How to Choose a Rat

Like you said, fancy rats do make great first pets! As a domestic species, fancy rats are comfortable around humans and bond well with their owners. They don’t take up a lot of space and are intelligent enough to learn their names and some basic tricks. As a plus, they’re also fairly easy to litter train, which means that you won’t end up working as hard to keep their cage clean.

The Yin and Yang of Rats

Two rats are better than one. They keep each other company.

If you are planning to keep rats, I highly recommend that you keep at least two of the same gender in the same cage. Rats are colony animals and having more than one means that they don’t need as much human attention, so they’ll adapt easily to your kid’s moods and interests in them. Two rats can easily occupy the same space as a single rat and they’ll share toys, so they don’t require much extra resources to be cared for.

Well, with Turnwise and Widdershins out of the way, Alarum is still very lonely. She’s been demanding my attention for petting and cuddles 24/7 and she’s also taken to squalling and fussing when I won’t let her cuddle up in bed with me at night to sleep. While I like how affectionate she’s become, I do also have to go to work and school, so I went to Newcastle to choose some new cage mates for her. It’ll be hard to find roomies the same age as Alarum is, given her advanced age, so I’ve decided to get two really young ones to keep her company. That way, she can treat them as her own children and they’ll also keep each other busy when Alarum is too tired to deal with them.

With the horror that Turnwise and Widdershins have wrought on Alarum, I’ve learned a valuable lesson:  Never ever buy pet shop rats ever again.  Ever.  I’ve also learned from keeping Nimhe that there are a lot of rat breeders out there with little or no quality control when it comes to health.  Thus, I present to you my handy guide on how to choose a rat for your family.

Firstly, when going to the breeder, or the pet shop, ask about the rat’s age and gender, then ask to be able to handle them.  A breeder should definitely be able to tell you the exact date the rat was born, at least down to the month.  A pet shop owner should at least know the rat’s gender, if nothing else.  If they don’t know the answer to these questions, or won’t allow you to handle the animal at all, they probably have something to hide.

Secondly, check for signs of temperament.  It’s normal for rats to be skittish, but if they’re clawing at you to get away, or if they’re baring their teeth at you, then there’s something wrong with that rat – it’s not human-friendly and might turn feral later.  I learned this the hard way with Turnwise and Widdershins.  They were both somewhat aggressive towards me.  A baby rat should be interested in you and active.  Breeder rats should be especially human-friendly, since a breeder is expected to handle them daily and remove any feral ones.

Thirdly, check for health.  Do you hear wheezing or snuffling?  A little bit of snuffling is all right, but wheezing is definitely NOT okay.  Pay particular attention to the rat’s lungs.  If you put your ear against the rat and hear wheezing, then this may be a sign of a rat that will grow up to have major mycoplasmosis issues.

Finally, check the rat’s weight.  A healthy baby rat should have some meat on dem bones!  The ribcage should definitely not be visible.  You might be able to feel it when holding them, but you should also be able to feel some roundness in the tummy area.  Nimhe was a skinny rat and she later turned out to be very unhealthy.  Some types of rat do end up skinnier than others, though.  Powderpuff rats, for example, can look and feel quite fat even if they’re average sized.

Cessnock engaging in her favourite activity: Napping

Cessnock engaging in her favourite activity: Napping

Fassifern posing nicely for a photo (She was bribed with cookies)

Fassifern posing nicely for a photo (She was bribed with cookies)

Anyway, the two animals that I went to see passed the test on all accounts, so I put them in with Alarum.  She seems pretty happy with them and they’re both extremely sweet and human-friendly.  The new girls are called Cessnock and Fassifern, after some train stations on the Newcastle line.  Cessnock (Cessie), a mink berkshire, is a big crybaby who complains all the time about her life, but she’s also not as excitable and active as her sister.  Fassifern (Fassie) is a boisterous champagne hooded who loves climbing, jumping and running.

Overall, I’m pretty happy to have these girls as new additions to my miniature family.

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The Brief Visit of Turnwise and Widdershins

This. Is. Horrible. Simply horrible. In all my years of rodent keeping, I have never seen an attack as vicious as this.

