Meet My Therapy Animals: RATS!

How I came to have seven pet rats and why I think they’re the best therapy animals.

So I have seven rats.

I know that probably sounds really weird to a few people, but my rats are truly the best pets I could ask for.

I decided to get rats last year after seeing a video of a woman who had trained her rats to perform tricks. It just amazed me that these little rodents – that I always used to consider to be just big hamsters with tails – could actually learn tricks just like a dog. She was able to get them to go to the cage on command, and come when called. They could complete agility courses. She would even sneeze and they would fetch her a tissue!

It was amazing to watch, and it was then that I thought rats were the therapy animals for me.

For those of you who don’t know, animals can hugely support our health and wellbeing. Sara goes into detail about the health benefits that pets offer on her blog, Ms Health-Esteem; I highly recommend you check her article out here.

A friend of mine got herself a pet rabbit as a therapy animal, and watching her improve made me consider it for myself. I have battled with the anxiety and depression pirates for quite a few years. I’ve actually probably had some form of anxiety all of my life. Maybe a therapy pet would help me to cope with them.

I do have a dog, however he is much more closely attached to my mum than he is to me; he’s a mummy’s boy and I’m not the mummy.

None of my family have really been keen on the idea of having pet rats. My grandma really does not like their tails; she would scream if the rats came anywhere near her. But when I showed this video to my mum and my brother of these rats they looked at me and said in unison:

“Let’s get rats!”

So we did.

I hate to say that I got my first four rats from a pet shop. Please refrain from buying rats from a pet shop! I go into why in an article I wrote on HubPages, but trust me when I say this: don’t get rats from a pet shop!

But anyway, I got my first two last March: Chadwick and Hotch. I’m an aircraft geek, and named Chadwick after Roy Chadwick, chief designer for the aircraft manufacturing company Avro. He was the genius behind pretty much all of Avro’s aircraft, including the Avro 504, the Lancaster bomber, and the Vulcan bomber. He was a spectacular guy, and so I had to name a rat after him.

Hotch was named by my mum, after the character Aaron Hotchner from Criminal Minds. We were a little bit obsessed with that TV show at the time!

Two months later I took home another two ratties: Gideon (after Jason Gideon from Criminal Minds) and Feynman (after my favourite physicist, Richard Feynman). Unfortunately, Feynman and Chadwick both passed away in December, leaving Hotch and Gideon feeling very depressed. We weren’t ready to adopt more rats, but the remaining boys were losing weight dramatically in their grief. Hotch had lost his rock; Chadwick had always been there to encourage him to step out of his comfort zone. Gideon had lost his wrestling buddy. They are both so different in personalities, and they just weren’t coping. They needed some ratties who could fulfil their needs. So we adopted three little ones from a breeder: Brecht, Tesla, and Thembo. This way Gideon could play with them and Hotch could snuggle with them.

And then in May my mum talked me into adopting another two ratties: Maxwell and Taylor. So now we have seven.

Without further ado, let’s meet the boys, shall we?

Hotch (aka Hotch Potch, Handsome, Fatman, Hotch Splotch)

Hotch

It is quite ironic that my mum chose Hotch. Before we went to the pet shop, she said that she didn’t want us to get a white rat with red eyes, and Hotch is just that. Well, to be fair he is actually a red-eyed Himalayan, so not quite white, but it still amuses me.

Hotch is the alpha male of the mischief. He’s a total softie, despite his massive 630g butt, and loves cuddles, especially with my mum.

Because he and Chadwick were from a pet shop, they weren’t used to being handled. Hotch was extremely nervous initially, with Chadwick gently encouraging him to explore their new home. It took him a long time to bond with us. However, once he started giving us kisses, he couldn’t (and still can’t) stop!

Although he isn’t really interested in the rough sort of play that the others enjoy, he does have his bouncy moments. But for the most part he just likes to relax and eat…and eat some more! He’s still maintained his good looks though. And to be honest, his love of food had made him a very obedient ratty, and a master of food puzzles.

Chadwick (aka Chaddywinkles, Chadders, Little Shit)

Chadwick

Chadwick was the one who first showed me how rewarding it was to have rats. When the pet shop keeper gave me him to hold, he nestled in my arms like he belonged there. I fell in love instantly. He was a dumbo eared roan: he was mostly white with grey down his back which would fade to white as he got older.

Chadwick was the first to give me kisses, and the first to learn to come when called and learn tricks like spinning. During free-range time, he would constantly come to me and make a fuss and play fight with my hands. He was the sweetest little boy, apart from when he would escape (hence the ‘Little Shit’).

