your rats into a show, visit one first. Interview a handful of judges and learn exactly what makes a rat top in its class. Then decide.
9. Procrastinating on researching a qualified vet for small animals. The moment one of your rats becomes ill, you will want to have the phone number of a good vet handy. Not all vets will treat small animals or rats. Do the searching beforehand and spare yourself the frustration and desperation an emergency situation can sometimes bring about.
10. Underestimating the importance of belonging to a rat club or rat society. Belonging to a rat club or rat society such as AFRMA will go a long way in getting your key rat questions answered. Moreover, doing so will connect you with a community of rat lovers who are likely to want to share what they know for the sake of advancing the hobby as a whole.