We’re already down to the last quarter of the year and I can’t believe the time has gone by so quickly! I recall high school when a year seemed to take forever, and now, it just flies by. I guess we are having fun – right?!?
For October, I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts on some very common myths that seem to come up regularly while dealing with the general population. I definitely don’t have time to cover all the crazy things that I’ve heard over the years but I will cover some that I hear often and tend to make me cringe.
Rats are rats are rats… – FALSE!
OK. This is probably the misconception that bothers me the most. There are plenty of people who truly believe that all rats are the same and created equally horrifying or deserving depending on what side of the myth you happen to be on. Your mileage may vary but I’ve been rescuing rats long enough to know that they are definitely not created equal by any stretch of the imagination. With a combination of nature and nurture, rats cover a huge spectrum of characters. Domestic rats, regardless of their personality, will not survive if released into the wild. They simply do not have the nature for that! Wild rats, on the other hand, if found very young and raised in a nurturing domestic environment, can be safely raised in captivity. To be honest, I have never done this myself but I am aware of plenty of rat folks who have and, although the wildies are never quite as tame as domestic rats, they typically do ok. Within the domestic rat population, we have pet rats, lab rats, and feeder rats and this is where nurture can make a huge difference in temperament and character. Pet rats that have been properly nurtured will make excellent companions. Lab rats, despite not being nurtured to be companion rats, can definitely be rehabilitated to make excellent companions as well because they are generally handled on a fairly regular basis. It’s obviously not the same as the way people handle their companion pet rats but the handling can make all the difference. This final thought might get me into some trouble but I will actually go out on a limb and admit that I lump feeder rats and hoarder rats into the same group. These are both typically mass-produced, on purpose or on accident, but the bottom line is that they typically don’t get proper handling or nurturing. I’ve rescued plenty of rats from feeder bins and hoarding situations and rats from these situations are not for everyone. With time and patience and proper nurturing, some can become better companions but others are simply too traumatized to really recover. Despite all of this, I feel that rats are a lot like people. They all come with their own personality and character and the most important take away from this myth is that, regardless of how “wild” your domestic rat may seem, it will *never* be wild enough to survive in the wild! Please, do not ever release any domestic rat into the wild to fend for itself.
Rats spread the “Black Death…” – FALSE
Yes! This is another one that I hear all the time and I am sick of it. Rats did not spread the bubonic plague, one of the worst pandemics in human history. It does tend to be more commonly known that fleas are believed to have been the primary transmission vector. It was long thought that these fleas preferred rat hosts, which is part of why people mistakenly blame rats but, in a recent study, it is actually being suggested that the plague was transmitted via fleas and lice that prefer human hosts! Regardless, those of us who know rats know that fleas really don’t tend to bother the rats. I mean, seriously, who typically complains about their pets having fleas?? Whether the fleas that transmitted the plague preferred people, dogs, cats, or rats, the plague was absolutely devastating and spread by fleas.
Rats are dirty and their tails are gross… – MIXED
At the very least, rats are definitely not dirty! They clean themselves regularly, just like cats. If you find a dirty rat, it’s because their living environment is dirty, not because they are dirty. Obviously, as rats age, they need help to keep themselves clean and that’s where people come in and need to lend a helping hand. With regard to their tails, well, I guess that is technically subjective. Did you know that their tails are made up of individual scales that shed one scale at a time in order to keep their tails nice and clean? I, for one, think it’s interesting that the part of the rat that looks most human is the part that people generally think is gross. I think rats’ tails are fascinating! Rats don’t sweat and they don’t pant to cool themselves down, they use their tails. Their tails are also needed for their balance and agility. There is such a thing as manx rats but, I really think that people should understand the function of the tail and see it as almost a third hand. There have been SO many times where a third hand would have come in *very* useful! Why did evolution feel the need to remove our tails?!?
Rats *need* to chew stuff… – FALSE
Yes, it is true that rats’ teeth are constantly growing. According to ratbehavior.org, “the eruption rate (the rate of growth) of the rat’s incisors is very high: the adult rat’s upper incisors grow on average about 2.2 mm per week (0.31-0.32 mm per day), and the lower incisors grow about 2.8 mm per week (0.4 mm per day) (Addison and Appleton 1915).” So, yeah, it’s no surprise that rats like to chew on things but they don’t actually *have* to. Quite often, rats will sit around and grind their own teeth. It IS important to monitor your rats’ teeth because there are situations that will make the teeth grow at different rates and they may need to be artificially trimmed but, in general, rats are able to keep their teeth in check by gnawing and bruxing. For entertainment and environmental enrichment, I would definitely suggest making sure that your rats have things to chew on but it is a misnomer that things to gnaw on are necessary for dental health.
Rats don’t make good pets for kids… – FALSE
On the contrary, rats make excellent pets for children and many other types of people and situations! For a little while, Rattie Ratz expanded to include rescue services for mice and hamsters because they are also not well represented in the animal rescue world. Ultimately, we decided to return to just rescuing rats and part of that decision was because of families with children! Many parents seem to think that mice and hamsters make better pets for children and I have to say that I *strongly* disagree. In my experience, mice are basically mammalian fish, they are great to set up in a tank and look at but they are typically very fast and not particularly cuddly with people. Hamsters are much more likely to bite than a rat because they are strictly nocturnal and don’t want the kids waking them up after school! Rats are *very* smart and typically *very* social. Rats are technically diurnal, meaning they are most active at dusk and dawn but they are also well known for learning and adapting to their human’s schedule. Rats, like dogs, typically want to be out and about with you whenever you are available and they want to interact with their human companion for mutual cuddles. For people who are interested in dog-like qualities but aren’t ready for the 10+ year commitment, a few pet rats are the perfect compromise!
Of course, there is so much more to say about pet rats but I think covering my top 5 myths is a good place to wrap it up. If you’re interested in learning more about domestic pet rats, Rattie Ratz’s Rat Primer is a great place to start. We also have a list of great resources to help get you started on your new adventure with rats.