DOGS have a reputation for being man's best friend but rats could be a strong contender for the title.

The highly intelligent creatures are increasing in popularity as pets leading to a rise in the numbers being brought into animal sanctuaries.

To mark World Rat Day on April 4 the RSPCA is inviting people to pop down to its Animal Centre at Ashley Heath either today or over the weekend to offer a new home to some of its rodents.

Rats currently looking for a new home include cream and white coloured rats Harold and Henry and male black and white rats Roland and Reggie.

The pet rat or "fancy rat" is a domesticated breed of the brown rat, and can even be toilet-trained. They come in all sorts of colours from the most common black and white to albino, brown or white.

Last year 26 rats were brought into the centre, 19 of them unwanted, four strays and three abandoned in boxes.

Leah Holdaway, animal care assistant at Ashley Heath Animal Centre, has a special interest in rats and owned two of her own.

She said: "We have ten rats that are available and they are all quite friendly.

"They make good pets especially for children because they are so easy to handle - much easier than hamsters and easy to look after.

"They are also more playful than hamsters or gerbils which are normally happy to just run around inside a ball."

Most people do not realise what interesting creatures rats are, that they can be taught to do tricks and even greet you on your return home like a dog added Leah.

"Rats need stimulation like dogs and can be taught tricks. If you call them they will come to you.

"They are more intelligent than any other rodent," she said.

The creatures need a large cage and games and toys to keep them entertained. Ideally they should be regularly let out of their cages for a run round.

Toys sold for ferrets and parrots at the pet shop are ideal for rats.

Or as a cheaper alternative people can create rat runs from old plastic pipes and swings and ropes out of old clothing.

"People can also fill a bowl of shallow water and let them go for a paddle she added.

People's dislike of rats often stems from films and wrongly associate pet rats with disease and vermin.

In fact pet rats are clean animals and spend a lot of time washing themselves added Leah.

  • For more information ring the RSPCA Ashley Heath Animal Centre on 0300 1238240 or for general advice on animal care visit
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