While rodents may scare some people and get a bad reputation, rats are extremely intelligent animals and make great pets if you care for them properly. Rats are naturally curious, have a strong memory, and are excellent learners. They understand complex concepts and once they learn how to do something, it is unlikely that they will forget it. By understanding just how intelligent a rat is, you'll be able to more wholly appreciate these little animals for what they truly are, keep these smart creatures safe, and provide them with proper mental stimulation. Rats are much more than just a naked tail and beady eyes.
Rat Are Social Animals
Rats are very social animals, often using high-frequency sounds that humans cannot hear to communicate with each other. This is why it is so important to have more than one rat together. They become attached to other rats and recognize their own family members but rats also easily bond with their human owners and make for affectionate pets. Pet rats enjoy being stroked by their owners and sometimes even enjoy a gentle massage, a scratch behind the ears, or a simple tickle. Rats have also been known to return the affection by "grooming" their owners.
Rats Are Trainable
Domesticated rats are very gentle and playful creatures. Like a pet dog, a pet rat can learn many tricks and can even respond to its own name. Pet rats can learn to sit up, fetch, jump through a hoop, come when called, and even walk on a tightrope. Additionally, rats can be taught to solve puzzles, run through mazes, and perform tricks. Training a pet rat is relatively simple and rats respond well to a food-based reward. There are even a variety of videos online demonstrating how to train a rat.
Rats Are Very Clean
Domesticated rats do not like getting dirty and are constantly grooming themselves. They are fastidiously clean like cats, and if a rat gets something on its fur it will immediately try to remove it. Rats also enjoy grooming each other and will gather in groups to take part in a group grooming session.
Rats rarely need to be bathed since they are such good self-cleaners. Old, sick, or obese rats are generally the only ones that will need bathing because they often have difficulty grooming themselves due to osteoarthritis.
Your smart pet rat will of course need a cage to live in that will not only keep it safe but provide it with things to keep its mind busy. Some people purchase cages from the pet store while other opt to make their own.
Wire cages are good options for pet rats and most rats will prefer one with horizontal bars so that they can climb up the sides. The cage can have shelves or multiple levels for the rat to climb on also. Be sure to avoid wire flooring on the bottom of the cage though, as this can injure the rat's feet.
Soft bedding and nesting materials will also need to be provided in which a rat can shred and use to line their nest box. The nest box is where your rat will most likely sleep. A cardboard box is sufficient for this or pet stores sell pre-made nest boxes specifically designed for rodents. Some owners choose to make their own fabric pouch or purchase a handmade rat tent.
Finally, rats enjoy a wide variety of toys and accessories. Ropes, ladders, hammocks, tubes, enclosed exercise wheels, and chew toys will all be appreciated and well-used by your pet rat. Provide a variety of options on a rotating basis so your rat doesn't get bored with the items and don't be afraid to make toys, too. These items will help keep your rat's brain busy as well as their body healthy.
Keeping Rats Safe Outside the Cage
Rats also enjoy playtime outside of their cages and can engage in a wide variety of activities like cuddling or running mazes. Be sure that any time outside of the cage is supervised and the area they are in is rat-proofed. Rats will chew on anything in their vicinity. Electrical wires and poisonous plants are the top risks to rats when they are outside of their cages.
Davis, Hank. Underestimating The Rat's Intelligence. Cognitive Brain Research, vol 3, no. 3-4, 1996, pp. 291-298, doi:10.1016/0926-6410(96)00014-6
Providing a Home for a Rat. Merck Veterinary Manual.