Caring for Your Fancy Rat
Fancy rats are inexpensive to purchase and maintain. Anyone who has had the pleasure of owning or handling a fancy rat will tell you, they just may be the perfect pet companion for almost everyone. Even better than a dog and much better than a cat, and don’t even entertain the notion of getting a gerbil, hamster, guinea pig, or rabbit over getting a fancy rat. Why you ask? Let me explain. I’ve owned every one of the animals I’ve mentioned above and I’ll give you the reasons why I now declare, that in my eyes a fancy rat is the best pet I’ve ever had.
Gerbils and hamsters are not social animals. They do not get along with one another so you can’t have more than one in a cage at a time unless they have been together since birth. Gerbils and hamsters are detached animals. They do not bond with their owners and have been known to nip and bite even with constant handling. In fact many people will stop handling them just because they can’t trust that they will bite them, which makes the matter even worse. They are also hard to tame. You can handle them constantly and even so, given their first chance to escape they will, and you have fun trying to retrieve them.
Guinea pigs are too large to be a good companion pet and they are shy and very verbal, letting out squeals of displeasure or sounds of delight. The noise they make can drive a person up a wall who likes peace and quiet. They also are not very mobile. They can’t climb, and their balance isn’t good. You can’t set them on your shoulders or in your pocket. They are hard to take places with you. Guinea pigs do display sounds of approval, but to actually say they have bonded with you, and that they need you, and want to be touched by you, no, not really. They are also very hyper. They don’t stay in one place for long. They’ll make you a nervous wreck.
Rabbits, are quiet, but too large to take places with you unless they are in a cage. You have to set them on your lap. They don’t climb but they sure can jump. I really don’t have a problem with rabbits, except they are just too big and they don’t really bond with you. Though they will sit patiently, for hours on your lap, and let you pet them without biting or trying to get away. You have to pick them up to put them there. I’ve never had my rabbit come right up to me and hop in my lap because that is where it wanted to be. You can’t really tell if a rabbit is happy or not, they are almost melancholy. They are really a very passive animal to get much fun from them. At least this has been my experience with them, yours of course may vary.
Fancy rats are better than cats for the following reasons: You can teach your fancy rat to go to the bathroom in a litter box, just like a cat. It will come when you call it’s name like a cat may or may not do, depending on its mood. Cats are very good at ignoring their owners and are too independent, with an I don’t need anyone attitude, or I will come to you when I’m ready response. And cats can be so bothersome, climbing on you and purring when you’re trying to sleep at night. Jumping up on places they aren’t suppose to be, like your kitchen counters or book shelves. And the constant meowing when they don’t get their own way is very bothersome. You can’t take cats with you unless they are in a cage. They hate riding in the car. They hate water. They are very detached animals.
Fancy rats are better than dogs because, you don’t have to walk them. They can be kept in small areas or places where having a pet wouldn’t normally be allowed. They don’t bark or have separation anxiety. Some people say a rat’s chewing can be very destructive. It would take a whole slew of fancy rats years to accomplish what my dogs have managed to do in a manner of minutes, to my furniture and rugs, and moldings of my doors, when left alone. I’ve had more damage to my personal property in one hour from my dog, than a fancy rat could do in its entire lifetime. And the pee and poop that dogs can do on your carpet can soil a large area in one minute, what the poop or pee of a fancy rat could contribute in all of its life. And the barking dogs make, can drive a person to distraction. They bark at everything and can be so hyper and demanding of your time and attention.
For example, if your dog comes up to you and wants to be petted, you stop what you’re doing and pet them. But after a couple of minutes of steady petting, as you go back to what you were doing, they keep nudging your arm to continue to pet them, over and over they will do this. If you have a fancy rat on your shoulder or lap, it will stay there and be petted as long as you want to do so. But when you stop, it still just sits there, undemanding. It will take what you will give it and be satisfied with that.
Though I’ve never owned a ferret I’ve heard from others, that they can be very mischievous, getting into things they shouldn’t be, and it seems like the people I’ve known who have had ferrets end up reselling them to someone else because they are quite a handful to keep in line, so it is my guess that fancy rats are even better pets and companions than a ferret would be.
Fancy rats grow up to be the perfect size for taking places with you. You can set them on your shoulders, inside your shirt, your pocket, your coat, your purse, or a carry bag, or a traveling cage. They make very little noise unless they are alarmed about something. They are warm and cuddly and can truly bond with their owners.
