Hairless rats are among the most unique pets a person can have. They look like little alien lifeforms, feel like warm raw chicken when held, and are certain to start a conversation with any houseguest brave enough to inquire about the host’s strange-looking pet. But do hairless rats need special care compared to other rats? There are numerous myths about hairless rats, most of which make them sound like much more difficult and time-intensive pets than furred rats. In this post, we’ll get to the bottom of these myths and discover what special care hairless rats really need.
Myths About Hairless Rats
You may have heard some of the following claims about hairless rat care:
1. Hairless rats can’t be kept with furred rats
2. Hairless rats must be kept alone because other rats could scratch them and cause a skin infection
3. Hairless rats have no eyelashes or whiskers
4. Hairless rats do not lactate
5. Hairless rats have inverted nipples
6. Hairless rats are more likely to develop tumors
7. All hairless rats will abandon their young if bred
8. Hairless rats are unfriendly; alternately, hairless rats are more friendly than furred rats
The Truth About Hairless Rat Care
Healthy hairless rats are indeed difficult to find. There are very few hobby breeders working with the hairless gene. However, most of the above myths are untrue, or at best partially true. I’ll go through each of the above myths and set the record straight:
1. Untrue. Hairless rats can be kept with any compatible, same-sex or neutered/spayed companion rat.
2. Untrue. While hairless rats are indeed prone to receive scratches from cagemates, only very severe fighting that would be cause to separate any rats, furred or not, would leave wounds deep enough to require medical attention. The risk of infection is minimal in normal circumstances as most scratches are small, shallow, and heal quickly. The damage done by loneliness when a rat is kept alone is far worse than a few scratches.
3. Rarely True. Hairless rats without eyelashes and whiskers do exist, but this is a severe fault and would disqualify a rat at a rat show. Hairless rats should have no body hair, but should have eyelashes and whiskers, and may have “peach fuzz” on the face.
4. Sometimes True. Lactation problems are more common in hairless than in furred rats. This relates primarily to the lack of well-bred hairless rats. However, if you’re a pet owner, you should probably not be breeding your rats anyway.
5. Rarely True. Hairless rats do sometimes have one or more inverted nipples. The condition is bizarre but benign in a pet and does not seem to have a noticeable effect on the already high chance of mammary tumors in female rats. Furred rats likely also have inverted nipples fairly often, but it’s harder to notice if fur is in the way. Individuals with this defect are generally unsuitable for breeding.
6. Untrue. Poorly bred rats are generally more prone to develop tumors. There are many poorly bred hairless rats. This doesn’t mean the hairlessness is responsible for the tumor risk.
7. Untrue. Rats are generally excellent mothers, hairless rats included. Rejection of litters is rare.
8. Untrue. All rats are individuals with individual personalities, and may be friendlier or less friendly than other individuals.