This post is about as off topic as it gets! It is going to be all about pet rats and everything I have learnt since owning 13 of them! I am getting more and more comments from people asking me a multitude of questions about the precious little furry angels, and so I thought that it would be good to have a post to direct them to that will hopefully answer a lot of questions, clear up a lot of myths and also get some good comments back from you guys about your experiences of rat owning. I won’t bore you with a tonne of photos, as if you are reading this you have no doubt seen the many photos and videos on social media. This will be more of a memory dump – a chatty post about our rat owning journey!
It was around this time three years ago that I decided that I wanted to get a small animal or two to keep me company whilst I worked part time as a nanny. As I was unable to decide wich critter to go for, I did what any self respecting millennial would do – I asked twitter whether guinea pigs, chinchillas or rabbits would make the best small pet. I was met with a pretty overwhelming response from people telling me to go for rats! I had never really considered them as I had never met a pet rat, but I was certainly not put off. I talked to Robbie about it, and we sat and did some research…ok, we watched a lot of YouTube videos! The more we saw and read, the more it seemed like they were the perfect little pets. Clean, clever and agile – unlike Robbie…
The thing was – what did we go for, boys or girls? Boys were said to be bigger, smellier, lazier and cuddlier. And their balls are huge. Girls were said to be hyper, fun and adventurous, but prone to tumours. We liked the idea of adventurous little fuzzes, and started looking for adverts for rats girls. However, all we seemed to find were ads for boys, which made us think that given the popularity of girls, we had made a good choice, if only we could find some girls! We eventually found a seller who had four – two more than we had planned to get. You need at least two as they are sociable animals, and so two seemed good. But then we thought that four sounded good too! It seemed that the road to rat owning was rife with indecision!
We contacted the owner and she told us that the girls would be ready to leave mama rat in the next few weeks. And so we bought a huge four tier cage, all the accessories and bowls and bottles and hammocks and eagerly awaited the day when the girls could be ours. Sadly in that time, one girl died, and the woman bizarrely gave another away! She didn’t seem too trustworthy, and so we decided to look elsewhere. We came across an advert for four boys, and decided to research boys a bit more. We found videos of people comparing both genders, and it sort of swayed us towards wanting boys! And so we took the plunge and went to collect the four little angels. We learnt that the were the result of Dad being out and shagging Mum through the bars of her cage, which was oddly adorable, but also kind of crazy just how eager they are to bone! I can still remember how small the boys were when we first picked them up, and how nervous they were on the long drive home. They all looked identical bar slightly different markings on their tummies, and it took us a little while to try to remember who was who! One boy, Mutai, instantly stuck out as being super bold and adventurous, and he is now almost 3 and is our last remaining boy. He was always the smallest and most hyper, and he is also a Daddy! But I am getting ahead of myself…
The boys didn’t take long to get used to us and their amazing four tier cage. It was so interesting to see their little personalities come out. Despite being together from birth and experiencing the exact same things, we had 4 quite different rats. Mutai was our hyper little adventurer, Hagrid was the stand offish and quite hench rat, Sirius was my absolute angel – a big, fat, lazy cuddly boy, and Kimetto was also very sweet and very caring. We used to get them out to cuddle in the evenings, then we build a bridge from the cage to the sofa for cuddles, then one day they discovered the floor and nothing was safe! We didn’t rat proof the room too well, and various wires got chewed, rats would hide under sofa throws and get sat on, and one day one rat pooed in the corner, and as they are prone to poop where they smell poop or have pooped before, they all took to doing it. We tried to clean it but it didn’t work, we put a litter tray there and they knocked it over… and so we just had to live with cleaning it pretty regularly. It wasn’t really ideal letting all the rats run around the front room – especially when we got up to 12! But we were besotted, and we wanted them to have a lovely life.
One day we were shopping for more rat food in the garden centre, and we happened across two quite sad looking rats in a glass tank. Rats should never be kept in glass as the air cannot circulate enough, and it can really aggravate their lungs. We learnt that they were two seven month old girls who had been returned as they were quite shy – and we knew we had to have them. Who would want two old, shy girls bar maybe a snake owner?! Oh no no no! And so Kina and Myrtle came to live with us. We bought another big cage, and due to the shagging through the bars story, we decided to keep them away from the boys. They were incredibly nervous, especially Myrtle. We tried our best to handle them lots and give them affection. We also started researching baby rats, and as the boys were starting to get slightly aggressive towards each other, and do smellier wees, it was decided that we should mate them with one of the girls now, and then get them castrated.
