Mice and Rats: Pets or Pests?


Authored by:  JoAnn Lutmer-Paulson

While a lot of kids are fascinated by the idea of rodents as pets, many parents don’t quite see things the same way.  While guinea pigs, hamsters, and other rodents are more commonly accepted as pet possibilities, mice and rats tend to get a bad rap since, after all, they can also be unwanted house guests.

Pet rats are typically brown rats (also known as domesticated fancy rats) although they may also be black rats.

Mice are frequently purchased as pets and can be enjoyable and loving as well.  There are more varieties of fancy mice than there are of rats.

  • On average, rats live for about 2-4 years, so there is less long-term commitment than getting a cat or dog
  • Rats need more time and attention than mice because they are more social; this can be a great fit for someone who wants a more   interactive, playful pet.
  • Fancy rats acquired from reputable breeders pose no greater health risk than common pets such as cats and dogs; of course, they certainly should not ever be exposed to wild rats that do carry disease.
  • Fancy rats also have different health risks than wild rats and are far less likely to become ill through the same illnesses.
  • Rats are usually very friendly and can be taught simple tricks; they also bond to their owners if handled regularly.
  • Rats and mice both tend to keep themselves very clean and rarely require any bathing.
  • Due to their large body size, rats require a large and tall confined habitat with 36 inches by 24 inches of floor space.
  • Rats are very social and it is usually best to keep them in pairs (both rats should be either male or female to prevent reproduction); it is a common problem, however, for the gender to be misidentified, so have a vet or breeder check them out.
  • They do need to be handled regularly, so if purchasing for a child, be sure the child is able to commit to daily interaction with the animal.
  • Rodents with health problems usually need to be seen by an exotic animal veterinarian, so be sure you have an affordable one in your area.
  • Neither mice nor rats should be left alone unsupervised where they have any means of escape.  Interaction with wild rodents can occur, which may lead to disease, but they also are common prey for many animals, including domesticated cats and dogs.
  • Any bite from a pet rodent that draws blood needs to be seen by a doctor if you aren’t up-to-date with tetanus shots.

There are plenty of reasons why pet rodents may be preferable to pet cats or dogs; they’re usually more affordable and their needs are generally much simpler.  Yet they can still provide the rewarding bonding experience most people want from a pet.  If they still give you the heebie-jeebies, try interacting with a mouse or rat before you bring one home; you never know just how neat they can be until you’ve given them a try.  Although rats and mice can easily be purchased through a pet store, those tend to not be the healthiest.  Adoption may be an option but they can also be purchased through reputable breeders who are members of the following associations:  AFRMA in the US and the NMC in the UK.

Photo: Courtesy of erikpaterson via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Originally posted 2013-01-10 15:16:53.