How a Somewhat Sane Mom Ended Up with Pet Rats: A Cautionary Tale


“I want a pet of my own,” 9-year-old Charlie stated one morning over his frozen waffle. I raised an eyebrow and tipped my chin toward the giant designer puppy sitting in the corner of the room, remnants of someone’s Boba Fett figure still stuck in the hair on his chin. “No, I want something that is just mine,” Charlie clarified, shaking his head. “Like a gerbil, or a hamster.”

I groaned. Over the years, as we added one small human being after another to our family until we had a grand total of four to feed, bathe, and parent, we had attempted a variety of pets: parakeets that bit hard and shed seed and feathers everywhere; aquatic African frogs we forgot to feed; hermit crabs we rarely laid eyes on (because they ate each other, OMG); and countless fish. So very many fish. Please note: only parents hoping to teach their children about death should ever try to keep fish as pets.

A quick learner, I finally declared that we never again would have pets that required tanks or cages. I have a hard enough time keeping the children alive and bathed to add cages to the household responsibilities.

Now, there are many “rules” of parenting, but perhaps one of the most important is that one must never make “rules.” Inevitably, you will break your own rule, every single time. Because when your 9-year-old middle son is the most empathetic child you know and wears his big heart on his sleeve, worries too much, and is painfully sensitive to the world in a way that makes him capable of both great sadness and deep love and joy on a daily basis, and that same son asks you for a pet of his own that will love him back?

You become a rat owner.

Actually, a two-rat owner.

I begrudgingly did my research on small animals, knowing that a pet of his own would be valuable to Charlie. We were looking for a pet that would be social, that could love a certain emotional middle child back, maybe, and would want to be held. We needed an animal that wouldn’t be incredibly hard to care for and one that would not aggravate my allergies. After a period of denial, I finally acknowledged that — gulp — rats are widely renowned to be remarkable, social, intelligent pets. Of all the options, they seemed to be, crazy as it sounded, my best bet. So I did what any mom would do (right?): I found a rat breeder on Craigslist. Yes, these actually exist. A few months later, Charlie and I drove two hours to pick up the already-beloved babies from the breeder, who had been meticulous and thorough in her notes and recommendations for cages (size matters!) and bedding (aspen shavings only!) and toys (avoid painted wood!).

I’m not sure what I expected a Craigslist rat breeder to look like. I did not expect to find her to be a 19-year-old community college student with a nose ring living with her parents, a sweet younger brother, and about a bajillion rats. When we arrived to pick up Charlie’s new pets, the breeder’s mother had dinner on the stove, and her father was reading the paper in a nearby recliner. I looked down at the enormous cage in the den full of rats and rat babies, and all I could think was that I am not, in reality, the biggest pushover of a parent in the world after all.

Charlie promptly named his new pets Ginger and Luna, and he held them on his lap for the two hour car trip home. Ginger and Luna love lavender-scented cage liner, multi-grain Cheerios, and cardboard tubes. Charlie just loves Ginger and Luna.

When I posted the picture of Charlie with the rats on Facebook that evening, I received a million comments from my friends that expressed everything from disgust to shock to genuine admiration for me as a mother. “You are a nicer mom than I am,” several of them intoned. But I don’t think I am. The funny thing about being a mother, I have found, is that it enables you to do things you never knew you could. Being a mom means finding strength and fortitude beyond a normal person’s resources. For me, it has meant that I can show affection to large rodents with red eyes and very long tails just because it makes my baby happy. The twentysomething me that lived in Manhattan apartments still can’t believe I willingly and purposely brought rats into my home, but the thirtysomething mom me totally gets it.

I am not thrilled to be a pet rat owner. I still don’t adore cleaning a cage, even with my son’s help, and I’ll never be a fangirl of rodents. I’m just as twitchy about having rats in my house as the next person would be. But the rats thrill Charlie, and Charlie is a child who feels the full weight of the world every day — much more so than my other children do. Charlie needed these rats. It was as simple as that. This is what love is, folks: pet rat ownership.

Thankfully, rats only live about three years. So I have that going for me.

About the writer


Allison is a writer and a mother of four children. Her writing can be found at her own blog, Allison Slater Tate, on Facebook, and Twitter.

