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Pet Store, Rescue, or Breeder?

When acquiring a rat, there are three main sources you can go through: Breeders, Pet Stores and Rescues. This article aims to serve as a general guide to what you can expect when purchasing a rat from each of these sources, based on my own research and personal experience.

Pet Stores

Although there are always exceptions, most pet stores do not provide the best environment for rats.

Bringing Your Rat Home

If you buy a rat from a pet store, chances are they're going to give you one of those flimsy cardboard boxes to take him home in. Not only are these boxes not very cozy, but a determined rat can easily chew his way out on the way home. It's best to bring your own form of transportation, whether it be a store bought carrier or a home made travel cage. Don't forget to put some warm comfortable bedding and some fruit or vegetables to snack on on the way home. Don't hang a water bottle from the cage, as it will leak all over the cage, or worse -- you might hit a bump while ratty is drinking! Ouch!

The Dapper Rat Guide to building a spare cage
Travelling with Rats

Rats are often kept on bedding like cedar or pine, because it is cheap and has a pleasant smell. In reality, the strong smell of pine and cedar can do damage to a rats fragile respiratory system. Rats should never be kept on pine, cedar, or sawdust.

Often pet store rats are kept overcrowded in empty cages without enrichment. Rats are very intelligent animals and should always be provided with toys and activities to stimulate their mind.

Pet store rats rarely are provided with adequate socialization. Rats are very social animals if given constant human attention -- but a rat that is neglected by humans while in the pet store may often end up shy and timid, or worse, may become a fear-biter.

Pet store rats usually come from breeders that care little about their health and temperament. Babies are taken from their mothers at too young of an age and shipped to pet stores so that they are at 'optimum cuteness' for selling.

Some pet stores don't even bother separating the rats by gender, so that they end up breeding with each other. Rats can breed as young as five weeks, and the mother can become pregnant again immediately after birth. If you adopt a female rat from one of these careless petstores, you may soon find yourself with a litter of babies (keep in mind, the average litter size for rats is 12 pups).

Don't forget quarantine!

No matter where you're getting your rats, if you already have rats at home, you must observe quarantine in a separate building* for at least three weeks. This protects your current rats for any illness or parasites the new rats might have.

The RMCA Quarantine Guide
Rat Health Guide: Quarantine
The Importance of Proper Quarantine

*Most Quarantine policies apply only to North America. Rat owners in other parts of the world don't have to worry about SDA, Sendai or other airborne viruses, but should still Quarantine for parasites.

Most store clerks are uneducated about rats. They may be unable to tell the genders apart and may send a customer home with two rats of the different gender. They often give incorrect information about food, bedding and cages. When I bought my first rat, the clerk sent me home with an 11x11 inch mouse cage.

Note that I said not all pet stores are this way, but most are.

Pet store rats can make perfectly great pets. My first two rats were pet store rats, and they were wonderfully friendly and social -- my boy Allister lived over two years. That being said, it's generally ideal not to buy from pet stores.

Rescues

Rescues can include government/private run animal shelters, privately owned rat rescues, or individual rescue cases. Rescues are often brimming with rats. People find they are no longer able to take care of their rats, or a female accidentally (or sometimes intentionally) becomes pregnant. Some rescue rats come from pet stores, so in a way it is the same as buying from the pet store, only by adopting from the rescue, you're supporting someone who is trying to help rats, rather than a corporation that really doesn't care for them.

Some rescue rats can have mental or physical problems. Often rescues can get in animals that have been abused or neglected. While adopting "special needs" rats is a wonderful thing to do, it isn't recommended for first time rat owners.

Rescue sites to check out

The Rat Rescue forums
Goosemoose Forum Adoption Center
The Fancy Rat Forums (UK based)
Petfinder

Often some of the most well socialized rats can come from rescues. Rescuers genuinely care about rats. Many times rescuers will get in pregnant or nursing rats, so that the babies spend their entire lives socialized. As of writing this article, two of my current rats were rescues of a litter like this, and they are the most personable, friendly rats I've ever met.

Another form of rescue involves adopting directly from the previous owner rather than going through a rescue. Often people will have to rehome their rats because of allergies or other situations.

Breeders
Breeder resources

The Ratster is a wonderful resource for rat breeders and rescues, and includes information on what to look for in a breeder.
Pet rat breeders listed by country and region.

A good rat breeder works to improve the rat fancy, through appearance, health and personality. Good breeders ask lots of questions, and often will have a waiting list. Breeder rats usually come with a guarantee of health. Breeder rats are generally socialized from birth and can make wonderful, friendly rats. Typically, if you're looking for more 'unusual' varieties such as hairless, you would go to a breeder.

Keep in mind that not all rat breeders are created equal. Steer clear of breeders who are more concerned with looks than health or personality. Expect your breeder to ask lots of questions, and don't be afraid to ask about their policies and facilities.

Conclusion
This article was meant to act as a general guide to purchasing rats, but in no way should it be taken as absolute. Wonderful rats can come from anywhere and, unfortunately, health problems can crop up in even the best bred litters. In the end, it's the life you provide for them that counts the most.

All text, images, and content copyright Lori Weeder 2006 unless otherwise noted.