What is meant by truly bond? As soon as they see you coming they will jump on the side of their cage, clinging there and intently watching you. They are truly interested that you just entered the room. When you get to the cage and open the door, they will reach up their little hand-like paws, like a young child would who wants you to pick them up. They will rest contently on your shoulder as you walk all over the house, or drive in the car or go into a store. Very seldom do they bite. If they are scared or upset their first response to fear is to go to the bathroom on you. If they are really scared they may let out a warning squeak.
When they are content they make a clicking or chattering sound. They are clean just like a cat, they groom themselves several times a day. If given a bath from an early age they don’t mind them. They even enjoy swimming in a warm tub of shallow water or a swimming pool in the summer. You can teach them tricks. They will beg for food like a dog. They can be taught to push things or bring them back to you. They can be taught to do a little dance and spin around. I even have heard of someone who got their fancy rat to play dead. I’m not sure if you can teach them to speak or shake or rollover though. I think anything you could teach a dog you could get a fancy rat to do with patience and time.
Fancy rats want to be with you so much. They want and crave your touch. They will give your hands and fingers a bath and are very good at cleaning out your fingernails, with their front teeth. They are truly amazing animals for as small as they are.
When handling your fancy rat always practice the use of patience and tolerance. Talk in soft soothing tones, because their hearing is quite good and loud sounds can scare them and make them jump, or even run and hide. Express happiness and joy in your voice, when approaching their cage. I’ve actually been able to persuade a timid fancy rat to come out of hiding just by sounding like I’m really glad to see them, strange but true. A happy voice is a non-threatening voice in a fancy rats mind. Be sure to offer them verbal reassurance when holding them. Tell them, “You are such a good girl,” or “You are such a pretty boy.” Just like you would a two year old child, because that is how your fancy rat thinks, and acts, like a two year old child would. You’ll be able to tell when they are happy and contented as they will make little chattering sounds in your ear as they sit on your shoulder, and if they start to groom themselves while they are sitting there, you will know they feel safe, comfortable and relaxed around you.
A fancy rats developmental stage starts around the time they open their eyes, or about two weeks of age, and continues until they about twelve weeks old. During this time they are evaluating their handler(s), their surroundings, and the world in general. Whatever experiences they have during these first few weeks of their lives will establish a good or bad temperament and their basic responses to their handler(s) and their environment, and the effects will last for the remainder of their lives.
That being said, never, ever pick a fancy rat up by its tail. They hate it and it is mean. You can easily break their tails or damage them to the point of never healing correctly. If you do pick them up by their tails, even once, especially when they are young, between the ages of three weeks to three months (see our human to rat age conversions) you can break the trust and bond between you, and you will never regain their trust no matter how hard you try. I learned that lesson the hard way.
I have a fancy rat named Marshmellow. When she was about eight weeks old she got out of her cage unexpectedly and I was trying to catch her to put her back in her cage. She kept out smarting me and squirming out of my hands, so finally out of frustration, I grabbed her by the end of her tail and held her up in the air. I didn’t let go until I had her back inside her cage. She never forgave me. From that day forward she wouldn’t have anything to do with me. She would squeak in displeasure if I tried to pick her up and started nipping at my hand, as a defense, to try to get me to leave her alone. She literally started rejecting me. This problem became so bad I had to start wearing gloves just to handle her, and she would even grab the finger tips of the glove as it came near her and wouldn’t let go just like a mad Pitbull dog. She is still alive and will be two years old this year. I have to take extra precautions when cleaning her cage that I don’t get bit. Heed my warning and learn from my mistakes, do not pick up your fancy rat by its tail!
Provide your fancy rat with your time and attention, and your love and affection. When you do you will see a bond develop between you. You will see them get excited when you walk in the room and they will reach up their paw-like hands for you to pick them up and hold them. They will chatter their unique sounds of contentment and will be your devoted companion throughout your life.
Fancy rats don’t need the most expensive housing units to be happy and well adjusted. They are very adaptable and easily contented if a few basic needs are met.
There really isn’t a selection of cages just designed for fancy rats, the majority of the cages available are hamster size for when they are young and ferret size for when they are full grown. Many of the things that are available for ferrets to use, serve the fancy rat equally well. Almost anything can be adapted into a satisfactory housing unit for your fancy rat. The least expensive setup can be a 30 to 40 gallon Rubbermaid or Sterlite container with a wire meshing covering the top or holes drilled into a plastic top, to provide adequate air and ventilation, (the ventilation part is very important, not just getting air into the area but the ability for it to circulate so it doesn’t become stagnant).
