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I love my rat

February 05, 2008|By HANNAH TUSSING / Pulse Correspondent

This is the first story in a series on unusual pets and their teen owners. The series will be available at HMpulse.com.

Many teens in the Tri-state area have unusual pets. For the next few weeks, I will be profiling several teens.

First, I will start with myself. I have an unusual pet; I own a rat.

You might be thinking ... didn't rats cause the Black Plague in medieval Europe? Well, yes and no. Because of people throwing food and waste into the streets during the Middle Ages, rats flocked to the cities. The rats carried fleas; the fleas carried the Black Plague. The rats that are sold in pet stores have long been domesticated and are not disease-carrying rodents.

Rats have always fascinated me. Ever since I was 8 years old, I have been begging my dad to let me get a pet rat. He compromised and let me get hamsters. Hamsters are nice, but they bite. Mine bit me quite often.

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Finally, a year ago, my dad gave in and allowed me to purchase my very own rat! I was thrilled. Oreo, my black-and-white rat, was the best pet I have ever owned, other than my dog.

Sadly, I lost Oreo to a respiratory infection after seven weeks. Now I have another rat, Remy.

Remy has a different personality than Oreo, but he's still just as sweet. Neither of my two rats ever bit me -- not even once.

One great thing about rats is that they are easy to care for. Each day, I give my rat a handful of rat lab blocks (specially fortified pellets with all the nutrients that rats need). At a pet store, I can buy a 5-pound bag of blocks for about $10. It lasts me a couple months. Every few days I have to change the water in his water bottle.

Other than providing food and water, I have to clean his cage every couple weeks. It's not the most fun job -- it's the only part of having a rat that I dislike. Bedding usually costs me about $3 to $5 for a small bag or $13 to $20 for a large bag. A large bag is a better buy because it lasts at least four to six months.

The only really expensive component in the initial cost of a rat is the large cage that they must live in. I admit that hamster cages are cheaper, but even if you get your rat as a baby or when it is still very young and small, you must never buy them a cage designed for hamsters or mice. Rats will outgrow small cages very quickly. A good-sized large cage can cost anywhere from $100 to $250, depending on the brand, size and store. But cages almost never need repairs and you can continue to use them for many other rats.

Rats themselves are relatively cheap compared to their relatives in the rodent family. Hamsters can cost anywhere from $10 to $26, whereas rats usually cost about $3 to $10 per rat in a pet shop and $10 to $15 from a private breeder.

But just because rats aren't very expensive, doesn't mean that they aren't one of the greatest friends you will ever buy.

Rats are very intelligent. They are capable of learning their name, coming when they are called, and learning to use a litter box. Training a rat does take practice, but your efforts will be rewarded.

Every night, I get Remy out to play with him. I usually play with him for half an hour to an hour or more. Sometimes, I put him in a playpen I made for him, but most of the time, I let him run freely around in a room that I have "rat-proofed" -- removed all leather shoes, wires, purses, candy wrappers, etc.

Remy always seems to find the one thing that I didn't remove and happily tries to eat it. He's really cute, but he tries my patience at times. Still, I wouldn't trade him for anything.

Rats generally live two to five years, have wonderful personalities, and enjoy human interaction. They make sweet, easy-to-care-for pets. They are good pets for those who would like an animal with personality, but don't have the time to take care of a dog or cat. Rats offer great personalities with reasonably low maintenance.

I bought Remy myself for about $5 with tax. I also buy all his food, bedding and most of his toys with my own money. Remy is my responsibility. I think that having to make sure an animal is happy and healthy has taught me a lot about being responsible -- about managing my time so that I play, feed and clean the cage.

I want other people to understand that despite rats' bad reputation, they're not disgusting. Even my dad, who hated rats, now makes sure he comes into my room to feed and pet my rat almost every night. I love having a rat.

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