Adopting rescue rats
Unfortunately there are always rats looking for good homes. Rats become homeless or unwanted for many different reasons, including many of the same reasons that see cats and dogs looking for new homes. Many of these rats are problem-free, and suitable for rat owners with little or no rat experience.
Adult rats can become homeless due to their owners moving house, or because the landlord decides pet rats were not part of the agreement - if you are considering keeping rats in rented property do make sure you have written permission, as landlords who are unphased by a hamster can react strongly to rats.
As rats are small animals kept in a cage they are often bought as pets for children, who can quickly lose interest. Some rats may become too expensive, because they need veterinary treatment that the owner is unable or unwilling to give.
There are also a few unfortunate owners who become allergic to their rats, or their personal circumstances mean they are unable to care for the rats any longer.
The reasons for rat kittens being homeless are different - perhaps the rats were mis-sexed by the pet shop and brought home pregnant or with a male cagemate, to give the surprised new owner an unexpected litter a few days or weeks later.
Often rat kittens are looking for homes due to their mum being purposely bred from with little thought about where the babies would live, or how many there would be. As rats can have up to 20 babies in a litter breeding is not something to take lightly, and for more information on deciding to breed see this article.
Some of these unwanted rats will end up in animal shelters, some will end up advertised in the free ads, local paper etc., and some will find homes through online rescue forums.
Deciding to adopt
Rescuing rats can be immensely rewarding for both you and the rats. However, it is something to give considerable thought to, rather than a spur of the moment decision. So, you need to consider your own situation, and decide what type of rats you are willing to adopt - age, sex, tameness and health should all be taken into account.
You should also consider the impact your rescues may have on your existing rats (health, behaviour and standard of living). Depending on where your new rats come from, you may need to quarantine them in a separate airspace/room/cage initially: see this article.
While you may plan to introduce your new rats to your existing colony, sometimes things don’t go to plan. Are you willing and able to permanently house the new rats in a separate cage if they do not get along with your current rats? Do you have suitable space for another cage, sufficient time to free range an additional group of rats, and to give everyone the individual attention they deserve?
What if your new rats come with health issues or behavioural problems? Are you comfortable taking in rats who need medical attention? Or confident enough to take on males with a history of aggression?
Are you willing to take on the unknown? Some unlucky rats are dumped or found straying, and may have no known history.
The adoption process
Once you have decided that you know what you are looking for, it is time to find your new rats. If you are experienced with rats you may consider looking in the free-ads and rehome rats directly from their current owner, but a safer option is to go via a rescue organisation, or rats in a foster home, which will have been assessed fully for temperament and health before you commit yourself to them.
Speak to someone who knows the rats you are considering, to see whether they sound suitable for your circumstances, and ideally arrange to meet the rats first of all. If you are going to someone's home do not allow yourself to be guilt-tripped into bringing the rats away with you immediately if you are not sure. If you are going to a rescue centre they will not usually allow you to take rats home with you on your first visit.
Many rescue organisations will carry out a homecheck before you can take your new rats home. This involves a staff member or volunteer visiting you to see your current rats, and to see the setup you have for your new rats. Homechecks are not designed to be intimidating or catch you out, and the person will probably just expect a cup of tea and a friendly chat!
Most rescues will ask for a donation when you adopt rats, although in many cases this will not be a fixed amount, and will not reflect how much the rat has cost them, as this would prevent long-stay rats finding homes. Some rescues will ask for a larger amount for neutered males. Conversely some rescues will adopt out older or frail rats for less, as they appreciate they may well cost their new owner more in vet bills.
Paying a rescue donation should not be regarded as buying the rat, as the money will go towards the rescue work as a whole, and this is totally different to paying for a rat in a shop. Pet shops operate primarily as a business, and the bottom line is the profit. Even if you buy a rat to remove it from bad conditions this will only been seen as a successful sale, and you should not let your heart trick you into thinking you are helping to rescue any rats, as next week's stock will be along soon enough to move into the same tiny, smelly cages. You may feel you wish to complain about a pet shop if you are unhappy with conditions.
Your new rats
Once you have your new rats home, allow them some time to settle in - remember they have just had a great disturbance in their lives. Even tame rats will need to adjust to new surroundings, and to learn to trust a new owner. There is advice on taming your rats here.
It can be rewarding to stay in touch with wherever your rats came from - rescue centres and foster carers love to get photos and emails of their success stories.
Author: Alison Mercer and Vicki Anderson
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