Not every homeowner who sees a rat in their home sets out a trap, calls the exterminator, and just generally freaks out. Instead, apparently, some intrepid folks are actually bringing the beady-eyed rodents home for their kids.
Ew. Ew. Ew.
A new, online survey claims that rats are the most popular pets for children aged 10 through 17—a finding that was met with a healthy dose of skepticism in the pet world. Cats, dogs, and horses, a rather more traditional trio, rounded out the top four pets for that age group, according to RightPet, the website that put out the not-exactly-scientific report that highlights various animal products and practices.
Could the rascally rodents really be the animals your kids are looking to cuddle with?
Nearly 17,000 people from 113 countries participated in the survey conducted between 2010 and 2018 that ranked the vermin No. 1. The results were likely skewed by the fact that about 20% of responses were from outside the U.S. Oh yeah—it also included responses from adults who fondly remembered their pet rats from their younger days. (Um, what?) And many participants were found on freelance websites and paid to participate in the survey.
Marc Morrone, an unusual-pets expert and owner of the pet store Parrots of the World, takes these results with several grains of salt. About once a week someone comes into his Rockville Centre, NY–based shop asking for a pet rat. Meanwhile, several folks a day ask for cats and dogs—and he doesn’t even sell them.
But just because rats aren’t necessarily the most popular animals, it doesn’t mean they’re not “very nice pets,” Morrone says. “They’re much more intelligent than people think. They’re very easy to keep. They know their names.”
In fact, experts claim they’re even smarter than dogs—and they don’t need to be taken out for walks twice a day.
“Rats are very ticklish. They like to be touched by humans,” Morrone adds. “You put them on your shoulder. It’s like playing with a kitten.” (Ew. Ew. Ew.)
The biggest problem with domesticated rats isn’t the destructiveness or disease-harboring qualities of their wild brethren. No, the biggest drawback with pet-bred rats is that “their life span is typically only a few years,” says Morrone. And then there’s the fact that visitors might not be charmed by them.
“In the minds of the general public, rats are bad,” he says.
But as the cuddly newest member of your household, they’re a “fun pet,” says RightPet founder and editor Brett Hodge.
“Rats are inexpensive to keep,” he says. “[And] rats are generally creepy to adults, and kids love that.”