By Dr. Laurie Hess, Dipl ABVP (Avian Practice)
If you’re looking for an unusual pet with lots to offer, a pet rat or mouse might be right for you. These tiny rodents are not commonly thought of as pets, but as any rat or mouse owner will tell you, they make wonderful companions and are available at pet stores and shelters nationwide. Why would you want a pet rat or mouse? Here are seven reasons why they make great pets:
These small rodents love to hang out with their owners and watch TV, have a snack or simply take a nap. They recognize their owners by sight, smell and sound and definitely get excited to see them. If you’re looking for a cuddly pet that will always be responsive to you, a rat or a mouse might be the right choice.
There is a reason these rodents have been used in psychological testing for decades. They are amazingly intelligent and can be trained to do almost anything, including to solve puzzles, run in mazes and perform tricks. So, if you want a smart pet who loves to be challenged to learn new things, a rat or mouse might be your perfect pet.
Contrary to popular belief, rats and mice are fastidiously clean. In fact, they don’t like it when their bedding becomes wet or soiled and they can be trained to use a litter box like a cat or a rabbit. They groom themselves and their cage-mates constantly to prevent from getting dirty, and will even try to groom their owners when they are comfortable with them. They like to stockpile their food neatly, too. The expression, “You dirty rat!” really is a misnomer, as these animals are truly tidy little creatures.
The reason rats and mice can hide so successfully in buildings is that they are extremely quiet and can run around undetected. They make peeps, squeaks and chattering sounds, and you can hear their little feet move as they scamper, but in general, pet rats and mice are not loud and therefore can even be kept in small apartments with thin walls and noise-sensitive neighbors.
These tiny pets live in small cages that don’t take up much space. Rats need two cubic feet of cage space each, and single-sex groups of rats can be housed together (or neutered males with females). Mice need one cubic feet of cage space each, and while two female mice may be housed together, more than two together may fight, as may males housed together.
Appropriately sized cages with multiple levels to promote exercise are ideal for rats and mice. So, if your home is small, and you want an active pet, consider a rat or a mouse.
Pet rats may be housed in well-ventilated, powder-coated metal or heavy plastic cages with narrow (no more than half an inch) bar spacing and mesh or grated lids. Pet mice are best housed in plastic, Plexiglas, or glass aquariums with mesh tops to prevent escapes. Metal cages provide better ventilation for pet mice but aren’t typically safe for them unless the bar spacing is a quarter of an inch or less, or they can squeeze through and escape. Cages should have a solid plastic or metal tray to hold bedding and that slides out for easy cleaning. Bedding should be shredded recycled paper or paper-based pellets, as paper is digestible if eaten and not dusty. Bedding should be at least a couple of inches deep to minimize trauma to the soles of the feet and to enable hiding and digging. Ideally, cages should be multi-level with ramps for running and shelves for perching.
Both rats and mice need sipper bottles for water that are refreshed daily, as well as one shallow, untippable, easily accessible food bowl filled with commercially available, species-specific pelleted food, and another food bowl for small amounts of fresh produce (like cooked pasta, egg, meat, cereal, or other human food treats). Highly salty, sugary, or fatty foods should be avoided, as rats and mice can pack on the pounds. Both rats and mice need smooth-sided exercise wheels in which they can run without their feet getting caught, plus a hiding spot (such as an upside- down cardboard or plastic box with a cut-out door). Both species also need different shaped wooden toys to chew on to prevent their continuously growing front teeth from getting too long.
Regardless of all their other terrific features, rats and mice make great pets simply because there are so many varieties from which to choose. These curious, cuddly animals come in all different colors – ranging from white to gray to black to different shades of brown and variations in between. Rats have different fur lengths and textures (from short smooth coats to curly long coats and even hairless varieties for people with allergies to fur). Mice, too, have fur ranging in texture from the typical smooth coated to silky satin coated to long-haired Angoras. Both rats and mice have a coat color and texture to suit any owner’s preference.
If you’re looking for an adorable, affectionate pet that will interact with you but takes up little space and doesn’t need to be walked or groomed, consider the underrated pet rat or mouse.