Just for kids


January 27, 2000|By Jennifer Fletcher | Jennifer Fletcher,Chicago Tribune

You may think of rats as pests -- but not Nathan S., 10, of Aurora, Ill. His rat Niagra is his pet. Nathan says the floppy-eared, sweet-natured rat loves to cuddle.

Nathan and other rat owners are among a growing number of people who say the whiskered creatures make good companions. Fancy rats -- or rats bred as pets -- come in all kinds of colors (like chocolate, yellow, Siamese, superblack and more) and coat variations (including curly, long-haired and satin).

Veterinarian Masako Mori of Westchester, Ill., says she examines about 10 to 12 rats a month. She says that rats "rarely bite and have a placid temperament." Generally, they're inquisitive, sociable, active and easy to handle. But like hamsters, rats have short lifespans of about two years.

If you think you could fall for your own pair of pink beady eyes, here's what you should know: Rats cost $10 to $50, depending on the variety of the rat. They should be kept in pairs or groups. If housed alone, rats become lonely and depressed. Also, you may want to consider buying your rats through a breeder who handles the rats regularly, so they're accustomed to the human touch. (For a list of breeders, try the Web site of the Rat and Mouse Club of America, www.rmca.org, or check www.altpet. net/rodents/breeder.html.)

To care for pet rats, you'll need the basics: a large cage, bedding, a water bottle and a food dish. Rats nibble on lab blocks (which you can find at pet stores) or a seed/grain mix, plus they'll munch on fresh veggies. They also like toys, such as boxes and tubes, for sleeping, climbing and playing.

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