Keeping Single Rats
I will start with the question I get asked a lot so no one misses it lol!
I do not sell single rats. I do not agree or support keeping a single rat.
I only sell in groups of 2 or more. Yes even if you have other rats (see below why)
A BIG question that gets asked a lot by new or interested rat owners is "Can I keep one single rat or must I get multiple?"
Rats are group animals. They are extremely social and REQUIRE a group of rats to be truly happy. It is part of what makes rats such amazing pets. They are built to be social creatures and crave companionship. There are even studies showing rats can get depressed by being alone and I have seen it myself.
This is why I will only sell in groups of 2 or more ever.
There are sadly many misconceptions and misinformation out there concerning this. The biggest one I see is that often people will think they are somehow special and unique to be an exception to the rule. I would hope someone would truly stop and think about how much sense that makes. Are you thinking about the animal or yourself?
Every animal has specific individual needs. If you can not meet those needs, it is not the pet for you. Social and mental health is important. Think of rat companionship the same as a good cage and food. Sure they may survive in a poor environment with poor diet, but will they thrive?
You are NOT a rat. You do not speak ratty. You can't snuggle in a little rat ball.
"But I really want to bond with my pet so I will just get one now to bond"
That's not how this works. Rats are social animals... this means they can bond with a group. They can have ratty friends and still love you. Infact they will bond deeper with you because they will be happy and content healthy animals.
I have many many rats and in large groups often and they still bond with me. I have had many heart rats (a special rat that has stolen your heart- a favorite well bonded). They still want to hang out with me, want my attention, want my love and to play with me.
Every rat or even animal will have their own personality. You may not have the super intense bond with some, but sequestering them and keeping them alone to try and force it is not the answer and won't work (see below why)
If you think you can not bond with a group then you are mistaken. And it is a bit of laziness on your part to not even think you can.
"But I kept a single rat and they were happy!"
Were they though? This is often a misconception and misunderstanding of their rat's behavior. They say "I kept just one and every time they saw me they were so happy and full of interest!"
Well yeah but what about all the rest of the time? Even if you spend a lot of time with a rat, 5 hours a day, the other 19 hours....? Rats are also not like us where they have an 8 hour+ sleep schedule. They are up and nap, up and nap throughout the day. If you work or sleep they are spending a lot of time alone. What happens if you are sick or have plans?
Imagine you are starving. Not just missed a meal but literally close to death starving.
Someone comes and offers you a meal of the most disgusting slop that you would never in a million years normally eat. But you are starving! So you eat it up and even lick the plate clean as if it is the best meal you have ever eaten!
If I just saw that, I would think you loved it! Look how happy you are eating that! It must be your favorite!
This is the same it is for the rats. They are starving for attention, for companionship, for attention. And the little sprinkling of time you give them they will eat it up and seem so happy for it. But the rest of the time? They are suffering.
"My rat just isn't social, some people aren't social too"
This comparison upsets me on such a level. This is often brought up when someone has an aggressive rat who can't be kept with others and/or doesn't like people either.
There is a major difference in someone who just doesn't like going out, hanging out in groups, being a social butterfly and being all alone. Introverts still have friends or family or a partner, still may see people at work or something. They are not sitting in their bedroom 24/7 never seeing another person, never having any conversations or social interactions. And if they are doing that, they have major mental health issues. There are a ton of studies on what damage that does to people to be alone.
And I can speak from experience on this subject. I actually have severe anxiety disorder and agoraphobia! There was a dark time in my life where we had moved and my husband had a crazy job and I was home 24/7 and never saw or spoke to anyone not even my husband for days or weeks at a time with barely any social interactions. I actually had trouble with sore dry throat from not talking. This severely set me back with my mental health. I am in support groups for people with agoraphobia and this is not something anyone wants. It is painful and stressful. (I am doing much better now btw!)
Again you are not a rat. You do not speak rat. Imagine being kept by an alien who doesn't speak your language and once a day comes and says some stuff and brings you food. You would not be happy or content, you would lose your mind.
