Illustration of a rat with a crown over its head.
Rats are the unexpectedly clean and cuddly animal companions that you may not have expected to need in your life. (Illustration by Amber Duan, Pratt Institute)

Why Rats Make Some of the Best Animal Companions

Hamsters are among the most popular pet rodents, but they’re unexpectedly needier and less cuddly than these furry friends.

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Illustration of a rat with a crown over its head.

Hamsters are among the most popular pet rodents, but they’re unexpectedly needier and less cuddly than these furry friends.

Many people have had hamsters as pets over the years. They are cute, fuzzy and easy to care for since they live in cages. Another caged pet people tend to gravitate toward is the guinea pig. Both are not bad as far as pets go, but one of the best caged pets you can get is a rat — that’s right, a rat.

“Why?” you might ask. “Ew, they’re gross,” you could be thinking. However, rats are actually excellent pets; allow me to explain why. First, rats require extremely minimal maintenance. Not that you should ever neglect your pet, but they can go extended periods of time without much attention. Rats also do not normally bite, unlike hamsters. Hamsters are nocturnal animals, so they are sleeping during the day when you want to play with them. Once you wake them, they tend to be grumpy and bite. Hamsters are also very timid and are usually not very social; they are not going to warm up to you as fast as a rat will. Loud noises could also affect their rest and health, and hamsters need a lot of exercise, which is why they are always on the darned wheel.

While normally nocturnal, domesticated rats seem to have become crepuscular. This means that they get more active toward the evening and twilight hours rather than actual nighttime hours. Rats do not run on wheels and keep you up all night, either. They are sturdier than other rodents, and they usually do not make rapid, sudden movements.

They can recognize their owner and bond with you. Rats love being pet by their owners and included in activities. Some rats will sit on your lap and watch television with you. When they nibble or lick you, they are grooming you and showing their affection toward you. They will clean you as well, to show you that they have included you in their family. When rats feel comfortable with you, they can even fall asleep in your hands or on your shoulder.

You should plan to take your pet rat out of its cage to let them explore, but be careful not to lose them. Once they get adjusted to you and their surroundings, they will want to spend time just chilling with you. If you are not able to spend much time with your rat, investigate having at least two. They are social creatures and need a friend. Three or more rats living together usually have a better sense of harmony, though, like a clique of friends.

Surprisingly, rats are super clean. Didn’t think they were, did you? They are constantly grooming themselves. They also groom each other and you, their owner. Rats are also highly intelligent, and you can train them to do tricks. Just be dedicated and they will learn how to pick out colors, go to certain items, etc. They can be taught how to play ball and fetch. They will also learn their names and come to you when you call them.

Here are a few debunked myths that may initially discourage you from getting a rat as a pet. The first is that they carry disease. Now, sure, they could get a disease just like any animal, but they are not known for carrying them around and infecting people (especially not ones from a pet store). Another myth is that rats are mean, like depicted in movies. This is not true. In fact, they are rarely aggressive — way less than a hamster is, by far. If they are provoked, then yes, a rat can get aggressive just like any animal, but not by much. A weird myth is that rats grow as large as cats. On average, rats get to be a little over a pound in weight; cats, however, can weigh over 10 pounds. Another myth is that rats smell bad. However, since they tend to keep themselves super clean, rats do not really have an odor problem. Just clean the cage regularly. They smell way less than a kitty litter box or a ferret, that is for sure.

I grew up with hamster after hamster, and each time I had one, I was either bit or it kept me up with the wheel it ran on all night long. Or, it would get loose from its hamster ball, and before I knew it, it was in the walls somewhere.

Then, someone introduced me to rats. I thought, “Ugh, I don’t know — look at that long weird tail and those big front teeth.” However, I ultimately said, “Okay, fine, let’s try getting a rat.” Soon, I overcame the issue with the tail. It isn’t fuzzy, but it feels kind of cool. My new pet rat, which I named Eragon, grew on me. He learned his name, came to the door when I fed him and loved being out of his cage. Eragon would sit on my shoulder and chatter in my ear. I had no idea what he was saying, but I knew he was letting me know he was happy. He also loved to curl up and fall asleep in my lap while I watched television. That was it for me; I decided rats were my animal of choice.

I also had another pet rat who loved to run back and forth across the top of the couch while I was sitting on it. Both pet rats were purchased at a pet store, and both showed me a lot of affection, from nibbling on me, to chattering in my ear, to cleaning my fingers for me. I had one rat who was a baby that loved one of my daughters. He would constantly be in her hands and reach for her mouth to pry her lips apart to clean her teeth — this is a common thing with rats. You should always brush your teeth after, but know that they are just showering you with love and helping to keep you clean. They don’t know that people think it is gross for them to help you clean your mouth.

There are quite a few types of rats to choose from: You have the standard rex rat (crinkly fur), Manx rat (often referred to as tailless because of its lack of a tail), sphynx rat (hairless), satin rat (shiny coat), dumbo rat (larger ears) and bristle coat rat (like a wire brush coat). Rats also come in a variety of colors: albino with red eyes, white but not albino (so no red eyes), brown, tan, cow colored, grey or black. It’s all up to which one you think is the cutest.

So, when you are at the pet store looking over caged animals to get as your new companion, keep these facts in mind: You are less likely to get bitten if you choose a rat rather than a hamster, you can train them to do tricks and they will be very loving and affectionate toward you. In time, they will grow attached to you just like you will to them.

Writer Profile

Angelica Rovinski

Arcadia University
English with a concentration in Creative Writing

I am a single mother of three girls. I enjoy reading, writing, bowling, camping and spending time with my family. My kids come first. I made the Dean’s List last semester.

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