Getting pet rats during a pandemic
April 16, 2020 9:19 AM   Subscribe

I live alone in a studio apartment, and have decided that I really don't want to go through social distancing as the only mammal in my apartment. I have decided I want to get some pet rats. Help me think through what precautions I should take given the current pandemic.

As you can see in my history, I tried to adopt a pair of kittens in February but it did not work out at the time and I had to return them to the shelter (they were adopted by a family with a big house two days later, so I think that worked out better for them too). I still don't feel ready for a cat, even an older one. I've done that thought experiment several times, and it just feels overwhelming.

Rats, however, feel more comfortable for me. I've kept them successfully in the past, they can be reasonably cuddly, I find them cute, and there are built in *boundaries* in the rat/owner relationship which I need right now. You hang out with them and give them attention for a certain amount of time a day (and I will be giving them a lot!), but they cannot be all up in my shit all the time like the kittens were.

So, I'm going to get some rats. I ordered the cage online, and will order the basic supplies for curbside pickup at my local pet store. I will disinfect items as I bring them home/set them up. However, the part that is making me nervous is actually going out and getting the rats. If I want to make sure I get ones that are going to be friendly, that's going to be a kind of hands-on experience. I did try to find a local breeder, but they are all closed currently because of the pandemic. My plan is to go at a time when the store is likely to be less busy, wear a mask, and try to stay six feet away from people when at all possible. I've been considering that I should probably try to handle the new rats as little as possible for the first couple days in case there could be virus on their fur? That'd likely be happening anyway to give them time to settle in, so not hard to do. Can you guys think of any other precautions I should take to do this as safely and responsibly as possible?
posted by bridgebury to Pets & Animals (3 answers total)
Best answer: I'd say try to get on a breeder's waiting list, and wait it out. Rats from stores tend to be a real mixed bag - many are from pet 'mills' where large numbers are bred with little attention to health and genetics. Most have not been handled, so you won't really have a clear idea of their temperament, and you'll have to spend a lot of time getting them used to humans. Age and sex can be wrong; I've heard more than one story of someone bringing home a rat they thought was male that turned out to be a pregnant female.

But if you're prepared to take the chance, at least make sure you can confidently verify the sex of a rat. And check that you have a vet in your area who will work with small animals at this time; rats are prone to respiratory infections.

I don't think you have much to worry about in terms of virus transmission - not handling them for a day or two is fine if you're worried.

Also, it's a good idea to join a rat-related Facebook group (assuming you use FB). I found them to be really helpful in terms of answering these sorts of questions.
posted by pipeski at 9:35 AM on April 16, 2020 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for giving me a nudge to look at breeders again, pipeski. It turns out that one about an hour away that was previously closed for the duration has started doing no-contact pickups which works perfectly for me. I'll be applying to adopt from them today.
posted by bridgebury at 10:01 AM on April 16, 2020 [14 favorites]

I've kept rats in small apartments before. (You mention you have also, so apologies if this is old news.) A couple things to keep in mind:

Some of my rats had very strong opinions about being in a cage and would chew the bars 24/7. It was possibly the most annoying noise I've ever heard and clearly a bad experience for both the rats and myself.

Rat urine is very strong smelling and they greatly enjoy leaving it everywhere they can.

+1 to the above that rats can be viciously prone to things like respiratory issues that can require multiple regular trips to a (usually expensive) 'exotic' animal vet.

And, as always, be emotionally prepared to bond strongly with a sweet intelligent creature that will live at most 2-3 years. (100,000% the dealbreaker for me, I can't fathom going through that again.)

My wife (who also had pet rats in the past) and I discuss it periodically and always come to the conclusion that we're better off visiting dog parks or volunteering to pet-sit for local people. She also decided to get a bunch of plants.

Also, I would cautiously recommend /r/rats on reddit but they post too many adorable pictures and it's torture.
posted by misterdaniel at 10:59 AM on April 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

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