Rat FAQ

About Rats

How can I get my Roof Rat to bond with me?

Roof rats are prey animals.  In the wild, almost everything else bigger than them wants to eat them.  For a Roof Rat, the world is a dangerous place. That means that they are instinctually wary of new people and situations.  In the wild, this defensive behaviour helps keep them safe.  But, as a new pet, that is something you will need to overcome to get them to trust you, bond with you and love you.  That’s why we invented the Snuggle Hammock, which helps your rats feel safe while you socialize and bond with them. Rats have another powerful instinct: they love to eat!  And you control the food.  Feeding them helps them to realize that you mean them no harm; in fact, you are the source of their happiness. Before we were sure that our rats were genetically tame, we socialized our baby Roof Rats when they were just starting to eat solid food, but still eager to drink milk and willing to be hand fed by us.  We were effectively mothering them, so they bonded with us very easily.   Now our roof rats are genetically tame, so we no longer need to hand feed them.  Which is great, because that was really a lot of work! When you get yours home, you should also use food to bond with them.  Get some unsalted nuts: almonds are a very good choice, as are cashew nuts.  Then, once or twice a day, offer each rat a nut and let them take it from you.  Every so often, try coaxing them out of the cage with the nut.  At some point, hopefully they will start to accept the nut from you while they are on your arm or shoulder.  Once they trust you enough to eat while sitting on your shoulder, then you know that this rat is your buddy! If you don’t have any nuts, don’t worry: rats will eat almost anything tasty!

I heard that rats do better in pairs: is it OK to adopt just one?

Yes, rats can potentially get lonely and unhappy if they are alone in their cage for extended periods of time.  And they might develop behavioural problems, or become less friendly as a consequence.

However, some rats actually prefer having a cage to themselves.  And, if you are willing to spend a lot of time with your rat, then you can keep it from feeling lonely and isolated.  The problem is, most people work or have other responsibilities competing for their time and attention, so the rat may not get enough from you.  If he or she has a cagemate, that won’t be as much of a problem, which is why we generally recommend you get more than one.

Of course, it is possible to start with one and add more later, but keep in mind that an older, established rat may reject newcomers–sometimes violently.  So, if you think you might eventually want more than one, best to adopt them together from the same liter.

Can Roof Rats share a cage with Dumbo Rats?

Maybe, but we don’t recommend it because Dumbo Rats (like all Norway Rats) are bigger, stronger and more aggressive than Roof Rats.  In a fight, a roof rat wouldn’t be able to defend him or herself, and it’s scary to think about what might happen.  Also, there have been some reports of Roof Rats developing sudden illness when exposed to Norway Rats, so it is possible that some Norway Rats carry diseases to which Roof Rats are susceptible.  If your Roof Rat does start to develop any symptoms of illness after coming into contact with a Norway Rat, please contact us immediately and we will try to help get him through it!

If you do want to try, make sure to introduce them when they are all very young.  And you might have better luck with male Roof Rat and Female Dumbo rat or visa versa. Don’t worry: they are different species and cannot make babies together!

Can rats be friends with cats or dogs?

Yes, people have reported to us that their cat or dog and rats accepted each other and even become good friends!

It usually works best when they are younger so they can grow up together.  And it is very important to supervise your pets carefully whenever they are together until you are sure that they are friends.  Obviously, a cat or dog can injure or kill a rat, but it is also possible for a rat to inflict a very nasty bite if provoked.

Even if your pets seem to like each other, it is always possible for them to have a bad day and fight, so be careful (that is true with any animals that share the same space, regardless of species)

Roof Rat friend with Cat
Tommy the Roof Rat friends with Explorer a 14 year old cat

 

Why do rats make urine (pee) everywhere?

Just like dogs, often rats urine mark.

They don’t do this because they urgently have to pee, and just cannot hold it in!

