Guess I’m going for controversial today. I know, beyond a doubt, several of you will look at this post, and think, “Rats? Yuck! Keep them well away from me – about a universe will do.

Fair enough. I have the same reaction to spiders.

However, I find there are a lot of misconceptions about rats that lead to that response. Unlike spiders, when – really – how can you have a misconception about a creepy thing with eight legs that invades your bath just when you want to get in it?

Casey, a character from Casey and the Hereafter, has a pet rat by the name of Morse. Why did I choose a rat to be Casey’s pet? A couple of reasons:

  •  I’m familiar with rats, and it’s unusual if a story features one as a pet.

(I initially thought of “dog”. Safe, generic, lots of people like them. However, I know NOTHING about dogs. Have never had one, and, like I say, they’re generic, so feature a lot in books when someone has a pet.)

  • The misconceptions a lot of people have about rats.

(Films delight in portraying them as nasty, red-eyed, squeaky things, who attack humans on a whim. Fact of fiction? Gee – let me think!)

Fact or Fiction:
1) Rats aren’t clean: FICTION
Let me be clear: the rats I’m talking about here are domestic rats (not their wild cousins), and they like to be clean so much, they spend quite a bit of time each day washing.
2) Rats caused the Black Death: FICTION
Fleas caused the Black Death. The rats were just what they opted to use as a meal. If the fleas had chosen dogs instead, would you blame the dogs?
3) Rats squeak all the time: FICTION
Rats are quiet little chaps. They know they’re vulnerable as prey, and, as such, squeaking would draw the attention of hunters. Consequently, they’re only likely to squeak if they’re in a huge amount of pain, or are absolutely terrified. (Or are wimps ;).)
4) Rats are great climbers: FACT
They can climb up curtains, pipes, radiators… You name it, they’ve probably climbed up it.
5) Rats only have a short lifespan: FACT
Despite being larger than gerbils, their average lifespan is shorter than their desert cousins’. A great age for a rat is two years. If they live to three, it’s almost like a human reaching one-hundred-and-five!
6) Rats love riding around on shoulders: FACT
Oh, yes, definitely a fact. Rats can be quite happy perched on someone’s shoulder a bit like a parrot. They have excellent grip and balance, and use their tail as an extra muscle to help with this.
7) Rats are nocturnal: FICTION
While rats are often more lively at night, they can be up at any time of the day.
8) Rats are herbivores (only eat vegetables): FICTION
Rats are actually omnivores (eat both meat and veg, like humans), and will eat practically anything, given half the chance.
9) Rats should be kept on their own: FICTION
While some rats prefer their own company, or that of humans as opposed to other rats, the majority love ratty companionship. When kept in a group, you can often find them all curled up together in a big pile.
10) Rats make terrible pets: FICTION
Rats make some of the best pets ever, in my opinion. They’re awake at whatever time of day or night. For the most part, they love interacting with humans. They’re quick learners. And they can certainly love you as much as you love them.

Does anyone have pet rats? Or used to? Any funny stories? What about other less common pets?