As it turned out, getting the rats to shag was not that easy. We picked Mutai as the stud as we thought that he was the best rat, but Kina, our favourite girl, did not want to be had! Her sister Myrtle was way more interested, but it still didn’t seem like they were able to have a proper go with each other…
Over the next few weeks, Myrtle did seem to get slightly tubby around the tummy, but rats don’t really gain weight elsewhere, and she had been quite skinny when we got her. She didn’t nest or anything else, and it still seemed like she was on heat. However, one night we came home to the sound of many tiny squeaks, and it seemed that Myrtle had in fact been pregnant. We had read that touching the new babies could lead to Mama rat killing them, but as soon as she left to get some food, we peeked in and counted 12 ugly little hairless jelly beans – and sadly a thirteenth dead one. She had had them in the grotty old hammock that we had acquired with them when we liberated them from the glass tank – a blimming hanging bed full of tiny baby animals! And so we carefully cut it down and lowered it to the ground. Myrtle was slightly spooked when she came back from eating, and carefully moved all of her babies to the top corner of the cage. We bought her some nesting material, and she made a pretty cool fortress for her offspring. She did then move them about a few more times, but she was such a good and patient Mama.
One day about a week later I came home and saw the other rat Kina acting quite strangely. I reached into the cage to get her, and Myrtle appeared out of nowhere and nipped me. I fended her off, and found that Kina was sitting on a large, dead hairless baby. Myrtle’s babies had started becoming coloured, and so even though I thought that Kina had taken one and killed it, I then realised that it couldn’t be that – especially when I saw that Kina was bleeding vaginally. She seemed ok, and I foolishly thought that she must have just been pregnant with one, and that she had slightly torn. I realised that Myrtle was only protecting her sister when she bit me, which seemed kind of sweet given how much she now scared me as the protective mother hen.
The next morning, Kina seemed really bad. I was nannying at the time, and I was only needed for an hour and a half in the mornings. I called the vet as soon as the opened, got a taxi home after dropping the kids at school and rushed home. Kina seemed quite woozy, and there were signs of more blood loss. I was so angry at myself for not looking after her better – this tiny, shy, bug eyed little girl. I was seen quite quickly at the vets, and I have to say that they were the best vets I have ever been to outside of the specialists in Richmond. They didn’t make me feel like I was silly for getting so upset over such a small creature, and immediately took some X-rays of her. It revealed that there were still at least 3 large dead babies stuck inside her – too big to birth. We had limited time to get her sorted, and they said the best option was to take her to the specialist – one lovely vet actually offered to drive me over as I didn’t drive at that time. But they then had another think about time, and said that they would perform the surgery – a first for them on an animal of her size. It would remove the babies, but it would also her womb because of her size – and of course, there was a risk that it would kill her. It was a tense afternoon, but just as I was about to pick the kids up, I got the call to say that the operation had been a success and that she had woken up ok. The vets couldn’t say quite why she had gone through what she had, but we were so lucky that she lived to tell the tail. She needed lots of aftercare in terms of meds and keeping an eye on her not chewing her stitches, and so I made a little nest on the radiator by my bed, and she slept there, sometimes creeping into the bed for a cuddle – and sometimes running across my face! It actually made her a lot less scared of us, which was a really nice positive to come out of it all.
Myrtle’s babies continued to grow and do well. We decided that we would keep two girls and give the rest to people wanting rats as pets – not snake food! And so we started to put the feelers out to find some prospective owners, ready for when they reached rehoming age.
