Rats have a reputation for being filthy pests that are hard to get rid of, but these rodents are interesting animals that live very short lives.
The average lifespan of a rat is only 1-2 years, depending on its living conditions. Wild rats live about one year. Domesticated or “fancy” rats raised as pets tend to live up to two years.
Read on to learn some fun facts about rats. We’ll discover the oldest rat ever and explore the differences between wild and pet rats. You’ll also learn some tips for caring for a pet rat to help you prepare before bringing one home to stay.
Fun Facts About Rats
Rats have some pretty impressive traits that might shock you. For example, they are strong swimmers and can hold their breath underwater for up to three minutes! In addition, some species of rats can tread water for days.
A rat is a smart animal, proven by finding its way through mazes, completing complicated tasks, and showing emotions.
Rats are also great climbers and jumpers. They can jump up to 3 feet high and climb trees, walls, and poles.
Have you ever heard a rat laugh? They make a chirping noise that sounds a bit like laughter when they’re excited, playing rough, or being tickled. However, this laughing animal has an ultrasonic chirp that’s sometimes hard for humans to detect.
We might not pick up some of the sounds rats make, but they can hear us. That’s because rats have better hearing than humans. For example, a rat can hear sound frequencies from 200Hz to 90,000Hz, whereas humans can hear from 20Hz to 20,000Hz.
And rats don’t need air conditioning. Their body heat is regulated by blood vessels in the tail. When they get hot, blood flows to their hairless tail, releasing heat. Less blood flows to the tail when they get cold, which keeps their bodies warm.
But, alas, they don’t live long. Unless we’re talking about the oldest rat ever, of course. Can you guess how old he was?
The Oldest Rat Ever
The oldest rat ever on record was a pet named Rodney, who lived to be seven years and four months old, according to Guinness World Records. Rodney was born in January 1983 and died in May 1990. Rodney lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and had the same name as his owner Rodney Mitchell.
Rodney’s life was at least five times longer than most rats. We’re guessing his long life had a lot to do with Rodney being a pet and not a wild rat. If Rodney had lived in the wild, there’s very little chance he would have survived that long.
Beyond Rats: The Oldest Rodent
Yet, rats are far from the oldest rodents in the in the world. That title goes to naked mole rats. A naked mole rat that was born in 1973 lived all the way until 2002. At the time of its passing this oldest rodent of all time was 28 years old! Porcupines are another long-lived rodent. As a larger rodent species, they’re able to attain a longer lifespan. The oldest porcupine on record lived to 27 years old!
The Lifespan of a Wild Rat
Wild rats only have a lifespan of about one year because their lives are pretty tough. Rats are hunted by many animals, like badgers, coyotes, snakes, and weasels. They also have shorter lives because rats can pass diseases to each other through bites, urine, feces, and even by sharing their nests.
Because they survive by scavenging for food, rats prefer to come out at night. This is because they can’t be seen as well by predatory animals in the dark.
Wild rats eat a wide variety of plant foods. They forage for greens and berries, and they love vegetables and seeds. Some rats also eat certain animals, like freshwater fish and mussels. However, rats aren’t very picky eaters. They eat almost any food they can find and sometimes garbage, too.
And rats prefer many of the foods that we love too! Researcher and founder of The Animal Behavior Society, Martin Schein, discovered that rats are particularly fond of macaroni and cheese and scrambled eggs.
Wild rats in the United States are most commonly Noways rats, although roof rats and brown rats are common as well. Brown rats are often called “common rats,” although they can also go by times like street rats and sewer rats. They live in packs, and the females can have a new litter of babies up to five times per year. The litter size usually is about seven pups but can be up to 14.
The Lifespan of Pet Rats
Rodney probably lived as long as he did because he was a fancy rat, though not because he had great style. Rats raised as pets are called fancy rats because they were bred to be gentle and tame. That doesn’t make them fancier than wild rats; it just means they’re more suitable for being around humans.
Fancy rats kept as pets live longer than wild rats because they are much safer from predators and health risks unless there’s a cat in the house! In addition, a fancy rat rarely spreads disease or no more than other house pets do. The lifespan of pet rats is about two years, although they can live longer. As you just saw, Rodney reached more than 7 years old!
However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that families take disease precautions when bringing a rat home as a pet. The CDC suggests practicing regular handwashing after handling, feeding, or being near a rat. They also recommend that people don’t eat or drink near a pet rat or their cage, and it’s best to keep this pet away from your face. These good habits could help you and your rat live safely together for many happy months or even years.
IS A RAT THE RIGHT PET FOR YOU?
If you’re thinking of raising a rat as a pet, there are some essential things to consider first.
Rats get most of their sleep during the day. So, think about where you could keep their cage in your home where it would be quiet and peaceful during daylight hours.
You’ll want to keep other animals in your home away from your pet rat. If your little rodent buddy feels threatened by a curious cat or dog, it could develop long-lasting health issues from constant stress.
Did you know that a rat’s teeth keep growing their entire lives? So, you’ll want to make sure your pet rat has plenty of things to gnaw on in their cage to prevent their teeth from getting too long. Also, be aware that if a rat is allowed to run loose in the house, it will probably chew on anything it can find – including power cords.
Rats love to dig and burrow. You should often replace the nesting material in their cages and make sure there’s lots of it.
When selecting a rat as a pet, be sure to choose one from a reliable breeder. Do some research first before deciding where to find the best pet options.
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