Tuesday, May 28, 2024

What have rats ever done for us? Rodents need recognition on World Rat Day!

ANYONE who keeps rats as pets will know that despite the bad press they receive they are friendly, intelligent and playful animals. Rats are excellent companions, who have even helped detect human diseases, clear minefields and improve the environment.

A stigma still surrounds the species and in recent years abandonments and cruelty has increased. So – this World Rat Day – the RSPCA wants to celebrate their value to humankind as well as promoting their good care and welfare.

Over the last two decades World Rat Day has challenged prejudicial attitudes and has shed a positive light on these fantastic creatures. While some might not be keen to spot a rat in our gardens, many will be surprised to learn that they are highly intelligent, empathetic and social creatures. Sadly, they are rarely given enough credit for the things they can do for humans – nor the amazing companions they are.

Wild mole-rats and the kangaroo rat (a distant cousin of the UK’s brown rat) play an important role in balancing the ecosystem. By burrowing and moving earth around, these animals can affect soil structure and nutrient levels and they also spread and bury seeds, which promotes plant growth and contributes to ecosystem sustainability.

The giant African pouched rat has been trained to detect tuberculosis in humans and help fight wildlife crime by sniffing out the scales of the pangolin, which is thought to be the most poached animal in the world. Rats have also been trained to sniff out explosives and have safely located thousands of landmines in Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia.

Closer to home, rats can make wonderful pets. They are friendly and enjoy human company as well as their own.

Rat tickling is an increasingly popular activity for lab rats aimed at improving interactions between humans and rats by mimicking the way that rats play together. Studies have shown this improves the welfare of rats and this activity could be used to improve the welfare of rats in other settings.

Dr Jane Tyson, the RSPCA’s rodent welfare expert, said: “World Rat Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate these wonderful animals. Just like their wild cousins, our pet rats are very active and intelligent so they need plenty of space and lots to do to help prevent boredom setting in.

“When provided with the right environment and lots to keep them entertained, rats can make fantastic companions. They’re incredibly sociable animals so they always need rat friends to live with, but many also enjoy interacting with people too. Some owners have trained them to fetch a ball or even give a high-five!

“If anyone is thinking about bringing rats into their lives then we’d encourage them to speak with their local RSPCA animal centre as we often have rats who are looking to find a new home.”

The animal charity says it is important owners understand how rats are best cared for, such as ensuring they have enough space to thrive and that potential health issues are quickly spotted.

Since the beginning of 2020 the RSPCA has received 1,861 reports to its cruelty line of rats in need. There were also 260 reports of rats being given up and abandoned.

Between 2020 and 2022 there were an average of 585 reports of rats in need and since 2016, 162 rats have been admitted to the RSPCA’s four wildlife centres and 620 at the animal charity’s animal centres.

Among the rats who were on the end of dreadful abuse were a group of 15 rodents, who were lucky to survive when the hutches they were kept in were abandoned and set on fire at a play area at Rhyl in North Wales. The rats (pictured) were rescued from two rabbit hutches, which were found charred and blackened after newspaper and accelerant was placed inside them, at Bruton Park last August.

An RSPCA inspector took the rats to RSPCA Bryn-y-Maen Animal Centre near Colwyn Bay where they were checked out by a vet. Five were cared for and rehomed by the centre; while the others, who were transferred to the RSPCA’s Newbrook Farm Animal Centre in Birmingham and Gonsal Farm in Shropshire, have also been rehomed.

Bryn-y-Maen’s deputy manager, Rachel Gibbs, said: “These rats were fortunate to survive and thankfully they have all now been found permanent homes, including Craig and Greg, who were for a time fostered by our animal rescue officer Melanie Froude.

“Some of the females suffered singed whiskers in the fire and many of them were left smelling strongly of the accelerant for some time. The bones of another small animal were also found in one hutch – it was a horrible incident and though we appealed for information at the time we weren’t able to find out why someone would do something so terrible to these poor rats.”

otential domestic rat owners need to make sure they can provide for all their welfare needs. Rats are active creatures and love to play and explore, so they need plenty of space and hideaways in their cage along with ropes, toys and ladders for enrichment (pictured right).

Jane added: “Rats are very active and intelligent animals. They should have a large cage containing lots to keep them busy such as things to climb on, items to play with and suitable substrates in which to dig and tunnel.

“Rats are very social animals and can get depressed if they live alone. Therefore they should be kept with other friendly rats in small same sex groups.”

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