One day I came home from work to find I had accidentally left one of the boy’s cage doors open. We used to open both doors and keep the living room door closed and let them roam, but in my rush to get back to collect the kids from school, I had clearly missed the top door being open. We found one of the boys in the hall under the girl’s cage, and we quickly got him back into his own cage. Now, for some unknown reason, when Robbie got home we decided to take the babies out and see how many of each sex we had. It was then that we realised…there was one missing. We looked for it in the cage, but it was nowhere to be seen! Then suddenly we spotted a little furry blob – under the cage where the boy had been! We scooped the rattie up, and I put her down my top to warm her up whilst Robbie got some soy milk in a syringe to feed her in case she needed it. Doing all of that was instinct, and happily the little creature was fine. We discovered that she was a girl, and realised that our boy (Kimetto) had almost certainly been keeping her warm and safe. She was unharmed, and not old enough to be interesting sexually! We called her ‘Litte Kim’ in honour of this, and she is still alive and thriving according to her owner who I bumped into the other week. We then realised that the rats were a bit too mobile, and clearly our cage bars were too big for babies! And so, given that Mama was no longer spooked, we moved them all into a smaller cage.
Fast forward a few weeks and I came home from a few days away to find that the six baby boys had all very much sprouted balls – and Mama rat was looking weary, so they were likely being randy little buggers. I hurriedly removed them into a small holding cage, and Googled how best to introduce them to our 4 boys, who would no doubt be territorial. The best decision seemed to be to put them all together in a small cage in another room and put clean bedding into the big cage. After doing this, I moved all 10 boys into the big cage, and we had absolutely no dramas at all in terms of fights. The little ones sometimes got a bit excitable, but our boys were also still quite young and playful, so no one was too bothered.
Eventually, it came time for the babies to be rehomed. Initially, I wasn’t too upset to say goodbye to any of them – I was mostly excited for the new owners to meet their tiny little angels. We had two homes lined up for the girls – three for one, and one for the other, leaving us with two. But when the first lady came for her one girl to be housed with another rat that she had at home, she fell in love with two rats. I said that she could have two and that we would keep just one, and she was so lovely and excited. She still texts me with updates, and she is such a lovely and kind hearted animal lover. I then became really attached to the four girls we had left – one being Little Kim who we wanted to keep. However, in that time another girl stole our hearts. She was the friendliest and nosiest little curly haired sweetheart, and it was quite clear that we had decided on the wrong girl to keep! And so when the time came for three rats to go to new homes, little baby Fi stayed with us – and she has been an absolute pleasure ever since. She turned into the Queen Bee at times, but she is just so amazing and friendly.
We were also losing the boys to their new owners, and we were down to the last two. Just before they were due to be picked up, one boy developed a nasty sounding cough. I rushed him to the vets and I was told that he had respiratory problems – something that would go on to kill off 5 more of our rats, and something that Fi also suffers from. Luckily, as he was so young, the meds that they gave us for him were able to cure him quite quickly. He died a few weeks ago, but I don’t think he ever suffered with it again – unlike our 6 who developed the problems later on and never recovered.
Once the last two boys had gone, it became clear that we needed to sort the living, fighting and stinky wee situation that we were left with – and we decided to get our 4 boys castrated! They were becoming feisty teenagers with huge balls and smelly urine, and castration could apparently really help with that. We had them done locally upon another owner’s recommendation, and I must say, they looked so much better without those large balls! Annoyingly, two of the boys developed problems post surgery and had to go back in and under several more times to flush out pus and infection. In my opinion, the fact that we had very limited aftercare meds and instructions meant that something like that was likely to happen. The specialist vet charged a bit more for neutering, but their aftercare was way more extensive and would possibly have led to less complications. However, we got there in the end, and after 6 more weeks (as that’s how long it takes before their sperm dies!!!) we were able to house the girls with the boys and have all 7 rats living in one room – bliss! They got on so well and would all snuggle up with one another at night. The girls were definitely way more adventurous, and we did notice the boys slowing down and becoming lazier post castration.
As the girls were smaller and nosier, it wasn’t long before they spotted that they could fit under our door and escape into the hall! And so we taped a bit of wood to the floor to fill the gap under the door – but that didn’t stop Kina, the biggest escape artist of them all! She would enlist a boy to help her chew through the tape holding the wood, and then move it and escape anew! I vividly remember one time when I was about to go to my parents for a few days (we would leave the rats for a maximum of two nights when they were younger if we really had to) and Kina had escaped. She holed herself up under the bed in the spare room and would not come out! I was in the shower, and I heard her move, and in I rushed, sopping wet, and managed to grab her and get her back into the cage! That little terror!