Some breeders feel that this kind of setup for a fancy rat is only good for short term usage and is not a good permanent housing unit. I think what makes a good housing unit should be based on other factors. Fancy rats normally sleep most the day away and are nocturnal. If this housing unit has a hut in it and soft bedding material, (that gets changed frequently), such as aspen shavings or a recycled paper product like Cell-Sorb Plus and an exercise wheel, they will be very comfortable spending their days eating and sleeping in this kind of unit. These units only become a problem if your fancy rat is not allowed to do what they normally like to do, to have at least a couple hours a day to climb on things, explore and walk or run around. Fancy rats are very inquisitive and curious and just like people, fancy rats need daily exercise.
The next choice up the ladder of expense and quality would be a 10 to 30 gallon aquarium with an aquarium fitted mesh lid for the top, and again, these units are good housing only if your fancy rat gets free time out to climb on things. Fancy rats love to climb, that is their nature.
After that, bird cages are very good housing units, (the kind for parrakeets or cockatiels). I like bird cages, because of the easy pull out cleaning trays and the removable built in feeding dishes. I just lift up the window to the feed tray, fill it and drop the window back down. This keeps their food off the ground and from them being able to spill it or soil it. The wire bars are closer together than other kinds of small animal cages so younger animals can’t squeeze through them.
Ferret cages with multi levels are your next classy and costly housing unit, followed by the Martin cages. These come in all sizes and expense levels. They are the cream of the crop of cages and very well established ratteries swear by them.
Another option, if you have the talent for it, is to design and build your own cage(s) for your fancy rat. I’ve seen some examples that people have created that are excellent wooden cages, with wire around the outside. And the fancy rats love them, because they can gnaw all over the place on the wood and keep their teeth trimmed down.
I actually have several sizes and styles of cages for my fancy rats. When they are very young and still nursing they are in a small 10 gallon aquarium or birthing unit, where their mother can keep a close eye on them.
After they have opened their eyes, and are mobile, they get moved to a 30 gallon Rubbermaid container, that has a wheel and a hut in it. There they learn to explore and play, eat solid food and drink water from a water bottle. These containers are very open, with little room to hide, (once you remove their hut and wheel), so it is easy to find them and pick them up. You need to pet and hold them, and spend quality time with them several times a day when they are young.
After they are completely weaned from their mother, (when they are about four weeks old), they get moved to a bird cage with very close bars on it, so they can’t slip through, or get stuck, or be able to escape. In this cage is a soft cuddly hammock and an exercise wheel. There is a patio door they can come out on and sit and look around. Bird cages allow your fancy rat to climb on the bars. I also have perches on the bars that they can hang off from.
After they are about 4 months old they get moved to the next size bird cage, where the bars are a little further apart. This cage allows for climbing on the bars too and there are several wooden perches along with a hammock and a wheel, plus many chew toys.
The last cage I use is for when they become fully grown. It is the largest of my cages and the bars are wider apart. It is used for many types of small animals. It is a versatile cage. It still has the removable cleanable tray, but not any feeding dishes. I have to supply those. There is a hammock, a wheel, and a hut inside, along with their chew toys. Each of the three cages I use is bigger than the one before and allows for their growing bodies and minimizes over crowding.
My biggest cages hold ten fancy rats comfortably, the medium sized ones hold eight, and the small ones hold six. It is not uncommon for me to look into the big cage that has the hut in it and find every single one of the fancy rats that live in it, piled on top of each other inside the hut, making it appear that no one is living in it at all.
It is very hard to actually over crowd a fancy rat cage, since they love to be near each other. The problem only comes when they are not allowed out of their cages daily to stretch their legs and explore. They get bored just like you and I do. You know how in the winter when the weather is terrible, day after day, and we are cooped up in the house and can’t go outside, we get bored and start climbing the walls, literally? Well, that is what it feels like to a fancy rat that isn’t allowed to come out of its cage everyday to have free time to play and explore.
In conclusion, as far as housing for your fancy rats, you allow your budget to decide. You can start out with something simple and move up to the better quality cages as your budget allows. Just make sure to provide your fancy rat with daily free time, to be with you and explore their surroundings and get a housing unit big enough to put an exercise wheel in it, (a small hamster size will do when they are young, and a ferret size when they are full grown. I will discuss these later in this article.) And the most important factor of all for having a happy well adjusted fancy rat, give generously of your time, love and affection. It will amaze you repeatedly, when you realize how something so small could have such a capacity to give and receive love like our little fancy rats can.
Fancy rats are wonderful little garbage disposals. They will eat just about anything. They are even better at handling your left overs than your favorite dog, because they will eat all of their fruits and vegetables. When we go out to eat, I have a rattie sack to go, not the usual doggy bag. But even though your fancy rat loves all kind of foods there are certain ones you shouldn’t give them.
