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Official Loofah Tester
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
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.

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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?

1: Health

Look for rats with the following:
bright clear eyes
good thick fur (except with hairless)
clear breathing.

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)
Alert demeanor


2: Temperament

Spend some time looking around at rats. Once you find a rat/rats who looks healthy, spend some time interacting with them.

Avoid:
Skittishness
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.




Other Considerations:

1: Male or Female?

Males:
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.

Females:
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:

1: Color

Black, Silver, Agouti, Cinnamon, Fawn, Blue, White, Chocolate, Pearl, Amber

2: Markings:

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
 

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Official Loofah Tester
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Discussion Starter #2
A further blog on the pros and cons of the available venues for getting rats:

1: Pet Store


This is the most common way new rat owners get their new rats. They’re everywhere, they’re reasonably priced, and they’re convenient.

Pros:

  • Easily available: You can probably find a pet store that carries rats in stock in most any reasonably sized town.
  • Wide variety: Because pet stores get their rats from mass breeders, if you search a little bit, see all kinds of colors, coat patterns, and body types. From the common Pink Eyed White rats (affectionately known as PEWs), to curly haired rex rats, hairless rats, and every color from black, blue, agouti, fawn, and cinnamon, to dumbo eared rats and even tailless rats.
Cons:

  • Health and Temperament Issues: Pet store rats have a higher than usual expectation of avoidable health problems common in poor breeding practices, such as cancerous tumors or serious respiratory illness. While rats are by and large the sweetest and most social pocket pet you can own, they can still fall victim to genetically avoidable temperament issues from careless or unscrupulous breeding practices. Even if they are genetically sound, they will not be socialized, and are often traumatized and miss-handled, so you will also more than likely have to spend considerable time and patience socializing your new baby.

    Most pet stores, especially the big chains, get their rats from rat mills or back yard breeders.

    A: Rat Mills-With very few notable exceptions, rat mills are mostly just like those horrible puppy mills that over breed in unhealthy conditions with the first and often only consideration for breeding two rats will be for the color or type of coat. Animals are not generally bred for temperament or health, and since the babies are bred in bulk to stressed females and shipped in bulk all over the country, they have had very little human socialization and may not have very strong immune systems. Since pet stores don’t observe any kind of real quarantine, stressed babies will have been exposed to any number of respiratory ailments common to rats.

    B: Back Yard Breeders--people who breed animals by accident, or for profit, or 'the miracle of birth', because they love their ratty and want more like him/her, or even those who present themselves as reputable breeders but lack essential knowledge to do so ethically-- usually pay more attention to socialization, and usually don’t breed in unhealthy conditions. However they are often ignorant or careless about breeding rats of good temperament or health.

  • Twelve for the Price of One: If you buy a female, she will often be already pregnant. Though they are still babies, rats are fertile at five weeks and can breed in two seconds. It can also be difficult for an inexperienced person, even a pet store worker, to tell the difference between a male and a female rat when they are younger. On top of this, at some point during shipment and delivery, rats often spend time in mixed company through ignorance or carelessness. Which means, two to three weeks after you get a sweet little female home, she might gift you with a litter of 4-15 new babies….who will themselves be fertile in 5 weeks time….you see where this is going?

2: Rescue/Adoption:


You can often find rats through local rescues. Your local ASPCA or other organization may sometimes have surrendered rats looking for a new home. Additionally, there are Rat Rescue organizations all over the United States. All in all, if you are able to go this route, because of the extreme overpopulation issues with pet and rodents in particular, this is the most humane and noble--some will say the only morally acceptable choice-- of all pet acquisition routes.

You can also find rats online through PetFinder or even something like Craiglist.

Pros:

  • Screening and Fostering: If you get him through a rescue, particularly a Rat Rescue, he will have been screened and fostered to be a good adoption candidate.
  • Mentoring: Rat Rescues also offer continuous support for the entire life of your adopted rat to offer advice and answer any questions you might have.
  • Excellent Return Policy: If you change your mind, Rat Rescues will gladly and preferably take back any rats you have that don’t work out for any reason.
  • Save A Life: Much like adopting an unwanted dog, adopting a rat from a rescue is a great way to save a life and not contribute to the problem of pet overpopulation.

