I had this posted on my facebook page as a newbie's guide for newbies. Since we've got a lot of folks bringing home babies, or looking to bring home babies, I thought I'd post it here.
Misleading Labels in Pet Stores
1: Size Isn't Everything:
Misleading label number one. If you go to a pet store searching for a pet rat, you may notice that many stores have rats separated and are selling them as Small, Medium, Large, or Jumbo. These descriptions should not be compared to, say, getting a standard poodle, miniature poodle, toy, or teacup poodle. The size differences in rats are related to the age of the rat for sale. The small rats are juveniles, or even babies. The medium and large rats are slightly older males or adult females, and the jumbo rats are adult males.
No matter what rat you choose, you should expect that its adult size will be an average of 1lb.-That’s between half a pound for small females to a pound and a half for a large adult male- with a body length between 9-11 inches, and tails adding an additional 7-9 inches.
2: Fancy or Not:
This is another misleading label. Often pet stores will charge different prices for their rats. “Fancy” rats will go for 2-10 dollars more than a common or standard rat. How does this work? Usually, a pet store will receive a shipment of rats, often from the exact same litter. They will separate the siblings with the more interesting coat patterns into one bin, and the more ordinary and common coat patterns in another bin. They will then mark up the prettier coats with a higher price and sell them as rare or superior. Or, they’ll drop the price of the ‘ordinary’ looking rats even lower and sell them as feeder rats to reptile owners. For perspective pet rat owners, it is good to know that other than one sibling lucking out with an interesting spot on his head and the other sibling not, they are the same. There will be no difference in their health or temperament genetically. In fact, the plain looking sibling may happen to have a sweeter and more people loving personality than their more colorful brother or sister.
The truth is all of them are “Fancy” rats. In regards to rats, the word “fancy” refers to the pet rat owner, not the rat itself. IE: All domesticated rats are appropriate as pets for rat fanciers, ergo, domesticated rats are fancy rats, or ‘rats for the fancy’. So no, getting a ‘fancy’ rat doesn’t mean you are getting a rat that is superior to another rat. It means you are getting a domesticated rat as opposed to one of their wild cousins.
In short, when looking for a pet rat, don’t assume that paying more will give you a better pet experience.
What SHOULD You Look For?
Look for rats with the following:
bright clear eyes
good thick fur (except with hairless)
Avoid rats with the following:
Puffed up fur (possible general illness and stress)
Swelling around the face or neck (possible tumors)
Drainage around eyes or nose (possible general illness or stress)
Sores (possible injury, infection, abscesses, or parasites)
Noisy breathing (serious respiratory illness or heart issues)
Sneezing (possible respiratory illness)
Foul smell from ears or mouth (infection)
Scabs on the body or excessive scratching (parasites)
Look for rats with the following:
Bright and clear eyes
Smooth, glossy, and thick fur (unless they are a hairless or double rex variety)
Spend some time looking around at rats. Once you find a rat/rats who looks healthy, spend some time interacting with them.
Rat that squeaks whenever touched
Any sign of aggression
If you do choose a rat that is skittish or aggressive, you will need to spend extra time with taming and socialization, but a rat already tame will be much easier to work with. If you are patient, you will soon luck upon a rat that chooses you. You will know him/her when you see them.
1: Male or Female?
Overall, are more likely to be big fat lazy loving squishes who will sit on your shoulder or watch TV in your lap by the hour. They will produce an orangish, musky corn-chippy smelling stain on their fur called 'buck grease', which can be greatly decreased by feeding a drop of olive oil on a small bit of bread once a week. They will scent mark with urine a little more than a female. Shouldn't be fed oranges or other citrus because it interacts with an enzyme unique to male rats make the boys prone to cancer.
Overall, more silly, active, and curious. Tend not to like sitting still for snuggling, but are a little more receptive to trick training than lazy boys. They come into heat every 4-5 days and are a little more prone to chewing on things than a lazy male. When they are in heat I have been told incidental stories of their Houdini like escape abilities if there are males in the vicinity to be found nearby.
Both males and females are equally social and get along fine with one another, but after four months of age it is much harder to introduce male rats to new male rats as they will become very territorial against new boys. Males already introduced to one another will not be a problem. Introductions with new rats should always be done slowly, and with supervision with both males and females.
2: One Rat or More?
Rats thrive with other rat companions. While it is possible to keep a happy single rat, to do so, you will need to spend 4 - 5 hours a day with your rat. Most people can't expect to meet this commitment. It's much easier have more than one rat. Generally speaking, keeping two or even three rats is no more work, and only marginally more cost than keeping one. Most reputable rat breeders will only adopt their babies in pairs or threesomes unless a perspective buyer can provide proof that they have rat companions waiting at home.
VERY IMPORTANT: It goes without saying that when purchasing more than one rat, ONLY purchase same sex pairs or groups. Females come into heat every 4-5 days, and mating can occur in 2 seconds. Just one mistake will result in up to 15 baby rats in 21 days from mating. Juvenile rats can be difficult to sex. One way to differentiate juveniles is that only female rats have nipples. And, after five weeks, male rats will begin to develop very obvious testicles.
Another option is to have your rat neutered or spayed. Yes, many exotics vets offer this service. Prices vary widely though from $30 to 200 dollars a rat. Females are infertile immediately after surgery. Males are infertile about 4 weeks after surgery. Spaying and Neutering also have the added side benefits of reducing the chance for mammary tumors in females, and if a male happens to have testosterone related aggression, the procedure will commonly put an end to it.
Least Most Importantly:
Rats come in a variety of colors,markings, coat patterns, and body types, which include but aren't limited to:
Black, Silver, Agouti, Cinnamon, Fawn, Blue, White, Chocolate, Pearl, Amber
Self, Hooded, Capped, Bareback, Berkshire, Down Under, Irish, Blaze
3: Coat Patterns:
Rex, Hairless, Satin
4: Body Type:
Dumbo, Odd Eye, or Tailless.
A more detailed description of these types and others can be found for your perusal at: http://www.afrma.org/fancyrm.htm