Rats & Mice as Pets

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Pet rat for 4-year-old?

Sept 2007

We are considering getting a pet rat for our 4 1/2 year old. I know rats make great pets. Is 4 1/2 too young? She takes care of a pet fish and her ant farm, usually without reminders. Also, is Lucky Dog still the place to get her rat or is there some other rodent specialty store out there?
Living with Dr. Doolittle

I know that rats can make great pets, and at my ten-year-old's urging I got two for him from the pet store next to the Target in Albany. One was slightly larger and she bullied the smaller one. The smaller one got a respiratory illness and died within two weeks. Then the larger one had ringworm (a fungus, not a worm), which she gave to my son and me. $70 later, she was better, but THEN she got scabies (another yucky parasite) and got very sick. $65 later she died. I should add that I was fanatical about cage-cleaning and changing litter -- I don't understand where these parasites orginated. I would not buy another animal from that pet store (though it seems clean and nice), and I would not get another rat after our somewhat traumatic experience. rodentless

I think a 4 1/2 year old of average maturity is old enough to be a rat owner. But even daily care is probably beyond them. She could make sure the rat has enough food pellets, but I don't think she could be expected to take care of the water. Weekly cleaning is also going to need your care but you probably alreay knew that.

Congratulations on wanting a rat! They are WONDERFUL pets. The best pet I ever had. We got ours at Petco, which I'm sure is un-PC but Lucky Dog didn't sell them at the time. ''Your Basic Bird'' has them from time to time, but I think they only carry fancy breeds. But at least you're better guaranteed a rat that was hand trained from the start (although that didn't seem to be an issue with our Petco rat). Francesca

I wonder if 4/1/2 may be a tad too young for pet ratties. In my sons school, the 3rd grade class has rats that breed and they watch the babies grow up. At the end of the school year the rats are lotteried and kids who win can take them. We got one and bought another. I never heard of the place you went to, but there are many local breeders you can get really nice rats from. If your daughter can be really gentle with fuzzy cute critters then maybe she's ready, but be careful. Rats are very people friendly and love to be held and handled. Also rats are very social and do best when there are 2 (be sure they're same sex unless you want babies). Female rat pee doesn't smell as bad as male rat pee. Have fun...but maybe wait a year or two. rat mom

it sounds like your daughter is unusually responsible for such a young person. we gave my daughter her first rat when she was 6, and she loved and cared for ''rosie'' throughout her short life (rats lives are short but delightful). the ''right'' age to adopt a rat really depends on the child and the family. that said, i would recommend you contact judy at RabbitEARS in kensington. rabbitEARS is a pet supply store that specializes in rescuing and finding homes for small furry creatures and lately they have had quite a few amazing rats of all ages, including infants. rats definitely should be adopted in pairs as they are very social and love cuddling up together and with their people. rabbitEARS also offers workshops for kids and adults about choosing and caring for rats (and other talks about rabbits, mice, hamsters). if this makes it into the newsletter in time, you should try to go to RabbitEARS' ''Rat-a-Palooza,'' rat education and adoption day 1-4 p.m. Sept. 29. call 525-6155, email fixpets [at] yahoo.com, or stop by at 303 arlington behind ace hardware. another person to contact about adopting rats is debra at bayarearats (http://www.bayarearats.com/). you can tell either judy or debra that laurie sent you. good luck! rats are wonderful! but be careful, they are kind of addictive...you'll fall in love and life just won't be the same without them. laurie

You are CRAZY. Rats are very stinky, and there is a LOT of upkeep for them. Stick to fish and ants. Rats? At least 10 years old. anon

I've kept rats both when I was a kid and with our son now. I think we had our first around the same age. The only two issues to be aware of (IMHO)are they may nibble(bite) small fingers. Not really an issue so long as you are aware and will not panic if this happens. Also, it is great that your child takes care of the fish and ants, but cleaning out the rat cage is a significant step up in responsibility and difficulty. Finally, the best place to buy a pet rat is the East Bay Vivarium. The reason being, is that their rats are bred and raised as food. Meaning that they should be Very healthy. The Vivarium does not want to be accused of feeding a $5000 snake a sick meal! Good luck, Oh if you need I cage I might have one. ryozo

