WORLD Rat Day fell this week, on April 4, and to celebrate, Cork-based pet rat nommy (non-binary mommy) Charlie told me all about life with their four beloved ‘rattos’.
“I love their little hands and the way they sometimes hold one hand up like a fancy lady when they’re drinking,” said Charlie, who features in My Pet and Me series this week.
“Or when they hold a treat with both hands, like little kids. And I love how cheeky they can be, it’s very cute.”
Charlie is nommy to four pet domesticated rats, otherwise known as Fancy Rats. There’s Pumpkin and Pooka, two Siamese rats, Pepper – an agouti rat - and Panda. All four are over a year old, and they live with Charlie just outside Cork city centre.
“As I’m doing this interview, Panda is sitting on my foot grooming herself,” says Charlie, who advocates that pet rats make for great pets – “they will give you lots of love and entertainment.”
There are many celebrity rat owners, from Clint Eastwood and John Cleese to Rupert Grint - who adopted the two rats that played Scabbers in the Harry Potter films – and Kim Basinger, who said of their pet rats: “They’re fun to play with, and they’re incredibly bright. They sit on your shoulder while you’re working on the computer. They’re just beautiful.”
I, for one, don’t need any convincing. I had my own pet rat, Louie, many years ago. He often slept under the blankets beside my leg in bed, and when I wandered around the house, he would sit on my shoulder, taking everything in. Unfortunately, domesticated rats only live for two to three years, and when Louie passed, I was heartbroken.
Charlie also found an unlikely bed mate in Pumpkin who used to “always come into bed with me in the mornings for a nap, but sadly she grew out of that phase”.
Many people would be a bit put off by the idea of a rat in their bed (and yes, there’s definitely a joke in here), but as Charlie explains: “They’re cleaner than cats and as sweet as dogs - although my girls are more interested in playing and exploring than getting cuddles.”
Charlie’s decision to adopt pet rats came during lockdown when they were feeling “very sad and lonely”. They began researching pets they could have in an apartment, and that’s when rats came to mind.
“I thought of rats and how cute they are. I always get excited when I see wild rats, as well,” says Charlie.
“So, I joined a bunch of rat Facebook groups, including the Irish Fancy Rat Association.
“I did months of research on how to give them the best life - what beds and toys are best, what foods to feed them, how to keep them entertained.
“I also made sure there was a good vet locally. Pet rats are considered exotic, so you need a vet that knows rats. All my Cork rat friends use Sunbeam Vets in the South Ring Business Park - they’re amazing.”
“I get excited to see them every day,” says Charlie.
“They’re a good reason to get out of bed every morning.”
Charlie loves watching them get excited – especially when they are introduced to new food.
“They love food anyway, but if I give them a new veggie they haven’t had before, they get really excited for it.
“They get cucumber every day and it’s always devoured before anything else. And I couldn’t not mention boiled eggs - they smell disgusting, but the girls love them.
“It’s often a treat they get when I’m away for a few hours, so I don’t have to smell it.”
Charlie also loves watching them playing and making beds with paper bags and cardboard boxes.
“They love ripping them apart and making beds with them,” Charlie says. “They also love toilet roll, including the cardboard cylinder inside. I make foraging toys for them by cutting up the inner cardboard into rings, overlapping the rings, and filling them with food, treats and shredded loo roll. They rip them apart, eat the food and use the bits to make beds.
“It’s very cute and entertaining to watch. They’ve taught me that trash can be treasure!”
Charlie advises people interested in getting pet rats to buy from a good breeder rather than a shop.
“Make sure you’re ready to give them the best care,” Charlie adds.
“Please do not impulse adopt - they aren’t just for when you’re bored, you need to be able to love them for their whole lives.”
You can follow the adventures of Pumpkin, Pooka, Pepper and Panda, aka Punkin.Ratties, on Instagram and TikTok.