Maximizing Sales of Pet Rats
The popularity of rats grows each year but their potential is often neglected. Rats are extremely social animals who bond closely to their owners and enjoy interacting with them. Rats learn their own names, will come when called, can learn many tricks, and play interactive games with their owners. They are affectionate and enjoy being petted. They are ideal pets for people who have at least ½-1 hour a day to play with their pets. Rat owners often become very devoted to their rats and are willing to spend money on them.
There are several ways you can take advantage of this to increase your sales and profits. Because rats are so intelligent and playful there is a large market for rat toys and accessories, but they are hard to find. It’s also difficult for rat lovers to resist fancy rats, such as hairless, rex and Dumbo, which can command higher prices. Pet shops that promote pet rats report that their sales of rats increase. So, if you carry more rat products and more exotic rat varieties, and promote rats as pets, your sales will go up.
Also, because rats are so social, we recommend that at least two be kept in a cage. A single rat is often lonely, bored, and insecure. Therefore you should try never to sell just one rat. This benefits you too, since you will be selling each rat owner more food, bedding, etc.
Socialization: Pet rats are domestic animals and are naturally tame. However, they do need socialization to bond to humans. All that’s required is that baby rats be picked up, held, carried, petted, and talked to, for a short time each day. It’s best if socialization starts before their eyes open, but they should at least receive socialization from the time their eyes open (2 weeks) to weaning (4-5 weeks). Socialization before weaning is many times more effective than after weaning. A well-socialized rat is more trusting, personable, and affectionate than a poorly-socialized rat, and will run to any human hand, eager for interaction.
You may have to search for breeders who socialize their rats. Properly socializing babies takes time (although not as much time as socializing them later!) and for this reason, a breeder who offers such animals is justified in charging more for them. You then are justified in passing the higher cost on to your customers.
Here’s where an independent store can stand out from the large chains. Make sure your customers know that you have the friendliest animals in town! Use signs to explain why your rats are better than average.
Handling: Never pick a rat up by the tail. It’s not necessary and destroys the rat’s trust in people. A rat’s tail is delicate and the skin on the end can actually come off. The best way to pick up a rat is to scoop him up with both hands. You can also grasp him around the shoulders and middle, then put your other hand beneath the rat’s hindquarters and bring him close to your body so he’ll feel more secure and less likely to squirm or try to jump out of your hands. (It’s very rare for socialized rats to bite. If you’re afraid a rat might bite, grasp him close behind his head. That way the rat won’t be able to turn his head to bite you.)
Sexual Matters: Domestic rats can breed at only 5 weeks of age! It is irresponsible to sell pet rats already pregnant. Rodents are not hard to sex, but mis-sexing them is common. Train your employees to properly sex rats and keep the sexes separate. The testicles and scrotum of males are usually quite apparent. It is rare to mistake a male for a female, but common to mistake a female for a male because the female urethra looks like a thin penis. To make sure, the penis can be popped out with gentle pressure on either side of the prepuce. Also, only females have visible nipples and a vagina which appears as a puckered hole between the urethra and anus.
In-store Breeding: By breeding your own rats you can control their health, the amount of socialization the babies get, and even the varieties you breed. Your rats will also be subjected to less shipping stress. In-store breeding requires extra space and labor and creates extra mess so you’ll need to do a cost analysis to see if the benefits outweigh the costs. But keep in mind that even if you only break even on selling the rats themselves, by offering your customers superb pets, you will encourage them to continue to own rats for many years and you may be able to make even more profit on the supplies you can sell them.
Diet: The best commercial diet for rats are rat blocks or nuggets. Brands of blocks include Teklad, Kaytee and LM. Brands of nuggets include Oxbow. Next best are the packaged grain mixes fortified specifically for rats, because some rats only eat part of the diet leading to waste and an imbalanced diet. The best treats for rats are fruits and vegies, especially brocolli, kale, bok choy and cooked sweet potato.
Cages: Good rat cages are hard to find. They should be at least 14" wide, 24" long and 14" high, and bigger is better. They need to be big enough to allow scampering and toys. A rat cage should not have floors or ramps made of 1" X ½" as rats can get their feet caught in this size mesh. Solid floors are best as some rats are prone to getting foot infections from wire floors. If you carry a good rat cage rat owners will flock to your store.
Accessories: Rats need a water bottle, a food dish for fresh foods, and we recommend the Lixit FoodHoppers for dry foods. Many rats will use a litter box, and small corner boxes for ferrets work well. Rats also need sleeping quarters and enjoy hammocks, as well as igloos and houses. While most rats will chew on hammocks and eventually destroy them, once rat owners see how much their pets enjoy hammocks, they will continue to buy them new ones!
Toys: Because rats are intelligent active animals, toys are not optional, they are necessary! Encouraging your customers to buy toys for their rats will increase your sales. Placing toys in your rat display cages will encourage people to buy toys for their rats. Rats enjoy exercise wheels, tubes, ladders, branches, and other climbing toys. They also enjoy food toys. Many bird toys work well for rats. Wheels should be at least 10" across and made of solid plastic or ¼" wire mesh, not wire bars. Check out Wodent Wheels at www.transoniq.com.
Bedding/litter: Pine and cedar shavings contain toxic acids and aromatic hydrocarbons (phenols) which are inhaled. These toxins damage the respiratory tract—increasing respiratory disease—and over time, cause liver damage. There are many other products which are safe, and may have a better profit margin for your store. Encourage your customers to buy the safer products by using them in your display cages.
Health Problems: The most common health problem in rats is mycoplasmosis, an incurable respiratory disease caused by the bacteria Mycoplasma pulmonis. Symptoms include sneezing, wheezing, and in advanced cases, labored breathing, lethargy, respiratory distress, and death. Unfortunately, this disease has become so common that pretty much all stocks of rats outside of laboratories are infected. Selectively breeding only symptom-free rats and antibiotic treatment can help keep the disease under control. Mycoplasmosis also makes rats more susceptible to secondary bacterial infections.
In babies and young rats, symptoms of disease are usually caused by a secondary infection, which can be fatal in just a day or two. Symptoms can include lethargy and a puffy coat, and do not always include respiratory symptoms. Amoxicillin (10 mg/lb twice a day) tends to be the best treatment for secondary infections and must be started immediately and continued for 2-3 weeks.
The second most common health problem is mammary tumors. About half of all female rats will get one or more of these tumors. Spaying helps to prevent them.
Provide Information: Make sure your customers have the best experience possible with their rats by making information available. Use handouts, such as The Rat Fan Club brochure and care sheet, and stock rat care books. The book Rats by club founder Debbie “The Rat Lady” Ducommun is the most complete and accurate care book available. To order this book for resale, call Bowtie Press at 800-426-2516.
Debbie also writes and publishes the booklet Rat Health Care, an inexpensive yet comprehensive guide to common rat health problems that is available for resale. Please contact the club for more info.
Train your employees so they at least know the basics about rats and can answer questions. If rat owners have questions you can’t answer, feel free to refer them to The Rat Fan Club. Debbie “The Rat Lady” is happy to answer questions.
For more information on any of these topics or on Debbie’s publications, please contact The Rat Fan Club, 857 Lindo Lane, Chico, CA 95973, (530) 899-0605, www.ratfanclub.org, or firstname.lastname@example.org.