Why a rat, you ask? Rats are small, easy to care for, clean and friendly! They don’t bite, (unless they have been abused or have a medical problem) and they make much, much, MUCH better pets than hamsters, who bite regularly. Hamsters mostly bite because they are solitary animals who usually live under a rock somewhere and want to be left alone, while rats are social animals that live in groups and love human companionship. I formed the above opinion from obsevation of both rats and hamsters. I have been around both for a long time, I was bitten fequently by the hamsters (for no apparent reason) and was bitten once by a rat (because I had something on my hand and the rat thought I was feeding it.)
When you buy a pet rat the best time to do it is when the rat is young, a month or so. Many pet stores sell pet rats, which is where most people get their first rat. (Just remember there are GOOD pet stores and BAD pet stores!) You can also buy show rats from a breeder, but there may not be a breeder in your area, and you may not want to pay extra for ‘show quality’ animals. Spend some time observing the rats, do they appear healthy with bright eyes and a shinny coat, pink ears, feet, and tail? There is no discharge around the eyes or nose? The rats do not sneeze or make raspy noises when breathing? Ask if the males and females are (or were at any time after being weaned) in the same cage. If so do not buy a rat from this store, because you may end up with a pregnant female. (NOT recommended for first time owners.) If everything checks out okay, ask to hold some of the rats. You should, as a rule, buy two rats because they are very social animals and need to be around their own kind. Pick two rats that seem friendly and do not run away from you. Also make sure you pick rats of the same gender, two males or two females, or you will end up with unwanted babies!
You cant keep your new friends in a cardbord box, so now I will explain the advantages/disadvanteges of the two best types of homes for your rats, along with several unsatisfactory ones. Your first choice is a wire cage. If you use a wire cage the ammonia level stays low, which is good for your rats lungs. Cages are light-weight and easy to clean and add extra toys and levels to. Some drawbacks to a wire cage are: your rat may chew the bars of the cage and could possibly get zinc poisoning. Rats usually do this when board, and that means you should give the rat some new toys and spend more time playing with him/her. Another problem with wire cages is the rats can get sores on their feet from walking on the exposed wire. If your rats get foot sores, you should line all wire surfaces with newspaper and change it daily. (NOTE: The bottom floor with the shavings should NOT have wire covering it. If you get a cage with a wire bottom remove it BEFORE putting your rats in the cage.) It is also possible for your rats to get a foot through the wire, if this were to happen, you would have to cut the wire to free the rat. Your other choice is a glass aquarium. While your rats can never get zinc poisoning, foot sores, or a paw stuck in the wire, aquariums MUST be kept VERY CLEAN for the ammonia level to stay relitivly low. The problem with that is an aquarium is heavy, especially to provide enough room for two adult rats to live comfortably with out fighting, and if you drop it the glass will probably shatter. Another problem is you can never find a lid that fits, and your pets could escape if you forget to weigh the top down. Some things you should not use are plasitc Habitrails because 1:your rats can, and probably will chew it apart, 2: they are too small for just one adult rat, let alone two of them, and 3: They snap apart too easy. Wood, also, is to easy to chew through an to hard to keep clean.
Food and Water Containers
To keep the rats food fresh, put it in a heavy metal, glass, or crock bowl, obtainable at any pet store for a price of several dollars. Water should be given in a special small animal water bottle, also found at the average pet store. These are attached to the side of the cage and keeps the water clean and from evapororating.