Intelligent, affectionate and terrific at tricks: can you guess which animal we’re describing?

At the RSPCA we care about all animals, and we’re always learning more about their amazing capabilities and rich emotional lives.

For example, can you guess which animals:

  • ‘laugh’ when they play, or when they are tickled
  • sympathise with other animals of their own species who are in distress (and would rather help them than receive a food reward)
  • can count up to four
  • can learn tricks, including coming when called, playing basketball and ‘fetch’
  • become anxious and depressed if they’re housed on their own

Question mark on chalkboard

You might have thought that we were describing dogs, monkeys or parrots, but we’re actually talking about…rats!

Rat eating © RSPCA

They’re complex and sensitive

Anyone who keeps these intelligent, affectionate animals as pets will already know how complex and sensitive they can be, but unfortunately many people still have a negative perception of rats.

So why do rats get such a bad press? It may be because many popular sayings cast them in a pretty bad light. For example, we call unfaithful partners ‘love rats’, and people who tell tales are said to be ‘ratting on’ someone. But perhaps rats’ worst PR is down to being blamed for spreading the plague (although recent research suggests rats weren’t actually the culprit for the Black Death).

Perhaps this is why rats are routinely subjected to treatment that many people simply wouldn’t accept for other species. For example, anyone can buy rat poison over the counter, a substance which can cause significant suffering before death, and there is no requirement for rat traps to be ‘humane’. In UK labs, 5,242 rats experienced ‘severe’ suffering (the highest category) when used in research during 2016.

Rat in cage behind cardboard © RSPCA

Can’t blame them for doing what comes naturally

But all rats can experience discomfort, pain, anxiety and distress. This includes wild individuals who are causing problems for humans and are therefore perceived as ‘pests’. We don’t believe it’s fair to blame them for doing what comes naturally and eating the food or rubbish that we haven’t stored securely, or that we have discarded as litter.

For a fascinating insight into rat behaviour, see the Ratlife video, an award winning wildlife documentary narrated by Simon King which shows what happened when animal behaviour scientists ‘rewilded’ some lab rats – we think it’s sure to win you over!

Be kind to rats

All things considered, we believe it’s time to show rats some love. Here are some ways to be kind to rats:

  • If you could provide a loving home for a pair or group of pet rats, consider rehoming them from one of our animal centres.
  • If you have pet rats already, check that you are meeting all their needs for a safe and stimulating environment which allows them to perform all their natural behaviours – be sure to check out our advice.
  • Think about whether you might be storing or disposing of food carelessly, which could create a problem by attracting and encouraging wild rats (and other animals) – download our advice on living with wild rodents (PDF 448KB).
  • Help to change other people’s minds! Use #loverats on social media to challenge false or negative perceptions about rats, and make sure to share your own photos and videos showing just how amazing these animals can be!

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