And as I have said above, this need for social behavior and companionship is written into the rat. There may be different levels of it, one rat may be a social butterfly and another may be more distant and just like to chill together calmly. But no one wants to be all alone. That is sad and depressing.
When an animal is aggressive or fearful and unable to meld in with a group, you have to think of the behavior and the underlying cause of it. Generally, this is caused by hormonal issues or a rat that just doesn't understand social dynamics. There are key points in baby rat development where they learn proper social dynamics and sadly very often when buying from pet stores, rehoming/oops litters, or irresponsible breeders they do not properly learn these behaviors. Babies are taken away from their mom way too young is a major issue, please never buy babies younger than 6 weeks old but 8-12 is the ideal age IMO. Or they do not have a genetic healthy temperament.
Start with buying good rats from a good breeder!
The differences between keeping 1 vs 2
Really there is very little differences and I do not believe any that would matter in keeping them. If you can't afford to keep two rats, you can't afford to keep one.
Rats are tiny, they eat very little. The difference in cost of food is like nothing.
Cage size- there is no difference in cage size for 1 vs 2. If the cage is too small for 2 rats, it is too small for 1.
Time/energy/bonding- see above. It makes zero difference.
Vet bills- this ofcourse can be an increased expense. But if you buy rats from a good breeder, feed them a healthy diet, keep their environment healthy and clean, it really should not be a major issue. But vet and health of our animals will always be an issue, set up a vet fund.
So how large a group should one keep? Is there a perfect number?
A lot of people suggest keeping 3, which has good logic behind it. It creates a nice balance in the group, so if one is being hyper and one is being lazy, there is another rat to take the pressure off just the one. It can mellow everyone out. Also if you have 3, if one passes away the other is not kept alone at all.
But I generally suggest having a group of 4-6 as more ideal. I would suggest getting two, when they are near 6 months to a year, get two more. This creates a nice dynamic. Old age will bring the most health issues with any pet so this will offset that so you don't have all your rats getting ill or passing at once (hopefully!) The age differences won't be so huge that if you end up with one old rat left the younger ones won't be too young to annoy them lol.
But for many people, two or three is perfectly fine.
Why add 2 rats instead of just 1 to your mischief?
I only sell in groups of 2 or more even if someone already has rats and this can confuse some.
There are several good reasons for this!
1. Age groups matter. Baby rats can be hyper, full of energy and excitement! Older rats can be lazy, tired, mushy lumps- this is definitely an issue for males lol In one of my male cages I had this silly baby boy who was one of the most hyper boys ever, he loved to climb on everyone and do a somersault off them, he constantly was flipping over the older boys. Luckily my older boys have lovely temperaments and put up with him. But it can get very annoying. The younger rat can be a pestering annoying thing and the older rat can be irritated by this. That is not fun for either of them. Babies should have other babies to play with and to take the focus off the older rats.
2. When bringing in new rats sometimes things do not go well. Some older rats may not tolerate or intro well or safely to new rats. More so if you got your older rats from an unknown or poor source. Your rats may not have good social behaviors. See my page on introductions HERE.
You have to plan just incase your rats do not get along and can not be kept together or need slow introductions..
3. You should always quarantine new rats and it is a long time for the baby to be kept alone.
"What should I do if I have two rats and one passes? Do I have to keep rats forever?"
Why wouldn't you want to keep rats forever!? lol
Rats may have a short lifespan but it is a commitment and this subject should be taken into consideration when getting a new pet.
I generally suggest, as said above, that when your pair of rats start to get older you bring in new rats and you won't have that issue.
But if you do not want to continue the cycle or get new rats...
It depends on the entire situation. If your remaining rat is very old and/or sickly where they won't be around much longer than it is usually best to just let them live out the rest of their short time in their home with you. But health plays a key role here. Some rats can live 3-4 years.
If the rat is still younger, healthy, thriving I would recommend either rehoming it (returning to the breeder) or seeing if you could adopt an older rat or even foster for a rescue so it is not a major commitment.