Let’s face it. Rats haven’t exactly been on the right side of history. Blamed for being the carrier of a plague that killed 25 million in Europe (despite recent research suggesting that the culprit was actually the sneaky gerbil), it is understandable that that for many, the idea of a long, wiggling tail might cause a shudder.
Because of this, rats have become to be one of the most misunderstood animals out there, which, for fancy rat owners, often results in an eye-roll when they hear the inevitable “EWW… YOU OWN RATS?”
So let’s start with some facts. Fancy rats (Rattus norvegicus domestica) are not the same as their wild counterparts (Rattus norvegicus) . They are a completely different species. It’s like
comparing a cute domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) to a wild wolf (Canis lupus) – they just aren’t the same, despite having a common ancestor.
Fancy rats were originally bred in the 18th century and have become extremely popular pets, known for their sweet temperaments, beauty, intelligence and cleanliness. “Cleanliness??!” I hear you cry. This is possibly the most misunderstood fact about rats. Rats are incredibly clean animals. They typically spend most of their day either sleeping or cleaning themselves, so much so that the result is … they are cleaner than the average dog or cat. Rats are so clean that owners rarely have to bathe them, meaning that they are incredibly low maintenance pets.
Fancy rats have also been bred to prevent disease spread between rats and humans so unlike other pets, it is incredibly unlikely that your rat will ever make you ill.
They also poo in one place (bonus when cleaning out) and no self-respecting rat would sleep in its own poo, choosing a spot far away from its bed.
Maybe it isn’t the idea of being unclean which gives you the heebie jeebies. Could it be the tail? Many people see a rat tail and assume it’s cold and slimy but it’s really quite the opposite. While it looks hairless, rat tails are actually covered in a soft, smooth fur which
regulates their temperature, keeping them cool. Their tails are also essential for their balance. They can’t see very well and so use their incredible sense of smell and touch in their whiskers to help them navigate.
Finally, on this whistle-stop tour of rat appreciation, rats are extremely intelligent. They are thought to be as intelligent, if not more intelligent than dogs, and in some studies have outperformed humans in retaining information about how to perform a basic task when presented it at a later date. Their memory allows them to remember every path they’ve ever taken (meaning you’ll never outwit them when you try to hide their food somewhere
in their cage), they can learn tricks, laugh, play games and demonstrate complex facial communications.
They are also emotionally intelligent with an ability to feel empathy, a quality extremely rare in animals. Studies have shown that when a rat’s mate is unwell, the rat will try to care for them and make them feel better. They are also extremely loyal to their owners and the human/fancy rat bond can be a strong one.
So there you have it. The fancy truth about fancy rats. Give them a chance and you’ll find the payoff from getting to know them is far greater than you could ever have expected.