Does your child respect animals? Before ever bringing a pet rat (or any other pet) into the home, you should know how your child feels about animals. Visit animal shelters and residences of friends and family with pets to get a good idea. Let your child interact with animals and see what the reaction is. If you have already brought home the animal without doing that, consider allowing your child to attend animal care classes with the pet. Many large pet stores and animal shelters offer these classes for free or for an affordable rate. Some include them in the adoption fee.
You and your child should know how to care for rats. As mentioned above, your child can take animal care classes. But there are other ways to learn about the care of pet rat as well. Books written by trusted sources are a great start. If you have already adopted a rat, your first step should be a visit to the vet. Even if your child's pet rat has come vetted and vaccinated, it is still important to start routine visits. The first visit can help you and your child understand how to properly care for a rat. The examination will also allow your vet to let you know if there's anything you should watch out for.
Rats ideally come in pairs. Some rats will do well alone. But they may be happier when they have a companion. This is even true if they have great human companionship. Are you prepared to let your child adopt two rats if it becomes evident that your rat needs company? Can your child handle two rats? One rat is already a good deal of responsibility. Multiply that times two and if your child is willing and able to handle that, a pet rat (or two) may be a good idea.
Rats are very social. Rats prefer to have a companion. However, they also enjoy human companionship. If your child is afraid to hold a rat or will not be around enough to give ample attention, adopting one is a bad idea. Rats enjoy being held and played with for long periods of time. They are highly intelligent and become attached to their human companions. When we owned a rat, he spent more time being held than he did in his cage. He immediately climbed right out of the cage into our arms anytime his cage door was opened. If anything was going on, he wanted to be a part of it. If your child is not ready for this kind of interaction, you should not adopt a pet rat.
Because of their docile nature, rats can make great pets for kids as young as five. If your child is not afraid to hold rats and knows to wash hands before and after handling them, they may be the perfect choice. Be sure you and your child have also researched and are aware of risks and proper care. After that point, your child is likely ready to begin the search for a great companion or two.
*The author is not a licensed animal care specialist. Her advice is based purely on personal experience and research and is not meant to replace the advice of a licensed professional.