If you are a first-time rat parent, you’re probably scrambling to find all the information you can. After all, having a pet that sleeps all winter long can be a game-changer. So, if you’ve wondered about your rat’s winter habits, you’ll be happy to know that they don’t hibernate at all.
But how about their behavior? When seasons change, do they require different accommodations? The good thing is—in a cage, the answer is not really. Let’s dig deeper.
What Is Hibernating?
Hibernation is a process of physiological changes in an animal to protect its energy reservoirs. Since food is limited in the winter months, many herbivores and omnivores slow down their heart rate and drop their body temperature, falling into a coma-like state.
Unlike sleeping, hibernating animals still have some conscious awareness of their surroundings. They simply change their body systems to accommodate the bitter cold winter when nourishment is sparse.
Rats & Winter
Rats are omnivorous creatures that eat just about anything—living or dead. In captivity, diets are a little different from that of their wild cousins. Because they don’t have to stuff away a whole reserve for survival reasons, their behavior doesn’t change much in the wintertime.
Domesticated rats never feel the change in seasons like wild rats. They were born and raised in captivity, quite different from their ancestors. Pet rats are spoiled, docile, and incredibly smart. But because they don’t need the same survival instincts, they don’t act the same way.
Rats are natural hoarders. If you have a pet rat, you know how adorable it is when they snatch food and run away to stash it. If you have more than one rat (which is the most beneficial), they can be a little stingy with their food supply.
By nature, rats still have the drive to hide food in piles. They don’t necessarily eat all their food in one sitting. Rather, they take available food items and store them under pieces of material, in little huts or other hideaways.
It isn’t uncommon to see pet rat roommates sneaking from their buddy’s pile to add to their own. Since they get a reasonable amount of food consistency, aggression isn’t a worry—although hormones can play a role in that.
Even though this is very common, you shouldn’t let them store food that can spoil. If it sits too long, it’s going to grow bacteria and can make your pet rat very sick.
Wild rats aren’t as fortunate as domesticated pets since they have lots of hard work to do. However, they are well equipped with the instincts to survive all winter long. When cold months are approaching, like squirrels, rats start the process of collecting food.
To protect their territory and deter potential thieves from robbing their stash, rats will urinate on their food cache. Even though rats might hide more often and seek shelter from freezing temperatures, they aren’t asleep during the winter months.
Winter Food Reserves
Rats spend a large portion of their wild days foraging and storing food. In late summer to autumn, rats start to get more active, busily gathering as much food as possible. The more food they have, the less they will have to travel out of their burrows to find food in the colder months.
Even though rats burrow in the winter, they don’t shut themselves off completely. They remain active through the winter months regardless of whether they’re hiding away or out exploring. However, they start finding suitable places to hide for the winter as they store their food.
Wild rats can live in natural shelters in the woods—or they can even live in your home without you knowing. All they are looking for is a safe, warm place to spend the season.
Fun Facts About Rats
Even though it might seem odd to own a rat, the truth is that these animals are quite remarkable. Here are some other interesting things you might not know about this commonly misunderstood rodent:
- Rats’ front teeth constantly grow throughout their lifetime: Rats have teeth in the front called incisors. Like many other rodents and rabbits, these teeth never stop growing. It’s very important to get your rats hard things to chew on like wood blocks and other toys to file down the teeth naturally.
- Rats are some of the smartest animals in the world: Believe it or not, rats rank high on the list of intelligent animals. These little creatures make the top ten alongside gigantic mammals like dolphins and elephants.
- A rat’s DNA is incredibly close to a human’s: There is a reason science relies so heavily on rat testing. It is because mice and rats share 97.5% of their DNA with humans. They are almost as closely related to humans as chimpanzees.
- Pet rats can learn lots of tricks: If you work with your rat regularly, you can teach them lots of exciting tricks. Rats can learn commands and cues to perform a circus worth of performance for your Friday night company.
- Some rats can sniff out bombs: Awesomely, some rats can even sniff out bombs. There was an employed rat named Magawa, who is now retired. In his career, he discovered over 100 abandoned explosives in five years.
Rats & Hibernation: Final Thoughts
So, we learned that even though rats don’t hibernate, they do take precautions to build up their food supply over the winter. These traits are not instinctual in pet rats, but their wild cousins thrive in burrows with a food cache available in the wintertime.
Warm, threat-free rats spend their winter days toasty by their owner’s side. Even though your pet rats might squabble over their individual food stashes, they don’t need a lengthy snooze.
Featured Image Credit: Ezume Images, Shutterstock
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