A while ago, Alarum’s cagemate, Nimhe, had to be put down because of a severe respiratory disease that left her on her last legs. Nimhe and Alarum were pretty much best friends, so Alarum became very lonely and despondent at the loss of her roommate.

Nomnomnom yummy!

RIP Nimhe. Minestrone soup was always her favourite food.

In order to make her feel more at home, I purchased a pair of juvenile rats from the local pet shop to keep her company. The girls were named Turnwise and Widdershins because they were twins. They were a little bit skittish, but nothing I haven’t handled before. Alarum took to them very well and started treating them as if they were her own babies, cleaning them and even sitting on them to keep them warm. They tamed down quite a bit as well, eating from my hand and cuddling my tummy when handled.

Until yesterday, that is.

Last night, I was sitting quietly in my house when I suddenly heard an awful screech from the cage. When I got over to the cage, Alarum was bleeding all over the place and the two little ungrateful brats were tearing at her head. I managed to get them off, but they’ve ripped a good hole in the back of Alarum’s neck. I pulled her out immediately and put her in a recovery cage while I checked the two.

From the evidence, it looks like Turnwise decided that she wanted to be the dominant one in the cage. Since she didn’t have a hope of winning a dominance fight against Alarum, she decided she’d wait until Alarum was asleep before ripping her a new one.

Alarum is doing fine now, by the way. I disinfected the wounds and gave them a good wash. The wound seems scabbed over and I think she’ll heal from it. She’s eating a whole bunch more than usual and sleeping a whole bunch more than usual, but I think she’ll recover.

Alarum sleeping on her favourite naptime pillow

Rest well and heal up, little Alarum

As for the little monsters, I’ve returned them to the pet shop. Normally, I’d advocate putting down unruly and vicious rats, but Turnwise and Widdershins are still young and they have shown no signs of aggression towards humans, which means they’re still keepable.

My Miniature Family

As far as I’m concerned, people aren’t meant to live alone in boxes and if you’re single like I am, having a pet is a nice way to have some companionship in your house. Pets are great at listening to your woes and super awesome for cuddling.

I share my bachelor burrow with a pair of super adorable fancy rats, Alarum and Nimhe, so I thought I’d introduce them.

Ooogieboogie cutie poo...

Alarum when she was a baby

Alarum, the cinnamon hooded single rex rat, is the big girl of the cage and is so named because the pattern of her hood forms an exclamation point when she’s stretched out. She was born and bred at Iced Mice Rodentry and comes with her very own pedigree – her parents being champion rats in their own right. Alarum is a fat, fluffy little rat with a cuddly personality reminiscent of a friendly dog. She loves giving kisses and licks, and can sit in my hand for hours “grooming” my fingers.

Alarum is trained to sit on my shoulder and ride when I go out to town. She loves sitting inside the front pocket of my hoodie and getting stroked while she watches the world go by. She’s also a one-time mother, having had a litter of 16 babies.

Nomnomnom yummy!

Nimhe eating her favourite minestrone soup

Nimhe, on the other hand, is a sleek, black silk varigated berkshire rat with pretty, glossy fur. She’s more skittish and energetic than Alarum, so she loves playtime much more. She especially loves leaping onto and off things. Nimhe isn’t shoulder trained like Alarum is and tends to be more shy with strangers. I play with her at home and keep her in the cage most of the time. She’s learned more tricks than Alarum has and spends hours running in the wodent wheel that I bought her.

Sleepytimes is for the tired

Nimhe having a doze

Despite being smaller in size, Nimhe is older and more sickly than Alarum.  She’s also always sneezing and snuffling, something which I need to keep an eye on as most Australian fancy rats have mycoplasmosis, a disease that targets the rat’s lungs.

The relatively small gene pool for rats in Australia means that mycoplasmosis can’t be bred out of the rats, as it’s passed on from mother to baby. While most breeders have managed to at least breed rats that are at least semi-resistant to myco, Nimhe was purchased from a breeder of some ill repute. She’s also the first rat I have ever purchased.  Nimhe’s been very ill lately, so I’m not very sure how much longer she has to live.

So there you have it, my miniature family in Sydney.


Becky’s Addendum:

Since time of writing, Nimhe’s condition worsened to the point where she was no longer interested in food or play. She has since been taken to a vet to be put to sleep. The vet assures me that it was the right time to go. T_T