Rats are excellent pets for youngsters
Question: My family is considering pet ownership, and a cat or dog is not an option. We have a 5-year-old child; do rats make good family pets?
Answer: For households with younger children, rats make excellent pets. They are affectionate animals that can be cared for with minimal adult assistance and are easier to keep than a cat, dog or rabbit.
Smaller animals are also less of a strain on the family budget. Housing is only about $35, and an estimated cost for a year's supply of food, toys, treats and litter and bedding is about $300.
Q: What kind of care do they require?
A: Emergencies can arise, so find a vet who specializes in treating rodents. Common signs that your rat might not be right include sneezing, lethargy, weight loss, dull eyes, diarrhea and difficulty breathing. If you think your rat is sick, seek medical attention immediately.
A rat's life span is typically only two to three years. If you've decided on a pet rat (or two) for your family, learn as much as you can about these special creatures -- especially about their reproduction rates and needs for a healthy and happy life.
With your child, practice approaching and handling your new friend. Spend as much time with it as possible so it gets used to your voices and smells. Hand-feed it as much as possible for the first few days. Start by placing your hand inside its cage and letting it approach on his own, smelling and walking around. Be gentle and speak softly to it.
Handle a rat as you would a kitten, and never pick one up by its tail.
Q: How can we bond with our rat?
A: Rats take up little space, making them easy to ignore. But they need social contact for at least 30 minutes a day, so train and play with it as you would a cat or a dog.
It can learn to come to you on command as well as learn its name. By working together, you can get it used to sitting on your shoulder and start taking it places with you.
The Hawaiian Humane Society welcomes questions by e-mail, email@example.com
. Indicate "Pet Ohana" in the subject line. Or, write "Pet Ohana," Hawaiian Humane Society, 2700 Waialae Ave., Honolulu 96826.