Pet rats, often known as fancy rats, generally reach adulthood at five to six months and have a lifespan of up to three years.
Sleeping and Eating
As rats are mostly nocturnal, rats sleep for about 12 – 14 hours, often from 4-5am. Unless they’re very sleepy, they’ll usually get up and spend time with me even if I open the cage during the day and speak to them (or offer them food!). However, the best time to interact with them is during their usual waking hours when they’ll be at their most active. Sometimes they’ll nap during the night too and this becomes more common as they get older.
They usually sleep close together (or on top of each other!) in their house, but sometimes sleep elsewhere in their cage or in their ‘cozy tubes’ (see info about their Cage here).
Our rats usually eat when they first get up (after they’ve cleaned and groomed themselves), then eat during their day when needed. They particularly enjoy ‘stockpiling’ food when offered it – this is likely a natural instinct where they take the food and store it somewhere for later consumption. This can indicate that a rat is full as well. More info on their diet can be found here.
Play and Interaction
INTERACTION WITH HUMANS
Interaction with pet rats is an important aspect of caring for them. Our rats were a bit nervous at first, but they only took a few days to settle in and be happy to interact with me. When opening the cage door, they generally both come over and see what I’m up to (and if there’s any food!). They’ll happily climb out of the cage and onto my arm, before walking around my shoulders and head. As they get older, they’ll become happier to just sit on your shoulder and watch what you’re doing.
They’re usually very active and don’t keep still for long, but sometimes they stay put for a bit longer – usually if they’re tired. Derek, in particular, enjoyed climbing down my top (whether it’s a t-shirt, shirt, jumper or coat), but sometimes they both do it at the same time and the result is a lot of squeaking as they find there’s not much room for them both! It’s also possible to ‘play-fight’ with them when they’re in their cage, by gently flipping them over as they do to each other when they play-fight (see a video of this here).
Rats are generally intelligent and very inquisitive which makes looking after pet rats an interesting experience. Our rats are always interested in anything new that’s put in their cage or placed on top, reaching and stretching up on their hind legs, if necessary, to investigate.
They’re sometimes allowed to run around on the spare bed, which they love as they get lost in the bedding. They also enjoy running up and down the stairs (see a video of this here). I generally don’t let them run around on the floor too much as it’s always a worry that they could sneak off and find an electric cable which they may be tempted to chew on.
Rats’ eyesight is quite poor, so they rely on their good hearing, sense of smell and whiskers to build a better picture of their surroundings. When Derek was young, for example, he sometimes swayed from side-to-side, which is considered to be a way of increasing their depth of vision.
Pet rats often flip each other over and then aggressively groom< the one who’s been flipped while he lies on his back in a ‘frozen’ position (watch a video of this here). This can be a way of deciding who’s dominant in a larger group, but with pet rats in pairs it’s usually done as a form of play-fighting. This apparently could lead to a proper fight breaking out among rats who don’t get along or aren’t familiar with each other. They also like to sometimes chase each other.
Like any animal, pet rats enjoy being scratched, tickled and stroked. Watch a video of this here.
Rats are intelligent animals and can be trained and there are plenty of online videos about this.
After a short while, pet rats will associate a ‘clicking’ noise with food, as I’ve always made the noise when feeding them. Even if they’re dozy in their house and I click, they’ll drag themselves out and over to the cage door as they know they’re going to get food. They also come over when I open the plastic boxes I store their food in, as they recognise the noise.
They quickly got used to the noise of the front door being unlocked, so if they’re in their house when I come in, they’ll pop their heads out to see what’s going on. It’s a welcome sight to come back to!
BRUXING OR BOGGLING
‘Bruxing’ is when rats grind their teeth, which can also cause their eyes to ‘boggle’ and their cheeks to quiver. They usually do this when relaxed and happy, but can also do it when stressed. They often do it when outside the cage and happily exploring with me.
Pet rats usually squeak to each other if one of them is being annoying. An example includes when Derek went to the side of their house to eat a rat nugget, then Ronnie climbed on top of the house and tried to steal Derek’s nugget! He’d protest with some squeaks, usually quiet at first and getting louder if Ronnie continued trying to nick his food.
Rats can also make little ‘pipping’ or ‘squeaking’ noises when they’re enjoying being scratched or when they’re grooming each other.
Rats don’t like being dirty and will spend a lot of time grooming and preening themselves, particularly after they’ve eaten if they have any food in their whiskers. Watch a video of Ronnie and Derek doing this here. They’ll often groom each other as well. A rat can be shampooed if they’re dirty – more info here.
Rats’ fur doesn’t moult much, although some hairs will naturally fall out when you stroke them. Sometimes you may find the odd whisker has fallen out too, much like a hair falling off a human head.
Their fur also seems to have lanolin in it, which is a natural wax produced by the skin and helps to keep the fur clean. There are only a couple of references on the internet to rats having lanolin in their fur, but I’m sure rats have it as you can feel it slightly when you stroke them and it also has a slight (but not unpleasant) odour. Animals such as sheep and goats have large amounts of lanolin in their fur.
Rats can easily develop respiratory problems and problems with the nose can be a sign of illnes, including regular sneezing and porphyrin release.
However, sneezing is quite common among young rats when they’re settling in to a new home, which was definitely the case with Ronnie and also with both Jack and Alec. They settled down after a couple of weeks though.
URINATING AND DEFECATING
Rats’ faeces is pellet-shaped and quite hard, even when first defecated. Neither their urine nor their faeces has much of an odour unless you deliberately get close and smell it.
During the first fortnight or so, Ronnie and Derek and also Jack and Alec quite often defecated and occasionally urinated when they were out of the cage, but it rarely happened after the first few weeks of acquiring them. This is apparently a way of marking new territory and/or being a bit nervous in an unfamiliar place.