Day Tripping: Out and About with Your Rat
Whether it's a quick trip to the hardware store for cage supplies or a visit to the elementary school to educate children on pet owning, taking your rat on short day trips can be a fun and rewarding experience for both rat and owner alike. The rat enjoys the chance to experience a new enviroment and spend time with his loving human, and the owner is able to show off her beloved pet and spread the good news about rats. What's more, by getting your rat used to short trips, it can ease the stress associated with vet visits and other necessary outings.
Choosing Your Adventure
-Hiding place (such as a tissue box or nest box)
-Water-containing foods (carrots, grapes, cucumber)
-Water bottle (for longer trips)
-Tissues/paper towels (for cleaning up messes)
-Camera (for capturing memories)
Some rats are natural born travelers, while others prefer the familiarity of home. Pay attention to your rat's personality. If he's the type to freak out at cage cleaning time, or runs and hides during free-range time, he might not be the best candidate for travel. However, if you have a curious rat that seems eager at the opportunity for new experiences, day trips just might be his thing.
Never take day trips with a rat that isn't properly socialized or bonded with you. If he becomes frightened, he may run away from you.
If your rat has never traveled before, it's best to start with short trips-- a walk around the block, a quick trip to the store. Make it something pleasant, and give lots of treats so that he'll associate outings with good things.
It's always best to plan out your trip beforehand, especially if it's your (and/or your rat's) first time traveling. Some places make better travel destinations than others. Always take your rat's safety and well being into consideration. Remember that rats have sensitive hearing and respiratory systems. Places that are particularly noisy, dusty or prone to extreme temperatures are not the best choices.
Keep in mind that not all places are going to allow you to bring your rat inside. Restaurants and food stores have health codes that prohibit animals; they could get in trouble for allowing your pet. Be respectful of store owners; if you're asked to leave, do so quietly and politely.
SDA and Sendai
In the United States, SDA and Sendai are both highly contagious viruses that can be spread through exposure or contact with infected rodents. For this reason it is highly recommended against taking your rat anywhere that he might come in contact with other rodents, including pet stores and pet shows. Read more about SDA and Sendai.
Always keep your rat's safety in mind when you're out and about. If you have your rat out on your shoulder, be sure he doesn't jump or fall off, and keep a hand on him when crossing streets. Be aware as well of predatory birds, especially in the country. Predatory birds have been known to swoop down and snatch up a rat in the blink of an eye. If predatory birds are common in your area, you may be best taking your rat out in a secure carrier. Be aware of other animals, such as dogs and cats, and never let your rat interact with strange animals.
Never leave your rat unattended. If you need to step away, put the rat in his carrier and ask someone to keep an eye on him. Be sure your rat has plenty of water or water-rich foods, and if you're out for an extended period of time, make sure he has food.
What About Leashes?
Although rats can be trained to walk on leashes, it's not the same as walking a dog. Never lead your rat around on the leash; instead, let the rat guide you, using the leash to ensure he doesn't go into out of bounds areas. Exercise caution when walking a rat on a leash, as rats have been known to squirm out of them. Remember to keep an eye out for dangers to your rat, such as other animals and people, as well as items he might try to eat, or holes he might try to escape into.
Some rats don't like to walk on leashes because it impedes their movement. The trick is to let him get used to it slowly, doing short leash sessions and offering plenty of treats.
One leash I've had success with is the Super Pet Comfort Harness and Stretchy Stroller. You can also make your own harness.
If you're well prepared, day trips can be a fun and memorable experience for both you and your rat. For my own personal accounts of traveling with my rats, check out Tales of a Traveling Rat.