Things were going really well, but then we got rat broody again, and we decided to adopt 4 girls from the rescue section at Pets At Home – a place that shouldn’t be selling small animals! Apparently, two of the girls were sisters, and two were the tiny babies of one of the girls. The babies were pretty skittish, and had cleary not been handled much. They were both albino, which means that their vision isn’t great, and they can sometimes nip when they aren’t expecting a hand to come towards them – but it’s never to hurt. Sadly, this has never really changed, but we have tried our hardest. One older girl was also quite nervous, but the other was so friendly and lovely! She was a dumbo, and it seems like they are a larger and sweeter breed of rat. The older girls settled in really well, but the younger two seemed hellbent on being little terrors to Fi, our dominant girl! They used to fight a lot – but only once was some damage done when Fi took a chunk out of one girl’s ear. We cleaned her up and she was fine, and eventually they settled down, and life with 11 rats was as fun and entertaining as we could have hoped!
Back in May of that year, rat Mama Myrtle had developed respy problems. We had given her antibiotics, but nothing ever really shifted it. Some days were worse than others, and our vets let us take steroid injections home to give her when she sounded particularly bad. I am very squeamish about needles, but between myself and Robbie, we managed to give her a few shots over the next few months. However, during our 3.5 week honeymoon in Australia, Myrtle took a turn for the worst, and our lovely friend Nico made the decision to have her put down. It hit me harder than I could have expected – particularly as she had always been such an unfriendly little thing. But I comforted myself with the knowledge that we had liberated her from the awful glass tank and given her an amazing ten months.
Not long after her death, we heard of a friend’s friend who desperately needed to re home her dumbo girls due to a change in her living situation. At first it didn’t seem right to get two more rats, but then we decided that we had room in our hearts and home, and Voodoo and Harley joined our rat pack – as we made great friends with Laura, their Mama. However, two more girls seemed like two too many for Queen Fi, and it sent her into a vicious rage! As Voodoo had established herself as pack leader when it was just her and Harley, the biggest fights seemed to be between her and Fi – and Fi claimed another ear chomp! Poor boggly eyed Kina once got caught in the crossfire of an awful fight, and had her neck cut quite deeply, resulting in a late night dash to the vets where she was glued back together! We tried housing the rats in different rooms, calming sprays and plug ins, but only one thing worked – we had a hormone implant put into Fi. The implant is also said to help delay the onset of tumours, something that girls are so prone to (3 deaths and counting).
Things then became placid again, and we vowed to never take on any more rats for a good few years. We were once nearly tempted by two boys, but we have managed to keep our word! 6 months passed, and then we sadly lost Kina to respy problems. I didn’t realise that the vets do not put rats down like they do dogs and cats. They take them away and do it elsewhere as they need to gas them first, and it can be quite distressing. Losing Kina hit me really hard as well, and I realised I would have a lot more of it to come. It has never gotten easier sadly, and we are now down to three rats – one is one of the skittish babies, one is Fi and the other is her Dad. I know that those last two will break me, and it is because of this that I have vowed to never get any more rats. They have such short lives with so many problems – but they are really amazing.
A few months after losing Kina, we lost our first boy. He had had respy problems that we just couldn’t get under control. I came back from two nights away to find him in the corner of the room panting. Robbie said it had been quite a sudden decline, and I decided that I would take him in in the morning and end his suffering – the rat that is! I barely slept all night, and kept checking on my poorly boy. At 6 am, I realised that he was too bad to wait, and so I booked him in with the emergency vets. I sat on my bed with him beside me to pop some socks on, and the weight of me sitting caused him to roll slightly. He was so weak, he couldn’t right himself. I then held him and stroked his head – and he sort of clawed at the air and then took his last breath. As you can imagine, I was hysterical. It was so heartbreaking. I made Robbie verify that he had died, let the other rats sniff him (particularly Harley, who had curled up with him all night), and we buried him in the garden. It took me weeks to get over his death, and I berated myself for letting him suffer during his last night. We just hadn’t known what to do.