Fancy rats shouldn’t have alcohol, coffee, tea, pop, lemonade, chocolate, onions and most of all legumes, such as beans,(baked beans or chili beans.)Legumes can expand in your rats stomach causing bloating so painful it can kill your fancy rat. Also, do not give your fancy rats leftovers if you cook with a lot of spices, the spices like chili powder, or cayenne pepper can be harmful.
You should only feed your fancy rats lean meats that are low in salt content. Therefore avoid, bacon, ham and sausage products and go with chicken, turkey, fish and other lean meats. Once in a while as a treat I’ll give them a little chunk of chicken franks. Don’t feed them raw meats. Fancy rats are really vegetarians by choice. They aren’t known to be hunters, they are more inclined to eat the remains of something someone else already killed. They will hunt for their food if there aren’t any other “easier” options available. They are very smart if they can get food without much effort that’s what they’ll do, lol.
If you start them out young, eating nothing but fruits, vegetables and whole grains, they will actually turn their noses up to meat products when introduced to them later on. I’m very sparing on milk products too, especially cheese, which can bind up their intestinal track. I use cheese as a treat or reward type item and use a string cheese or low fat mozzarella. A little bit of yogurt, which they love, and some cooked egg along with nuts and shelled sunflower seeds, (avoid peanuts). These items are a very good source of protein for your fancy rats, in place of meat.
You might think it would be easy to keep the no,no foods and beverages away from your fancy rat, right? Wrong! A fancy rat who has bonded with its owner and has developed a feeling of trust, will want to try, taste and sample everything that you are having. They will try to drink out of your coffee cup, your beer can and eat right off your plate. Togetherness and sharing with their owners is where they want to be. Their thinking is, if it’s good enough for you it’s good enough for me. And believe me if you think it’s easy to turn them away, you’re wrong. They are very persistent and clever at trying to sample and taste what you are having. They will climb up, over and under, and come through the back door if they have to, just to taste what you’re having. And you may think, oh, a little taste of coffee or beer won’t hurt them, well maybe not, but the problem lies with the fact that they love your coffee and beer as much as you do!
Fancy rats love fruits and vegetables. In the fruit category it has been my experience their number one fruit of choice are bananas, followed by seedless watermelon. Bananas are high in potassium which is good, but too much banana can actually clog up their intestinal track. I give them a bite size piece once daily in the evening. I avoid citrus fruits, such a oranges, or grapefruit, because of the acidity level. I’ve tried giving them tangelos once in while but they would much rather have red seedless grapes, or apples, especially Gala apples, a favorite. They also like melon, any variety. Be careful with that too, as too much melon can actually give them a case of diarrhea. They love strawberries, blueberries and pineapple, but don’t care much for raspberries or blackberries, at least mine haven’t, but that could be because those items aren’t readily available for me to give them often, and fancy rats develop their food preferences when they are about four to eight weeks old.
They have done research on blueberries and found pet rats who were given a serving of blueberries a day were living six months longer than those who weren’t given any. The antioxidants in blue are so powerful they fight off cancer cells, virus’s and bacteria. Nature’s great healing food source!
I know someone who gives their fancy rats a little taste of Nutri-Cal as a daily treat. Her fancy rats adore the stuff and lick it right off her finger tips. I decided to introduce my fancy rats to it, as it was loaded with vitamins and minerals to keep them strong and healthy. Everyone of them turned their noses up to it. It had a sweet molasses smell and I don’t usually give my fancy rats any sweets. I actually had to take a little bit of the Nutri-Cal and put it on their paws to get them to try it. Now they like the stuff so much that when I put the tube up to their cages they fight over who is going to get to eat it first and try to pull the cap and tube right in the cage with them.
As far a vegetables, beside onions not being good for them, they adore, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, lettuce all varieties, green, red and yellow peppers. They love left over mashed potatoes and cooked corn. Avoid pet mixes with dried cracked corn in them, the cracked corn has a chemical that is proving not healthy to our little pets, who knew? I limit their intake of radishes, green beans, and cabbage, as they can cause gas. I’ve tried giving them zucchini and yellow squash when it is in season, but it’s not a top favorite, probably for the same reasons as some of the fruits.
As far as breads and grains, their main diet should consist of “lab blocks” or something with equivalent nutritional value to it. There are many good quality dogs food available with similar contents to the lab blocks for much less money and easier to come by. I have a special dog food I’ve found that has a lower protein level. Keep the protein level below 23%, the lower the better as too much protein is now being found to create too much oily residue on their skin. It will make their skin look orangeish. You may supplement their main grain source with, whole grain cereals, breads and crackers.
