Why Pet Rats Are Rising in Popularity

Rats make great pets. (Getty Images)

Picture the perfect pet that checks off all the boxes: Smart, trainable, highly social, affectionate, clean, hypoallergenic. What if it has all these traits but doesn’t purr or bark, because the perfect pet is actually a rat?

While rat ownership has been popular overseas for years, domestic ownership is only recently seeing an uptick. This may be due in part to animal lovers seeking out pets for allergy sufferers. But while American culture traditionally views rats as subway vermin, food at the bottom of the chain, or best suited for laboratory testing, as people become more educated about rats, their popularity is on the rise.  

“We’ve always had pets, but after [my daughter] watched a National Geographic special about mistreatment of rats despite their high intelligence and petlike qualities, she began her research and asked for a rat for her birthday,” said Long Islander Susan Gregori, who recently opened her heart and home to pet rats with her daughters Emily and Sarah.  

Sarah’s research yielded some interesting results. Turns out, rats are very social animals and, much like cats and dogs, thrive on daily bonding with their owners. Studies show training a rat is quite achievable, with millions of YouTube videos and Instagram posts showcasing a variety of successful behavioral training and tricks learned by rats across the world.  

Like all pets, rats require basic care, plus a few extras. The bigger the cage the better, as they require a great amount of ventilation. Rats love tubes and tunnels and sleep best on rat hammocks and can even be litterbox trained. 

Worried about the smell? Studies show that rats who are given enough space and time to roam free actually have a naturally sweet smell. It’s the cage that gets stinky so be sure to clean the cage and litter at least every other day. Once trained, they can roam around the house just like a cat or dog using their cage only for sleeping. 

“If you’re interested in becoming a rat owner, do your homework,” says Gregori. “Take caution when purchasing from pet stores because the lineage of the rat is often unknown, and rat temperaments vary.  While rats are extremely intelligent and often sweet in nature, a bite from one is not pleasant. Your best bet is to find a reputable rescue or breeder that understands your needs and can pair you with a compatible pet.”

Sign up for Long Island Press’ email newsletters hereSign up for home delivery of Long Island Press here. Sign up for discounts by becoming a Long Island Press community partner here.