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A rat is not just for Christmas

Published on 2nd May 1998

When people think of rats it generally conjures up one of two images: that of horrid furry black creatures with red eyes and large fangs running around a sewer, or that of your local MP.

Whichever it does to you, rest assured that not all rats are nasty ones waiting to pounce on you. In fact, rats can make very nice pets. When you look at one up close, you will see that they are actually quite cute, despite the red eyes and big teeth!

Rats come in all colours and sizes. They can be white, black or a mixture of both, and, just like all things created by nature, some are bigger than others.

If you want to keep rats, however, you've got to remember that they take a lot of time and effort to look after. For a start, they need plenty of space to run around in and things to play with, such as a hamster-wheel or little hollow boxes to scuttle in and out of. They also like little nooks and crannies to hide in.

They enjoy climbing as well, so make sure that the cage has wire in at least some places for them to climb on. If the roof to your cage is made of wire, you will often see them dangling upside-down.        

Rats are very active, especially at night (which means that if you're a light sleeper, rats might not be your cup of tea!) so tight, small cages are no use, and the cage has got to be escape proof. If it isn't, expect to wake up with an empty cage and a screaming mum standing on her kitchen table, broom in hand. This may sound far-fetched, but a rat of my brother's escaped last week and caused quite a stir.

Rats eat just about anything - fruit, vegetables, nuts, biscuits and so on. They like variety, so don't give them the same thing all the time. You can also use guinea pig or rabbit food to make sure they get all the right vitamins and minerals needed in their diet. And give them the occasional treat, such as a few strawberries - but no cream!

Rats are very thirsty creatures, especially after exercise, so make sure they have plenty of water at hand. The best way to provide water is through a drinking bottle strapped to the cage.

To keep your rats fit and healthy, always make sure that they have space to run in and toys to play with, and that the place where you keep them is warm with a sufficient air supply. It's usually best to keep them up high on a shelf or a table so that you can have easy access.

If you want to have rats, always have a minimum of two. This is because rats are sociable, family animals and will get lonely if on their own. They like to have other rats around them to play with and communicate with.

If you want rats, you can get them easily. Just make sure you have the time, equipment and money to look after them properly. For further information, you can go to the animal shelter or pet store.