They also love left over crusts of bread, and crackers, potato chips, french fries and pizza crusts. They are junk food junkies. They love all kinds of nuts, out of the shell, and love to pick at peanuts in the shell, but they are now finding that even pet rats can have allergies to peanuts, so I’ve been avoiding them. Though I’ve never had a single pet rat have a reaction to them I’m not going to chance it.
There are many beddings available for your fancy rat and I’ve been testing and studying the use of these for many years. There really aren’t any wonderful products that can keep odors down for pet rats because of how sensitive their lungs can be to strong smells. I use to be able to get a cardboard bedding known as Hunt Club Bedding, which was the best product I’d ever used, but now it’s no longer readily available except for large horse stables because you have to buy it by the pallet load. Here is an overall rating for some of the beddings available.
Cedar – This bedding is an absolute, must stay away from at all costs bedding choice. The aroma of this bedding is so strong it can effect the breathing and lungs of your fancy rats. Baby fancy rats have even died from having to breath in the vapors of this bedding! Over all rating F-!
Pine – This bedding is also not a good choice, unless it is used in a cage that has a pull out tray and a wire layer that separates your fancy rat from having to have direct contact with it. It is not a good choice as a bedding where your fancy rat has to lay in it. It too can cause breathing and respiratory problems, it’s just not worth the risk, even though it is more cost effective then many other beddings and also very good at controlling ammonia odors. Over all rating D-!
Aspen – This one is the best choice of all the wood shaving types of beddings. It doesn’t have any odor and it is soft, and spreads and covers easily. It is very absorbent, maybe too much so. It gets soggy easily and takes on ammonia smells very quickly. I’ve been able to offset this odor somewhat by sprinkling carpet deodorizer on the bottom of the cage then putting the aspen shavings on top, to neutralize the ammonia smell. Over all rating B+.
Corn Cob – I use to use this type of bedding and liked it a lot until I saw what happens when it gets wet and isn’t changed. Mold develops very quickly in the wet areas and I’ve even found maggots buried underneath! I avoid using it now because of these factors. Over all rating C-
Recycled newspaper products such as, Yesterdays News or Cell-Sorb Plus – The dyes and inks from the newspaper are not good for your fancy rat, especially if they try to eat some of it. And when it gets damp enough the dyes can even get on the fur and cause staining. It has a bad smell to it that I don’t care for and it is hard, and not easy to spread out when you first use it, then as it gets damp it becomes soft and soggy, and it turns into almost a clay like substance and bunches together in clumps. It’s not easy to scoop up and change, it gets very hard to work with. Over all rating C-.
Recycled Paper Products such as Carefresh- This fluffy stuff, doesn’t have an odor, is very soft and absorbent, and is dust free, but it becomes soggy and limp when damp and hard to scoop out later. It doesn’t keep the ammonia levels down and I’ve had to add cat litter box deodorizer to offset the ammonia smell. And because this material is so soft and fluffy, they tend to tunnel through it, burying themselves into the bottom of it, and once there, they poop, and the poop gets dried to the bottom of their housing unit and becomes hard to clean off. It is also very costly and has been found to harbor fur mites right in the bedding direct from the factory! Over all rating C-.
Woody Pet Brand Bedding – Has a strong smell to it. They don’t say that it is made out of pine, it claims it’s just made out of wood products, it is really hard. I think it would be uncomfortable to lay on if I were a rat. Then as it gets wet it turns to saw dust, literally, and becomes very hard to clean out and remove. You almost need a small shovel to scoop it into. Over all rating C.
Towels, Rugs, Puppy Training Pads – They all make nice and comfortable bedding for you fancy rat to lay on and they are very absorbent and dust free. They are easy to clean, as you can pick them up and toss them, (the puppy pads anyway), or throw them in the washing machine, (the towels or rugs), but if not changed often, they can harbor parasites, such as lice and mites and if they get damp they don’t dry out quickly, so your fancy rat could end up sleeping in wet bedding, (like if the water bottle is leaking on the towels), and if left wet and damp long enough, mildew and mold can develop, which can cause allergic reactions or respiratory infections. Over all rating B.
There is a product I just found called Bi-Odor- by Marshall. You put it into their water supply and it is supposed to change their urine odor so it doesn’t smell like ammonia and their poops aren’t suppose to have much smell to them either. I used it for a month and really didn’t find it made any difference. I don’t feel it was worth the money I invested in it for the results I got.
Toys and Excersise
Treat Toys and Bell Toys – I’ll let you in on a little secret, fancy rats love toys that you would normally buy for your pet Cockatiel or Parrot. Wooden ladders, wooden ornaments with bells attached, anything that has wooden components, and heavy duty woven ropes are a blast in your fancy rats eyes. They love chewing on them, climbing on them, making nesting material out of the strands of rope. Even the toys that have shiny and round, hard pieces of plastic mixed in with the wood and rope, intrigue them.
