I should come with a warning with my newbie rat owner infobombs. LOL Take your time perusing through it. It's nothing that isn't available all over the internet, but hopefully will keep you from having to do the footwork yourself.
Further questions. Whether to get from the breeder or the pet shop
, in the end it's what works best for you. Going with a breeder is what worked best for me, and for someone else, going with a rescue works for them. Hopefully through the links I shared, you can make your decision fully informed.
Getting from a pet store won't guarantee you'll have a worse experience, and getting from a (reputable) breeder won't guarantee a great experience. But the odds are stacked towards the former and latter respectively. So, if you get from the pet store, just take your time with the selection, as it sounds like you are doing. I love the advice of visiting several times and waiting to see which rats bond with your daughter. That really is the best way to do it. You'll get familiar with different personality types as well.
This page gives more tips on how to select a healthy, well adjusted rat
Your sister is right about males and females
. I've had both and loved both dearly. The differences at a glance
Smell like corn chips.
Bigger and more likely to be fat lazy loving squishes who will sit on your shoulder or watch TV in your lap by the hour. If you want a snuggly lap rat, go with a male.
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.
Healthwise, males shouldn't be fed oranges or other citrus because something in the citrus interacts with an enzyme unique to male rats, and this has been found to make the boys prone to cancer. Females can eat citrus just fine.
Smell like grape soda.
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.
If you want silly entertainment and aren't concerned about whether the rat wants snuggle with you, a female is the way to go.
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.
You mentioned getting one rat
. Rats are extremely /extremely/ social. It is a necessity for them to have rat companionship to prevent them from becoming neurotic, depressed, and nippy. While they can be kept alone if they have an owner able to devote 6-7 hours a day interacting with them, that is impracticable for most people.
You will want to keep at least two rats
, but if you can handle a trio, that way if one dies, the survivor won't be left alone and you won't have to struggle right away with introducing strange new rats into the colony. The cost of upkeep and time spent won't be noticeably higher for two or three vs. one. Four was the number I started noticing a price and time spent difference.
Also, unlike some other animals, keeping more than one rat will make zero difference in how well bonded the rats will become to you or your daughter. The time you spend with them will be the only deciding factor. In fact, having other rats may make them feel more confident exploring new situations, and so they'll grow to accept and love on you that much quicker. (Plus, they're so silly interacting with one another. I'd never want to keep just one for that reason alone.
Get two (or three) same sex rats, or you can, get a spayed/neutered male/female mix. I kept a mix colony of rats with neutered males and intact females.
Critter Nation Cage
: You lucky, lucky duck! The rolls royce of prefab cages. I've got a double critter nation too (yours has two main levels and stands about 6 feet tall right?) That is the perfect rat cage and will be so easy to clean!
As for fleece/flannel/felt:
I always get those names interchanged in my sad little head. Yes, fleece is what you want. That's what I meant.
Really judicious owners change out their fleece daily or every other day. I do mine once a week.
Just to give you an idea of what I do with my cage, here's a couple of pics for you (feel free to ask questions):
Oxbow is generally fine. Lots of rat owners use Oxbow. My breeder suggests oxbow only for adult rats of 1 year old or older, though many folks use them for younger rats too.
Harlan Tekklad is the best diet on the market, and can be purchased from manely rat rescue in smaller amounts and formulas specific to the needs of different ages of rat.
Supplement with veggies and some fruits. Here's the link to a suggested diet. If you scroll to the bottom it will give you a suggested daily menu (mine isn't that extensive), as well as foods that are safe, foods that should be fed only sparingly, and foods that are dangerous: http://www.pxrats.com/ratfood.html
Lastly, litter pan training
: I've had mixed results with it. If the rats are exposed to it as kits with their mother, they tend to take to it right away. But I also had a pair of cheeky hairless rats who seemed to glorify in marinating in their own man-stench. I grew to love them anyway.
Tips. First, offer different 'surfaces'. Use pans with the yesterday's news in them for the litter boxes, and fleece for every other surface. They will soon equate surfaces that feel like yesterday's news as preferred potty places.
Second, rats tend to go in corners and at the bottom of ramps. Place two or three litter boxes in these places. If they choose another spot primarily, then shift the box there.
If they poo where they aren't supposed to, put the little poo raisins into the litter box to reenforce with scent the correct place.
Understand that they will never be flawless with their litter training, but every little (litter?) bit helps.
Oh and lastly, while you can train a rat to poo in specific places, you will never train them not to pee everywhere.
This is because rats use their urine to recognize what belongs to them. If a rat who is comfortable with you walks across you hand and dribbles a few drops of urine there, it's his way of saying "You are special and you belong to me". Gross, yes, but you get used to it. Also, of every rodent I've dealt with, rat urine really is the least noxious/most inoffensive.