Rat History 101

by Jane Adamo

    Your pet rat, AND lab rats, AND the common city rat are all the same species of rat: most
widely known by the common name, The Norway Rat, but also known as The Asian Brown
Rat and The Barn Rat. Their official Latin name is Rattus norvegicus (pron: nor-VEEJ-i-kus);
the entire classification follows:

  Kingdom - Animalia Class - Mammalia Order - Rodentia Family -
  Muridae Sub-family - Murinae Genus - Rattus Species – Norvegicus

   May I point out here that while I am able to rattle off Norvy’s classification in a spit, I do not
know my own.
   Your pet rat comes from a line that was domesticated from wild city Norways from London
200 years ago. At that time, Rat Catcher was a common municipal job. In the early 1800’s, rat
baiting became sport:  you’d bet how many rats a dog could kill and then put them all together
in a pit. Rat Catchers made extra cash supplying rats for the games, an incentive for them to catch
them live and keep them in cages. They started breeding them. Then they started LIKING them.
    The Albino was the first color oddity they experienced and soon they began breeding for other
interesting coloration. By the mid 1800, rat baiting was outlawed. Soon, though, rats established
themselves as pets -- Beatrix Potter kept a pet white rat and so did other ladies of the time. In the
two centuries since, our Norways have become more docile and tractible than the wild Norways,
but your rat is still exactly the same species as the rats in the New York City Subway.
    Norway’s close cousin is the Asian Black rat, The Ship Rat, or Roof Rat: Rattus rattus. Both of
these rats, and the 34 others in the genus Rattus, are called "Old World Rats". None of them are
native to Europe (including Norway!) or North America; Norvegicus probably originated in China,
Rattus probably around India.
    Rattus got to Europe as ship stowaways where they got involved in that plague thing. Norvegicus
arrived in Europe later on and, being larger and more aggressive, Norways displaced Rattus. The same
happened in North America: Rattus arrives by ship and proliferates. In 1774, Norvegicus arrives and
pushes Rattus out.
    Norway rats are subterranean animals that, in the wild, dig their homes underground often at the
base of trees. (get to your city park and look for the rat holes!) Their warrens usually have two doors:
one that is often used and a disguised "bolt hole" for emergency exits.
    You don’t usually see Rattus in the city, but they can be found in the U.S. and Great Britain -- they
like the weather a little warmer as in California and Texas. They’re smaller, more delicate and graceful
looking, having the aspect of huge mice, whereas Norvy has, I think, a "bearish" look. Rattus are also
good climbers and somewhat arboreal (tree-dwelling) instead of living in a hole in the ground.
    There ARE New World rats, native to North America, like the Cotton Rat, Pack Rat, and Trader
Rat -- but these animals do not even share Norvy’s subfamily. However, the house mouse (Mus
musculus) does, and so, along with Rattus and Norvegicus, are known as Murine rodents. This means
that your rat is a closer relative of the common mouse than he is of the North American Bushy Tailed
Wood Rat. I’ve heard it said that New World Rats aren’t really "True Rats" -- only the Old World Rats,
the 36 species under the genera Rattus, are the real thing.

"Jane Adamo" <jadamo00@yahoo.com>

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Building your Rat Care Library

by Renee Snyder

Before I begin, I would like to confess that I am a book hound. What this
means for me (and my unfortunate family) is that when I take an interest in
something, I must have every single book ever written on the subject. What
it means for you is, I've already bought and read all the bad books, so you
don't have to.

I have listed these books from best to worst, and rated them 1-5,

Rats! (A Fun & Care Book)
by Debbie Ducommun (Bowtie Press)

***** Five Yogurt Drops

This book is available from pet stores and book stores. If I could only
have one book about rats, this would be the one I would choose. More
user-friendly than Debbie's other book (also listed here), Rats! is an
enjoyable read, written by an author who loves rats. That isn't to say that
it's all fluff; there are sections on finding a good vet, first aid,
catching an escaped rat, and introducing your new rat to an established
colony. There is also a very detailed diet section (including the recipe
for what she uses), and an in-depth medical section that covers myco,
bumblefoot, tumours, and even SDA. This book is up-to-date and contains
many wonderful colour photos. Also of interest was a chapter about rats in
history, and how they are viewed in other cultures. All in all, a great
book, both informative and enjoyable, and a good, balanced book for the new
or experienced rat owner.