Fancy rats love to investigate shiny things. If you have earrings on they will try to nibble on them or run away with them. If you set out car keys, or change, such as pennies and dimes and nickels, they’ll even try to take them away and hide them somewhere.
When I took three of my fancy rats camping with me this summer, they had the run of the pop-camper during the day. The person I was camping with was sleeping in the bunk bed at the other end of the pop-up and must have had some pennies drop out of their coat or pants, that evening I found three pennies under my pillow on my bunk bed!
They love jewelery too. Anything that is shiny and jingles. Just be careful you don’t give them something so small they could swallow it. They love these new toys that are out, that rock back and forth with a bell in the middle and you put treats inside them. What fun they have trying to get the treats out.
Climbing – As mentioned earlier fancy rats, love to climb on things. It is a natural thing to do. Be sure to offer them plenty of opportunity to do so and they will be very contented and well adjusted.
Exercise wheels – Oh, the exercise wheels. The controversy over these apparatus, Ok here goes, the pros and cons:
Ferret wheels- They are metal and made out of wire rungs. This is good for the following reasons: They can’t chew them to pieces and when they sit or lay on them or play on them, if they poop or pee, the substance goes between the bars (rungs) and drops to the ground below, which makes for easier clean up. The open design does not allow a shy fancy rat to be able to hide inside them, you can reach in and take them out. The open design also allows an escape route from both sides if something scares them and they need to hide quickly. (Example: Their brother is having a bad day and decides to pick a fight with them, they can’t get them cornered in the wheel, they can run away from the confrontation.).
Things I’ve observed: When fancy rats are young they are very playful. They love these wheels. You’ll get two or three or four or five babies all running on the wheel at the same time, then one or two will stop and hold on for the ride of their life. They will cling to the bars and take a free ride over the top while the remainder of the babies keep the wheel going. It’s much like the effect we get when riding on a roller coaster.
They are so good at playing this carousel game they will take turns letting each other be the ones that get to go flying up and over. The ones that just took the free ride, will now do the running and let the runners have a free ride. They are so much fun to watch, they will have you in stitches with laughter. As they get bigger of course, then only one or two will fit on the wheel and they are too heavy for the other one to allow them to get a free ride. Also, because these wheels have see through bars, they get to look through the bars at the landscape around them, much like we would if we were running on a treadmill. We like to have something in front of us that is interesting to look at, not a solid wall of plastic. And because your fancy rat can get a really good grip of its feet and toes on the bars, they can get these things to really move. I mean boy, can they stretch their legs out and run, not just jog on them.
Some disadvantages to the wire wheel types are, they will start to squeak and you need to oil them about every two weeks. In time the welded piece that makes the wheel spin around can wear out and break off, then the wheel starts hitting the frame and makes it noisy and not as smooth of a ride for your fancy rat. Also, when they are younger, (haven’t seen a problem once they are mature), there is danger of your fancy rat getting caught on the side of the wheel where the frame bar comes across. I’ve not witnessed anything hurtful with this, other than a possible pinched finger or toe. None of my rats have ever broke anything or drawn blood from using one of these, but there is always a chance with the way it is designed that they could.
Wodent Wheels – These seem to be the most popular with established breeders and the most expensive of the wheels. What I don’t like about them is, they have several holes in which the rats climb through to get inside. This is supposed to make them feel safe and secure while they are using it, but it also gives them a place to hide and if you have a shy fancy rat they can get inside these and you can’t get them out unless you remove the whole wheel from the cage. Because they are made of plastic they can be nibbled and chewed on and the solid plastic allows for poop and pee to form on it. And, because you have the one side that has holes in it, they are harder to clean up than wire ones. Plus when they are running on them, it is like running in a tunnel, there isn’t any view, just endless plastic to stare at.
Comfort Wheels- by Super Pet – Very much like the Wodent Wheel, except less expensive. But on these, only one side is closed off, so they are easier to clean and to get shy fancy rats out from, but they too have the same problems mentioned as above. Plus the attachment that is supposed to allow it to be attached to the side of the cage is not sturdy enough and the wheel leans forward making it hard to spin and if you use the stand that comes with it, it isn’t balanced right so the whole thing moves around inside the cage.
Update: 01/12/08 They have now come up with a wire mesh wheel that is designed in such a way as to not catch the tail in it and is safer than the wire rung wheels because they can’t get their feet stuck between the rungs. It’s made by Super Pet and is called the Run-About 11 inch wheel. In my opinion, this wheel has proven to have all the safety features plus still allowing the fun factor of being a toy as well as an exercise item.