Cons:

  • Limited Availability. Unlike cat and dog rescues, there are not that many Rat Rescues. Many states will have one or two, but not all.
  • Scams: Animals sought through online ad sites should be sought with care and common sense to avoid falling victim to misrepresentation or outright scams.

3: Reputable Hobby Breeder:


Believe it or not, there is a growing group of rat fanciers who are dedicated to breeding rats whose goals are only for the improvement of the quality of rats as pets. They are knowledgeable in genetics, rat husbandry, and care. Reputable breeders will not breed for profit, but for the improvement of their line or development of new lines.

Pros:

  • Health and Temperament: While reputable breeders do breed for looks and color, they also work hard to breed for good health and temperament. Apples for Apples, rats purchased from a breeder will likely be much healthier. Because they will be handled frequently from birth, and breeders only breed the best tempered of their stock, they will often friendlier and calmer from day one than other rats.
  • Mentoring: Reputable breeders care about their babies, and like a rescue, will offer support to you for the entire life of your rat and will help you through any care issues, problems, illness, or injury.
  • No Questions Asked Return Policy: Good breeders will also always offer (and often insist) to take back your rat with no questions asked if for any reason you can no longer care for him.
Cons:

  • Availability: It can sometimes be challenging to find a reputable breeder near you. The Alabama Ghost Boys came from a really awesome breeder at Phoenix Gate Rattery in Atlanta, Georgia. http://www.pxrats.com
  • Long Wait List: Because reputable breeders are not breeding for profit, but mostly for the betterment of the rat lines, litters can be limited, and wait lists long. It can be common to wait six months for your ratty.

4: One More Word on Breeders:


But wait a minute, you might say to me, you're talking about a Reputable Breeder, and you've also mentioned Back Yard Breeders. How can I tell the difference between the two of them and why in the world would it matter to me anyway? Excellent questions, because often to the average new rat owner it's very hard to tell the difference right away. At first glance, they may both love their rats and take good care of them. They may both care about sharing the rat love and socialize them well. Heck, they may both even have been breeding for several years and have great websites claiming to breed for all the right reasons.

I'll answer the second question first. Why should it matter to you? Depending on the breeder involved, it can make a huge difference to you in the long term vet care cost of the animal you bring home. Reputable breeders do years long footwork to obtain and work with lines proven to have stronger immune systems and less susceptibility to cancers. They also study and understand genetics and animal husbandry extensively in order to make sound choices in their care and future pairings. Also, since reputable breeders take the same care in regards to temperament, going with a reputable breeder can also make a difference in being happy with your sweet, cuddly rat or having issues with undiscovered genetic aggression or fearfulness.

Now it's true that even the best bred rats can still pop up with health or temperament issues, but the instances of this are fewer and further between. Even should that happen, it might be good to know that going with a reputable breeder over a back yard breeder can also make the difference between having someone who will be there for you to offer advice, help, or re-homing after the sale should any of those things be needed.

Now the other question: How to tell the difference between a reputable breeder and a back yard breeder. Luckily I won't have to type out what you need because someone else has done it for me and done a much better job than I can do. Check out Blackwolf Rattery's Breeder Red Flags: http://blackwolfrattery.com/redflags.html. Blackwolf Rattery has well researched and practical tips and advice as well as sound explanations.
 

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Amazing information, thank you sooo much for posting this! This is gold for a new rat owner like me!
 

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Excellent posts. Thanks for doing this for the rat community!! :D
 

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Official Loofah Tester
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Discussion Starter #6
Ya'll are welcome :)

I know it took crazy amounts of research time to piece together everything for myself. This seemed like a must have. I've got other articles too. On housing, costs, etc.
 
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