Rats are GREAT pets. They are the smartest of all rodents (you can teach them simple tricks), are much cleaner & less smelly than guinea pigs, and not the biters that hamsters can be. I do suggest getting Dumbo rats and NOT Fancy rats. Dumbo rats have slightly bigger ears and are bred for pets, rather than labs, and thus much healthier. The Fancy rats I've had in the past seemed prone to more illnesses whereas my Dumbos are much much healthier. Petsmart carries Dumbo rats from time to time. I think they are smarter and friendlier too.

4.5 child and pets - depends on your child. My daughter was a spirited young child but always good with pets. You'll have to help her clean the cage but rats tend to be a cleaner than any pet I've had (except for the snake -- but no one has asked about them as pets today!). Our rats only poop in one corner allowing for easy and quick in between cleanups.

I don't care what the general consensus is about rats, mine are adorable! Carrie

My child is also 4 1/2 and we have guinea pigs. They are the perfect pet for this age. They move pretty slow, they are not fragile, they are slow to provoke and barely nibble and/or scratch (at least our animals do) when frightend, they are cute and cuddly, they don't need a lot of attention, you can leave them for several days at a time, they take up only a little space, they take little daily and weekly time to care for and are pretty cheap to keep and they are about a 5 yr. commitment. maybe it's the kind of pet you are looking for. guinea pig mom

After reading the other replies, I wanted to concur with many readers. I had forgotten about the Vivarium--besides the reason the other person gave, my son pointed out that you're doing a rat a favor by giving it a better life.

Regarding snakes: I've had some as pets and they do make excellent pets. But they aren't warm and fuzzy like rats are. I have known older kids getting snakes as pets these days.

You DO have to make sure your daughter doesn't squeeze the rat inadvertently--it may bite or scratch to get away and the bites are very painful. But rats aren't agressive animals. Francesca

Finding a people-friendly pet rat

Feb 2007

Hello, Our family would like to get a rat. We really want one that enjoys people -- being handled, played with, stroked, etc. Although I like the idea of rescuing animals from pet stores, we got our first rat from one, and (through no fault of his own, I'm sure) he was very skittish. My husband, who is great with animals, managed to 'connect,' but the kids had a hard time with him. We've heard that it's best to go to a breeder, but haven't been able to find one in our area - east bay preferably though we could travel some. Does anyone out there either know of a rat breeder or have other ideas for finding a friendly rat as a family pet? Thanks. anon.

I'm glad you realize that domestic rats make excellent pets. In our household we have had a long series of rat friends. I really don't think it's necessary to go to a special breeder; rescuing one or more pet store rats from a possible end in the belly of a pet snake is a kindness. We always have gotten two rats, not one, and always both females. Rats are social animals and having the companionship of a littermate is good for them, we think. It doesn't take much handling to get them used to being touched. You do have to suprervise small children to be gentle, calm, quiet, etc. There are natural differences between individual rats in terms of personality and temperament. That's part of the fun of owning them. Enjoy your rat(s?)!! Rat man

If you live in the east bay I would suggest you go to the EB Vivarium, in Berkeley. They do not sell rats for ''Pets'' per say, but rather for food. That being the case the rats are bred for docileness(sp?) and for health. They do not want to be responsible for selling a sick rat as a food item, for someones $$$$ pet snake. We've bought a couple there as pets and they have been great and long lived. Good luck Tim

There's a great organization called Rattie Ratz (rattieratz.com) that does ''rat rescue'' and adoptions. They foster rats they receive, including babies. I think the people who foster the babies before they go to their new homes spend a lot of time holding them so that they're friendly and used to people, and they always have rats available. (There are so many rats who need homes!) And the people who foster the rats tend to know their personalities, so I'm sure you can specify that you're looking for a rat that likes people. (I have a pair of rats I got from them, and I'm impressed that they're doing the work they do out of their love of rats.) traci

I got 2 rats from a breeder in Martinez. If you search Phat and Sassy Rats I think you can find her. I have to tell you that the rats from the breeder were nice but no more friendly than others I've had and they didn't live any longer either. We currently have just one rat, who is wonderful and she came from the East Bay Vivarium. I think you were just unlucky with your skittery rat. I recommend choosing from several rats and picking one that comes to your hand. Best wishes, rats are great. Laura

We have been through many rat generations. You need to buy them young and handle them a lot. They are great pets. Your Basic Bird on College has great rats. Males are the best for a friendly pet. Rat Friend

I owned two pet rats at different times when I was in college. I purchased them both from a pet store and never had problems with either one being skittish. They both warmed up very quickly and were very sweet and devoted pets. You probably just had a unique experience the first time around with the rat from the pet store. kgpers

Our pet rat pair has had three litters which my four year son handles from the moment they open their eyes until we give them to the pet store at six weeks. Needless to say, they are very used to being handled and actually run out to be picked up. We give them to Your Basic Bird on College Avenue. We just passed on a litter last week. I would give them a visit. anon

Please do not buy a rat from a pet store or a breeder. There are many unwanted pet rats waiting for a home sometimes at shelters, and also through rescue groups. I recommend the rescue groups more as they often will have a better sense of each individual rat's personality, having fostered them. Apparently Peninsula Humane Society also often has rats for adoption.

Buying an animal from a pet store is not ''rescuing.'' It is supporting the cycle of breeding animals (often in horrible conditions) as commodities, while countless other animals are killed or languish waiting for homes. This is as true of rats as it is dogs or cats.

Rat rescue resources in the Bay Area:

Rattie Ratz Rescue, Resource, and Referral http://www.rattieratz.com/

Lori's Little Angels Rescue: http://mypeoplepc.com/members/llham2/lorieslittleangels/

Bay Area Rats: http://www.bayarearats.com/

Discussion forum for rescuing rats: http://www.ratrescue.com/forum/ ~Until there are none, adopt one!~~

We have two pet rats, which we purchased at the Vivarium. Yes, these probably would have been snake food. However, UNLIKE some pet stores, the ''Rat Master'' at Vivarium culls the more sociable rats out for potential pets (they don't have to ''get rid of'' any particular rat, because there are other uses for the nasty ones)! They brought out five or six and we got to choose. We chose the two we have because they seemed the most energetic and curious. That having been said, one rat was totally friendly and people-oriented from the get-go; the other took time to warm up to us (initially ran away from human hands, while the other would climb up right away); she's now totally comfortable with us but is more of an explorer and more athletic than the other. They all have personalities, and we love both our rats. can't believe I'd ever have a pet rat

Pet rat source

Nov 2005

Anyone know a good source for pet rats? Got my last rats from Lucky Dog but they don't have any. Had any experience with rats from the Vivarium as pets? Thanks. kj

We bought pet rats from Vivarium 3 times, and we were always happy with our selection. Vivarium has different color and patterns of rats, so we found beautiful rats with sweet personality. My current one is 33 months old now, and she is still in a good shape. chiekop

I encourage you to contact a shelter or rescue organization to adopt a rat. An online resource, Petfinder, lists several places with rats that need homes. Their website is: http://www.petfinder.org/pet.cgi While a pet store may be convenient, it would be great if you could give a home to an abandoned animal. Nancy

Pet Mice & Their Annoying Odor

Nov 2004

My animal-loving daughter keeps a cage of two pet (female) mice in her room. She cleans the cage once a week, but the mice still emit a rather unpleasant odor. Any advice? mel

Well, how about cleaning it twice a week?! A lot can build up in 7 days. anon

Pet rats for my son's preschool

Oct 2004

I would like to get some pet rats for my son's preschool, and I've heard that going to a breeder is the best way to find a ''well-socialized'' rat that's been handled lovingly from a young age. Can anyone recommend a breeder in this area (I'm in San Leandro) where I can go and see the rats myself? Any other tips out there for introducing animals into a classroom environment? Thanks! Whitney

There will be a local Fancier show coming up November 7th, in San Jose. There will definitely be babies available - all coats, colors, varieties. The website info is: http://www.davisplace.com/rmhf/showschedule.htm

Rats are social critters that do best with at least one rat buddy. (As in, human contact does not substitute for the social contact of their own kind. I mention this, since some folks assume that lone rats will become more people-friendly. But, lone rats can actually become more stress-prone, nervous, or depressed. Domestic rats naturally love their peoples - they don't need forced isolation to encourage human bonding.)

