Aww Rats!
January 22, 2009 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering getting a pair of rats. My AskMe and internet searches didn't have answers to my two questions regarding cats and vacations.

So, I have cats. What do I do about the cats hanging out around the cage? I can, and will, watch during the day (the cage will be about three feet from where I spend most of the day), but what about night time? Should I consider a cover? Will the rats ignore the cats or be too intimidated to move around?

Also, what do you do about going on holidays/vacation? Cats can be left for a few days, can rats? Do I need to get someone to come rat-sit? Or take them to a rat-sitter?

I've never owned rats and my last experience with rodents was hamsters about 20 years ago. However, I've already done quite a bit of online research, but any other information and advice will be greatly appreciated.

This is the cage I have in mind. Per a "rat per sq. footage" calculator, it is large enough to hold 3.25 rats.

Sites I've gotten a lot of info from are the Rat Fan Club, Pet Rat Info, Rat Guide and various other sites.

I don't know yet whether I'll get males (larger, slower, cuddly, large testicles) or females (smaller, faster, more curious/less cuddly, prone to tumours). Or, really, even if I will get rats. Answers to this question will help with the decision. Thanks in advance!
posted by deborah to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Rats can be left alone for several days if given food and water.
posted by demon666 at 9:56 AM on January 22, 2009

Best answer: I had one rat and two cats. Never had problems leaving both sets alone for a few days - after the initial 'holy crap there's a rat in that box, let me at em' reactions everything settled down.
posted by Lizc at 9:58 AM on January 22, 2009

Best answer: You can leave rats for a few days if they have food and water. They would be a bit miserable after that because their cage will get dirty and rats are pretty clean animals.

I have had both rats and cats, but never at the same time. My friend who did said that the cats would often jump up and stare at the rats in their cage, which he felt made the rats nervous and unhappy. Y(C)MMV.
posted by gaspode at 10:00 AM on January 22, 2009

Rats are great pets! Do try to get 'fancy' rats from a pet/show breeder, rather than generic feeder rats from a pet store. There is a world of difference in personality with rats that have been handled since pinkiehood and whose parents were handled, etc. (Not that 'feeder' rats can't be wonderful pets, but it takes a little more understanding and work). Domestic rats in general are very clean healthy animals, and what maladies they are prey to (cancers, mycoplasma, etc) are generally not transmissible to other animals. Enjoy your rats!!
posted by The otter lady at 10:16 AM on January 22, 2009

Best answer: Welcome to the world of (considering) owning rats! IMHO, they're the best small animal you can own. Smart, playful, friendly, and really very clean despite their depictions in movies.

The cage you've picked out looks pretty similar to mine, and my two rats jumped and played and climbed their hearts out just fine. Rats are fine by themselves for a couple days, as long as they have plenty of food, water, and toys. They're quite intelligent so make sure to get toys and puzzles that they can solve.

As for male versus female, I had two females that were great and just as you described them. I didn't go for the males because of the testicles (though I imagine you could have them neutered) and the females were just more playful. However, both of my rats did pass away from complications with tumors. I have three cats, though only two were around at the time of the rats. They got along fine even when the rats were out of their cage, in fact the cats were more frightened of the rats than the other way around. If the cats stuck their paws into the cage, Bram and Shelly would climb away or nip at the cats to get them to leave them alone.

A consideration for you, though. Rats, even when healthy, simply don't live very long. Both of mine passed away at almost three years old, and I've wanted more ever since but already have too many other animals. There are people who claim to have rats that have lived longer than that, but they aren't like dogs.

MeFi mail me if you have any questions, I'd love to answer them.
posted by InsanePenguin at 10:20 AM on January 22, 2009

My friend had rats for many years, and they were all excellent escape artists. Make sure the cage door is ridiculously secure - I imagine that your chances of finding a living rat after an escape go down significantly if you've got kitties.
posted by vytae at 10:56 AM on January 22, 2009

Rats are lovely pets. You've probably read about it in your research, but be certain to keep their cage away from drafts. A sick rat is a sad sight.
posted by thinman at 11:08 AM on January 22, 2009

any other information and advice will be greatly appreciated

I would advise you to consider if / when / how these guys will have any time outside the cage given your cats. They are very curious and intelligent animals and it would be a pity for them to be cagebound all their lives.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:54 AM on January 22, 2009

I had pet mice and a cat at the same time. Mind you the mice are quite a bit smaller, but the cat really seemed to like them, not in a "tasty" sort of way but like a "you're fun" sort of way. When they escaped, the mice would totally defend themselves and since the cat wasn't serious (indoor only, not much of a hunter), would usually leave them alone.

Never could figure out how the mice were getting out until I saw the cat open the cage door one day and let them out. Damn Siamese.
posted by fiercekitten at 2:02 PM on January 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I love rats, but I'm a slightly bigger fan of male rats, in part because they don't go into heat the way that female rats do (during which time, they become even more spastic than usual, which can be nervewracking), in part because the tumors that InsanePenguin mentions are a very real and heartbreaking issue with older female rats, but also, in no small part because when males are fully mature, they have this awesome, slightly sandalwood-y smell. No, seriously. Pets that actively smell good if you change their bedding regularly! It's kind of a novel, novel awesome thing.

And the testicles really are not a big deal. At first, you might be a little weirded out by them (as I was), but after a while, you either stop noticing them, or they become part of the charm. We used to call them the nuclear option :D. And you generally don't expect an animal with such ginormous 'nads to be so overwhelmingly sweet, but they really are.