I was heartbroken when he was diagnosed with a fast-growing tumour on his liver. Three days after the diagnosis, on Christmas Day, he slipped away. It was so fast, and although I was grateful he didn’t suffer for long, I selfishly wish I’d had more time to say goodbye.

Gideon (aka Giddy, Giddy Boy, Soft Boy, Little Parrat)

Gideon

Gideon reminds me a lot of a cat. He wants love and attention on his terms (he has no qualms about shoving you hand away) and he likes to roam around on his own. However he will also happily sit on my shoulder like a parrot while I go about my day; he’s my parrat.

Gideon has the softest fur out of all of my boys, hence why we call him Soft Boy. I find it very therapeutic to stroke his fur when I’m anxious. It’s a shame I can’t take him everywhere with me; though I highly doubt my classmates would appreciate me bringing rats to college.

In terms of learning tricks, Gideon is definitely top of the class. He’ll come when called, spin on command, and he has been learning to roll over too. That doesn’t mean that Gideon hasn’t learnt tricks of his own though…like escaping. He will climb onto the top of the cage and climb down the back to freedom. He’s even taught some of the others this naughty trick. At the moment he is teaching Brecht and Maxwell to drop off the sofa. He’s so naughty!

Feynman (the poorly boy)

Feynman

Feynman taught us a lot about rat health and was the reason we no longer buy rats from pet shops. We had to rush him to the emergency vets just one week after we got him and Giddy from the pet shop. It sounded as though he couldn’t breathe and we thought we were going to lose him. He recovered very quickly due to a course of antibiotics, however that was only the beginning.

Throughout the rest of his life, Feynman battled a chronic respiratory infection. He would deteriorate to the point where we would book him in with the vets to be put to sleep, only to bounce back just hours before the appointment. Unfortunately in December he succumbed to his illness and died in our arms. It was heartbreaking, but it was also a relief that he was finally at peace.

Feynman proved to be a very cuddly yet comical rat during his short life. He almost appeared to prefer our company to his brothers’; he always wanted out and seemed to boggle the most when he was at the vets! Once, he even gave our vet a kiss on the nose while he was listening to his breathing!

He also had the most remarkable facial expressions, especially when I tried to coax him to eat tuna once.

Yes, I found him so funny, I made him a gif.

I miss him so much, even now.

Brecht (aka Brek-Brecht, Houdini)

Brecht

Brecht is named after the practitioner of epic theatre, Bernolt Brecht. From day one he was a very confident ratty; he even tried to get into Hotch and Gideon’s cage as soon as he saw it! He is very independent and loves escaping. Now that he’s getting older, he seems to be getting a little quieter and more affectionate, but he still doesn’t care for cuddles. We’ll have to wait and see.

Brecht is a roan, which means he started off as a grey and white ratty and has faded more and more as he’s gotten older. Before long his transition from badger to white shark will be complete. I really miss his badger markings. However he does seem to have become cuter with age, and now boggles loads when I talk to him softly while he’s chilling in a hammock.

Tesla (aka Tez, Shark-Face, Tesi-Poo)

Tesla

Named after Nikola Tesla, Tesla is a very quiet and independent boy who is slowly learning to be more affectionate. Like Brecht, when he was younger he liked to do his own thing, and it’s only now that he’s getting older that he makes more of an effort with us humans.

He has taken over from Brecht as the master of escaping. I section the landing off for them to play in while I clean their cage out, and he’s the one who is constantly finding a way out. It’s hilarious because he peeps through the door to the living room, and then as soon as I walk towards him he’ll peg it back upstairs! Cheeky boy.

Tesla reminds me a lot of a young Hotch. He doesn’t seem to understand how to give kisses and his first few tries were clumsy nibbles. However, I received TWO proper kisses from him last night! I ended up squealing a little in excitement and scaring him. Sorry, Tesla!

In terms of training, Tesla started off really well, but then decided he had better things to do. Like be his own rat. And steal from Gideon’s hard-earned stash of treats. It’s a shame because he definitely seems to be a bit sharper than Thembo and Brecht, but what can you do? Maybe one day I’ll make him a ratty-sized science lab so he can reach his potential.

Geddit? No? I’ll see myself out…

Thembo (aka Themby, Silly Butt)

Thembo

Thembo is the second largest rat in the mischief and he’s basically a playful ball of cuteness. He can be a bit cheeky and start chewing at your clothes, which can be annoying, but it’s impossible to stay mad at him. Like Hotch, he’s very food-oriented and loves to “pancake” (lie flat on his belly), especially on the windowsill or the ladder hanging from the top of the cage.

Thembo isn’t particularly interested in escaping; he prefers to be chased. On the sofa I will tackle him with my hand and chase him back and forth for a bit, and he goes crazy. He absolutely loves it! And then he’ll hide under the throw we put out for them and then wait to pounce on me or one of the other ratties. He’s just adorable.