Cats, rats, and guinea pigs are the three worst small animals, for allergy sufferers. Rats are delightful and ideal pets for small children, but I would recommend that the preschool either have a separate location for the pets (any pets) away from the main area for the children (like a separate activity room), or that the home room be large enough to allow for lots of ventilation and fresh air. (Rats kept in clean conditions are not stinky, but they can still be allergenic.) Basic hand-washing should be enough. The kids can also wear smocks, when handling the rats (or any pets). This may sound totally unnecessary or excessive - but, sometimes it can take months or even years for some kids to be correctly identified for allergies.

Contact Connie Perez at ratgenes at yahoo.com for more information. Monique

We have purchased rats 3 times from East Bay Vivarium. The store is a snake shop, but their rats are too cute to be eaten, and our rats tend to survive longer than our friends' rats from a breeder. Plus, the store have so many rats, you'll find very cute one. We always had a good luck so we had very sweet and beautiful rats. Please ask for ''pet rats''. Four to 6 weeks old rats are very easy to adopt a new family. It is better to get more than one, because they need warmth physically and mentally. Mom of a rat lover

Mice vs. Rats as pets

Feb 2002

Several years ago we had a pet rat (now deceased). Now my daughter wants one or two mice. Most people we've talked to have rats so we'd appreciate any information about the pros and cons of having mice as pets. Thanks. Stefanie

Mice don't live very long. Neither do hamsters, although they can be awfully cute, especially the teddy bear ones. Rats live longer which is why they make better pets. Pet deaths are never pleasant to deal with. My son went through a mouse phase a few years back and we ended up with so many mice. The males would fight with each other and had to be separated. The problem was solved when my husband brought home two orange tabby kittens so the mice had to go for breeding stock. If you really want to get two mice, make sure they are both females. They are not as territorial and will not fight as much. Marianne

I noticed that there weren't many responses to this question so thought I'd add our own experience. My son has had two female mice at a time for a couple of years. We always had two because they're supposed to keep each other company. Now we're phasing out mice so we didn't replace the last one that died. The remaining mouse seems happy being the only mouse--she doesn't have to share the special treats that sometimes appear in her food dish and she gets to chew up the egg cartons we give her all by herself. I thought the mice made good pets--cheap and easy to care for and fun to watch. It amazed me that such tiny creatures that aren't very smart could all have different personalities. All the mice we had had gentle natures; ironically, it was the tamest mouse that would give warning bites when mishandled. The other mice we had never bit.

Possible ''con'' to owning mice, I understand that they are more boring than rats because they are less intelligent. As another respondent said, they don't live very long but that hasn't caused my son (now age 8) to give up keeping mice as pets. Fran

Rats as pets

March 2001

What makes a good pet? We vote for RATS!

Last year, my younger daughter's 1st grade teacher got a female rat from Lucky Dog for the classroom pet. There was quite a surprise about 1 1/2 weeks later when she gave birth to 8 pups! I never thought rats were too great but both my children were quite taken by them & so was I. Every day they would hang around the classroom for as long as the teacher allowed. Since the teacher could not keep the pups, she put them up for adoption at school & my kids convinced us to get one. After we considered this would mean they'd have to share 1 rat, we decided it would be better to get 2. My gals have gotten very attached to Patrick & Jimmy. They're easy to care for - just clean the cage once or twice/week (depending on your nose), feed them (it's pretty cheap food), and play with them.

A different teacher at the school has a female rat unrelated to this family. She's doing a unit on families and asked if she could breed her with our males. So they hung out at our house for a week or so. Well, it turns out the petite gal just had 15 pups! They were born on Valentine's Day. The eyes haven't opened yet but we held them yesterday and they are so cute...

