Anyone who keeps rats as pets or companions is already in on a big secret: despite all the myths and misconceptions, these animals are in fact friendly, loyal, intelligent and very endearing. Unfortunately, they’ve had a bit of bad press over the years, but once you get to know rats on a one-to-one basis, then all of their finer qualities will come to the fore. World Rat Day hopes to dispel the stigma surrounding these creatures and celebrate them instead!
History of World Rat Day
Rats have been around for over 50 million years, and it may surprise you to learn that they haven’t always had a bad reputation! In fact, the Chinese zodiac honors the humble rat as the first animal in the twelve-year cycle and associates those born in the year of the rat with various positive personality traits, including optimism, intelligence and diligence.
Generally speaking, however, rats have had it pretty tough over the years. The Hindu god Ganesha is frequently depicted riding a rat and believers usually ascribe it negative connotations, with the little critter viewed as a symbol of selfish desires and destructive habits that Ganesha can help us overcome.
These crafty rodents have long been blamed for the spread of the bubonic plague, particularly during the Black Death, which ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages and is estimated to have wiped out up to 60% of the population. Quite a damning accusation to overcome, although more recent research has led to some debate over the degree to which rats can be held responsible!
Rat-baiting became particularly popular in the UK during the 19th century – in this cruel blood sport, spectators would place bets on how quickly a dog could kill a pit full of rats. Despite its nasty origins, the sport actually led to the beginnings of the fancy (meaning domesticated) rat that is now such a beloved pet for so many. Alongside capturing rats for the pits, Victorian rat-catchers also began breeding and selling unusually colored rats as pets. Rat fancy as a hobby grew in the 20th century, with various societies and groups springing up all over the world.
World Rat Day was founded in 2002 by a group of pet rat enthusiasts who wanted to challenge the stigma surrounding these creatures and give them the celebration they truly deserve. The day aims to shed a positive light on these animals and promote their care and welfare.
The many rewards of rats
No one’s perfect, and there’s no denying that wild rats can be a pesky and destructive species when left unmanaged. However, the many wonderful benefits of rats far outweigh the negatives!
Firstly, they make great pets. Contradictory to popular belief, these rodents are actually very clean and sociable animals. It’s best to keep them at least in pairs, and they are known for their kind and caring nature towards one another, even helping each other out in times of need. You can expect pet rats to be very loving towards their human counterparts as well, domesticated to be gentle and affectionate.
Rats are also very intelligent, able to understand their own names and master various tricks – they’ve even been shown to count to four! And to top it all off they’re a whole lot of fun – no wonder a group of rats is known as a mischief!
Due to their keen sense of smell, rats can be put to work in various fields, for example sniffing out threats such as landmines and diseases such as tuberculosis. Thanks to their intelligent and affectionate nature, they also make great therapy animals.
Given their similarity to humans in terms of both physiology and psychology, rats have also been used in the advancement of medical science, giving rise to the term ‘lab rat’. While some animal rights activists condemn their use in this context, their contributions as test subjects have helped progress our understanding and treatment of various diseases including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and, more recently, Covid-19. These creatures have also been key in studies of intelligence, learning and behavior due to their complex psychologies and emotional capacity.
Whatever we might wish to say about the wild ones, World Rat Day is all about honoring the positive contributions of rats and the various ways in which they’ve made our lives better.
Rats in popular culture
Sadly, the misconceptions and prejudices surrounding rats have often influenced their depiction in popular culture. A classic and long-standing example is the German tale of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, in which a rat-catcher deals with an infestation by charming the creatures away with music, before later doing the same with the local children when he is denied payment.
These lovable rodents are often portrayed as conniving, sinister and villainous in many cultures around the world, and common vernacular is also based on these stereotypes. The term ‘rat’ is commonly used as an insult, especially for informants, hence the phrase ‘to rat someone out’. It’s also a term used by trade unions for employers, with strikes in the US often involving large inflatable rats.
However, there are much more positive celebrations also available in the world of art and culture. The beloved children’s book The Wind in the Willows tells the tale of Mole and Rat (although actually a water vole, also known as a water rat) and their adventures, with Rat depicted as a kind, poetic soul and a loyal companion to Mole.
The Disney Pixar film Ratatouille follows Remy, a lovable and determined young rat on his journey to become a chef. In the process he overcomes various negative stereotypes about rats, before finally succeeding in becoming “the finest chef in France” and opening up his own restaurant.
How to celebrate World Rat Day
If you’re lucky enough to already own pet rats, then World Rat Day is the perfect excuse to properly pamper them! Treat them to their favorite food, give them plenty of cuddles and perhaps even gift them a new toy or some yummy treats. Most of all your rats will want to spend time with you, so why not teach them a few new tricks or play a game together?
The rat fancier community also marks the occasion in various ways, often throwing parties for rat enthusiasts and their pets to come together and celebrate. And thanks to social media, rodent lovers are now able to link up across the globe, sharing their favorite photos, videos, artworks and the like.
If you don’t yet have pet rats, then now’s your chance! Head over to your local pet store and take a couple of these furry friends home with you. Even if you’re not yet ready to commit, you can still spend some time with these animals or offer to pet sit for anyone who’s already caught rat fever!
World Rat Day is all about tackling rats’ bad rap, so spread the word to friends, family and colleagues about the many virtues of these creatures. Search the internet for more amazing rat facts, watch YouTube videos and documentaries to see these animals in action, and share what you learn with those around you.
If you’re looking to get kids involved, then why not try dressing up or baking a themed cake? Rat costumes are pretty easy to make – a stuffed sock or stocking for a tail, a headband and some card for the ears, and face paint for the nose and whiskers. And there are plenty of great rat-themed cake recipes and designs online to give you inspiration – just make sure you’re checking out the human versions as enthusiasts also like to bake cakes for their rats!
Finally, you can help ensure rats’ welfare by donating to or volunteering for animal charities and shelters that protect pet rats.