Rather, like with dogs, it seems to be a form of social communication and marking of territory.  They seem to be saying “I was here. This is part of my territory.  This belongs to me.”  That thing might be their cage, hammock, toy, or another rat (where it might also be a show of dominance as well as friendship.)

They will even do it to you: I know that sounds kind of gross, but try to take it as a sign of affection!

When you put a rat in a new cage, especially a male, don’t be surprised if the rat immediately starts peeing over every accessible surface.

Male rats do it more than female rats, but both sexes will urine mark.  Roof Rats mark, too, but not as much (they are smaller, which also helps with that!)

Some say that neutering might reduce marking, but I, personally, cannot vouch for that.

Can rats laugh? What does rat laughter sound like?

We breed two kinds of Rats: Roof Rats and Norway Rats.  Roof Rats are highly vocal and make sounds to express emotions like fear, anger, contentment and joy or amusement.  When they are contented, curious or mentally engaged, they make a chittering noise.  They mostly seem to do it around people, not other rats. Roof rats make various chirping noises at other rats for social, ratty reasons.  Sometimes, if two Roof rats are annoyed with each other, they will tell each other off with an “eee eee eee” noise.  If one is really fearful or angry, it will hiss like an angry cat to warn the other to “back off.”

And, yes, when Roof Rats are especially happy and playful, they make a kind of giggling noise that I am certain is their equivalent of laughter!  While recording Qiong playing with Kitty, I just happened to catch him clearing doing it at 5:08 in the video.  I’ve linked directly to the spot below: turn your sound up so you can hear it better!

I know what you are thinking: “But what about Dumbo Rats?  Do they laugh, too?”  Yes, they can.  Researchers found that Norway rats also laugh, but it’s unfortunately at a higher frequency than most people can hear.  Here’s a video where they’ve recorded Norway rat laughter in ultrasonic frequencies:

Do rats like to be stroked or petted? Can I pet my rat?

Yes!  Rats are very social animals, and show friendship and love by reciprocal grooming and cuddling together for companionship.

So, your pet rats will definitely welcome and enjoy anything that feels like grooming if they are calm enough to hold still receive it.  This is a great way to bond with your pet rat.  Don’t be surprised if your rat tries to groom you, too!

Most rats enjoy face rubs.  This guy loves it so much, he makes a cute “licky face!”

Here’s more examples of rat face and belly rubbing:

And here we demonstrate how to stroke the top of the head, back and ears, just like you would a puppy:

And, finally, here are some examples of rats socially grooming me!  A rat grooming my face and hair:

Some baby rats grooming the hairs off my arm and hand (pretty pushy little rascals!)

And, last but not least, this little fellow decided to poke his head in my mouth and groom my teeth!

I found an orphaned baby rat. Can I keep it as a pet or should I release it?

Yes, you can generally keep it as a pet as long as it is tame, and it was still very young when you found it.

If it’s eyes were still closed and it had little fur when you found it, it is very likely that it will view you as a friend when it grows up, and unlikely it will have any parasites (internal or external.)  As with any animal in the wild, once it has fur there is the chance it could have external parasites, and once it is no longer protected by antibodies from it’s mother and her milk, and starts eating solid food, it can be exposed to internal parasites, viruses and etc.  As a general rule of thumb, the dividing line is around the time it’s eyes open.

If it’s eyes were already open when you found it, it is not totally hopeless, but you should probably have it checked by a vet.  At that age, it should be able to easily escape (and it will normally want to) unless it has some injury or illness.  After you treat the underlying issues, then you can evaluate what to do based on it’s behaviour.

Once it’s eyes are open, and both you and the rat will need to decide its future.  Mostly the rat will decide:  If it seems to want to run away, then find someplace to release it safely.  You will both be happier.