Rat Health Care
by Debbie Ducommun (self published)

***** Five Yogurt Drops

While Rats! is a fun book to read, this one is strictly information... A
LOT of information, packed into 35 pages. Everyone should have a copy of
this book, and preferably a copy for their veterinarian as well. It
contains hard and fast information about almost every possible thing that
could go wrong with your rat, and what to do. There is also advice on
keeping a first aid kit, a section on diet, and a section on safe cages and
bedding. Some people might be put off by the small, cramped print and lack
of photos, but if you want in-depth medical info, this book is a must-have.

Training Your Pet Rat
by Gerry Bucsis and Barbara Somerville (Barron's)

***** Five Yogurt Drops

This is another book that I would prefer to never be without. About more
than just training your rat, this book contains excellent sections on
housing, traveling with your rat, and recommends phenol-free bedding. With
the exception of Debbie Ducommun's books, this information is far more
up-to-date than what I've seen in any other rat books.
The training sections include leash training, coming when called, toys and
games, and making mazes. There is no medical information, so I wouldn't
have it as a sole source of rat info, however, it is a great book to have
if you want to do more than just watch your rats in their cage. An added
bonus is some of the cutest rat photos ever!

The Rat (An Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet)
by Ginger Cardinal (Howell Book House)

**** Four Yogurt Drops

An interesting part of this book was the detailed history of rats, legends
and myths, and their portrayal in the media. The author, who actually has
pet rats, seems genuinely fond of them, calling them "the most affectionate
of all the pocket pets." She includes a large section on letting kids
handle your rats, and also tips for free-ranging. Her diet advice is sound,
and the medical section isn't bad, though she recommends quarantining a rat
with myco. The only real problem I had with this book was that while she
says cedar is bad, she remains rather iffy on pine. However, she says aspen
was very difficult to find when the book was published (1998), so I am
hoping she has since learned otherwise.

Rats (A Complete Pet Owner's Manual)
by Carol A. Himsel, D.V.M. (Barron's)

*** Three Yogurt Drops

Written by a veterinarian, I would have expected some good medical advice,
however, this book fell short. Dr. Himsel does not mention myco, SDA, or
sendai, and her other medical information is limited but accurate. Her diet
recommendations are very clinical, and she refers to treats as "a waste of
money." Her advice on housing is fine, but she says that cedar and pine are
fine for bedding. The photos and line drawings in this book are adorable,
and I like the Barron's format, but I would have expected much better
advice from a veterinarian.

The Proper Care of Fancy Rats
by Nick Mays (T.F.H.)

*** Three Yogurt Drops

Nick Mays has rats, and even met his wife through the rat fancy. However, I
found his diet section questionable, and in the medical section, he speaks
of rats catching colds, yet there is no mention of myco. He does not
caution against cedar or pine, and he basically condones culling. This
being said, this is an interesting book, with sections on genetics and
history, though I would never consider it an appropriate book for new
owners to learn from.

Rats (A Complete Introduction)
by Dr. Daniel R. Schwartz (T.F.H.)

** Two Yogurt Drops

Dr. Schwartz is a board-certified specialist in laboratory animal medicine,
and that becomes painfully clear as you read this very clinical book about
the very basics of keeping rats alive. He claims that most rodent diets are
suitable for rats, says it's okay to pick a rat up by the base of the tail,
and talks about using galvanized wire cages. He does include an intense
medical section with photos, but no treatment advice. The part that I
really had a problem with though, was when he states, "Accepted methods of
euthanasia for rats include overdose of a gas or injectable anesthetic
agent and quick physical methods."

The Guide to Owning a Rat
by Susan Fox (T.F.H.)

* One Yogurt Drop

This book is absolutely awful. The author seems to not care for rats at
all, starting off the book with a long section about how rats carried the
plague. From there on, she gives terrible advice. One shining example of
this is where she says that cedar can pose health risks, but since it
controls odor so well, to mix it with pine! The only redeeming value to
this book is a fairly sound section on breeding, though I would doubt
anyone following the rest of her advice would ever have rats live long
enough to breed.

by Susan Fox (T.F.H.)

* One Yogurt Drop

This book is even more awful than the last. As early as page 11, Ms. Fox is
making comments like "They are the most serious animal threat to man since
they carry the disease organisms of bubonic plague, typhus, and food
poisoning." In this book, she recommends pine and cedar, says that rats do
not need to be kept in pairs, recommends feeding fish food, and says to
spray them with spray meant for birds if they have mites! Also annoying,
the book cover claims to contain over 75 full-colour photos, and it does...
unfortunately, a great deal of them are of mice, not rats.