From Around the Web


Sue 6 months ago

Hi, loved the page, and the name of the website. That’s what caught my attention. Was looking up Ylang ylang and pet rats and there you were.

I am on my 7th and eighth rat.

Not sure if it is going to last but have had some amazing results using (sniffing only) nutmeg oil (specifically Myristica fragrans) on pet rat with mycoplasma and breathing disorder.

Was on third lot of antibiotics, he was gasping for air (not a fun time had by all), did quick look up online re the nutmeg. Learnt my lesson re giving panadol to cat – $600 NZ later, she pulled through – vet was surprised.

Anyway, back to the Nutmeg (in case you or anyone else reading this is interested) – had him continually breath it in. It does shut down their locomotor center (learnt later about this online). Not sure if sniffing too much can cause irreperable damage or not, but he pulled through.

There is a number of articles online regarding mycoplasma and Nutmeg essential oil.

My follow up treatment after he appeared to come back to me, was a sniff say once an hour, down to now say 5/6 times a day. This is a just in case. I don’t know if it has actually got rid of the mycoplasma in his system. But he is behaving as though he has never had anything wrong with him. Who knows. Having had rats who ended up having tumors, resulting in being put down, am now looking into that too online – in regards to essential oils (which I have been studying anyway, and resurrected my interest in it big time).

Everybody, have a nice day there, wherever you are in the world. :)

Michele Baumgardner 2 years ago

Rats are good pets! Keep them clean and they stay clean longer than your kid does!

Chelsea 2 years ago

I have two rats and I LOVE them. An ex got them while we were together and when we broke up somehow I ended up with them but I love them more than I ever thought possible. But they shouldn’t be in Aspen bedding! it’s toxic to them and can lead to respiratory problems and can shorten their life span. I use care fresh or living world fresh and comfy. I’ve found they work best for keeping their cage from getting too smelly and my girls love it. Please switch from aspen, or any wood shaving bedding, I bet Charlie will appreciate your concern for Ginger and Luna too!

Sarah Theriault 2 years ago

Yeah, I had pet rats and they were so awesome. I would still, but my husband became extremely allergic :( I miss ratties!!

Steph 2 years ago

*sigh* This made me miss my ratties. My husband and I had two sisters when we first got married, they were our first jointly-owned pets. A couple of years after they died, we had a pair of brothers. They were all such sweethearts. They’d climb the sides of the cage for belly rubs as soon as we got home from work, and they loved to ride around on our shoulders and groom us. :-)

I see the fact that they only live 3 years as a huge downside, because they have such big personalities, and I’d get incredibly attached, so it was that much more heartbreaking that I only had a few years with them. Right now we’re down to one dog and a couple of degus, but if my daughter ever wants rats, I will absolutely get them for her!

Lisa Thrasher 2 years ago

Pet rats are cool I have owned three

Juliette Henry Coston 2 years ago

Randa Lee, thought of you when i saw this. lol

Samantha Newman 2 years ago


Jessica Menck 2 years ago

I had rats as pets for years. In my opinion they’re the best pet, and I’ve had cats, birds, hamsters, gerbils, and currently a dog. Rats hands down are my favorite, they’re incredibly smart, very sweet, and actually very tidy. The only reason I don’t still have them is because I’m terribly allergic to them. I read once that more people are allergic to rats than to cats put dogs but it’s not well known because hardly anyone has them as pets. But they really are the best pets ever!

sammie 2 years ago

What a great post! As someone who also says that I will NEVER own a rat, I would have totally bought one (or two) for Charlie as well, in your shoes. I have a child who is similar in nature to your Charlie, and if she was certain that she needed/wanted a rat, I would suck it up for her. For certain. You’re a great mom!

Heather Welch Reynolds 2 years ago

Best pets ever

Monica DeBiase 2 years ago

I’ve had chinchillas for years, they are wonderful, sweet, clean, personable pets!

Jenni Chiu @ MommyNaniBooboo 2 years ago

I applaud you, Alison! I also have the heeby jeebies right now after reading this.
I do understand, though… we had a pet Praying Mantis and I had to buy live crickets for it to eat. She laid an egg sac, though… she made a quiet exodus from our house before a thousand little insects pushed their way out of that sac.

gina 2 years ago

I love having pet rats, i even had an adorable hairless one at one point. They are sweet & intelligent, sort of like mini dogs with super long tails. I have a three year son & I hope he will be happy with our dog and maybe a rattie or two, that I can handle, BUT if he even entertains the idea of owning a pet tarantula then we will have some serious issues! I am terrified.