But, if it seems to like being with you, doesn’t seem fearful, accepts handling and isn’t trying to escape, then you should consider keeping it as a pet.  It will probably live a longer, happier life with you than in the wild and, besides, it has developed feelings for you at this point.  Rats are intelligent and social animals.  Although they are small and their lives are sadly all too short, they are capable of love and friendship just like us, and if your rat has developed an emotional bond with you, turning it out into the wild to fend for itself would seem, well, inhuman.  So, if your rat loves you (and you’ll know if it does), my heartfelt advice is to love and care for it for the rest of it life if at all possible.

If you need a friend for it, and you are driving distance of Orlando, let me know!

How can you domesticate wild rats? Won’t that take 100’s of years?

How do we know which baby Roof Rat to breed? The rats tell us!  In this video, we show 3 babies from the same litter (2 of 6 and Popeye.)  Look how obviously different their personalities are!
The three were raised by their mom, and hadn’t spent any time with me before I made the video.  Two of them (a boy and girl) are outgoing, brave and friendly. When I hold out my hand to them, they come eagerly and run up my arm (one of them even nibbled my ear!)
One of them is shy and nervous. We squeezes himself into a hiding place, and will not come out when coaxed by me. We have been working with this rat to socialize him and bring him out of his shell, and he’s much friendlier now. Rats are smart, so they can learn to overcome their innate personality traits like excessive shyness. But we won’t breed him, because he would pass this behaviour onto his offspring.
Tameness in rats is multifactorial. In this rat’s case, I assume that his stress response is stronger compared to his siblings. Interestingly, this is possibly controlled just by one gene in their case. The two siblings with the “low stress” version of the gene are friendly, while the “high stress” baby is too fearful to come out of hiding.
In the wild, a higher stress response might help him survive, unless he was so fearful that it kept him from finding food or breeding when people are around. If he had 2 copies of the stress gene, perhaps it would be very hard for him to live in or near human homes, but he might be fine in the wild.
Because the original Roof rats that we used for breeding were found near humans, they had a mix of tame and non-tame genes, so they could breed near humans but still avoid being eaten. By Domesticating them, we are selecting the ones whose genes are of the tame type: they wouldn’t survive in the wild, but they make great pets!
This won’t take hundreds of years.  It won’t even take hundreds of generations.  The amazing thing is, Our rats already have tameness in their genes!  Nature already did the hard work for us.  We are just bringing it out of them, in the course of a few short generations.  And the rats show us by their behaviour which ones we should breed to achieve that.  So, if someone tells you domesticating wild animals is impossible, don’t believe them: now you’ve seen it with your own eyes!

What can I do if my rat bites me too hard while playing?

Rats don’t intentionally bite hard enough to hurt you while playing with you.  But, sometimes, they get too excited and they don’t realize their own strength (and how sharp their little teeth are!)

When that happens, you should immediately stop playing, pull your finger away (assuming that’s what your rat was biting), and say “Ouch” and/or Squeak loudly like a rat would.  The rat will (usually) realize it has hurt you, and be more careful in the future.  Some rats might take several attempts before they remember this lesson, but they all seem to get it, eventually!

Can Roof Rats and Dumbo Rats play together?

People often ask us if Roof Rats and Norway Rats can play together. Apparently, these guys can! BaoBao and Chill are Male Roof Rats, and Rollie and Brownie are Female Dumbo Rats. They got along just fine: there was some rear sniffing and urine marking, like you’d expect in any rattie playdate. A bit of playful chasing, but not much else. The male Roof Rats were similar in size to the female Dumbos, and they had similar activity levels, too. They actually seemed like good playmates for each other.

I introduced Cinnamon and Bear’s Dumbo rat babies to Bandito, an adult male Roof Rat.  The babies (mostly) seem just fine with Bandito and he has no problem at all with them.  He’s mostly just interested in eating a nut.  Roof rats are not aggressive towards babies: I’ve never seen an adult attack a baby of either species.

How do I catch an escaped rat?

If the rat trusts you, often the rat will let you pick it up when you calmly and gently hold out your hand to it.  The rat in the video is a Roof Rat, but this will also work for Norway rats.

