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Pet Rats/Rats as classroom pets/ explaining deaths to kids


QUESTION: First of all what is the life expectancy of a pet rat?  Mine died tonight and was wondering if thrre was anythingI could have done to help her. She was 4 years old and her roomemate our other rat died unexpectedly 4 weeks ago. She stopped eating 2 days ago nut i noticed she was slowing down about when her roomate died.   I would alao like to know what to do with her body?  The other one a parent took care

ANSWER: Dear Shannon,

Actually you are very lucky. Rats can die of old age as young as 2 years old.

She was definitely depressed about the loss of her roommate. It is not uncommon for one rat to die shortly after a cage mate. I had a little rat die a week ago of a heart attack, and within 20 minutes his brother, who was with me and had inspected the body, had a heart attack too. Luckily he survived.

I'm going to be completely honest about the possibilities for disposing of the body. Some of this is not legal and I will make that clear. Options are sometimes limited.

1. Bury her. If you do it on your own property or of someone who gives you permission, it is legal. Or bury her someplace else, in a park, on someone else's property, and don't let anyone see you. Or find someone who will bury her for you.

2. Pay a lot of money to have a vet cremate her. You should call around; maybe it is not expensive at your vet.

3. Throw her away. In many places it is illegal to put an animal body in the trash. But no-one is going to know. It is heart-breaking to do this, but sometimes it it the only option.

Until you can dispose of the body the way you like, keep it in the freezer. I have rat bodies in my freezer right now, waiting to be buried in the Spring.

I am so sorry that you lost your pet rat. Four years is a very long time to have a rat, so you were lucky; but the loss is always tragic.



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I would like to thank you!  I think they both had a very happy life even in a kindergarten class. We loved them both!  Given that she was the oldest, I am glad she lived that long!  Do you have a suggestion about classroom pets that i may bring back so the kids take it easier?  Or should i go back and let them know about it and let them pick?

Hi Shannon,

Lol, if you look back at your original question I was pretty surprised to find you are a teacher : )) . Oh dear, I suggested a teacher break the law! ; ).

I think rats are the best classroom pets you can have----- as long as they have a big cage.... A minimum per rat is 2 sq feet, but it should be more. No aquariums. And as long as they get a lot of very careful attention. In a home they should get out for about two hours a day. In school, you would be dividing that up... I wonder if you could interest some of the older kids in giving the rats extra care after school?

An easier classroom pet is mice (note two males cannot live together), but they can easily die by 1-1/2 years.

So far as picking them out, I suggest you  find a shelter near you which has rats, or which has contacts with rescuers and fosters. If you tell me where you are I may be able to help out. It will be a great learning experience for kids to go to a shelter and learn about getting animals there-- for every animal one picks at a shelter, another animal is not bred by the animal mills which supply pet stores. People have the impression that animals from a shelter are not going to be quality. Not true. Often a rat has been surrendered by someone who is allergic or is moving, or a rescue rat was pregnant. Rats held in foster homes are treated very well and usually very well socialized.

Your other option is to find a private breeder. Be prepared that any private breeder or foster worth their salt will grill you about your ability to care for rats. That is a good thing. You don't want to put money into the animal mills. Your pet store may actually have rescues as well, which they give away. They don't make much money off of the animals anyway-- they make their profit off of the accessories, etc.

I have a suggestion for you. Get Debbie Ducommun's book RATS. A person should do research if they are to have rats. Pet stores have a lot of bad information, and rats are neither like cats, dogs, rabbits, or mice. They have similarities to all, but very much have their own needs and requirements. You can find it at a bookstore, at Amazon, or at her website

As for helping the kids to cope with the sadness of losing the animals... I bet there are some great  kids' books about losing a pet. Adults in the rat world talk about rats going "over the rainbow bridge" when they die, but obviously you don't want to confuse the kids or freak out their religious or non religious parents. I also have told people that the angels have found out what good pets rats are... But again, keep religion out :))). Still, you can explain to them that there is so much goodness in a rat that it can only last a short time.... I don't know. I would know what to say to my kids or to a classroom in front of me, but then I would have faces to look at and judge, and their questions to guide me. Maybe say that people say that about the rainbow bridge because it makes them feel better....l

Hey I know, have them draw what they imagine is over the rainbow bridge. I always tell people that it is exactly what each rat likes best-- whether yogis on the trees, rivers of soy yogurt, safe electrical cords in the grass (this rat was a nut for electrical cords, unfortunately), etc. Tell them to think about what the rats liked best and what it would look like. That's what I would do. This will also help them not to get it confused with religion.

I hope I have answered your questions.



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Natasha Millikan


Consider me a sub, when no one else is available. NOTE YOU MUST NOT HAVE ONLY ONE RAT. JOIN MY FACEBOOK GROUP (because there are smarter people than me there!!): ***** ***** Excellent sites: **** **** **** **** **** ****


I have had rats for 3-1/3 years and have researched them extensively. I am a mouse expert with 40 years' experience with mice. The two species are similar and yet also quite different.

My Facebook group is Rats (and Mice) are Awesome.

I have a Bachelor's and two Master's degrees in Linguistics

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I am honored that my rats love me!

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My Facebook group, Rats are Awesome, serves at the moment 5300 members, and, considering all the huge rescues, probably averages 5 rats per member. That means my clients are about 25,000 rats!!!

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