A Brief History of Fancy Rats
Pet rats, or fancy rats, have been around for centuries. They can be traced all the way back to Jack Black, a rat catcher of Queen Victoria in the 1800s, who bred and domesticated the first fancy rats. Whenever he would come across a colorful rat during his work he would take it home and breed it. He was the first on record to sell rats as pets. It is said that Queen Victoria herself kept a few rats of her own.
There are many misconceptions about rats. People think that rats are unclean and carry disease. In fact, rats are quite clean and groom themselves several times a day. In the middle ages it was in fact a combination of fleas and unsanitary conditions that made the plague spread – not rats!
The average life span of a rat is 2-3 years. The Guinness Book of Records lists the world’s oldest rat as 7 years 4 months old.
Rats have very poor vision and because of that they rely on their sense of smell and hearing to identify their surroundings. Because of this you need to resist the urge to stick your fingers in the cage bars, especially if you’ve recently handled food. Rats will nip at your fingers until they figure out what it is.
Rats are social animals much like human beings. In the wild rats live together in large communities. They like the company of other rats and develop strong bonds to their cage mates. Most people recommend keeping rats in same sex groups of at least two. Its common for rats to fall into deep depression, showing all the typical rat signs of extreme stress, when a cage mate passes away.
Introducing New Rats
When introducing new rats always do so outside of the cage in a neutral area. You may want to do this for a few hours a day for several days to get the rats used to each other. Before putting the rats together in a cage be sure to clean the cage thoroughly to get rid of any rats scent. This way the cage will seem more of a neutral territory since none of the rats markings are there. Even so you can often times expect to see some friction, especially in males, while they decide which rat is going to be the pack leader. This usually lasts only a few days.