Rats can be quick and hard to hold onto if they don’t want you to.  So, your first goal should be to get your new rat to trust you.  That way, it is less likely that it will jump down and, if it does, it will allow you to pick it up again.

If your rat doesn’t trust you yet, it may evade your attempts at picking it up, and possibly hide someplace.  As you can imagine, rats are very good at hiding, and the more places where it can hide, the harder it will be to recapture.  So, word to the wise, while your rat is first getting to know you, try to play with it someplace with limited places to hide.  For example, we made a simple play area for socializing out baby rats from leftover cardboard boxes.  Again, the rats in the video are Roof Rats, but the same principle applies for Norway rats.

If the rat has already escaped someplace in your house, you will want to quickly try to narrow down where the rat is to the best of your ability.  Then, close doors and block as many escape routes as possible to keep the rat confined to the smallest possible area.

Next, give the rat a chance to calm down and it might either let you pick it up or return to it’s cage on its own.  You’d be surprised how often this works if you are patient and friendly to the rat.

However, if the rat is too frightened or traumatized, that might not be an option, so in the meantime go order a no kill trap from Amazon or pick one up from Lowes or Home Depot.  If your rat is a baby, you need a mouse sized one.

You will need a bigger one for adult rats

You just need to bait the trap with something tasty (cooked rice seems to work), put it where you think the rat probably is and leave it be overnight.  If you have a camera that can see in the dark (like a Nest), you can watch the area around the trap to see if the rat is coming out, and if it gets trapped.

Now, you will need to carefully socialize it and gain its trust so this doesn’t happen again.  Until it finally trusts you, your little Houdini will be a flight risk, so handle him/her accordingly!

Can rats learn to do tricks?

Absolutely!  Rats are super smart, social animals.  Especially Roof Rats, which will learn to do tricks almost without any effort.

This family adopted a baby Roof Rat from us, and within days had taught it to do a trick.  Watch what happens when the rat hears the command word: isn’t that just adorable?

What coat, colors and markings do rats have?

Roof Rats come in Agouti and Black colors.

Norway Rats have Rex and Smooth coated rats.  There are also hairless Norway Rats.

The markings range from capped barebacked, hooded, and berkshire.  Some of rats also have variegated and/or blazed markings with attractive white spotting or even full split capped.  These markings are not associated with High White genetics in well bred lines.

Norway Rat colors include albino, black, agouti, mink, pearl, amber and blue.

How much do you charge for babies or adults?

Norway Rat Babies are $35 each.

Roof Rat Babies are $20.  You can get 2 for the price of one.  Adult Roof Rats are a free gift from us.  You must convince us that you know what a Roof Rat is, why you want them, and that you are capable of caring for them.

Adults Norway Rats are $20 for former breeder males or females, or $10-$15 for rescue rats.

There is no charge or deposit to get on our waiting list for rats.  You cannot pay for them in advance of picking them up.

What kind of food do you recommend?

We used to feed our rats Envigo Teklad Global Lab Blocks  In Florida that is hard to buy, so we switched to Mazuri Rat Breeder pellets.

If you can get Teklad, then for young, growing rats (up to 1 year) you should feed them the 2018 diet with 18% protein.  Mazuri Rat Breeder is also 18% protein.

If your older male rat is gaining weight, you should consider switching him to a lower protein diet, such as 2014 diet with 14% protein.  This will help him maintain a healthy weight.

You can purchase these products online (Amazon, etc.), from a local Animal Feed Store such as Kissimmee Valley Feed Store, or from us.  There are other good brands, such as Oxbow, but make sure whichever you chose is specific for rats and has the appropriate protein percentage for your rat’s age.

Lab blocks should make up the majority (90%) of your rat’s diet, as they as specially formulated to be healthy, nutritious and rats like the taste.

But, they will get very boring, so it’s OK to give your rats the occasional treat.  Mostly, anything that you would feed a child is also OK, keeping in mind that too much fat, sugar, salt, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors and etc., are just as bad for rats as they are for you!

