Same species or not?
Today's domestic rats are mainly derived from the brown rat or rattus norvegicus, still found in the wild in all continents except Antarctica. They are named the most prolific animal species alongside human beings, because they possess a surprising gift of adaptation and are highly intelligent. Much more massive, calm and passive than his cousin the black rat (rattus rattus), the norvegicus was chosen several hundred years ago to be domesticated and live happily with us ever since. The black rat is the one known to devastate agricultural lands and proliferate quickly in the big cities, hence its reputation as a dirty plague.
The appearance of our domestic rats today varies, thanks to selective breeding. Our pet rats come in various fur colors such as (white, blue, agouti, black, lavender, amber, etc.) and display different patterns and spots (self, irish, hooded, down sided, berkshire , etc). They can even have different shapes of ears (dumbo or standard) and textures of fur including rex (curly, wavy). You can even have naked rats!
The wild rattus norvegicus must remain camouflaged to survive so its color varies slightly in different shades of brown with a straight and sleek fur, black eyes and standard ears.
Temperament and behavior - The opposite of aggressive!
Several experiments were carried out comparing a wild strain of rattus norvegicus and a domesticated strain. Even if they descend from the same species, they exhibit very different behaviors when in contact with humans. At first when being little pups, wild rats were easily handled but once sexual maturity was reached, their survival instinct took over. They became fearful and very wary, yet did not show unprovoked aggression, while the other domesticated group sought attention and human contact as the thousands of previous generations of their lineage.
Our domestic rats have been selectively bred to bring out a gentle, loving character with an undeveloped fight or flight instinct, much like the dog being a wolf subspecies. The healthy well bred domestic rat in a healthy living environment is generally not aggressive. A rat will rarely bite, only to defend himself or sometimes when in severe pain. Even in these cases, it will prefer to find another way, such as running away or communicating its discomfort with squeaks!
Rats are very intelligent, affectionate and curious rodents and are known to get attached very quickly to their owner. These are extremely sociable little creatures that need not only the company of their own species but also that of their human friend!
Diet - Eat everything, not only trash!
The brown rat is an omnivorous species and wild or domestic, they certainly appreciate a variety in their diet! The basic diet of our domestic rat should consist of uniform kibbles specially formulated for rats* supplemented with vegetables and fresh fruit every day if possible as well as grain mixtures. You should avoid giving them only a mixture of grains, because they will choose the sweet or fatty elements and leave the rest of the ingredients often important to their balance. Wild rats are very intelligent and look for the most accessible sources of food such as our garbage cans. Being greedy by nature, fatty and sugary foods attract them and like any other wild animals in your area (raccoons, bears, squirrels, etc.), they will not hesitate to enjoy a happy meal!
Hygiene - Certainly not dirty and disgusting!
Rats are very clean, and contrary to popular beliefs they wash themselves just as our friends cats do. They also love to clean each other as a form of social behavior. Domestic rats can also be trained to use a litter corner and rock to urinate if you put a little effort into it.
Rats in the wild also show a sense of cleanliness, they do not defecate where they sleep and clean themselves just as much. They are however often affected by parasites, since they are not treated at the veterinarian like our friends living with us!
Living environment - A stimulating habitat, preferably not in the sewers!
Rats, no matter where they live, are know to be gregarious so much happier in a group. Scientifically, it has been proven that rats need to have one or more companions of the same sex to maintain a good mental health and a better physical health. If they don’t have companionship, research as shown that their immune system can weaken drastically due to the constant stress.
Rats need large, equipped cages to give them sufficient mental stimulation and enough room for their daily exercise. They need cozy beds to sleep, such as hammocks or hiding spots, as well as chew toys to keep their teeth sharp. The more space to move, huts, toys and hidden treats to discover, the happier they will be!
Those in the wild definitely need a similar habitat on many levels. They must find food, burrow, nest, or find mates to reproduce. They live in family groups and are just as sociable with their peers. They even establish a complex hierarchy allowing the group to stay in order and avoid fights, which are rarely bloody.
Curious to know more?
Domestic rats have become, thanks to their years of domestication, a small fragile, sensitive, endearing, sticky and simply fantastic animals, for kids and adults. Thanks to a proper diet, good practices and healthy lifestyles, our domestic rats can live on an average 2-3 years compared to their wild cousin, who rarely exceeds one year.
If you decide to adopt a pack in your family, you will not be disappointed, and you know who to contact? Our team of experts is here for you!