Jenny Ball Tufford 2 years ago

I had pet rats for years! They were really sweet. I had one named Quincy in college (named after the Jack Klugman show, hellooo how old am I??). I had to have her put to sleep after she had a stroke. Cried like a baby.

    Allison Slater Tate 2 years ago

    I still remember a Quincy episode in which someone had his tonsils out. Made a big impact on me, obvs.

DontBlameTheKids 2 years ago

I had hermit crabs as a child, and I too never laid eyes on them. Now I know why.

Norine of Science of Parenthood 2 years ago

That IS love. Just beautiful!

Michele Maxwell 2 years ago

ive had two in my time once as a child an once as an adult love when they just sit on your shoulder they can do that for ever even while u walk around the house they are fun

Kristine 2 years ago

Hmm. Rats don’t bother me. Cleaning up after ANY animal is annoying (my poor cat has 2 litter boxes for that reason alone) but rats to me are no different than other animals. Rats that eat out of the garbage in back alleys–different story. But clean, meticulously bred rats might as well be hamsters, or guinea pigs. Go mom! And I get the whole “prepare to explain death” thing with fish. I bought my daughter two goldfish just before her baby brother was born. (dumb) Good thing goldfish have so many dopplegangers. =)

Mindi Gates 2 years ago

Had a pet rat when I was a kid. They’re fun. Mine used to sit on my shoulder and nibble her chew sticks while I read/watched tv/whatever. My mom was open to any pet (except spiders thank goodness, ewww) when I was a kid. Over the years we had the usual dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc; but we also had iguanas, snakes, rats, ferrets, a flying squirrel…And no, not all at the same time lol.

Heather Waring 2 years ago

We have had rats as pets before. They are sweet and lovable. We then found out that my husband is allergic to rat dander….now how many people can say that for sure!

    Allison Slater Tate 2 years ago

    I was actually afraid I might be allergic to rat dander too, but so far, so good.

Kami Fox-Varela 2 years ago

I had pet rats as a child. Now my husband and I breed snakes. We bring rats into our home willingly every week…

Zoe Saunders 2 years ago

I love rats! They are fab pets, very intelligent and fun. When my little by asks for a pet I’d get a rat as they are much more friendly than hamsters.

    Allison Slater Tate 2 years ago

    That was exactly our reasoning here, Zoe!

corrin 2 years ago

This post touched my heart because when I was 9 and a middle child with bad allergies I decided I needed a pet that I could love because I was not able to play with the dog or have a cat. I would go to the pet store and look at the different pats and feel in love with a gray and white rat and asked my parents if I could have her. While they were both hesitant they were just like you and knew that this was something I needed. With in a week my pet Lila was apart of the family and even made the move from Montana to idaho with us. I am now a mother and would not hesitate for second to get my children a rat.

Amy Mullis 2 years ago

You have a refreshing writing style that reflects your outlook. I enjoyed reading this!

Julie Adams Vaughn 2 years ago

I love my ratties!!!

Christine Cappuccia 2 years ago

Yes I would, we’ve actually been considering it. But they have very short lives, only 2-3 years, so it would be sad to get attached only to have them pass away so quickly.

    Allison Slater Tate 2 years ago

    See, I saw the lifespan as a plus. It will be sad, but we’re also not committed to 10+ years of rat ownership like we are with our dogs!

Kristin Crackel 2 years ago

Nope. Can’t do it. My kids are pushing hard for a gerbil. I just can’t bring rodents into my house. I am considering a lizard though. Lol

    Allison Slater Tate 2 years ago

    My brother and SIL got a bearded dragon at around the same time we got the rats — they need to eat live crickets. That’s a dealbreaker for me.

    Jessica Ceman Thiel 2 years ago

    We had a bearded dragon. It was a really nice pet, but we ended up finding a new home for him because the cricket thing was not only a pain but really expensive. We just were not fans of the feeding live food thing.

