This article is from the Nov/Dec 1995 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Nichole Royer
The Agouti rat has the distinction of being the first “pet” rat. Because it is the natural color of wild rats, the first person to catch and tame a rat most likely had an Agouti. While that first prehistoric “rat tamer” is lost to history, we do know some facts about the Agouti as part of the rat fancy. The first time this color appeared at a show was at Cheltenham (England) in 1902 where they were shown by Douglass and Vale. Agouti was in the standards in 1902 and has continued down through all the years and survived to this day. That officially makes this color almost 94 years old!
Most people's reaction the first time they see an Agouti rat is “It looks just like a wild rat!” While it is true that wild rats are Agouti, the color of our fancy Agoutis is very different from that of its wild cousins. Our fancy Agoutis have been selected over the years for a much redder and brighter coat (wild rats are grayer).
The Agouti rat is characterized by the unique pattern of its fur. Instead of being solid, each individual hair has three bands of color. The AFRMA Standard describes the ideal Agouti as “A rich chestnut with dark slate at the base of the hair. The coat is evenly ticked with black guard hairs. Belly color will be silver gray.” All Agoutis have black eyes.
For those interested, the genetics of Agouti are very simple. The Agouti has two alleles, “A” Agouti, and “a” non-Agouti. Dominant “A” produces the banding of hairs we recognize as Agouti. Recessive “a” produces solid colored hairs.
Because Agouti is dominant, it can be bred to anything else and some Agoutis will be produced. Also, depending on what its background is, and what it is bred to, Agouti could potentially produce any other color.
When breeding, it is important to select against silvering, patchiness, and white on the feet. No Agouti should be gray and drab, but often it takes a while for kittens to develop their adult color, and this should be kept in mind when choosing youngsters. A good Agouti will have dark gray at the base of each hair, a rich red/brown in the middle, and black on the tip. The belly is much lighter having gray hairs tipped with silvery white.
The Agouti is a good choice for someone just entering the fancy. They require relatively little in preparation for a show, unless they have gotten particularly dirty. Sometimes the belly will appear to have a yellow cast, which is caused from staining or age. There isn’t much that can be done about age, but washing just the stomach with a shampoo for white cats will eliminate much staining.
As with any rat, an Agouti must have good conformation to show well, but an Agouti that combines that with nice color is an impressive entry.