Pet Rat

Don’t Want to Get Your Kid a Dog?  Get Him Rats!


“I want a puppy!”

Oh dear, did your child just say that?  Doesn’t he know how much work goes into a puppy?  Doesn’t he know how much time goes into a puppy?  Doesn’t he know how much COST goes into a puppy: leash, dog pen/fencing, grooming essentials, food, vet bills, cleaning supplies, toys, bedding, and whatever things of yours the dog destroys?  And, of course, who is going to end up taking care of the puppy?  YOU.

And, of course, who is going to end up taking care of the puppy?  YOU. Junior can promise all he wants that he’ll make sure to walk the puppy  and pick up after the puppy and play with the puppy and train the puppy-despite the fact your (let’s just assume he’s elementary-school aged)child  can barely take care of himself, but you know how this will eventually turn out.  The puppy will end up being YOURS.

If only there were an easier way, some sort of other intelligent, friendly, good-natured pet that was like a dog but much smaller.  An animal that could help teach your child responsible pet ownership but that you wouldn’t be stuck cleaning up after for the next 8-12 years if the kid doesn’t hold up his end of the deal.  Maybe something cute and furry, with whiskers and a twitchy nose . . . and a long pink tail.


“It’s a TAIL, not a worm or snake, and it’s incredibly important and useful.”

Get your shuddering and squeamish noises about the tail done with; I’ll wait.  Domestic rats are probably one of the most underrated pets in America.  While a lot of parents are too busy being afraid of and/or disgusted by these remarkable rodents, they’re missing out on an optimal first pet.  And while rats do definitely require care, it’s nowhere near what a puppy (or even an adult dog) requires.  Plus, the care is generally easy enough for a child to manage-supervised, of course.  Domestic rats are friendly, smart-they can learn their names and how to use a litter “box,” entertaining, and very sociable.

So why NOT rats? 

Shall we go down the standard list?

  1. They’re dirty and disgusting!
  2. I cannot stand that tail; can’t you just cut it off?
  3. They’ll chew everything up.
  4. Rats carry diseases!
  5. Rats bite!

Now let’s get the facts straight

  1. Rats are relatively clean animals.  They groom themselves, and each other, throughout the day, every day.  Habitat-wise they’re as clean or as dirty as you keep their cage, bedding, etc.  If it becomes a “you dirty rat” situation, it’s your fault.
  2. A rat uses its tail for balance and temperature regulation.  Cutting it off is NOT an option.  Getting over “that tail!” however, is.
  3. Rats do need out-of-the-cage playtime.  If you don’t properly secure the area, then things will get chewed up.  The same thing would happen with a puppy … or a toddler.
  4. Domestic rats are exactly that, DOMESTIC.  Pet rats are not from sewers, garbage dumps, or dark alleys.  Domestic rats carry about as many diseases as pet dogs.  I recommend you get neither from a sewer, garbage dump, or dark alley.
  5. Given proper raising and thoughtful handling, rats rarely bite.  I’ve had at least 12 rats over the years and I’ve been bitten a total of 3 times.   Each time the rat was either sick or terrified.  Again, a sick or frightened dog (or toddler) will do the same thing.

On the rat bandwagon yet?

You should be!  However, if I’ve really piqued your interest about pet rats, I encourage you to do a bit more research about how to prepare to own and care for them.  I could practically write a book about the “ideal” way to go about things, but I’ll start you off with the two most important pieces of advice I can think of:

  • Get your rats from a respected and reputable breeder


I’m not saying that you can’t get a wonderful little ratty from the local Petsmart or even your closest rescue, but you’re more likely to end up with friendlier and healthier pets from a dedicated rattery than a chain pet store or a craigslist ad.  Also, a good breeder will happily answer any and all of your questions for the life of your rats.  As for getting more than one, rats are meant to live with other rats.  It’s not any harder to take care of two rats than it is one-I recommend three, but that’s a personal preference-and rats are pretty entertaining to watch playing together, so it’s a win-win situation all around.

Besides, don’t you want to see your child’s face when the next time he pipes up, “I want a puppy!” you turn to him and say, “how about a rat?”

This article was written for PGAA by Ronald Hinde from