    Allison Slater Tate 2 years ago

    Jessica, my SIL says it is just hard to keep the crickets alive until the dragon can eat them! And her alternative is more trips to the pet store. It sounds complicated.

Nicole Kirch ODonnell 2 years ago

Two of my girls are currently on a campaign for pet rats…I would probably let them, but we already have so many pets!

Patricia Lazzara-Semen 2 years ago

Just like cats or dogs, there is a whole world of rats, domestic, exotic, curly haired, silky haired, big ones small ones. I had a friend in my later teen years who owned a huge fat black rat named Jeff and that rat was amazing. I went from fearful to loving that rat..he was affectionate, engaging, Intelligent, social, and…he had run of the house. That rat Left an impression on me I’ll never forget…. So call me crazy ..

Angel Weers 2 years ago

Had rats as a kid. They are WONDERFUL pets!

Amanda Korzeniecki 2 years ago

ive had pet rats. they were awesome. they even got along with the cats. we’d let them run around chasing eachother and play.

Nicole Miskofsky McCulley 2 years ago

I had a pet rat Kramer in high school!

Helen Ilett 2 years ago

Absolutely I would! We kept rats for years. They make far better pets than hamsters or gerbils and as soon as I feel my daughter is responsible enough she will be having a pair of her own.

Jackie Mousseau 2 years ago

I’ve had numerous pet rats before. One of my Dumbo males lived for 5 years before having a stroke. They make great pets.

RayandJackie Guy 2 years ago

I had a rat when I was a kid. Her name was Gina. She was cool. She would sit on my shoulder and eat popcorn. My parents let me have all kinds of pets. I’m so glad they did.

Love 2 years ago

This happened at our house too. Only our pet du jour ended up being snakes LOL I researched for months and months, and finally brought home one, and we loved her so much, we ended up with three before the year was out. That was the year I achieved ‘Coolest Mom Ever’ status, and it’s been downhill ever since. That was a little over 6 years ago, and beyond the idea that pets give kids a sense of responsibility and compassion, this particular experience with ours helped shaped my son’s career plans, as well. He’s spoken of nothing else in life he wants to do since the day I first took her to the vet, and came home with a herpetology book. He’s still utterly fascinated with it, even after all this time! (And all I can say on a sidenote, is thank sweet baby Jesus that it wasn’t spiders.)

    Allison Slater Tate 2 years ago

    Okay, I won’t say “never,” because then I know I will end up with snakes, but… bless you. I am not sure I am mom enough!

      Jenelle 2 years ago

      I’m not mom enough. I’d welcome a big ‘ol hairy spider before I could welcome a snake.

        Love 2 years ago

        @Jenelle oh no, I drew a great big line at the spiders and scorpions. Too much ick for me! We had a Chinese Water Dragon later on, and it ate live crickets, and that was almost too much bugginess for my peace of mind LOL

      Love 2 years ago

      @Allison LOL Well, at least now you have a built-in excuse to never get snakes, as long as the rats are there. Wouldn’t want to traumatize the kids with watching their favorite pet become a late-night snack!

kat 2 years ago

Allison, I really admire your courage and willingness to get your son a pet rat and bring it into your home. I know it can’t have been an easy thing for you to do, much less end up with two. Thank you for posting this beautiful story in light of recent events. Rats are wonderful little animals to have. They can be litter tained like a cat,trained to do tricks like dogs, and do not bite like hamsers and gerbils do (it is very rare for a rat to bite at all). They are very loveable and sweet. I hope someday you come to appreciate them and love them as much as your son does. :)

Lauren 2 years ago

I completely admire your courage to bring an animal into your house which you see as undesirable. But believe me, once you get to see the true nature of these creatures you’ll wonder why you ever thought it. Rats are incredibly loving and attuned to our emotions. I started keeping rats again as a way of coping on my own at university, I could not have done it without them. Now I’m the proud mother to 7 boys who really enrich my life. I don’t think people would understand without witnessing it first hand but rats have a way of wriggling into our hearts and making everything better.

    Allison Slater Tate 2 years ago

    Thanks, Lauren. I have learned a lot, and I do like the little buggers. I don’t love the smell sometimes, but that’s easily remedied with a cage change. They have been the easiest pet to take care of yet!


Enjoying this? Then like us on Facebook