As I’ve mentioned in several places within this article, it is important to give your fancy rat some time out of their cages every day. The more the better, but at the very least one full hour of play, and romp time. Fancy rats need opportunities to explore their surroundings. If you don’t allow this, your fancy rats will become bored and even depressed. They deserve to lead a quality life just like we do. We would hate it if we were locked up day in and day out.
Fancy Rats and Other Pets
Fancy rats will get along with your others pets, but the problem is will your other pets get along with your fancy rat? If you introduce your fancy rat to a very small kitten and the fancy rat is full grown, so they are close in size, they might get along when the kitten is full grown. The same with a puppy, like in this picture, but I would never leave your fancy rat alone unattended with a cat or dog no matter how much you think you trust the animal.
Fancy rats and guinea pigs learn to adjust to each other very well. I had one of my fancy rats living with my guinea pig for a while. They were inseparable. (Word of warning a male fancy rat will actually try to breed with a guinea pig much to its dismay, and will even chase rabbits around that are in heat.) Fancy rats will tolerate rabbits, but don’t try putting them together with gerbils, hamsters or mice. They will actually kill a mouse, they are relentless in the pursuit of them, and bully them, even though they are technically from the same species line.
I have a pet mouse that lives in a Habitrail unit, her name is “Grasshopper”. She is a wild Kangaroo mouse I rescued from my cat, (which I no longer have). One day when my female fancy rats were having their free time, they somehow managed to get one of the exit tunnels loose and climbed into the unit after the mouse. Luckily it was able to hide in a small housing unit inside the Habitrail set, where they couldn’t reach it. They ransacked the place before they left, but they soon got bored and left the unit to explore elsewhere.
Fancy rats are domesticated versions of wild rats. Generations of domestication may be behind them but not enough to take away from their natural instinct that a bird or a mouse are a possible source of food, or prey to them. Up until a couple of days ago I had a wonderful and happy, six year old Cockatiel, named Teaker. He would sing Jingle Bells and give me wolf whistles when I walked in the room. His bright and cheerful chirping songs brought a smile to my face. He could make a rainy day seem sunny.
All of my fancy rats grew up around him and they shared the same room in my house. Teaker had his own cage and a playpen to play on and he had his full flight feathers so he could fly away from danger. Normally Teaker would sit on his playpen when the ratties had their free time. But lately he had gotten very trusting of them and was starting to walk around on the floor more, to pick up pieces of food the ratties had dropped there. He really liked his rattie friends and never did them any harm. He especially liked the little rat babies and would investigate each new litter, watching curiously as they played in their housing units, sometimes he would jump into the bottom of the units with them and they would scurry and hide.
Teaker was killed by one of my adult male rats during a free roaming period, on 01-13-04. He was biten in the eye and left to die. It appears they snuck up on him as he was eating some food on the ground. I didn’t get into the room in time to see which one fatally injured him, but he died in my hands as I was wrapping him to take him to emergency. This experience has taught me a sorrowful lesson about latent predator instincts in domesticated animals. This same dormant instinct can arise anytime with your domesticated dog or cat, so never think any of your pets are safe from each other if they are a natural predator to the species.
To be real honest with you, I think it would be best to keep your fancy rats separate from any other animals but their own species. It would break your heart if something happened to any of your pets, no matter who did what to whom.
A sign of affection for rats, is to walk and step all over each other. They will lay on top of each other to keep warm and this is also a sign of contentment. Togetherness is something fancy rats really love, the closer the better. Fancy rats have emotions and feelings just like we do. You can see a smile on their face, anger in their eyes, and they display signs of boredom and depression. You can even see regret and sadness in their eyes and on their faces. I’m not kidding, if you don’t believe me take a look at this picture.
If you spend enough time with your fancy rats you will see them express a range of feelings and emotions, including frustration, and pleasure and displeasure, like fighting with one of their friends over a piece of food. Yes, I said friends. Fancy rats are very social. They love to be in groups, the more the merrier.
Female fancy rats seem to be more active by nature, but smaller in size than male fancy rats. They move faster and like to explore and climb more than the males. They don’t want to hold still for very long and don’t do as good of a job of wanting to stay perched on your shoulder observing their surroundings like males do. They want to become part of their surroundings, in it, and experiencing it. Not daydreaming about it like males do. Maybe the females are more doers and the males are more thinkers.