Rats are perfectly fine for a couple days, even a week, if they have food, water, a couple treats, and the company of their own kind. Yes, they'll get a little bored, and yes, they might be a little stir-crazy when you come back and let them out of the cage, but they'll get over it. There is a reason why they're on every continent that man is on -- the darlings are superbly, amazingly adaptable. If you do plan on leaving them alone for a period of time, though, I'd make sure to put them in a room and firmly close the door behind you before leaving, both as a means of keeping the cats out and as a means to confine the rodents to a single place in case boredom causes them to stage a jailbreak.
posted by joyceanmachine at 3:54 PM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also, anecdotal experience: I have a friend who has three rats and a cat who is Ming the Merciless with voles and gophers. Far from wanting to eat the rats, though, the cat is, in fact, petrified of 'em. Rats are much bigger, I guess? And these show no fear of her whatsoever.

In the beginning, kitty refused to even go down into the basement where they were kept. After a couple months of careful introductions and supervised interaction where the rats wanted to play and kitty wanted nothing to do with them, she has progressed to the stage where she will sit in high places and observe them. If the rats decide they want to include her in their games, though, and actually nudge her to initiate SIT ON YOUR HEAD SIT ON MY HEAD or RATPILE or YOUR BELLY IS A FURRY WARM DELIGHT or any other rattie game, kitty spazzes, freaks, and makes like a streak of lightning for the stairs.

In short, it really depends on your kitties.
posted by joyceanmachine at 4:05 PM on January 22, 2009

Congratulations! Rats are fabulous-- second only to parrots, in my humble opinion. And, as many have noted above, they do just fine left alone for a few days-- having a pair probably helps a lot with that.

Two side notes: first, definitely consider supplementing their water with some Bi-Odor. Rats are delightful, but my girls, at least, were a little smelly at first, and the Bi-Odor made a huge difference in a surprisingly short time. Feeding them decent feed (Regal Rat is decent) instead of Walmart ratblock or dog food will also help with odor.

Second, especially if you're going away for a bit, you might try acquiring some mixed nuts in the shell (hard shells, like walnuts) and hiding them strategically around the cage. Too fatty for a daily treat, but fighting over them, hiding them, and gnawing the shells keeps my rats pleasantly occupied for hours and days at a time.
posted by Bardolph at 4:22 PM on January 22, 2009

I've had three rats and a cat at the same time. The rats lived in an aquarium, with the screen top securely fastened. When the rats came out for exercise and play, the cat would be closed in the bedroom. The cat loved to watch the rats in the cage, but nobody ever got eaten.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:41 PM on January 22, 2009

For vacations we've left our rats with plenty of food and multiple water-bottles for a couple days in a large cage, and they were fine.

Having had both boys and girls, I prefer boys for their more mellow, cuddly nature. Girls are delightful but so mischievious and active that I found it quite a bit of work to supervise them during their out-of-cage time. They loved to explore and it seemed I was forever plucking them from the tops of bookshelves or off the venetian blinds or out of my sock drawer. It helped to limit their play to one area like the bedroom. This might be a good tactic if you have cats, to give the rats their free time in a place not accessible to the cats. Be careful though because rats are little escape artists!

It's good you're getting a pair as they are very social animals. It's such a delight to see them scamper and play together, then cuddle up in a furry rat pile for a nap. Rats are so sweet and wonderful!

The Goosemoose rat forums can also be a good source of rat info.
posted by spiny at 8:04 PM on January 22, 2009

I love our rats. I like to put them in a room with the door shut and let them climb around for a long time.

We found extra cages at the local thrift store and have attached them together vertically so they have more room when they're not playing outside the cage.

They scour our tv room for my kids' nerf darts and stash them in piles underneath the entertainment center. They'll also just hang out with you. Ratties!

Some breeds are more prone to tumors and respiratory illnesses than others.
posted by mecran01 at 8:00 AM on January 23, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, a bunch of great responses. Thanks, folks!

I am going to take the plunge and get a pair of boys. I think as a first time rat owner that their more mellow personalities will be easier all around. I'm not really worried about their testicles; that was just a silly throw-away comment.

I'm still nervous about the cats, but I will be keeping a close eye on the situation.

Regarding vacations - it was a great relief to find you can leave rats alone for a few days. We don't leave the cats alone longer than three nights at a time and it'll be the same for the rats. If we're gone longer than that, my mum makes overnight visits every couple days to take care of them. She doesn't know yet that she's going to have some Grandrats to take care of as well.

I discovered that Petco doesn't operate in Canada, but I found a similar cage (a little bigger) here. I'm not thrilled with the plastic shelves but they are replaceable should my rats turn out to be chewers.

meatbomb - I have a couple rooms in the house that will be good, and cat-free, for out of cage time for the rats.

spiny - many thanks for the Goosemoose forums link.

I want to mark all of the comments with "best answer" but I'll try to keep it down to a few.
posted by deborah at 2:08 PM on January 23, 2009

Response by poster: Follow-up:
I'm adopting three boy rats from Little Mischief Rescue. They'll be about 11 or 12 weeks old when I get them. And after a major screw-up by PetsMart, I ended up with a Martin's 695 rat cage (scroll down). Here's my set-up.

Again, thanks for all help!
posted by deborah at 9:36 AM on March 17, 2009

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