Renee Snyder (ziggabella@yahoo.com)

To order these books online, go to "The Wererat's Bookstore":
"Rat Health Care" can be ordered directly from Debbie Ducommun at:
"Rat Health Care" is distributed in Canada by Virginia Simpson: alpha@justrats.com
In Australia, contact Robyn Arthur:  robyn@dapper.com.au

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Rats to Human Diseases

by Jane Adamo

It is highly unlikely that any domesticated Norvegicus is
carrying any zoonosis/zoonotic (animal to human) condition.

It is even HIGHLY UNLIKELY that a WILD rat is carrying anything.  Wild
rats suffer most from internal parasites.

When I first got my 4 wild rattus girls: my vet said this:  <<It is
HIGHLY unlikely that they are carrying ANYTHING.  IF they are: it's
either Hanta Virus...and NOT the killer Hanta Virus that was in the
Midwest a few years ago.  Or it would be Strepto Bacillus. These girls
GLOW with natural good health.>>

Here's how LITTLE experienced ratters worry about catching something
from rats:

o   We kiss our rats on the lips.
o   Some rats enjoy cleaning your teeth: we let them.
o   Vets administer CPR to rats by putting the whole rat's head in their
mouth and breathing.  At Animal Medical Center in Manhattan, the lady
vets don't remove their gum or wipe off their lipstick before they do this.

Info bytes about rat diseases:
o   Rats do not carry rabies.  No rat (wild, pet, lab) has ever been
found to have rabies.  Ask me why.

o   Rats can carry salmonella in their stomachs naturally without harm.
For awhile, we were afraid that kissing them on the lips would give you
a bad case of the runs.  But it never happened.  My opinion is that
their mouth is very clean, and safe to smooch.  One of the reasons is

o  Rats have a dry bite.  Their teeth are way in front of their snout so
it's hard to come in contact with their saliva.  As opposed to us, dogs
and cats where our canines at kinda on the sides of our mouth. In order
for us to bite something, we pretty much have to take that thing INTO
our mouths. Not rats.
(Correction: rats do have saliva; however, it is true that there has not been a case of rabies being passed by a rat. That is because they are known as a "terminal vector", meaning it ends with them. The reason is that they would die from the bite wound inflicted on them before being able to pass the disease on.)

o  In general, watch paws and tail: The tail is pretty grotty.  And you
know those paws have been in the litter box.  But to be honest, I let
the wild girls examine my face and that means they sometimes open my
mouth with their hands. Wattaya gonna do?

I'd say, don't be obsessive about children washing their hands after
touching the rats, but always be obsessive about children washing
thoroughly (under the nails, too) before touching food or the inside of
the mouth.

The biggest health aggravations re: rats are these two, according to me,
who is no expert:

Strep: if you have it, stay away from the rats.  You'll give it to them
and wipe out your colony.
(Correction: while rats can have a infections due to the organism streptococcus; it is not passed by humans having strep throat)

Ringworm: First your cat will get it, then he'll give it to you, then
you'll give it to your rats, then you'll treat yourself, then you'll get

it from the cat again, back forth back forth.  If any living thing in
your house has ringworm, treat the whole fambly!

"Jane Adamo" <jadamo00@yahoo.com>

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by Robyn Arthur

(Note:  for other rat noises, see The Ratty Repertoire)

Bruxing in rats is akin to purring in cats. It's their way of showing they are
happy or content (although they can also do it when scared or nervous, like
at the vet).

My boys have quite a repertoire of adorable bruxing sounds.  I've studied
their bruxing intently and come to the conclusion that it occurs in a number
of ways and at several levels.  It seems to involve the teeth and air in the
mouth in the following ways:

- intermittent teeth grinding/chattering
- interspersed with a break during which the tongue moves around in the mouth
and the mouth opens and closes while the head lifts up (like smacking their lips
after a particularly good treat)
- the fooffing sound with air puffed into their cheeks/nose
- the air pressure becomes so great the upper face puffs up and eye balls bulge
out and vibrate (truly creepy, but adorable)

My rats will happily grind and chatter teeth without much effort, but they often need
extra encouragement to reach the ecstatic heights of bugeyedness. To do this, I
sit at rat level with them and stare straight into their big dark eyes. Then I alternately
speak soothingly to them and chatter my teeth at them. When they start to brux
back I imitate exactly what they do... the teeth grinding, lip smacking, head raises,
and fooffing sounds. Before long it becomes a contest in who can brux the loudest
and they usually win by playing their trump card... <sigh> they KNOW I can't do the
eye bulging thing!!!   :)

Robyn <just a very big hooded hairless dumbo, really>

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The Ratty Repertoire

(or, Why is my rat making this noise?)

