Someone recently told me he was considering getting pet rats to serve as his emotional support animals and asked for my honest opinion. Well, the short answer was “Yes, rats are ideal emotional support animals.” My longer answer, which I sent to him, initiated some serious soul searching on my behalf, and led me to this somewhat surprising conclusion:
Rats are my Emotional Support Animals
When I’m feeling down, I sit on the sofa with a few of my little buddies, and just let them snuggle with me, nibble on treats or play with each other. They are comfortable and safe and they don’t have a care in the world. It takes so little to make them happy, and they are quick to forget any problems or worries. Isn’t that a great way to see the world?
If a loud noise or sudden movement scares them, they scurry to safety: and I’m their safe place. It’s touching, really, that my little friends count on me as their protector and benefactor. I guess, that makes me their Emotional Support Human, too. That’s only fair.
It’s not just their presence, their fun-loving antics, their soft, warm fur or even the fact that they will groom and lick their friends to promote social bonding. Rats are much more than just cute fluffy animals acting on instinct: they are social animals. And they really do care about each other’s feelings and well-being. And about yours, too.
How do I know this? Let me give you an example.
Pregnant or nursing rats instinctively and almost irresistibly like pulling nesting materials into their cages. Cloth, paper, twigs, whatever they can find and carry, they will grab it and try to drag it in to add it to their nest. They are driven to protect and shelter their young, and this is part of their programming: in this respect, they are no different than any other animal.
So, if I am next to one of my pregnant or nursing girl’s cage when the door is open, and my shirt is within reach, the mom rat will often try to grab onto my shirt and pull it inside. Rats have pretty sharp teeth, so many a shirt was ruined this way until I learned what to do:
I just need to squeak like a rat would squeak if something has hurt or scared it. When she hears the squeak, she’ll realize she’s “hurting me” and stop what she’s doing. She might try again, but after a few more rounds of squeaks, she’ll find something else to do. Basically, anything you don’t like your rat doing to you, “speak rat” to him or her, and the rat will stop doing it, and learn not to do it in the future.
If you really think about it, this is a very profound thing. Rats actually form a mental image of each other’s feelings and intentions, just like we do. And they act on that. Not just to benefit themselves, but to help and comfort each other. Isn’t it amazing that a furry little rat is capable of that?
I’ll give you another example: pregnant and nursing females will do anything to protect their young. So, if you ever find a nursing wild rat, I’d advise you to stay well away, or you will get bitten. Again, that’s not because they are mean, nasty creatures, but because nature compels them to behave that way. But, once again, a rat’s intelligence and compassion can overcome their programming: two times, when I’ve carelessly picked up Minnie’s cage this week, such that my fingertips were inside the cage between the bars, I’ve almost been bitten. Minnie actually rushed over to my fingertip, even put it in her mouth, but when she realized what the “intruder” was (her dear friend’s finger), she released it immediately. Her instinct told her to bite, but her love and compassion for me made her stop. The last few times that I’ve picked up her cage, she didn’t even react to me: she learned that nothing associated with me was a threat to her or her babies, regardless what her instincts were telling her.
You’ll see people warning online not to approach your rat with fingers smelling like food. I suppose that is good advice, and you should probably follow it. On the other hand, I have full confidence that my rats know the difference between food and my fingertip, no matter what my finger is covered with. What proof? Take a look:
Pregnant CeeCee carefully licking cappuccino foam off my finger.
Minnie, who just gave birth, carefully nibbling egg yolk off my finger
I’m pretty sure my fingers smelled delicious, but you can clearly see that they were making every effort to avoid hurting me. What more proof do you need about their intelligence and sensitivity than that?
Of course, you could say the same thing about dogs or cats, which is why a lot of people choose them as their Emotional Support Animals. But, consider these facts:
- A rat can ride on your shoulder. He can even fit in your pocket or purse. You can take him with you places where most other pets couldn’t go as easily.
- They are not overly demanding of your time and attention (especially if you keep more than one together in a cage so they can keep each other company.) If you come by, they are happy to see you and they openly show it: if they don’t see you for a while, that’s OK, too. They will go about their rattie business on their own.
- They are happy living in their cage. it’s not a prison for them, because living in a nest where they feel safe with their other nest mates is their natural behavior in the wild.
- They are relatively inexpensive to acquire and keep. A good cage plus toys and decorations is $100 or less on Amazon. Excellent rat food can be had for $20 for enough to feed a rat for several months.
- They don’t take up much space, so they are suitable for almost any living arrangement. Even dorm rooms can easily accommodate several rats.
- Rats know you are their friend, so they avoid making a mess on you. Male rats might mark you out of love, however (basically, they are saying “you are mine, you are my safe place.”)
- Rats can climb and jump, but if you put them on a table or sofa that they think is too high for them to safely jump down from, they won’t attempt it. Furthermore, once you’ve established that your sofa is their safe place, they are happy to stay there with you. That makes it easy to keep track of them, and keep them with you when you want them around.
- Because of their size, and less demanding nature, rats are ideal Emotional Support Animals for people with limited mobility or who just don’t feel they can cope with more “challenging” pets. Rats are probably the easiest pet to care for and they are very hardy and healthy, too. They don’t ask for much, and give so much more in return!
In conclusion, if you are in need of an Emotional Support Animal, I urge you to consider getting one or more pet rats I think that rats are terribly underappreciated and misunderstood animals, which is such a pity because they can be the ideal pets for many people. They are affectionate, gentle, easy to care for, and very practical, especially for people with limited mobility or living space. There are probably many people who are lonely, and in need of a friend, who don’t realize that the perfect little companion for them might just be a rat!
Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have about rats or rat ownership. And if you live within driving distance of Irvine, Orange County, CA, you are always welcome to drop by and meet our rats, and maybe adopt some babies.
Who knows: it might change your life!