Below are some of the more common myths that people harbour about pet rats.
All rats carry disease!
This is entirely untrue. Wild rats carry disease, however pet rats do not carry any diseases at all that can be passed on to humans (unless you have let them come in contact with wild rats). You can not become infected with some horrible disease if you come in contact with a pet rat, even on the off chance that it bites you.
Speaking of biting…
Yeah I knew this was coming… pet rats rarely bite. On the off chance that you are bitten don’t have a heart attack about it – rats have what’s termed a ‘dry bite’. This means that their saliva never comes in contact with any bite they may give, hence no bacteria enters the wound. Just wash it off, put a sticking plaster on, and forget about it.
Unlike mice, rats don’t have an extremely strong odour. If fed a good diet, kept in a regularly cleaned and well ventilated cage, and cared for properly, you should never be able to smell any strong odours from them. Male rats do have a stronger odour than females, however it’s not unpleasant and not overpowering in the slightest. In fact many people have said that the male rat scent smells a lot like corn chips!
Male rats aren’t good pets
Wrrrrong! If I was given the choice between only being able to keep male rats or female rats, I would choose males. Why? I love a pet that will snuggle up for a cuddle, will doze around with me while I watch tv, will flop languidly in my hand when I pick him up and will be generally content to be a lap pet. Don’t get me wrong, females make great pets too, but they are usually always hyperactive, inquisitive, and never ever stop! Do the prominant testicles on the males put me off? Not at all… after a short while you don’t even notice them any more.
Dont rats carry the plague?
When the Bubonic plague visited medieval cities and towns, it was brought by a flea that inhabited Rattus rattus (the Roof Rat), not by the rats themselves. Our pet rats are a different species (Rattus norvegicus – the Norway Rat).
The plague was far more deadly to the rats than it was to the people, as rats were the fleas’ desired host. The fleas only transferred to humans once their primary food source, the rats, were all but wiped out. The plague could easily have been prevented had people not thrown their waste into the streets and lived in completely unhygenic conditions that attracted the rats.
The plague still exists today in most countries (but not Australia!), and can still be transmitted by fleas, but pet rats do not harbour this disease. Common vectors for this disease now are flea-carrying wild rats, squirrels, and several other species of animal.
Rats are vicious!
The majority of rats bred as pets are the tamest and most wonderful companions to be with, so no, they are not. Responsible breeders will not breed with rats that have an aggressive streak, thus only rats with kind and loving temperaments can pass on their genes. Hundreds of years breeding the aggression out of pet rats has ensured that the rats you buy as pets today don’t have an aggressive streak at all.
Unfortunately people who breed rats as snake food often don’t care about the health and temperament of the rats they are breeding. Why would they? They are all destined to be food anyway. However many snake breeders also sell excess rats to pet stores and this is where things can go wrong. Most pet stores will sell these rats as either pets or snake food and many novice rat owners will buy them in the mistaken belief that they will be great pets. Unfortunately quite often this is simply not the case, and the rats are either aggressive, sick or very scared – all of these can lead to untoward behaviour. Buying rats from a ‘pet only policy’ Pet Store or from a breeder will almost certainly guarantee you a non-aggressive, friendly and healthy pet.
Rats are dumb, they’d make useless pets
Actually, rats have been touted as being easily as smart as dogs. They are a pet that’s so smart you can teach them tricks, litterbox train them and even teach them to come to their name. Ask any rat owner and they will be able to regale you with tales of the intelligence that their rats have shown in many situations.
How could you love a rat, they don’t love back!
Wanna bet? Rats can bond with their owners to the point that if they are suddenly palmed off to someone else or forgotten about, they can literally pine to death. Rats return as much affection as you give them, many have been known to sit and groom your hand after you’ve been petting them, to return the favour! They love seeing their owner, and will often bounce around their enclosure waiting for you to notice them and pick them up. One this is for sure, no one can accuse a rat of being boring.
If they escape into the wild, they’ll go feral!
Actually there’s a very high chance that if your rat suddenly finds itself in the wild, it’s going to either die from exposure, dehydration or animal attack. Pet rats have lost most of their survival instincts over the hundreds of years that people have been breeding them as pets. If you find that you can no longer look after your rat for whatever reason, don’t let it go in the wild mistakenly thinking that they can fend for themselves.