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Having Fun with Your Rat

By: Talia Starkey

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Of all the pocket pets, rats are uniquely responsive to their owners. Having fun with your rat is easy because your rat wants to have fun with you. A well-socialized rat loves attention and – like many cats and dogs – wants to spend as much time with his owner as possible. Here are some fun things you can do with your rat.

Wrestling

Rats like to romp and roughhouse with their cagemates. Here's how you can get in on the action: Turn your hand palm down so that your fingers curve into "legs" and your hand becomes a rat-sized wrestling opponent. Walk your fingers up your rat. He may sniff your hand curiously. Dart your fingers back and forth in front of him and he will likely jump at your hand – not to bite, just to grab at you and tackle your wriggling fingers. You can tickle your rat after he pounces on you, or gently try to roll him over on his back. Keep it playful and light – remember, this isn't the WWF, so nobody slams. Most rats get very excited when you play this game. If your rat gets too worked up you can always put him back in his cage to calm down.

Keep-Away

A rat will chase a piece of string dangled in front of him, much like a kitten. Swirl the string in circles around your rat or tie a piece of wadded-up paper to the end of the string and drag it across the floor. Your rat is most likely to stay interested if you jerk and tug the string so that the paper ball at the end moves erratically and unpredictably. After a long chase session, you can give him the ball as a prize for good behavior.

The Obstacle Course

Your rat's obstacle course can be a recreation room of sorts, filled with fun objects to climb over and through. Cut several large cardboard boxes open along one corner and tape them together to form the walls of a good-sized pen. Place the pen on the floor (tile or hard floors are the best for easy clean-up after playtime) and load the play area with cardboard boxes, milk cartons with holes cut in them, and platforms connected with ladders or one-inch diameter ropes.

Or, if you're an engineering type, you can build a freestanding obstacle course with a hard plywood floor. Drill holes in the floor so you can attach interchangeable elements like wooden walls ladders, or seesaws to the floor with dowels. Be creative. Rearrange this course every time you put your rat in it! You can also make an obstacle course with a definite start and finish and reward your rat when he reaches the end. Remember that you don't have to limit yourself (and your rat) to a horizontal run – you can build vertically as well. Always supervise your rat's obstacle course time.

A reminder: It's important to rat-proof the room where you play. Beware that your rat can escape through very small spaces. Any gap greater than one half inch wide is a hazard. Close the windows and doors and make sure that none of your other household pets can threaten your rat. Be sure to lift all electric cords out of your rat's range.

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