Buying rats from petshops
Petshops are where many people will purchase their first pet and often many of their subsequent pets. Animals from petshops can make nice pets, however there is a lot of cruelty in the petshop industry and this article aims to explain why Fancy Rats does not endorse buying animals from petshops. It should also explain why many people refuse to buy anything from petshops that sell animals.
Where do the rats sold in shops come from?
Many of the small animals sold in petshops will have been bred at a rodent farm. Rodent farms are where rats (and other rodents) are intensively farmed purely for monetary profit. The rats are usually kept on a wood based product (shavings, chips or dust), in solid containers with a grill lid or side that are stored in large racks. Rats are highly intelligent creatures but they are usually given no toys and no space to run around and play in. (See here for an example of a rodent farm.)
The female rats are generally kept continuously pregnant. They often live with the males so will have a 3 week old litter (if they haven't been removed for sale), a newborn litter and will be pregnant. She is just a baby making machine and worth only as much as the babies she can produce for sale (live or dead), which aren't worth much individually to the farmers anyway.
The rats will be fed only on a generic dry mix, this will not support the demands constant pregnancy and lactating places on the mothers bodies or support the growth of the kittens. The rats are not handled gently at the rodent farm, if at all.
This means the rats are mostly small, nervous of people and because no thought is given to the parents the babies often have health or behavioural problems. The mothers will die very young of exhaustion and many of the babies will die of bad conditions before they even get into the accomodation at the petshop.
The young rats are frequently removed from their mothers far too early. Rats should leave their mum at 4 and a half to 5 weeks and should be homed at 6 to 7 weeks when their brains and bodies are more mature and they are more able to cope with the outside world. Rats are often seen in petshops at 4 weeks old.
Unfortunately quite a few uninformed people decide to breed rats in their own house. This can be on a large scale, where the people are known as 'back yard breeders', or on a small scale. The back yard breeders are the same as rodent farms, just without the official title, but smaller breeders of rats often start breeding rats through ignorance. Some may just think rats are cute or have a rat they love and want to have babies from them. So they breed and then sell the resulting rats to a petshop. Often these rats are well handled, but still young and undernourished. Some people breed on a small scale thinking there is a lot of money in breeding rats, they often find that there isn't much money at such a small scale and dump the rats in rescues. Reputable breeders would never sell their rats via a pet shop, despite what you may be told by the petshop. If you wish to breed rats yourself see here for information on how to become a good, reputable breeder of rats.
Life of rats in the petshop
When rats get to the petshop the care does vary quite a lot. This can range from the rats being kept in overcrowded small tanks on a woodbased product, given a generic dry mix and not being handled, to large cages with paper bedding and toys and daily handling. The advice given to new owners varies too; many petshops say it is ok to keep a rat alone in a hamster cage when this is not the case.
Regretfully, numerous petshops don't even check the sexes of the rats that arrive from the farms in boxes. Infact, several petshops incorrectly sex the rats they have checked and will not guarantee the sex of the rat you buy. This mean that females and males are kept together in the petshop, so the females are very likely to be pregnant at much too young an age. Sexing rats is very easy, male rats have very large testicles that start developing from 10 days old and only female rats have nipples. If you are having trouble sexing a rat please see this link.
If a rat isn't sold they will be sent back to the breeder, who will destroy the animal or will possibly use them for breeding. Some well known petshops have an adoption policy where people can buy the unsold rats at a reduced price/donation. Buying one of these rats tells the petshop that there is always money in rats, even the 'unsellable' ones, its just a question of marketing them differently.
But my petshop rat is lovely with no health issues!
Petshop rats are the victims in all of this. Petshops encourage impulse buying by ill-informed people who will possibly keep that animal incorrectly and may later discard their pet when they are bored with it or when they realise that keeping a pet is not as easy or cheap as they thought. Although petshop rats as a group are often unhandled, nervous and may have health and temperament problems, the majority are nice, intelligent, healthy, well adjusted pets. The problem with petshop rats isn't with the rats themselves but with the petshops and the breeders of their rats.
I had to rescue that poor little rat
You may feel that you are rescuing a rat from a petshop. Unfortunately this could do more harm than good. The individual rat will be helped, but you have just given the petshop money to buy one, two, 10, 50 more rats to replace the ones you bought, they will then suffer in the place of yours. If rats are not sold and cost the petshop money they will stop buying them in, by 'rescuing' one or two you show the petshop that there is a demand for pet rats and that there is money in selling them. Buying rats from a pet shop shows them that it is ok to charge different amounts for different varieties, that it is ok to not know about the care of the animals they are selling, that it is ok to mix males and females, that it is ok to not know how to sex a rat, because doing those things will still guarentee a sale. Rats, as a species, are not helped by buying one or two from a petshop because you felt sorry for them.
It will be a long time before petshops stop selling animals; however each person refusing to even buy supplies in a petshop that sells animals is another step in the right direction. Petshops used to sell puppies and kittens and women used to be denied the right to vote, change does happen even if it is started by a small group of people.
If you do continue to go into shops that sell animals and you notice a female rat living with males or very ill rat you could try and persuade the petshop to give you that rat for free, plus anything for it's future care that they will give you. If they won't give you the rat for free, even if a discount is offered, you can leave your phone number in case they change their mind but please just walk away. Yes, it could be seen as cruel and heartless, but paying for a rat still means that not only do they get some money for the rat, which shows them that there is always money in selling rats, but they can fill the hole with another rat. Paying for a rat also shows that you support and endorse the petshops and rodent farms treatment of animals.
If you are the sort of person that cannot walk away from a cute face in a petshop then we advise you to not enter petshops that sell animals. There are many petshops that do not sell animals, there are also some fabulous online retailers that do not sell animals.
But I need to help the poor rats!
If you wish to help an unfortunate rat that really needs a home please go to a rescue. Back yard breeders and rodent farms breed millions of rats each year for profit and are contributing to the companion animal overpopulation crisis. Every rat bought from a petshops means fewer homes for rats waiting, desperately, for a home in a rescue. The more rescue rats homed to loving people the more space there is in rescue for rats in need. There is a rescue rat out there for everyone - see this article, or click here for a list of rescue organisations.
What if I want a well handled rat that has a good chance of being healthy throughout it's life?
A lot of people feel that breeders are intimidating, but you can be assured that the reputable ones are approachable and if you care for your rats properly, or are willing to take on board their advice for making improvements, then a breeder would be happy to home to you. Click here for advice on what to look for when choosing a breeder and see here or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of breeders.
Author: Alison Triggs
Articles about sourcing your new pets.
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