Things that rats especially love are: unsalted nuts (in moderation as they are fattening), frozen sweet peas (either frozen like ice cream, or defrosted, like pudding!), Cheerios, lightly salted microwavable pork rinds (i.e. Carolina Gold), whole wheat bread, some fruits (apple, pear, grape, melon), yogurt.  Roof Rats just LOVE almonds: check out the video below…

There are a few things that you should avoid feeding a rat: citrus fruits, gas producing foods or drinks (soda, cabbage, beans, etc.), certain raw foods (potatoes), candy, chocolate, spinach, artificial sweeteners.

If you have any questions or are unsure, please feel free to ask us!

What kind of litter do you recommend we use?

We recommend that you use a litter which is made from recycled paper, such as Carefresh White Small Pet Bedding, or So Phresh.  Avoid wood shavings, as they do not absorb odor and urine as well, and some (pine) might be harmful.  Avoid any liter with baking soda or other additives, as your rat may ingest it.

What is a Roof Rat? How are they different from Dumbo rats?

A Roof Rat, official name Rattus Rattus, is the native rat species in warmer, coastal parts of the USA.  Norway Rats (Rattus Norvegicus, also called Sewer Rats or Fancy Rats) are the native rat species in the other parts of the USA.  If you see a wild rat here in Florida, or discover an abandoned litter, chances are they are Roof rats.  Dumbo Rats are Norway Rats with funny ears.

Roof rats share a common ancestor with Norway rats, and there are many similarities in their behaviour and appearance.  However, Roof rats have some distinguishing characteristics:

  1. They are smaller than Norway rats, more petite, longer tail, larger eyes and ears, and a more pointed nose.  They have subtle markings and different shades, but right now they are all basically agouti. update: we now have black and pale gray Roof Rats!  They are also all top eared.
  2. Roof Rats are more playful, gentler and less aggressive than Norway rats, so they are a better choice for people who are fearful of rats.  We prefer to breed and own Roof Rats.  We’ve found that once people own a pet Roof Rat, most prefer them over Norway Rats.
  3. To promote Roof Rats as pets, adoptions and no obligation are 100% free of charge.
  4. Young Roof Rats are more active and athletic for their size.  They are better at climbing and jumping, and than Norway Rats of the same age.
  5. Adult Roof Rats mellow out and get lazy.  The activity level of both male and female Roof Rats is similar to that of an adult female Norway Rat.
  6. They are generally healthier and longer lived than Norway rats.  They are less prone to tumors and obesity.  Unlike male Norway Rats, male Roof Rats do not become excessively fat and lazy with age.
  7. They are probably more intelligent than Norway rats.  They can be taught tricks, like coming when called, if you can properly motivate them.  Nuts seem to work as will social interaction once your rat has bonded with you. We easily taught Roofy tricks that felt like fun and games for her.
  8. Roof Rats are so smart that they can learn to do tricks all on their own!  They love playing in water, and some learn how to push the little ball up in their water bottle so they can enjoy a shower!  They let the water run down their bodies, and scrub themselves clean like a tiny person!
  9. Wild Roof Rats are shy and skittish but not aggressive like Wild Norway rats.  Our domesticated, pet quality Roof Rats enjoy human contact, and are very gentle and friendly.
  10. All of our Roof Rats are descended from Roofy our amazingly tame Roof Rat.  She had a tameness mutation which was passed on to many of her offspring, which we selected and bred.  These rats also have noticeable white markings on their face and even white tipped tails!
  11. Roof Rats were challenging to breed in captivity, until we learned their specific behaviours.  For example, they exhibit some interesting tail wiggling mating behaviour which appears to be different than Norway rats.
  12. Although they are different species, Roof Rats and Norway Rats can play together.  Their behaviors are similar, but notice that the Roof Rats spend more time climbing on and interacting with Qiong in the video?  This is because Roof Rats are more playful and vertically orientated than Norway Rats.  And they tend to be more attached to their owners.
  13. We feed our Roof rats basically the same food as Norway rats.  They are skinnier and more active, so we continue to give them Teklad 2018 as adults.  We also supplement their diet with nuts, seeds and bits of fruit.
  14. Roof Rats look similar to Norway Rats, but they are not the same species.  Their energy level can be higher when they are young and they can be more timid until they know you.  You are welcome to visit and play with our baby and adult Roof Rats, and we will answer questions about their personalities and care.

