My rat Maurice in my jumper pocket
When the Bubonic Plague struck Europe in 1347 and spread like fire until 1500, it ravaged a third of the population of the continent.
The Black Death was indeed a devastating disease that has remained engraved in our collective consciousness ever since. This plague was blamed on many different things, but the creature that has suffered the most from false assumptions of blame, has been the rat.
The disease was spread, not by rats, but by the fleas that inhabited rats. Despite this very real historical and biological fact, rats still suffer cruelly from the general assumption that they are dirty disease spreading rodents that are unwelcome in homes and gardens.
This could not be a more unfair presumption. Rats are in fact incredibly clean, intelligent and friendly creatures that deserve to be defended to the very end.
As a rat owner myself, I am constantly having to explain what rats are like as pets. People can scarcely believe that I’d want these parasites in my home, let alone snuggled on my shoulder, asleep on my lap or eating treats from my hand.
Rats are friendly
Rats display an affinity towards their owners that is comparable, if not equal to that displayed by dogs.
When I come home, my two little boy rats emerge from their sleeping corner to greet me and stand on their hind legs, with their little feet holding onto the cage bars.
They respond to my affection by grooming me as if I were one of them. This is their way of expressing their affection for me. It, of course, took them a while to trust me enough to do this, but any rat owner will agree that the first time this happens is a very special time.
They trust you so implicitly that when they are out of their cage roaming around exploring, if something frightens them, they instantly run back towards you seeking protection.
They are happy to sit on your shoulder and watch as you go about your business, simply enjoying your company and watching the world go by with you.
Monty enjoys being tickled, just as a dog or cat would.
Rats are clever
I heard once that rats had been measured to be more intelligent than the average 2 year old human.
This referred to their ability to not repeat mistakes that cause harm (for example, after falling off a surface, they will not venture to the dangerous side of this surface again).
They can sense depth in a way a small toddler will not, which is why you will often see a toddler tumbling off a chair or sliding from a sofa, but a rat will rarely lean over the edge, sense the depth and go for it anyway.
Rats, when taught their own name repetitively, will learn it and respond to it. So when your rat is playing and you call their name, they will come to you.
Rats have the ability to learn tricks – check out some of the videos available on YouTube, such as this little guy who’s been taught to open and shut the door in this amateur video.
Rats are clean
While male rats do tend to smell a lot more than females, meaning that sometimes a rat room can have a fairly distinct smell, rats are NOT dirty animals.
If you spend more than five minutes in the company of rats, you will notice they are constantly cleaning themselves and each other. They clean themselves after eating, after you’ve touched them (so they think we’re the dirty ones!) and after going to the toilet.
I have even trained my rats to go to the toilet in their litter tray…
They’re cheap to keep, will love you like a dog and they bring endless hours of fun to your home and children.
For those of you still repulsed at the thought of rats as pets, I suggest you look up some videos and info on pet rats and you’ll see that they really do make excellent companions.
Stand up for rats and help them shed centuries of oppression and being misunderstood.
You can’t deny that these guys are cute! What do you think?