Females can be very affectionate when they settle down, giving you a bath with their tongue and cleaning out your fingernails. They will come up and give you little kisses. They aren’t aggressive with you or each other, they may threaten to take action but their bark is worse than their bite.
Female’s are very good at getting along with each other for the most part. I’ve even been able to introduce full grown females that aren’t any relation to each other and after a little pecking order display of, I’m going to be the queen here, they settle in together and adjust very well.
When female fancy rats quarrel they put their paw hands up against each other and push and shove back and forth. They are very verbal, making squeaking noises of discontent. They get in each others faces and chatter. They will tumble to the ground and squabble just like two wrestlers, but they very seldom bite or hurt each other.
Males on the other hand can be aggressive. Unless you put males in together when they are young they won’t get along if you try to do it later. I’ve even had brothers in together from birth and then had to separate them for breeding purposes or medical reasons for about 10 days, and when I put them back in together they will fight, acting as if they’ve never seen each other in their lives! Usually the fight is just a pecking order display and no biting actually takes place. But sometimes there is a surface scratch that puts the weaker one in line. Sometimes you can put older males together if they are brothers or cousins. They seem to be able to tell if there is a blood relation between them and tolerate each other more, but they will go through a fight for dominance.
I made the mistake of putting two full grown males together that were not related when I was first getting started with raising fancy rats, and they almost killed each other. Some male fancy rats are more aggressive than others. When breeders discover an aggression problem within their lines they will usually stop breeding that line, because as a responsible breeder we are trying to improve the rat fancy in general and want future generations of fancy rats to be more gentle and easier to handle. That is a win-win situation for everyone.
I have six brothers living together. One of the biggest brothers is always throwing his weight around, being a bully. Another brother, does whatever he can to avoid him and stay out of his way. It is just not his nature to want to get into a fight. Just like people, some fancy rats are harmonious and others are trouble makers.
I’ve also had male fancy rats that have started out being really sweet guys, turn nasty when their hormones kicked in. I had one of my male fancy rats turn on me for no reason. He just climbed up on the top of my hand and grabbed a hold of it and wouldn’t let go. I had to push him off and had to go to emergency because he had bitten through a main artery in the top of my hand. Needless to say, I no longer trust him, and I have to wear rubber gloves just to handle him. I still can’t figure out to this day, what caused him to react like that, but he started picking on his own sons, biting them and he even put one of his sons in the vet hospital, when he finally got big enough and stood up to him. He now lives by himself and I don’t breed him anymore.
Male fancy rats will mark their territory just like cats and dogs do. They will leave traces of urine on surfaces as they explore and wander around. When they are marking their territory it will look like they are dragging their behinds or are trying to itch or scratch themselves on the surfaces. This is a normal process and there is usually not any odor with this activity like there is when a male cat sprays in the house. (It would take a male fancy rat months of marking his territory to put out as much urine as a cat can do in one spraying.)
All in all it has been my experience that female rats are less aggressive by nature and will usually only nip at you but not actually bite or not bite as hard as a male would.
Chewing and Gnawing
Fancy rats have to chew on things in order to keep their teeth trimmed. Their teeth keep growing all of their lives. If they don’t have something hard to chew or gnaw on their teeth will become overgrown and they wouldn’t be able to chew or digest their food. Untreated wood and wood chunks without colored dyes are your best choice for helping them keep their teeth trim. I’ve used clothes pins and you can even use tree limbs or pieces of bark. Some trees and shrubs can be poisonous to your fancy rat so be careful which ones you choose to make your branches from. Maple trees are a safe bet.
There is a product available called a gnawing stone,. They are kind of expensive at 49 cents a piece, but they last for months. They are made out of a sand based piece of cement. It works very good at helping keep their teeth trim, and the grit they digest can actually aid in the digestive process by pushing it out, much like the grit birds have to eat to digest their food. This gritty substance is a much better alternative to wood splinters.
Virus Alerts – There are several virus’s currently causing a threat to fancy rats, they are SDA and KRV. Instead of explaining them here, I will supply you links to further information about these virus’s so you can thoroughly read up on them.
Links for Information About SDA
These links are just the tip of the iceberg for information and articles on this disease. From reading through all of these articles, its not the SDA virus that is fatal to fancy rats, it is because it wears down the immune systems of fancy rats, allowing other secondary infections to take hold. It is usually the secondary infection that proves fatal. The most common secondary infection to cause fatality in SDA infected rats appears to be “myco”. Below are some links to information about this dangerous secondary infection.
Links to Information About KRV
I wasn’t able to find that much information specifically directed to the Kilham Rat Virus. More of the information I studied was directed toward parovirus’s in general. As I locate more information and articles about KRV I will add them to this list.