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Rats are not very popular animals. People
associate them with disease and the destruction of food –
with some justification in the case of wild brown rats. But
their domesticated cousins are another matter. Anyone who
has kept a pet seems to become inordinately fond of the
species. They are intelligent, friendly, fastidious animals
which smell far less than mice and bite far less than


Unless you can give a rat a great deal of attention it is
kindest to keep two of the same sex together – two brothers
or two sisters for instance. Your vet will tell you how to
distinguish the sexes. A buck and doe will get on well with
each other but will also produce babies. These, known as
kittens, are enchanting once their eyes open at two weeks
old but with a pregnancy lasting only 22 days and an
average litter size of 10 kittens you can quickly have too
much of a good thing.

Rats are weaned when around four weeks old and are ready to
go to a new home when at about six or eight weeks. Keep
them in a big, well ventilated but draught proof cage, not
less than 2ft (60 cm) by 1 ft (30 cm) by 1 ft (30 cm) for
two rats. They can be let out for supervised exercise and
should be handled a lot to keep them tame. Many rats like
to sit on their owners’ shoulders.

Rats are fun to feed. They enjoy a variety of food like us.
Wholemeal bread, pasta, oats, brown rice, cooked chicken,
carrots, boiled potatoes, peanuts and sunflower seeds help
to make up a balanced diet, but you may find all kinds of
gourmet treats, such as avocado pear, to add occasionally.
Be careful with fruit and green stuff as too much can cause
diarrhoea. Rats like plenty of water.

Nowadays rats come in a variety of colours and markings.
Apart from white, black and black and white, you can choose
among such exotic shades as champagne, solver fawn and
cinnamon pearl.

Rats are usually healthy if kept properly and cleaned out
every two or three days. They sometimes get respiratort
disease or skin complaints and your vet can prescribe for

Finally, that tail. It is covered with short sparse hairs,
rather like velveteen, and is not to pick the animal up by
but help it balance and keep cool.