PDSA Weekly Pet Care Column: Vet Nurse debunks common rat myths

Katie Court
Authored by Katie Court
Posted: Tuesday, April 2, 2024 - 12:00

It's safe to say that most people don't quite understand rats. Whilst some may consider wild rats to be a pest, pet rats can actually make great companions. These furry critters have a lot more to offer than meets the eye; they are intelligent, affectionate, and, dare we say it, downright adorable!

PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing is busting some common rat myths. 


Myth: Rats were responsible for the Black Death 

"For centuries, it was believed that rats were the cause of the Bubonic plague (Black Death). But this isn't exactly true, as more recent studies point to human fleas and body lice being the cause. 

"Due to a lack of hygiene during the Middle Ages, body lice were just an everyday part of life back then. Scientists also noted that the plague spread too quickly for rats to be the main cause. Despite the misconception that rats are dirty creatures, they are actually fastidious groomers, which means they are very concerned about cleanliness and continuously clean themselves throughout the day. You'll often find that a pet rat's personal hygiene is on par with that of a pet cat or dog. 


Myth: Rats are loners 

"Sadly, many people think that rats are happy to be alone, but like many small pets, this just isn't true. Rats are social animals that need to be around other rats. They can get depressed and develop strange behaviours if they live on their own. 

"That's not to say that they won't enjoy your company. Rats love spending time with their owners, but they need to be able to interact with their own kind. If you are thinking of adopting a pet rat, then make sure that you get them in groups, ideally siblings. However, make sure that you keep males and females apart in different homes. If you do want them to eventually live together, you will need to have the males castrated, where they can be introduced after a few weeks' recovery. This will be the safest way to prevent any unexpected litters! 


Myth: Rats are cheap pets 

"Many people assume that small pets are cheap and low maintenance. Whilst rats may be low-cost pets compared to cats or dogs, there are still many things that you need to buy for them. Pet rats need a large enclosure with space to exercise, different levels for them to climb, lots of toys, a nest box and good ventilation. The cage floor should be covered with non-toxic wood chips or paper-based rat bedding. 

"Their ideal diet will include commercial rat nuggets, small amounts of fruit and vegetables and occasional treats such as eggs, beans or mealworms. They'll also need rat-safe chews, such as fruit tree branches to gnaw to keep their teeth healthy. If they don't have a healthy diet or a suitable home environment with lots of space and fun places to explore, they are more likely to become unwell and need treatment from the vet. That's why you must ensure that your rat's welfare needs are being met." 


For further information on looking after your pet rats' health, read PDSA's full guide: pdsa.org.uk/rats 

Share this