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'I live with two rats'

Ramona Depares says rats are some of the cleanest pets she's lived with

Otto and Ferdi.

Otto and Ferdi.

Tell people that you got two new pets, and it’s all smiles and “Aww, photos please”.

Ramona Depares with Ferdi.Ramona Depares with Ferdi.

Whip out your phone to oblige and, as soon as they realise that said new pets are rats, the smiles are replaced with shudders of fear or disgust.

Yup. Ratties do not get much love. The list of misconceptions is a long one. They’re dirty. They’re vicious. They’re stupid. They’re ugly.

Lies.

The two inquisitive cuties that have become part of my life are some of the cleanest pets I have lived with. Most people I know are way worse slobs than my boys, Otto and Ferdi.

These little creatures are also very affectionate and playful. Socialisation happens fast and, once they figure out that you're the source of food, cuddles and adventures, they form a very strong bond.

Being more used to sturdier pets such as dogs, living with Otto and Ferdi was quite the learning curve. I had to figure out how to create a decent habitat for them and how to stop them from getting bored during the day when I'm not there. Hint: lots of teeny hammocks, boxes, and stuff to nibble at. If you're good at basic DIY, you'll have a blast creating toys out of the simplest objects.

Having two small rats scurrying around the house meant that I had to change perspective fast. Whenever the boys are out of their cages, I have to make myself remember to look before I take a step.

It's only too easy for them to get underfoot. Now, I've taken to doing a little shuffle whenever they're around.

It's only too easy for them to get underfoot. Now, I've taken to doing a little shuffle whenever they're around

I also had to find a vet who specialises in small rodents, which is not that common in Malta. I got lucky enough to find Dr Stephen Mercieca, who managed to stem a respiratory infection before any real damage was done.

I had to keep in mind that rats will literally nibble at anything. Leaving your cherished Manolo Blahniks within nibbling reach without supervision is not the brightest of ideas.

I also had to remember that they feel the cold a lot faster than I do; that loud noises actively bother them; that spraying on perfume close to their cage will probably annoy them... small adjustments, in reality, of course.

The first time my boys jumped into my hand and crawled up my shoulder, my heart was going to go pop. It is very difficult to beat the cute factor on ratties – tiny ears, pointy snout and minute paws that look more like little hands – what’s not to love?

And yet, whenever I upload a photo of the boys on social media, the negative comments pour in.

I’m here to dispel the myths once and for all. There’s nothing weird about ratties – well, not unless you count their insane love for broccoli.
Follow Otto & Ferdi’s adventures on Instagram - @ramonadepares @ottoandferdi


Thinking of getting some new furry friends?

• Rats are very social – a pair is the minimum.

• Make sure you don't get a male and a female, not unless you want to wind up with a family of 50.
• They will need playtime out of their cage everyday – don’t get rats if you intend to leave them locked up the whole time.
• Keep an eye out for continuous sneezes, especially for the first few weeks. Domesticated rats have a tendency to suffer from respiratory infections and things can go downhill very fast.
• Don't give them cheese/other forms of dairy. The temptation is strong, especially because they really love it. But this is not an episode of Tom & Jerry.
• Clean up their cage reasonably often. Rats are very clean creatures and won’t appreciate having to live around old pee and poop.
• Make sure you read up on rat care, as they have specific requirements when it come to food, bedding and the like. There are plenty of online guides and the Rat Fan Club group on Facebook is a good place to go for advice.

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