Pet rats, or fancy rats as they were originally known, were domesticated from brown rats in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were originally caught for the blood sport of rat-baiting but increasing numbers of rat-catchers began keeping interesting coloured morphs to breed as pets. They became more widely desired in 1901 when a lady named Mary Douglas displayed her pet rats in a town fair, winning “best in show”. Domestic rats have a variety of colours and markings.
As a social animal, rats need to be kept in same-sex groups of two or more. They are highly intelligent so require something to stimulate them in their cage plus regular handling. They can easily be trained to follow various commands and will respond to their names. Baby rats become fertile at five weeks old. If males and females are kept together they will produce a litter of around eight offspring every three to four weeks.
The diet of the brown rat is a highly varied omnivorous diet. They are opportunistic feeders meaning they will eat whatever they find. Along the coast of Norway, rats have been seen to catch fish with their paws. Domestic rats require a varied diet also. They need a dry rat mix plus wholesome foods such as wholewheat bread, brown rice, egg, lean meat and fresh vegetables.
There are no known threats to the wild brown rat. They have populated a large area of the world through introduction by humans. They prefer cooler areas and are only present in warmer regions in association with humans. The largest populations are around human settlements where they will scavenge for food in rubbish.
- Conservation Status: Not Evaluated
- Distribution: All Continents, except Antarctica
- Habitat: Coast, Coniferous & Broadleaf Forests, Urban Areas
- Diet: Fish, Insects, Leaves, Small Amphibians, Small Mammals
- Weight: 140 – 500g
- Gestation: 22 – 24 days
- No. of young: 8
- Life Span: 2 years