Before you adopt
Rats have different needs from other kinds of pets like cats and dogs. Here you can find the basic information that will help you decide if a rat is the right pet for you!
Rats are social
In the wild, rats live in large colonies. They have very complex social structures and spend most of their time interacting with and grooming each other. It is not humane for rats to live alone (unless there are mitigating circumstances, like aggression). As such, Second Chance Heroes will only adopt rats out in pairs unless the adopter has other rats waiting at home.
Rats need to chew
Rats' teeth grow continuously and they need to chew to keep them at a healthy length. It is important for your rat to have access to appropriate toys that they may chew on, like wood blocks. Fresh vegetables like carrots and broccoli can also help satiate a rat's need to chew. Be aware of what is within your rats' reach that may not be safe for them, or that you may otherwise not wish for them to chew.
Upper Respiratory Infections
Rats have sensitive respiratory systems and are vulnerable to upper respiratory infections. While easy to treat if caught early, they can be serious if left without antibiotics. Dusty bedding, pine and cedar shavings, mold, and other environmental factors can trigger respiratory sensitivities, as such it is important to minimize triggers. Air purifiers work wonders for keeping your rats healthy and your air fresh! Be on the lookout for excess sneezing and porphyria around the nose and eyes.
Cancer is an unfortunate reality in our pet rats. Because rats produce new cells constantly, there is a greater probability for cells to mutate. For females, mammary and ovarian tumors are common, and males experience pituitary tumors as well as mammary tumors. This is why it is important to pet your rats daily and catch any new lumps early. There are lots of options for surgical removal these days! It is wise to have an experienced exotics vet meet your rats before you have real need for major medical procedures.
Just because they are small does not mean they do not need regular veterinary care
Approximately every 10 days is equivalent to one year for rats. A lot can change very quickly. You should be prepared to spend money on wellness visits as well as sick visits, medications, and potentially tumor removal surgery. Care Credit is a great option that many veterinary practices accept.
Rats have complex emotional lives
Research has shown that rats engage in prosocial behavior to help their companions, they dream at night about the places they want to go, they enjoy learning, and love to be tickled. They will form close bonds to their housemates as well as to you. It is important to meet their emotional needs as well as their physical and social. Give your rats plenty of affection, enriching toys, and time outside of their cage every day.
Rats become sexually mature at 6 weeks old. This means that if a litter of mixed sex babies is not separated before six weeks of age, you might be loaded down with multiple "oops litters." Rat litters can be anywhere from 6-21 babies, although the average is between 10-12.
Neutering your rat can have many benefits. It is a simpler procedure than having a female spayed, and it can reduce behavioral issues like aggression, particularly if they reveal themselves during hormonal shifts. Spaying and neutering is said to help prevent certain types of cancers, however many veterinarians are hesitant to do spays due to the invasive nature of the procedure. Talk to your vet about spaying and neutering to decide what is in your pet's individual best interest.
Do yourself a favor; litter training
Rats are incredibly smart and fast learners. Litter training goes much faster if you teach them while they are young, and it makes cage cleaning significantly easier. All you have to do is see where they typically choose to go to the bathroom, put a litter box in that space, and then scoop any feces outside of the box back into the box. Some rats figure out what you expect from them in as little as two days, although it can take longer. A little bit of work on the front end can save you a lot of hassle later on! See our infographic on litter training for more tips.