New Academic Article Researches Rats as Companions in British Columbia

Cheng Yu Hou & Alexandra Protopopova, “Rats as Pets: Predictors of Adoption and Surrender of Pet Rats (Rattus Norvegicus Domestica) in British Columbia, Canada” (2022) 17:2 PLOS ONE [Public Library of Science].

Abstract: Whereas much research has been conducted on rats in their roles as pests and laboratory animal models, little is known about rats in their role as companion animals. However, rats have become the third most common companion animal admitted to the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA) shelter system after cats and dogs. This paper analyses 5 years of province-wide rat admission and outcome data (n = 3,392) at the BC SPCA. Most rats that entered BC SPCA shelters were white, sexually intact, and pups less than 6 months old. Rats were mostly relinquished by their owners, and the most common surrender reasons were due to owner-related issues and housing issues. Reasons for euthanasia were primarily poor health and neonatal age. A multiple linear regression model found that rats that were either senior, albino, unhealthy, seized by humane officers, or born onsite tended to stay longer in shelters (F[12, 1466] = 9.565, p < .001, adjusted R2 = .06). Time to adoption for albino rats was 79% longer than for white rats. These findings help us understand the preferences of rat adopters and why the rat-human relationship may fail. Results may also be useful to improve the quality of life for pet rats by identifying programs to reduce their length of stay in animal shelters. Finally, our study highlights new questions for welfare research in an understudied companion animal–the pet rat.