Some weeks later we were on holiday, and our friend who had looked after the rats during our honeymoon was looking after them again. We had joked that no ther rat had better die – oh the awful irony. A few days in, she tried to call me, and I knew it was bad. It turned out that Harley had died very suddenly. She had been quite subdued after Kimmy’s death, and I somehow thought that maybe she had been saddened by it. We suspect that she had maybe had strokes, as rats are prone to them as well as everything else! They can have a few minor ones that don’t really affect them, but something had claimed her life. She was such a sweet and loving little girl, and I was so upset that I hadn’t said goodbye.
I won’t bore you with every death in detail – all have died of something different. Hermione had vaginal tumours that an awful vet mistook for a prolapsed vagina and kept putting them back into her. It was the specialist who spotted that they were actually tumours and removed them. The poor rat was so terrified of the vets after having the tumour put back in her several times, she would soil herself as soon as I carried her into the car. She lived for a few more months after the tumour was removed, before her whole body became a mass of tumours and it was kinder to let her go. After that, we vowed to always make the long but necessary trip to the specialist in Richmond. Voodoo had mammary tumours – the tumours themselves are harmless unless they grow big enough to immobilize the rat. We had them removed, but then one day it became apparent that she was quite ill. She kept turning in clockwise circles, and generally seemed quite disorientated. A quick google and then visit to the vets confirmed the worst – she had a brain tumour. A week later, a stroke immobilized her, and we took her limp little body to the vets to have her put down. Ginny and Hagrid were lost to respy problems, Cosette had an abscess on her cheek that was discovered to be a very aggressive tumour – she was pts whilst still under just after the X-ray. Sirius my little heart rat seemed to lose the use of his back legs a lot quicker than the other boys. Rats have such tiny legs, and so it is common to see older rats struggling to walk. One day I went back upstairs after having breakfast, and I noticed something odd – Sirius hanging by the stairs. A quick closer look showed me that he was hanging upside down by his leg. And after freeing him and recieving grateful licks, I discovered that his leg had broken. I was so glad that we had only been away from them for an hour, as I dread to think what would have happened had he been left for longer. We swapped out the big cage for a smaller one after we rushed him to the vets. As it was a Saturday and the specialist was closed, he was given strong painkillers all weekend, and on Monday I took him to the specialist who was able to pin his leg back together. He was such a sweet boy, and he handled it all so well. But old age and immobilization got him a few months later.
It has been a rollercoaster of learning! We google a lot of things, such as what we can feed the rats. Amongst other things, some stuff that they are strictly not allowed, never ever give them bread, peanut butter or mango, and if you give them whole apples then make sure the poisonous pips have been removed. They love eggs, cucumber, watermelon, avocado, prawn crackers, peas, sweetcorn and cheese. Chicken bones are great because they will gnaw at them and file their teeth down. They will happily live in a bed for months (in between the weekly washes), and then one day just decide to tear the thing to shreds. They are way better than hamsters as they can be woken up at any time of day and be ok to go – so they are perfect for kids. They get sick a lot. Their tears are red. Boys and no better than girls. Getting both genders neutered leads to less complications in the future. Their hands are adorable. People who leave horrified comments on social media are ill informed dickheads. Their tails are amazing. They will try to pry your lips open and eat food out of your mouth unless you blow in their faces and stop them very early on. They can fit through tiny gaps. They come running towards me when they hear my voice. Now that they are old, I have to scratch them for them and they sort of bite down on my hand in pleasure. They love to eat live mealworms. Their poos dry really quickly and barely smell once dry. They are the best and worst decision we ever made.
I intended to write this post as a resource for other would be owners, but it has instead turned into a jumpily written life story that has taken me a week to write. It was lovely to remember all of our babies, and hopefully by me explaining our time with them, you can find a few helpful nuggets! As I said, I am dreading losing the last of them. Fantine has mammary lumps that are growing quite slowly for now, and so we won’t put her through surgery unless we have to. Mutai is old but still very with it – he will be 3 next month. And Fi is resping away. I bought a nebulizer and learnt how to use it, and I wish I had known about it with the others. It does seem to help relieve things for her, even though she hates the treatment. So I cannot call who will go next! But I will continue to spam social media with them and their amazing antics, and continue to change people’s minds about what amazing pets they are. I am so glad that we got our 13 little angels.