American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the WSSF 2004 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

Beginners’ Corner

Inquiring Mind; Training Mice

By Helen Pembrook

Inquiring Mind

Laurie Apfelbeck, Wausau, WI
QI am looking into buying a pet rat (maybe two of them) as a new pet at our house. I only recently became interested in rats (I’m more of a dog person, but love all animals) when I noticed them at our local pet store.

I bought a book on rats (The Guide to Owning a Rat by Susan Fox). I decided after the first few pages that I must have one, but I have several questions that I hope you might be willing to help me with?

First of all, is it okay to buy a pet rat at a pet store? Being the dog person that I am, I hear so many horror stories of puppy mills and the bad backgrounds of those puppies. Is the same true for rats? If a pet store isn’t the best place to buy a pet rat, where else would I find one? Are there breeders of rats?

My next question comes from the book. The author says that rats can get along with other household pets, as long as they are not mice, gerbils, hamsters, etc., and, they can sometimes get along with even cats and dogs. I have a 2½ year old Golden Retriever. I’m very concerned about the safety of the rat—should I even introduce them at all? I guess I would have to make that decision knowing my dog, but do you feel that it’s really a good idea in general? My fear is that he lives for chasing squirrels, birds, rabbits, and especially chipmunks in our yard. On the other hand, he loves other household animals, such as other dogs, big or small.

I also cannot decide if I want to get one or two rats? The book describes both sides of the spectrum, one rat will look to me as its only companion and be very happy. Two rats will always have each other to sleep with and for grooming. Can you suggest what works out best? I definitely want to go with either one or two right away.

My next question has to do with a cage. Are the aquariums better than a wire-type cage (a birdcage was suggested in the book)? Or is there something that is preferred by other owners? I can’t decide what to buy.

One last question I have is that the book says to look over the rat before buying it, and make sure the cage is clean and not too crowded with other rats. How crowded is too crowded? The pet store that I went to had about 15 rats in a medium to large sized aquarium. They were small rats, and didn’t appear to be too crowded, but some of them did appear to be dominant over the others. I do not want an aggressive rat—I’m looking for one that I can handle often and not worry about it biting, and one that I can bond with and teach tricks to, etc.

Any tips, suggestions, or information would greatly help me, just as the book has helped. I guess instead of just facts, I’d like to have some opinions of other rat owners.

Thanks so much in advance.

AFirst and foremost you have done the one thing most people should do, but don’t—you bought and read a book about the animal you are interested in.

Most rats in pet stores come from large commercial breeders. The one commercial breeder I had the chance to visit had at least 2,000 rats in her rattery, and sold about 25,000 a year. No consideration is given for genetic health problems, and the babies are not socialized at all. Since they are raised as food and not as pets, temperament is not an issue for this type of breeder. Responsible private ratteries breed only healthy and temperamentally sound animals. The animals are socialized and well cared for. That does not mean that all small breeders are responsible, so you still have to be careful. Ask to see the rattery and if possible, both parents of the babies you are considering. Do all the animals look healthy? Do you hear any snuffling, sneezing, or wheezing? Are the conditions sanitary? Check the Internet for breeders. If you punch in Fancy Rats into your search engine, you should be able to find some close to you. Also contact the various clubs with your location and they may be able to direct you.

A single rat requires many hours of attention, so having an only rat is not recommended; being social animals, it would miss having another rat buddy of the same sex to play with, groom, sleep with, etc. Two or even three of the same sex would be the choice. If you can then spend a half-hour to an hour of alone time with each one daily, they will still bond well with you. You can check out AFRMA’s Rat and Mouse Information Pages for more information on choosing your rats, general care, etc.

I have never let my dogs interact with my rats. The potential for disaster is just too great. All it takes is one playful pounce out of a dog that means no harm and you have a broken rat. It also sounds like your dog would consider the rats to be prey, so I wouldn’t chance it. I put my dogs out when I take out my rats. For safety’s sake I would suggest you do the same.

What you need for a cage can vary and is up to personal choice. The main criteria is that the floor not be wire so the rats have a solid surface to walk on or they can get foot problems. Wire cages must have wire that is 1 inch by one-half inch or less, or the rats can get their heads out and you would be amazed at how small a space a rat can squeeze through. A cage with shelves needs to have solid shelves, though the ladders up to them can be ½ inch by ½ inch wire. There are cages with pull out trays and there are the cat pan bottom types. Fern brand cages are nice and multi level; I believe they have a web site so you might try looking them up. Martin cages is another company that makes nice powder coated wire rat cages with plastic pans. Their web site is Large aquariums work well but because they are glass, can break easily during washing. You must also find a good lid that the critters cannot push off. The reptile-type aquariums with the lids that are attached are fairly safe but much more expensive. The bigger the aquarium you get the heavier it gets. Consider when looking at aquariums that you are looking for floor space, so a 20 gal tall is nothing but more weight, yet a 20 gal long will give you more square feet.

Over crowding when looking at pets for purchase is mostly an issue of health. How often do they need to be cleaned? If there are 15 rats in a 10 gal aquarium then they would need to be cleaned 3 or 4 times a day to keep the conditions sanitary. Chances are that wouldn’t happen. A buildup of urine, even on the best of bedding materials, releases ammonia which causes lung problems which causes immune deficiencies which leads to diseases and infections which causes long-term health problems, etc. Rats are social creatures. They will happily pile one on top of the other in huge colonies. And, like all creatures, they need room to get away—room to run off with that tidbit and eat it by themselves, room to sleep sprawled out when it is warm. Over crowding is when they cannot do this, there are so many there is no way for the individual to be alone. Or, for several individuals to be alone at the same time. Does it seem that if every rat wanted alone time at the same time there would be enough room for them to have their own space without touching another rat? If not, then there are too many.

Training Mice

Joshua Garcia, e-mail
QMy name is Joshua Garcia. I have a fancy mouse which I think is a girl...well I’m pretty sure it’s a girl, but enough of that. I was wondering if you knew of any Internet links or books that might help me because I’m interested in training my mouse, Scarpetta. If you can help me, it would be wonderful.

AFrom speaking with the people who dealt with the mice in Mouse Hunt and The Green Mile (Animals for Hollywood), I was told that mice only learn one trick each. A trick can consist of as much as rolling a spool or as little as walking from one point to another. Every time you see a mouse in the movie do something (climb a rope, get into bed, walk from point A to point B on the table, walk from point A to point B on the floor) it is a different mouse. There is a book on how to train rats titled Training Your Pet Rat written by Gerry Bucsis and Barbara Somerville and published by Barron’s, ISBN 0-7641-1208-2. There are also two other books with chapters on training rats called Rats: A Fun & Care Book (ISBN 1-889540-05-6) and Rats: Practical, Accurate Advice from the Expert (ISBN 1-889540-71-4) both written by Debbie Ducommun and both published by Bowtie Press. Some of the techniques may be applicable to the training of a mouse. You might also try contacting Animal Planet as they would have ready access to the people in the business of training mice for movies. *

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December 15, 2021