“I want the pretty one in the picture!” Yes, a picture may say a thousand words but a photo does not say anything about an animal’s personality. When trying to find the right rat for you…or just the right animal in general, you need to invest the time to actually go around and *meet* the potential matches in person. Just like, you wouldn’t buy a house without seeing it or a car without driving it, please do not expect to adopt rats or any other animal without meeting them first! I understand that you might have aversions to say, albinos and their “freaky red eyes” or manx rats with no tails or hairless rats – that’s perfectly understandable but, for most other factors, the best thing to do is to start meeting rats and see which one(s) speak to you.
There are some broad questions to consider when choosing the right rats to bring home. Are you adopting a companion for an existing rat or rats? Are you adopting for a particular person in the family (child, adult only, elderly, etc)? Are you adopting for a particular reason (emotional support, companion, training, etc)? How much time do you have to spend with these new companions? How much space do you have for them? Are you aware of their medical needs and related expenses?
There are also several broad generalizations about rats that can help you hone in on the right choice. The personalities of baby/young/adolescent rats may change as they mature. Female rats tend to be a bit smaller and more active than males. Males tend to be larger and more lazy than females. Females are more prone to mammary tumors. Males are more likely to potentially become dominant and/or aggressive. Rats with special needs might be very satisfying and rewarding to care for but they will also have unique medical needs and expenses.
Every situation is unique and rats make excellent companions for a wide range of families. They don’t need a lot of time, space, or resources. You can easily go away for a long weekend and leave the rats with plenty of food and water and they will be just fine. They live in cages so your home is typically safe from animal related damage. They eat a relatively affordable block diet and they are omnivores and will happily devour scraps from your dinner! There are some things that they shouldn’t eat and a quick Google search will render many lists of details but the basic rule of thumb is “things in moderation” and “if you won’t eat it, don’t feed it to them.”
So…how do you find the right rat for you? You think about your situation and why you want to get rats and you go from there! Rats are VERY social and do best in pairs or small groups. There are exceptions that typically involve rat aggressive males but usually rats can find tolerable buddies. The bigger the cage, the better, but you’ll need the same size cage for 1 rat as you will for 2 so it’s best to get at least 2 and I often suggest getting 3 just in case one passes away earlier, you don’t have to jump into introductions right away. Most people who adopt from us will adopt a pair of rats.
Debating between male or female depends on what general personality you are hoping for. If you want to explore trick training, potty training, or other interactive and playful activities, then you are likely better off with females. If you want a companion to chill and cuddle up on the couch with you while you read your Kindle or watch Netflix, then you probably want a male. Of course, these are broad generalizations and there are always exceptions but by and large, rats tend to fall into the active/inquisitive girls and the larger/laid back boys.
With regard to age, again, there are general pros and cons to each age range. The younger the rat is, the more time you will get to spend with your companion. Rats, in general, only live about 2-3 years. In my opinion, anything over 2 years of age should be seen as “bonus time.” Rats may reach ages of 3 and beyond but, in my experience, that is exceptional. Baby rats are cute and fun but they also go through their potentially troublesome “teen” time and their personalities may change post puberty. This is more often a risk when choosing males but females have also been known to become more dominant/aggressive after the 6-8 month mark.
I, personally, prefer to adopt adult animals. Yes, this gives you moderately less time with your companion but “what you see is what you get” usually holds true when adopting an adult. If you really want a certain temperament or personality, choose an adult who already exhibits those traits you are looking for. I will often also choose to adopt senior rats. Seniors are typically rats that are 2+ years of age and already in their “borrowed time” allowance. I find caring for senior animals exceptionally rewarding but I would not suggest it for the novice rat person because this is the time when their bodies are starting to fail on them and it can get very expensive if you are going to the vet for everything. As you become more knowledgeable, you’ll be able to handle a lot of medical/illness issues on your own but that takes time and experience. Typically, for most cases, I suggest adopting an adult that has the temperament/personality you are looking for or a young rat that can grow with you.