These rats will probably be very gentle as they will be getting constant attention in the classroom. They'll be ready to go home in early March. If you're interested in adopting a rat, please email me!

Rats are marvelous pets. They are very smart and friendly, and awake during the day when kids want to play with them. My kids have been through many rats. When rats get loose, they do not run away--my daughter leaves the cage open a lot so the rat can explore, but it always comes home. If she is standing in the middle of the room, it comes to her. They ride around on the kids shoulders and so on, eat what people eat, and are hardy. They NEVER bite. I set out to buy hamsters for the kids, but was told they sleep all day, sometimes bite, and sometimes flat out die for no apparent reason. (It was about six months before someone blabbed and told my little girls that what they had were rats not hamsters.) Anyway, seven years later they remain true rat fans. We have always had female rats, by the way, but I understand the males make good pets too.

Downside: rats generally only live 2-3 years. Upside: the kids don't go away to college and leave you with a pet for the next 15 years. My kids have gone through three sets of rats now, so they have also learned a little about the process of getting old and dying too. Anyway, get a rat from a pet store that has pet rats, not just feeder rats. The younger they are handled and get to know people the nicer they are. Lucky Dog on San Pablo has been a good source for us. Lynn

I wrote this for someone looking for a rat cage, but thought as we were discussing pet rats it might be useful to others: We are a family with a long rat history. I highly recommend an aquarium with a screen top for rats. We initially had quite a fancy screen cage, but eventually, one of our rats broke her foot on the bottom of it. They do not use wheels or anything like that, or those balls that roll around, so save your money on those. Rats are too smart for them!

I did not like the heaviness or the glass of an aquarium, so I went to home depot/ace hardware and bought five sheets of plexiglass--not particularly thick--cut to the sizes I thought would fit together as an aquarium. Size was determined by available screen tops available at any pet store. I used extra wide electrician's tape (1.5 or 2 inches wide), and taped it together, generously wrapping it once around the top and the bottom and taping over all the corners. My measurements were predictably slightly off but if you are generous with the tape it will hold together. The sides are flexible, but it doesn't matter--rats have no weight to throw around. All the tape MUST be outside the plexiglass. If the corners are reasonably tight you don't need anything on the inside. Initially, I sealed it with silicon seal, and the rats ate up every bit. Edges of plastic must not be available either or they will gnaw on them. Those inexpensive plastic mouse tanks available at the pet store with the plastic tops and the handles will quickly be eaten by a rat. They can get an angle on the top edges somehow.

My homemade taped together tank works great though, and is large but lightweight enough for the kids to carry outside and clean regularly. I think it is about 20 gallon tank size. The rats are basically happy there. The screen top from the pet store is edged in black plastic corners and has a smaller door in the middle. It works fine. You may need to put a paperweight or book on it. The rats are not particularly eager to escape they are just curious and love to gnaw on things.

With all pets, a good book about the species is nice and you can read it with or to your kids. I still remember our household favorite, Understanding Rats. Lynn

Where to get a Pet Rat

Sept 1998

As regular readers of the list know, I am a real rat fan. We recently had to replace one that died of old age, and had very very good luck with the Wet Pet Center (something like that) at the El Portal shopping center in San Pablo. The young rats are healthy, pretty, and quite friendly. I don't know why, as they are generally for food, but we got two there a few weeks ago and they are extremely fine rats, never have bitten, and are already riding around on my 7 and 9 year old's shoulders like pros.

If you are worried, I am certain that I know two girls who would be happy to serve as rat tamers and keep one or two for a week or two to make sure they are ok, but it seems from our experience that they are just fine if you get the small ones, and give them treats. Rats are just awfully smart. Lynn

The Lucky Dog petshop in Berkeley (San Pablo Ave., I think) has pet rats, mice, guinea pigs raised as pets, not for food, and my experience is that they are fairly tame. Cynthia

Your Basic Bird in berkeley sometimes has rats.