Rat Buying Guide: Pet Shop, Breeder or Rescue?

If you’ve decided that a rat is the perfect pet for you then the next logical step is acquiring one. To get your hands on a pet rat, you basically have three options: pet shops, breeders, or rescues.

Rescues sound great on paper but are not suitable for everyone. Pet shops are cheap, but the animals are not always of the best quality and might have been neglected or poorly bred. Buying your rats from a breeder that specializes in breeding rats is a good option, but is usually pricier, and not always possible for everyone.

While all three options can work, buying from a breeder is generally the better of the three options for a variety of reasons that we’ll get into a little later.

In this article we’ll go over everything you need to know to make an informed decision. Let’s dig in!


Buying a Rat from a Pet Shop

If you’ve ever set foot in a pet shop then you’ve probably seen their rat enclosures. Most pet shops have rats readily available and they’re often quite cheap. Where I’m at, a rat in the pet shop costs only around $2 to $3.

As a result of their low price and ease of availability it can be tempting to walk into a pet shop and buy a pet rat. However, there are a few things that you should know before doing so.

First of all, pet shops often get their rats from large scale breeders that are in it for the profit, not for the love of the animal per se. As such, they treat it like a business that’s designed to make money, focusing on finding a loving home for these fantastic rodents comes secondary.

Because of this, rats from a pet shop often have more health problems and can have a shorter lifespan. Furthermore, they might be more prone to biting and be less social because they are less used to interaction with humans.

Moreover, hobby breeders typically selects lines that are specifically selected for traits such as trainability, docility, tameness, affection, and intelligence. The rats that you find in pet shops have not been bred with these qualities in mind and can thus be more difficult to deal with.

However, while rats in a pet shop are generally of lower quality than those from a breeder, that does not mean that getting a rat from a pet shop is always bad. Some rats that come from pet shops are in excellent health and are very affectionate.

If you do not have any breeders near you then buying a rat from a pet shop might be your only choice. If that’s the case, then worry not, while buying from a pet shop is not ideal, if it’s the only option and you really want a rat then you can go for it, as long as you take a few precautions in mind.

Things to look at when buying a rat from a pet shop

When you buy a rat from a pet shop you have to do your due diligence to ensure that you get a healthy and socialized animal.

Before you buy, ask if you can hold the rats. By doing this, you’ll be able to see if they are skittish or aggressive. In addition, it allows you to inspect the rat a little closer.

While holding it, look for signs that the rat is strong and healthy. Particular points of interest that are good signs are:

  1. Bright clear eyes
  2. Good thick fur
  3. Clear breathing

Also look for these bad signs:

  1. Puffed up fur
  2. Swelling around the face or neck
  3. Drainage around eyes or nose
  4. Sores
  5. Noisy breathing
  6. Sneezing
  7. A foul smell
  8. Scabs on the body

If a rat shows a lot of the good signs and none of the bad signs then it’s a pretty safe bet that the rat is strong and healthy and you can buy it.

Buying a rat from a breeder

The best way to buy a pet rat is from a dedicated and experienced breeder. When buying a rat from a breeder like this you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll get a well-socialized and healthy specimen that’ll make for a great pet.

You should of course look for the same signs of health as above, but rats that are raised by breeders are generally treated better so they’re more likely to be healthy.

The higher level of care that breeder rats receive does increase their price tag slightly, but they’re still quite cheap. Typically, breeders will charge you around $10 to $20 per rat.

When locating a breeder it’s also good to ask around in rat communities around you to see if other people have experience with them. You can often find good referrals from local rat communities as well.

Another benefit of buying your rat from a breeder is that you’ll often be able to choose which variant you want. There are 7 officially recognized and distinct variants to choose from, they are:

In addition, there are also several unrecognized variants such as the Dwarf Rat and the Harley Rat.

All of these rat variants also come in many different colors and markings, but since there are so many colors you won’t always be able to pick the specific color or marking that you want.

Getting a rescue rat

Some areas have humane societies or other organizations where you can find rescue rats, but this is not always the case. In my area there are unfortunately no such organizations. However, even then you might be able to find a rescue rat on Facebook or other groups.

The benefits of getting a rescue rat are numerous, but there are also some drawbacks.

It’s great that you’re rescuing a rat and giving it a second chance, and you’ll often be able to get one for free, sometimes even with accessories included!

However, it does happen quite often that rescue rats have some temperamental issues. Some of these issues can be worked through and they can become very friendly over time, but not always.

If you’re a first time owner, I think getting your rats from a breeder is the best option so that you can familiarize yourself with the animals and their requirements. After that, rescue can be a great option!

Things to know before you buy a rat

If you’ve decided whether a breeder or a pet shop is a better choice for you it might be tempted to immediately go and buy your furry friend. However, there are some things you need to know first.

Always get 2 or more rats

Make sure that you get at least 2 and preferable more rats. Rats are very social animals that become sad and depressed if kept in solitude.

They need companionship from other rats and keeping them alone is cruel. It’s best to keep your rats in same-sex groups, especially as a beginner.

Get a cage that is spacious enough

Rats need at least 2.5 cubic feet of space for each individual. More is always better. It’s best to go for a wire cage. Some people use aquariums, but the airflow is not the greatest in those enclosures.

Be prepared to say goodbye

It’s sad, but rats usually only live for 2 to 3 years. You might not think so at first, but many people get incredibly attached to their furry little rodent in these 2 to 3 years, so saying goodbye is incredibly painful.

Jesse A.