by Robyn Arthur

Here's a list of assorted ratty noises (and their possible cause or translation):
Teeth chattering and/or grinding
(Note:  see also:  Bruxing)
Foofffing air
(you might also see puffed up cheeks and boggling eyes)

Social interaction:
Squeak ("Ouch!" or "Quit it!" or "Hey!")
Screech ("Arggghhhh!!!!"  usually indicates a serious fight)
Revving whine, like a car revving it's engine (growing anger)
Hissing (extreme anger)
Grunting - low rapid grunting noise (excitement)
Long wavering whine (melodrama)
That cheeky silent giggling look (when you KNOW they're
laughing at you but just can't hear it)

Health concerns:
Chirping - short sharp quiet squeaks, with body jumps (hiccups)
Whistling (nasal allergy)
Sneeze (normal reaction to irritants or Myco, if excessive)
Gurgling/gargling or coffee percolator noises (Myco)
Wheezing/gasping (Myco and/or choking)
Clicking - it sounds like their heads and throats are all stopped up
and they're too lazy to gasp (Myco - not a good sound)

(with contributions by Nathalie <absolut@one.net>)

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Should your kids have rats?

by Juliet Kemp

If you want rats but your parents aren't convinced...
(or: if your child wants rats and you want to know what's needed)

So you've decided that rats are clearly the best pets ever and you
really want a pair, and you know you're going to love them & take care
of them and all that.  Bad news: your parents aren't convinced.  Take a
deep breath, don't shout at them, and read on...

What you need to do here is *demonstrate* your responsibility by showing
that you've thought about the rats' needs & how you'll meet them.

More importantly, really, you should make sure for yourself that you
*will* be able to meet them.  These are animals that will be wholly
dependent on you for all their needs, and you *can't* let them down.
It's really important that you think very carefully about what you're
taking on.

Things you're going to need to think about, in no particular order:

1) The financial side of things.

        * You'll need to get a good cage for
        them - have a look at http://www.martinscages.com for the best &
        cheapest cages available in the US.  You'll need 2 cubic feet of
        space, roughly, per rat, & more shelves is good, & more *space*
        is good - get the best cage you can afford.

        * After that initial outlay, you need to think about how much
        food and bedding are likely to cost weekly.  Do you have that
        money available?

        * And then there's vet bills - you need to have a strategy in
        place for if your rats get sick (& chances are they *will* at
        some point - this is more of a "when" than an "if").  Phone
        round the local vets.  Find out which of them treat rats, & how
        much they charge for a consultation, meds, etc etc.  Work out
        how you're going to pay for that - maybe you could suggest to
        your parents an agreement whereby they'll pay upfront &
        you pay them back in installments.  Or you agree to pay weekly into
        a "rat vet bill" savings account, so there's money there if it's

        * And you'll need rat-toys - the cheapest way to do this is
        to make them, but you still need to think about this (see other
        articles on this page for suggestions).

2) Time available for playing with rats.  They need an hour,
minimum, per day playing time with you supervising.  More's good, of
course.  Do you have an hour a day?  Can you sort your schedule out
so that you do?  When I wanted rats when I was about 11 (we'd had
some a few years before), my sister & I agreed to stop watching some
of our post-school TV programmes in order to spend that time with
the rats instead & still have time for homework.

3) Where will the cage go?  Is there space in your room?  Can you
clear space in your room?  How often will you plan on cleaning it

4) Where will you get your rats from?  I strongly recommend getting
them from a breeder.  Plus you need to get at least 2 rats - you
shouldn't keep a rat on his/her own as they're social animals & need
the company of their own kind - you won't always be around.

5) What sort of food & bedding are you going to use?  Pine or cedar
shavings are bad - you need to investigate other sources of bedding.
You can't feed them hamster food either - they need the right sort of

6) What about if your family go away?  A couple of days, & the rats
will be OK on their own with extra food & water; more than that &
you need to think about potential ratsitters (maybe the local vet?
A friend from school?).

So you need to research all the above.  The articles on this page are a
good starting point - most of the basics on the above information should
be covered here.  There's also links to other rat
information sites here:
If you still have questions - ask the ratlist!

Once you've done that, you should put it all together - probably
best to write everything down - & take it to your parents.  If you
can show them that you've really thought about this, that you know
what's involved, & that you're prepared to take on this
responsibility, then you've got a much better chance of convincing
them.  Being prepared to invest the time to do the research is a
pretty good start on demonstrating responsibility.  But again, if
you *aren't* convinced that you're ready for the responsibility,
then *please* think again about getting rats as pets.  They deserve
the best possible care.

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