You are invited to take our online training course: Rat Care and Ownership. This course contains accumulated knowledge and advice drawn from our many years of experience and research about Roof Rats. There is simply nothing else like it available on the Internet! It’s free for a limited time only.

Our complete collection of Roof Rat Youtube videos.  Watch us feeding them by hand, playing with them, showing them mating, exercising and other behaviours.

Can rats be litter trained like cats?

Surprisingly, yet, many rats can use a litter box as their toilet.

Of course, rats don’t have the same instinctive urge to bury their waste like cats.

But rats will often choose a specific area in their cage to poo and, sometimes, pee.  And, if you put a “litter box” at that spot, the rat will then use the litter box.  After a while, the rat may become conditioned to use the litter box wherever it happens to be.

Some of our rats are even more clever, in that they have figured out all on their own that they need to poo inside of a litter box filled with cat litter.  My wife suggested that they would, and insisted that we keep a litter box on the sofa when we play with them.  I admit I was skeptical at first, but here is a video which proves she was right: Butter making poo in a litter box all on her own

I want to point out that I didn’t try to “train” Butter in any way: I just provided the option, and she did it on her own.  Several of my other rats will use the litter box and, when the other rats see them do it (or smell the results), they will, too.  So, the litter box method works for us, and it might work for you, too.

Give it a try and let me know what happens!

Do rats bite?

Norway (Dumbo) rats rarely bite, and our Roof Rats never bite (even nursing females.)  If biting is a concern for you, we recommend Roof rats over Norway rats.  The differences between Norway rats (rattus norvegicus) and Roof rats (Rattus rattus.)

If a female rat is nursing young, and you try to disturb them, even the tamest new mommy might become aggressive and snap at you.  I breed rats, so I certainly have been bitten by some moms with babies.  Sometimes it took some gentle prying to get the rat to release it’s grip.

But you cannot fault them for just trying their best to be good momies.  It’s touching, really. to see how hard rat moms work to feed and care for their young, bless their little hearts!

Aside from that, I’ve never been intentionally bitten by one of my rats.  I’ve met some rats owned by others that I wouldn’t trust with my fingertips, but they were abused and neglected.  And even abused and neglected rats can be surprisingly friendly, because most rats crave friendship and companionship.

Rats have teeth, and any animal with teeth is capable of biting.  But most rats would prefer to make friends than enemies.  So, unless you go out of your way to torment and abuse your pet, and corner them so they cannot escape or avoid you, you will most likely not be intentionally bitten.

Is it possible to add new rats to a cage with existing rats?

Yes, especially if the rats are both still younger than 4 months or so.

When rats are full grown, they may feel they need to defend their territory from newcomers.  This is true for both male and female rats.  In the case of male rats, if you can get the alpha rat to accept the newcomer, the others will follow his lead.  Females have less of a strict hierarchy, which means that each rat will make her own independent judgement: some females can be very nasty with younger rats for some reason, so some suggest to wait until young females are 8 weeks old before introducing them into a colony.

The easiest way to introduce new rats is to let them play together, supervised, in a neutral place.  You can also try putting some vanilla extract on the new rat’s belly, chest and rump, so they don’t smell more like a milkshake than a strange rat.  Keep a water sprayer handy to break up fights.  If it doesn’t work out at first, try again later.  Don’t force things, and be prepared for the possibility that you may need to keep some rats separate from others.

Good luck!