Christa Sovern's pet rats like to ride around on her shoulders (see photo below). She giggles when their tails tickle her cheeks. But when Christa sits down, the rats run to her lap and curl up. She knows it's time to put them to bed in their cozy rat house.
That's right. Christa treats her rats with gentle care. She's among a special group of pet owners who know a secret: Rats are fascinating, fun, and friendly. And they love to be played with (right).
Rats are cuddly, smart, and easy to care for. They take up very little space, and they never howl during thunderstorms. What's more, you never have to take them for a walk in the rain.
Give 'em Glasses?
It's true, rats don't have sharp eyesight in bright daylight. They see best when there's hardly any light at all. But that's OK--rats like to be out and about at night. They can't see colors either. (So go ahead and wear weird color combinations in front of a rat--it won't care.)
A rat's whiskers, along with other stiff hairs on its body, give it a great sense of touch. Using these hairs, the rat can feel its way through spaces in total darkness. It also can use the hairs to feel the shapes of things--just as you do with your fingers.
Rats also have excellent hearing and a great sense of balance--they can climb like high-wire acrobats. And they have a terrific sense of smell. So don't leave your Twinkies lying around when rats are on the loose. They love sweets, and their smellers find treats in no time. Let's face it--rats rule!
A Bunch of Babies
A pair of rats can have babies every four or five weeks. And they often have as many as 15 babies in each litter. So by the time the young rats are six weeks old, the males and females should be separated. Otherwise, the females may get pregnant. If you let rats breed, you could have dozens of new babies in a short time. Keep this in mind before you let a male and a female rat live together in the same cage.
Rats don't need shots to stay healthy, but they can still get infections and other diseases. If you get a rat, ask at your pet shop what you can do to keep it healthy.
Can rats make you sick? Well, some kids are allergic to rat fur or to dusty stuff in a rat cage. And rat owners should be careful about infections from a scratch or bite. (But hey, you could get a scratch or bite from a little brother too!)
What's a long life for a healthy rat? Three to four years is about as old as pet rats get.
Keep 'em Strong
You can buy rat food at pet stores. (Ask for rat blocks.) Besides that, pet rats need fresh veggies, fruits, seeds, and cooked eggs in order to stay healthy. These foods will keep them alert and growing.
Rats will eat just about anything humans eat . . . and more. But they shouldn't have a lot of fat or salt. Just remember, what's bad for you is usually bad for a rat.
Rats to show off
Pet rats come in many different colors--chocolate, black, silver, and even gray-blue. There are hairless rats, tailless rats, and rats with curly hair. Hooded rats have white bodies and dark heads, and Himalayans (HIM-uh-LAY-unz) have dark noses and paws. And there are even rats with one pink eye and one black eye. In fact, there are dozens of different kinds of pet rats.
Some rat owners take their pets to shows. Judges award prizes for animals that are healthy and well behaved. The rats are also judged on their colors and markings--and some kinds are more likely to win if they're long and sleek like a race car. Besides that, the prize-winners usually have large ears and eyes and thick tails.
If you get a pet rat, you also might want to join a club. Find out how on the next page. In a club you'll meet others who know how great it is to have friends who are rats!
Christa's pets need a clean, airy home away from bright sunlight and drafts (above). They like playing with her and whirling on their exercise wheel. But these babies (below) can only eat and sleep.
Jimmy Wolier doesn't have to study alone (below). His rat seems to think a book is lots more interesting than TV. And this whiskery pet (left) likes peeking out at the world from a cozy pocket.
Judges at a rat show (above) check out the animals from every angle before deciding which ones get ribbons. The handsome winner at left has brought a lot of joy to his boy!