Maxwell (aka The Baby, Baby Boy)

MaxwellAs some of you may know, this little boy has been through the wars lately. The poor baby trapped his tail somehow and a couple of inches had to be amputated to avoid infection. This has led to us babying him quite a lot during his recovery.

Maxwell looks like such a cute and innocent little boy, and he sure as hell knows it too! However, don’t be fooled by his exterior, for he is actually really naughty! One of his oldest tricks is kiss all the way up you arm…and pee up it too. He has recently learnt from the older boys how to escape during free-time, and often picks fights with the others, including Hotch. This does not go down well, but if any of them try and sort him out, he screeches and comes to us as if to tell on them! It can be funny, but we’re keeping a close eye to ensure he doesn’t cause too much trouble during his pubescent period. The last thing we need is any more drama, especially what with Hotch coming up to two years old.

Maxwell loves being out of the cage and having cuddles, and God forbid you pay attention to another rat! If you go anywhere near the cage or say something to one of the other ratties, he’s at the cage door before you know it. The same happens during free-time; you aren’t allowed to give too much attention to any of the other boys!

Taylor (aka Cheeky Face)

Taylor

Taylor is a cheeky yet quietly affectionate little boy, and a bit of an attention whore, like Maxwell. During free-time, if you don’t play with him for a while, he will often resort to some light nipping! However, he can be extremely cute, whether it’s by giving kisses, bouncing around, or sleeping in funny positions in the wheel.

Taylor has picked up spinning on command impressively fast, and I’m currently trying to teach him to roll. He’s not particularly keen on being on his back, so this is going to take a lot of time and encouragement. In the meantime, he’s just enjoying running in and out of the cage, performing tricks for treats and stashing them away.

My boys are amazing

 

Each and every one of them have such different personalities, and I can’t believe how much they have enriched my life. I love them all so much, and feel so much better for having them.

Anxiety and depression are illnesses I’m probably always going to struggle with. But I know that my boys make the pain all the more bearable. Even when I have been at my lowest, they have never failed to make me smile. Whether it be by acting silly, or just by offering me some small kisses, they always cheer me up.

Do YOU have therapy pets? Share yours in the comments section or on one of my social media pages.

And in the meantime, keep smiling.

8 thoughts on “Meet My Therapy Animals: RATS!”

  1. I loved your post and getting to meet your babies! 🐀 Rats truly are amazing animals, and I love the idea of having them as therapy pets. Thanks for sharing!

  2. They are all so beautiful! I’m really glad you found such wonderful (and adorable) companions 😊. Pets are such great family members. I couldn’t imagine a life without them 💜.

    1. Absolutely, Ana! And the only potential side effects are animal hairs, chewing, and the woes of toilet training!

  3. As a youngster I bred Guinea Pigs and White Mice for financial gain (what else) selling the mice for a tanner each and the Guinea Pigs for half a crown (work that one out!)
    The mice were a means to an end, make money, but I found the Guinea Pigs were very good for me when I was down in the dumps. Today, they are still my favourite small animal.
    As an adult, while living in Scotland I had a Baron, a German Shepherd. I’ll swear that dog could talk, he was a wonderful companion. Later, while living in Germany, I had Kelly, an Irish Wolfhound, a most lovable animal, although she had sawdust where other dogs had brains!
    Those two dogs, brought up in a family home where without a doubt good for all of us. A cuddle and a wet tongue slurp from a huge bundle of fur on four legs made me feel good.

    It’s long been proven that animals are good therapy, look how often they are used in care homes. Those elderly folk find stroking a dog far better therapy than being given yet more medication. Today, as an elderly member of the human race myself I find that making a fuss of my friend’s three dogs gives me a wonderful feeling of contentment.
    Thought for today – stroke a dog, ditch a pill – be happy.

    1. Thanks for you comment, Alan. Guinea pigs are gorgeous; I love their chuckling and wheeking, and I was really hit by the silence when mine passed on.

      Dogs, cats, rodents, even fish, make such a difference to our moods, beyond being a mere pet. As you say, they’re companions, therapy, and medication all rolled into one wonderful little package. I think my dog and rats are the reason why I’ve been managing okay off my antidepressants for the past two months.

  4. Wow. This is the first time I’ve ever read about someone having rats as pets. I suppose they’re cute and stay small in size and don’t leave furs everywhere — my objection from having cats or dogs 🙂 I’m glad they can give you companionship.

    1. Thank you for your comment 🙂 They are just full of surprises. I had no idea that I would end up having such a huge love for rats. We do have a dog, so I definitely understand what you mean! Haha!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *